TREVIZE turned his head at once to look at Bliss. Her face was expressionless, but taut, and her eyes were fixed on Bander with an intensity that made her seem oblivious :to all else.
Pelorat’s eyes were wide, disbelieving.
Trevize, not knowing what Bliss would-or could-do, struggled to fight down an overwhelming sense of loss (not so much at the thought of dying, as of dying without knowing where Earth was, without knowing why he had chosen Gaia as humanity’s future). He had to play for time.
He said, striving to keep his voice steady, and his words clear, “You have shown yourself a courteous and gentle Solarian, Bander. You have not grown angry at our intrusion into your world. You have been kind enough to show us over your estate and mansion, and you have answered our questions. It would suit your character better to allow us to leave now. No one need ever know we were on this world and we would have no cause to return. We arrived in all innocence, seeking merely information.”
“What you say is so,” said Bander lightly, “and, so far, I have given you life. Your lives were forfeit the instant you entered our atmosphere. What I might have done-and should have done-on making close contact with you, would be to have killed you at once. I should then have ordered the appropriate robot to dissect your bodies for what information on Outworlders that might yield me.
“I have not done that. I have pampered my own curiosity and given in to my own easygoing nature, but it is enough. I can do it no longer. I have, in fact, already compromised the safety of Solaria, for if, through some weakness, I were to let myself be persuaded to let you go, others of your kind would surely follow, however much you might promise that they would not.
“There is, however, at least this. Your death will be painless. I will merely heat your brains mildly and drive them into inactivation. You will experience no pain. Life will merely cease. Eventually, when dissection and study are over, I will convert you to ashes in an intense flash of heat and all will be over.”
Trevize said, “If we must die, then I cannot argue against a quick painless death, but why must we die at all, having given no offense?”
“Your arrival was an offense.”
“Not on any rational ground, since we could not know it was an offense.”
“Society defines what constitutes an offense. To you, it may seem irrational and arbitrary, but to us it is not, and this is our world on which we have the full right to say that in this and that, you have done wrong and deserve to die.”
Bander smiled as though it were merely making pleasant conversation and went on, “Nor have you any right to complain on the ground of your own superior virtue. You have a blaster which uses a beam of microwaves to induce intense killing heat. It does what I intend to do, but does it, I am sure, much more crudely and painfully. You would have no hesitation in using it on me right now, had I not drained its energy, and if I were to be so foolish as to allow you the freedom of movement that would enable you to remove the weapon from its holster.”
Trevize said despairingly, afraid even to glance again at Bliss, lest Bander’s attention be diverted to her, “I ask you, as an act of mercy, not to do this.”
Bandar said, turning suddenly grim, “I must first be merciful to myself and to my world, and to do that, you must die.”
He raised his hand and instantly darkness descended upon Trevize.
For a moment, Trevize felt the darkness choking him and thought wildly, Is this death?
And as though his thoughts had given rise to an echo, he heard a whispered, “Is this death?” It was Pelorat’s voice.
Trevize tried to whisper, and found he could. “Why ask?” he said, with a sense of vast relief. “The mere fact that you can ask shows it is not death.”
“There are old legends that there is life after death.”
“Nonsense,” muttered Trevize. “Bliss? Are you here, Bliss?”
There was no answer to that.
Again Pelorat echoed, “Bliss? Bliss? What happened, Golan?”
Trevize said, “Bender must be dead. He would, in that case, be unable to supply the power for his estate. The lights would go out.”
“But how could-? You mean Bliss did it?”
“I suppose so. I hope she did not come to harm in the process.” He was on his hands and knees crawling about in the total darkness of the underground (if one did not count the occasional subvisible flashing of a radioactive atom breaking down in the walls).
Then his hand came on something warm and soft. He felt along it and recognized a leg, which he seized. It was clearly too small to be Bander’s. “Bliss?”
The leg kicked out, forcing Trevize to let go.
He said, “Bliss? Say something!”
“I am alive,” came Bliss’s voice, curiously distorted.
Trevize said, “But are you well?”
“No.” And, with that, light returned to their surroundings-weakly. The walls gleamed faintly, brightening and dimming erratically.
Bander lay crumpled in a shadowy heap. At its side, holding its head, was Bliss.
She looked up at Trevize and Pelorat. “The Solarian is dead,” she said, and her cheeks glistened with tears in the weak light.
Trevize was dumbfounded. “Why are you crying?”
“Should I not cry at having killed a living thing of thought and intelligence? That was not my intention.”
Trevize leaned down to help her to her feet, but she pushed him away.
Pelorat knelt in his turn, saying softly, “Please, Bliss, even you can’t bring it back to life. Tell us what happened.”
She allowed herself to be pulled upward and said dully, “Gaia can do what Bander could do. Gaia can make use of the unevenly distributed energy of the Universe and translate it into chosen work by mental power alone.”
“I knew that,” said Trevize, attempting to be soothing without quite knowing how to go about it. “I remember well our meeting in space when you-or Gaia, rather-held our spaceship captive. I thought of that when Bander held me captive after it had taken my weapons. It held you captive, too, but I was confident you could have broken free if you had wished.”
“No. I would have failed if I had tried. When your ship was in my/our/ Gaia’s grip,” she said sadly, “I and Gaia were truly one. Now there is a hyperspatial separation that limits my/our/Gaia’s efficiency. Besides, Gaia does what it does by the sheer power of massed brains. Even so, all those brains together lack the transducer-lobes this one Solarian has. We cannot make use of energy as delicately, as efficiently, as tirelessly as he could.-You see that I cannot make the lights gleam more brightly, and I don’t know how long I can make them gleam at all before tiring. Bander could supply the power for an entire vast estate, even when it was sleeping.”
“But you stopped it,” said Trevize.
“Because it didn’t suspect my powers,” said Bliss, “and because I did nothing that would give it evidence of them. It was therefore without suspicion of me and gave me none of its attention. It concentrated entirely on you, Trevize, because it was you who bore the weapons-again, how well it has served that you armed yourself-and I had to wait my chance to stop Bander with one quick and unexpected blow. When it was on the point of killing us, when its whole mind was concentrated on that, and on you, I was able to strike.”
“And it worked beautifully.”
“How can you say something so cruel, Trevize? It was only my intention to stop it. I merely wished to block its use of its transducer. In the moment of surprise when it tried to blast us and found it could not, but found, instead, that the very illumination about us was fading into darkness, I would tighten my grip and send it into a prolonged normal sleep and release the transducer. The power would then remain on, and we could get out of this mansion, into our ship, and leave the planet. I hoped to so arrange things that, when Bander finally woke, it would have forgotten all that had happened from the instant of its sighting us. Gaia has no desire to kill in order to accomplish what can be brought about without killing.”
“What went wrong, Bliss?” said Pelorat softly.
“I had never encountered any such thing as those transducer-lobes and I lacked any time to work with them and learn about them. I merely struck out forcefully with my blocking maneuver and, apparently, it didn’t work correctly. It was not the entry of energy into the lobes that was blocked, but the exit of that energy. Energy is always pouring into those lobes at a reckless rate but, ordinarily, the brain safeguards itself by pouring out that energy just as quickly. Once I blocked the exit, however, energy piled up within the lobes at once and, in a tiny fraction of a second, the temperature had risen to the point where the brain protein inactivated explosively and it was dead. The lights went out and I removed my block immediately, but, of course, it was too late.”
“I don’t see that you could have done anything other than that which you did, dear,” said Pelorat.
“Of what comfort is that, considering that I have killed.”
“Bander was on the point of killing us,” said Trevize.
“That was cause for stopping it, not for killing it.”
Trevize hesitated. He did not wish to show the impatience he felt for he was unwilling to offend or further upset Bliss, who was, after all, their only defense against a supremely hostile world.
He said, “Bliss, it is time to look beyond Bander’s death. Because it is dead, all power on the estate is blanked out. This will be noticed, sooner or later, probably sooner, by other Solarians. They will be forced to investigate. I don’t think you will be able to hold off the perhaps combined attack of several. And, as you have admitted yourself, you won’t be able to supply for very long the limited power you are managing to supply now. It is important, therefore, that we get back to the surface, and to our ship, without delay.”
“But, Golan,” said Pelorat, “how do we do that? We came for many kilometers along a winding path. I imagine it’s quite a maze down here and, for myself, I haven’t the faintest idea of where to go to reach the surface. I’ve always had a poor sense of direction.”
Trevize, looking about, realized that Pelorat was correct. He said, “I imagine there are many openings to the surface, and we needn’t find the one we entered.”
“But we don’t know where any of the openings are. How do we find them?”
Trevize turned again to Bliss. “Can you detect anything. mentally, that will help us find our way out?”
Bliss said, “The robots on this estate are all inactive. I can detect a thin whisper of subintelligent life straight up, but all that tells us is that the surface is straight up, which we know.”
“Well, then,” said Trevize, “we’ll just have to look for some opening.”
“Hit-and-miss,” said Pelorat, appalled. “We’ll never succeed.”
“We might, Janov,” said Trevize. “If we search, there will be a chance, however small. The alternative is simply to stay here, and if we do that then we will never succeed. Come, a small chance is better than none.”
“Wait,” said Bliss. “I do sense something.”
“What?” said Trevize.
“Yes, but limited, I think. What reaches me most clearly, though, is something else.”
“What?” said Trevize, again fighting impatience.
“Fright! Intolerable fright!” said Bliss, in a whisper.
TREVIZE looked about ruefully. He knew where they had entered but he had no illusion on the score of being able to retrace the path by which they had come. He had, after all, paid little attention to the turnings and windings. Who would have thought they’d be in the position of having to retrace the route alone and without help, and with only a flickering, dim light to be guided by?
He said, “Do you think you can activate the car, Bliss?”
Bliss said, “I’m sure I could, Trevize, but that doesn’t mean I can run it.”
Pelorat said, “I think that Bander ran it mentally. I didn’t see it touch anything when it was moving.”
Bliss said gently, “Yes, it did it mentally, Pel, but how, mentally? You might as well say that it did it by using the controls. Certainly, but if I don’t know the details of using the controls, that doesn’t help, does it?”
“You might try,” said Trevize.
“If I try, I’ll have to put my whole mind to it, and if I do that, then I doubt that I’ll be able to keep the lights on. The car will do us no good in the dark even if I learn how to control it.”
“Then we must wander about on foot, I suppose?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Trevize peered at the thick and gloomy darkness that lay beyond the dim light in their immediate neighborhood. He saw nothing, heard nothing.
He said, “Bliss, do you still sense this frightened mind?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Can you tell where it is? Can you guide us to it?”
“The mental sense is a straight line. It is not refracted sensibly by ordinary matter, so I can tell it is coming from that direction.”
She pointed to a spot on the dusky wall, and said, “But we can’t walk through the wall to it. The best we can do is follow the corridors and try to find our way in whatever direction will keep the sensation growing stronger. In short, we will have to play the game of hot-and-cold.”
“Then let’s start right now.”
Pelorat hung back. “Wait, Golan; are we sure we want to find this thing, whatever it is? If it is frightened, it may be that we will have reason to be frightened, too.”
Trevize shook his head impatiently. “We have no choice, Janov. It’s a mind, frightened or not, and it may be willing to-or may be made to-direct us to the surface.”
“And do we just leave Bander lying here?” said Pelorat uneasily.
Trevize took his elbow. “Come, Janov. We have no choice in that, either. Eventually some Solarian will reactivate the place, and a robot will find Bander and take care of it-I hope not before we are safely away.”
He allowed Bliss to lead the way. The light was always strongest in her immediate neighborhood and she paused at each doorway, at each fork in the corridor, trying to sense the direction from which the fright came. Sometimes she would walk through a door, or move around a curve, then come back and try an alternate path, while Trevize watched helplessly.
Each time Bliss came to a decision and moved firmly in a particular direction, the light came on ahead of her. Trevize noticed that it seemed a bit brighter now-either because his eyes were adapting to the dimness, or because Bliss was learning how to handle the transduction more efficiently. At one point, when she passed one of the metal rods that were inserted into the ground, she put her hand on it and the lights brightened noticeably. She nodded her head as though she were pleased with herself.
Nothing looked in the least familiar; it seemed certain they were wandering through portions of the rambling underground mansion they had not passed through on the way in.
Trevize kept looking for corridors that led upward sharply, and he varied that by studying the ceilings for any sign of a trapdoor. Nothing of the sort appeared, and the frightened mind remained their only chance of getting out.
They walked through silence, except for the sound of their own steps; through darkness, except for the light in their immediate vicinity; through death, except for their own lives. Occasionally, they made out the shadowy bulk of a robot, sitting or standing in the dusk, with no motion. Once they saw a robot lying on its side, with legs and arms in queer frozen positions. It had been caught off-balance, Trevize thought, at the moment when power had been turned off, and it had fallen. Bander, either alive or dead, could not affect the force of gravity. Perhaps all over the vast Bander estate, robots were standing and lying inactive and it would be that that would quickly be noted at the borders.
Or perhaps not, he thought suddenly. Solarians would know when one of their number would be dying of old age and physical decay. The world would be alerted and ready. Bander, however, had died suddenly, without possible foreknowledge, in the prime of its existence. Who would know? Who would expect? Who would be watching for inactivation?
But no (and Trevize thrust back optimism and consolation as dangerous lures into overconfidence). The Solarians would note the cessation of all activity on the Bander estate and take action at once. They all had too great an interest in the succession to estates to leave death to itself.
Pelorat murmured unhappily, “Ventilation has stopped. A place like this, underground, must be ventilated, and Bander supplied the power. Now it has stopped.”
“It doesn’t matter, Janov,” said Trevize. “We’ve got enough air down in this empty underground place to last us for years.”
“It’s close just the same. It’s psychologically bad.”
“Please, Janov, don’t get claustrophobic.-Bliss, are we any closer?”
“Much, Trevize,” she replied. “The sensation is stronger and I am clearer as to its location.”
She was stepping forward more surely, hesitating less at points of choice of direction.
“There! There!” she said. “I can sense it intensely.”
Trevize said dryly, “Even I can hear it now.”
All three stopped and, automatically, held their breaths. They could hear a soft moaning, interspersed with gasping sobs.
They walked into a large room and, as the lights went on, they saw that, unlike all those they had hitherto seen, it was rich and colorful in furnishings.
In the center of the room was a robot, stooping slightly, its arms stretched out in what seemed an almost affectionate gesture and, of course, it was absolutely motionless.
Behind the robot was a flutter of garments. A round frightened eye edged to one side of it, and there was still the sound of a brokenhearted sobbing.
Trevize darted around the robot and, from the other side, a small figure shot out, shrieking. It stumbled, fell to the ground, and lay there, covering its eyes, kicking its legs in all directions, as though to ward off some threat from whatever angle it might approach, and shrieking, shrieking-
Bliss said, quite unnecessarily, “It’s a child!”
TREVIZE drew back, puzzled. What was a child doing here? Bander had been so proud of its absolute solitude, so insistent upon it.
Pelorat, less apt to fall back on iron reasoning in the face of an obscure event, seized upon the solution at once, and said, “I suppose this is the successor.”
“Bander’s child,” said Bliss, agreeing, “but too young, I think, to be a successor. The Solarians will have to find one elsewhere.”
She was gazing at the child, not in a fixed glare, but in a soft, mesmerizing way, and slowly the noise the child was making lessened. It opened its eyes and looked at Bliss in return. Its outcry was reduced to an occasional soft whimper.
Bliss made sounds of her own, now, soothing ones, broken words that made little sense in themselves but were meant only to reinforce the calming effect of her thoughts. It was as though she were mentally fingering the child’s unfamiliar mind and seeking to even out its disheveled emotions.
Slowly, never taking its eyes off Bliss, the child got to its feet, stood there swaying a moment, then made a dash for the silent, frozen robot. It threw its arms about the sturdy robotic leg as though avid for the security of its touch.
Trevize said, “I suppose that the robot is its-nursemaid-or caretaker. I suppose a Solarian can’t care for another Solarian, not even a parent for a child.”
Pelorat said, “And I suppose the child is hermaphroditic.”
“It would have to be,” said Trevize.
Bliss, still entirely preoccupied with the child, was approaching it slowly, hands held half upward, palms toward herself, as though emphasizing that there was no intention of seizing the small creature. The child was now silent, watching the approach, and holding on the more tightly to the robot.
Bliss said, “There, child-warm, child-soft, warm, comfortable, safe, child-safe-safe.”
She stopped and, without looking round, said in a low voice, “Pel, speak to it in its language. Tell it we’re robots come to take care of it because the power failed.”
“Robots!” said Pelorat, shocked.
“We must be presented as robots. It’s not afraid of robots. And it’s never seen a human being, maybe can’t even conceive of them.”
Pelorat said, “I don’t know if I can think of the right expression. I don’t know the archaic word for ‘robot.’ “
“Say ‘robot,’ then, Pel. If that doesn’t work, say ‘iron thing.’ Say whatever you can.”
Slowly, word by word, Pelorat spoke archaically. The child looked at him, frowning intensely, as though trying to understand.
Trevize said, “You might as well ask it how to get out, while you’re at it.”
Bliss said, “No. Not yet. Confidence first, then information.”
The child, looking now at Pelorat, slowly released its hold on the robot and spoke in a high-pitched musical voice.
Pelorat said anxiously, “It’s speaking too quickly for me.”
Bliss said, “Ask it to repeat more slowly. I’m doing my best to calm it and remove its fears.”
Pelorat, listening again to the child, said, “I think it’s asking what made Jemby stop. Jemby must be the robot.”
“Check and make sure, Pel.”
Pelorat spoke, then listened, and said, “Yes, Jemby is the robot. The child calls itself Fallom.”
“Good!” Bliss smiled at the child, a luminous, happy smile, pointed to it, and said, “Fallom. Good Fallom. Brave Fallom.” She placed a hand on her chest and said, “Bliss.”
The child smiled. It looked very attractive when it smiled. “Bliss,” it said, hissing the “s” a bit imperfectly.
Trevize said, “Bliss, if you can activate the robot, Jemby, it might be able to tell us what we want to know. Pelorat can speak to it as easily as to the child.”
“No,” said Bliss. “That would be wrong. The robot’s first duty is to protect the child. If it is activated and instantly becomes aware of us, aware of strange human beings, it may as instantly attack us. No strange human beings belong here. If I am then forced to inactivate it, it can give us no information, and the child, faced with a second inactivation of the only parent it knows-Well, I just won’t do it.”
“But we were told,” said Pelorat mildly, “that robots can’t harm human beings.”
“So we were,” said Bliss, “but we were not told what kind of robots these Solarians have designed. And even if this robot were designed to do no harm, it would have to make a choice between its child, or the nearest thing to a child it can have, and three objects whom it might not even recognize as human beings, merely as illegal intruders. Naturally, it would choose the child and attack us.”
She turned to the child again. “Fallom,” she said, “Bliss.” She pointed, “Pel-Trev.”
“Pel. Trev,” said the child obediently.
She came closer to the child, her hands reaching toward it slowly. It watched her, then took a step backward.
“Calm, Fallom,” said Bliss. “Good, Fallom. Touch, Fallom. Nice, Fallom.”
It took a step toward her, and Bliss sighed. “Good, Fallom.”
She touched Fallom’s bare arm, for it wore, as its parent had, only a long robe, open in front, and with a loincloth beneath. The touch was gentle. She removed her arm, waited, and made contact again, stroking softly.
The child’s eyes half-closed under the strong, calming effect of Bliss’s mind.
Bliss’s hands moved up slowly, softly, scarcely touching, to the child’s shoulders, its neck, its ears, then under its long brown hair to a point just above and behind its ears.
Her hands dropped away then, and she said, “The transducer-lobes are still small. The cranial bone hasn’t developed yet. There’s just a tough layer of skin there, which will eventually expand outward and be fenced in with bone after the lobes have fully grown.-Which means it can’t, at the present time, control the estate or even activate its own personal robot.-Ask it how old it is, Pel.”
Pelorat said, after an exchange, “It’s fourteen years old, if I understand it rightly.”
Trevize said, “It looks more like eleven.”
Bliss said, “The length of the years used on this world may not correspond closely to Standard Galactic Years. Besides, Spacers are supposed to have extended lifetimes and, if the Solarians are like the other Spacers in this, they may also have extended developmental periods. We can’t go by years, after all.”
Trevize said, with an impatient click of his tongue, “Enough anthropology. We must get to the surface and since we are dealing with a child, we may be wasting our time uselessly. It may not know the route to the surface. It may not ever have been on the surface.”
Bliss said, “Pel!”
Pelorat knew what she meant and there followed the longest conversation he had yet had with Fallom.
Finally, he said, “The child knows what the sun is. It says it’s seen it. I think it’s seen trees. It didn’t act as though it were sure what the word meant-or at least what the word I used meant-”
“Yes, Janov,” said Trevize, “but do get to the point.”
“I told Fallom that if it could get us out to the surface, that might make it possible for us to activate the robot. Actually, I said we would activate the robot. Do you suppose we might?”
Trevize said, “We’ll worry about that later. Did it say it would guide us?”
“Yes. I thought the child would be more anxious to do it, you see, if I made that promise. I suppose we’re running the risk of disappointing it-”
“Come,” said Trevize, “let’s get started. All this will be academic if we are caught underground.”
Pelorat said something to the child, who began to walk, then stopped and looked back at Bliss.
Bliss held out her hand and the two then walked hand in hand.
“I’m the new robot,” she said, smiling slightly.
“It seems reasonably happy over that,” said Trevize.
Fallom skipped along and, briefly, Trevize wondered if it were happy simply because Bliss had labored to make it so, or if, added to that, there was the excitement of visiting the surface and of having three new robots, or whether it was excitement at the thought of having its Jemby foster-parent back. Not that it mattered-as long as the child led them.
There seemed no hesitation in the child’s progress. It turned without pause whenever there was a choice of paths. Did it really know where it was going, or was it all simply a matter of a child’s indifference? Was it simply playing a game with no clear end in sight?
But Trevize was aware, from the slight burden on his progress, that he was moving uphill, and the child, bouncing self-importantly forward, was pointing ahead and chattering.
Trevize looked at Pelorat, who cleared his throat and said, “I think what it’s saying is ‘doorway.”‘
“I hope your thought is correct,” said Trevize.
The child broke away from Bliss, and was running now. It pointed to a portion of the flooring that seemed darker than the sections immediately neighboring it. The child stepped on it, jumping up and down a few times, and then turned with a clear expression of dismay, and spoke with shrill volubility.
Bliss said, with a grimace, “I’ll have to supply the power.-This is wearing me out.”
Her face reddened a bit and the lights dimmed, but a door opened just ahead of Fallom, who laughed in soprano delight.
The child ran out the door and the two men followed. Bliss came last, and looked back as the lights just inside darkened and the door closed. She then paused to catch her breath, looking rather worn out.
“Well,” said Pelorat, “we’re out. Where’s the ship?”
All of them stood bathed in the still luminous twilight.
Trevize muttered, “It seems to me that it was in that direction.”
“It seems so to me, too,” said Bliss. “Let’s walk,” and she held out her hand to Fallom.
There was no sound except those produced by the wind and by the motions and calls of living animals. At one point they passed a robot standing motionless near the base of a tree, holding some object of uncertain purpose.
Pelorat took a step toward it out of apparent curiosity, but Trevize said, “Not our business, Janov. Move on.”
They passed another robot, at a greater distance, who had tumbled.
Trevize said, “There are robots littered over many kilometers in all directions, I suppose.” And then, triumphantly, “Ah, there’s the ship.”
They hastened their steps now, then stopped suddenly. Fallom raised its voice in an excited squeak.
On the ground near the ship was what appeared to be an air-vessel of primitive design, with a rotor that looked energy-wasteful, and fragile besides. Standing next to the air-vessel, and between the little party of Outworlders and their ship, stood four human figures.
“Too late,” said Trevize. “We wasted too much time. Now what?”
Pelorat said wonderingly, “Four Solarians7 It can’t be. Surely they wouldn’t come into physical contact like that. Do you suppose those are holoimages?”
“They are thoroughly material,” said Bliss. “I’m sure of that. They’re not Solarians either. There’s no mistaking the minds. They’re robots.”
“WELL, THEN,” said Trevize wearily, “onward!” He resumed his walk toward the ship at a calm pace and the others followed.
Pelorat said, rather breathlessly, “What do you intend to do?”
“If they’re robots, they’ve got to obey orders.”
The robots were awaiting them, and Trevize watched them narrowly as they came closer.
Yes, they must be robots. Their faces, which looked as though they were made of skin underlain with flesh, were curiously expressionless. They were dressed in uniforms that exposed no square centimeter of skin outside the face. Even the hands were covered by thin, opaque gloves.
Trevize gestured casually, in a fashion that was unquestionably a brusque request that they step aside.
The robots did not move.
In a low voice, Trevize said to Pelorat, “put it into words, Janov. Be firm.”
Pelorat cleared his throat and, putting an unaccustomed baritone into his voice, spoke slowly, gesturing them aside much as Trevize had done. At that, one of the robots, who was perhaps a shade taller than the rest, said something in a cold and incisive voice.
Pelorat turned to Trevize. “I think he said we were Outworlders.”
“Tell him we are human beings and must be obeyed.”
The robot spoke then, in peculiar but understandable Galactic. “I understand you, Outworlder. I speak Galactic. We are Guardian Robots.”
“Then you have heard me say that we are human beings and that you must therefore obey us.”
“We are programmed to obey Rulers only, Outworlder. You are not Rulers and not Solarian. Ruler Bander has not responded to the normal moment of Contact and we have come to investigate at close quarters. It is our duty to do so. We find a spaceship not of Solarian manufacture, several Outworlders present, and all Bander robots inactivated. Where is Ruler Bander?”
Trevize shook his head and said slowly and distinctly, “We know nothing of what you say. Our ship’s computer is not working well. We found ourselves near this strange planet against our intentions. We landed to find our location. We found all robots inactivated. We know nothing of what might have happened.”
“That is not a credible account. If all robots on the estate are inactivated and all power is off, Ruler Bander must be dead. It is not logical to suppose that by coincidence it died just as you landed. There must be some sort of causal connection.”
Trevize said, with no set purpose but to confuse the issue and to indicate his own foreigner’s lack of understanding and, therefore, his innocence, “But the power is not off. You and the others are active.”
The robot said, “We are Guardian Robots. We do not belong to any Ruler. We belong to all the world. We are not Ruler-controlled but are nuclear-powered. I ask again, where is Ruler Bander?”
Trevize looked about him. Pelorat appeared anxious; Bliss was tight-lipped but calm. Fallom was trembling, but Bliss’s hand touched the child’s shoulder and it stiffened somewhat and lost facial expression. (Was Bliss sedating it?)
The robot said, “Once again, and for the last time, where is Ruler Bander?”
“I do not know,” said Trevize grimly.
The robot nodded and two of his companions left quickly. The robot said, “My fellow Guardians will search the mansion. Meanwhile, you will be held for questioning. Hand me those objects you wear at your side.”
Trevize took a step backward. “They are harmless.”
“Do not move again. I do not question their nature, whether harmful or harmless. I ask for them.”
The robot took a quick step forward, and his arm flashed out too quickly for Trevize to realize what was happening. The robot’s hand was on his shoulder; the grip tightened and pushed downward. Trevize went to his knees.
The robot said, “Those objects.” It held out its other hand.
“No,” gasped Trevize.
Bliss lunged forward, pulled the blaster out of its holster before Trevize, clamped in the robot’s grip, could do anything to prevent her, and held it out toward the robot. “Here, Guardian,” she said, “and if you’ll give me a moment-here’s the other. Now release my companion.”
The robot, holding both weapons, stepped back, and Trevize rose slowly to his feet, rubbing his left shoulder vigorously, face wincing with pain.
(Fallom whimpered softly, and Pelorat picked it up in distraction, and held it tightly.)
Bliss said to Trevize, in a furious whisper, “Why are you fighting him? He can kill you with two fingers.”
Trevize groaned and said, between gritted teeth, “Why don’t you handle him.
“I’m trying to. It takes time. His mind is tight, intensely programmed, and leaves no handle. I must study it. You play for time.”
“Don’t study his mind. Just destroy it,” said Trevize, almost soundlessly.
Bliss looked quickly toward the robot. It was studying the weapons intently, while the one other robot that still remained with it watched the Outworlders. Neither seemed interested in the whispering that was going on between Trevize and Bliss.
Bliss said, “No. No destruction. We killed one dog and hurt another on the first world. You know what happened on this world.” (Another quick glance at the Guardian Robots.) “Gaia does not needlessly butcher life or intelligence. I need time to work it out peacefully.”
She stepped back and stared at the robot fixedly.
The robot said, “These are weapons.”
“No,” said Trevize.
“Yes,” said Bliss, “but they are no longer useful. They are drained of energy.”
“Is that indeed so? Why should you carry weapons that are drained of energy? Perhaps they are not drained.” The robot held one of the weapons in its fist and placed its thumb accurately. “Is this the way it is activated?”
“Yes,” said Bliss; “if you tighten the pressure, it would be activated, if it contained energy-but it does not.”
“Is that certain?” The robot pointed the weapon at Trevize. “Do you still say that if I activate it now, it will not work?”
“It will not work,” said Bliss.
Trevize was frozen in place and unable to articulate. He had tested the blaster after Bander had drained it and it was totally dead, but the robot was holding the neuronic whip. Trevize had not tested that.
If the whip contained even a small residue of energy, there would be enough for a stimulation of the pain nerves, and what Trevize would feel would make the grip of the robot’s hand seem to have been a pat of affection.
When he had been at the Naval Academy, Trevize had been forced to take a mild neuronic whipblow, as all cadets had had to. That was just to know what it was like. Trevize felt no need to know anything more.
The robot activated the weapon and, for a moment, Trevize stiffened painfully-and then slowly relaxed. The whip, too, was thoroughly drained.
The robot stared at Trevize and then tossed both weapons to one side. “How do these come to be drained of energy?” it demanded. “If they are of no use, why do you carry them?”
Trevize said, “I am accustomed to the weight and carry them even when drained.”
The robot said, “That does not make sense. You are all under custody. You will be held for further questioning, and, if the Rulers so decide, you will then be inactivated.-How does one open this ship? We must search it.”
“It will do you no good,” said Trevize. “You won’t understand it.”
“If not I, the Rulers will understand.”
“They will not understand, either.”
“Then you will explain so that they will understand.”
“I will not.”
“Then you will be inactivated.”
“My inactivation will give you no explanation, and I think I will be inactivated even if I explain.”
Bliss muttered, “Keep it up. I’m beginning to unravel the workings of its brain.”
The robot ignored Bliss. (Did she see to that? thought Trevize, and hoped savagely that she had.)
Keeping its attention firmly on Trevize, the robot said, “If you make difficulties, then we will partially inactivate you. We will damage you and you will then tell us what we want to know.”
Suddenly, Pelorat called out in a half-strangled cry. “Wait, you cannot do this.-Guardian, you cannot do this.”
“I am under detailed instructions,” said the robot quietly. “I can do this. Of course, I shall do as little damage as is consistent with obtaining information.”
“But you cannot. Not at all. I am an Outworlder, and so are these two companions of mine. But this child,” and Pelorat looked at Fallom, whom he was still carrying, “is a Solarian. It will tell you what to do and you must obey it.”
Fallom looked at Pelorat with eyes that were open, but seemed empty.
Bliss shook her head, sharply, but Pelorat looked at her without any sign of understanding.
The robot’s eyes rested briefly on Fallom. It said, “The child is of no importance. It does not have transducer-lobes.”
“It does not yet have fully developed transducer-lobes,” said Pelorat, panting, “but it will have them in time. It is a Solarian child.”
“It is a child, but without fully developed transducer-lobes it is not a Solarian. I am not compelled to follow its orders or to keep it from harm.”
“But it is the offspring of Ruler Bander.”
“Is it? How do you come to know that?”
Pelorat stuttered, as he sometimes did when overearnest. “Wh-what other child would be on this estate?”
“How do you know there aren’t a dozen?”
“Have you seen any others?”
“It is I who will ask the questions.”
At this moment, the robot’s attention shifted as the second robot touched its arm. The two robots who had been sent to the mansion were returning at a rapid run that, nevertheless, had a certain irregularity to it.
There was silence till they arrived and then one of them spoke in the Solarian language-at which all four of the robots seemed to lose their elasticity. For a moment, they appeared to wither, almost to deflate.
Pelorat said, “They’ve found Bander,” before Trevize could wave him silent.
The robot turned slowly and said, in a voice that slurred the syllables, “Ruler Bander is dead. By the remark you have just made, you show us you were aware of the fact. How did that come to be?”
“How can I know?” said Trevize defiantly.
“You knew it was dead. You knew it was there to be found. How could you know that, unless you had been there-unless it was you that had ended the life?” The robot’s enunciation was already improving. It had endured and was absorbing the shock.
Then Trevize said, “How could we have killed Bander? With its transducer-lobes it could have destroyed us in a moment.”
“How do you know what, or what not, transducer-lobes could do?”
“You mentioned the transducer-lobes just now.”
“I did no more than mention them. I did not describe their properties or abilities.”
“The knowledge came to us in a dream.”
“That is not a credible answer.”
Trevize said, “To suppose that we have caused the death of Bander is not credible, either.”
Pelorat added, “And in any case, if Ruler Bander is dead, then Ruler Fallom now controls this estate. Here the Ruler is, and it is it whom you must obey.”
“I have already explained,” said the robot, “that an offspring with undeveloped transducer-lobes is not a Solarian. It cannot be a Successor, therefore, Another Successor, of the appropriate age, will be flown in as soon as we report this sad news.”
“What of Ruler Fallom?”
“There is no Ruler Fallom. There is only a child and we have an excess of children. It will be destroyed.”
Bliss said forcefully, “You dare not. It is a child!”
“It is not I,” said the robot, “who will necessarily do the act and it is certainly not I who will make the decision. That is for the consensus of the Rulers. In times of child-excess, however, I know well what the decision will in.”
“No. I say no.”
“It will be painless.-But another ship is coming. It is important that we go into what was the Bander mansion and set up a holovision Council that will supply a Successor and decide on what to do with you.-Give me the child.”
Bliss snatched the semicomatose figure of Fallom from Pelorat. Holding it tightly and trying to balance its weight on her shoulder, she said, “Do not touch this child.”
Once again, the robot’s arm shot out swiftly and it stepped forward, reaching for Fallom. Bliss moved quickly to one side, beginning her motion well before the robot had begun its own. The robot continued to move forward, however, as though Bliss were still standing before it. Curving stiffly downward, with the forward tips of its feet as the pivot, it went down on its face. The other three stood motionless, eyes unfocused.
Bliss was sobbing, partly with rage. “I almost had the proper method of control, and it wouldn’t give me the time. I had no choice but to strike and now all four are inactivated.-Let’s get on the ship before the other ship lands. I am too ill to face additional robots, now.”