TREVIZE looked grotesque in his space suit. The only part of him that remained outside were his holsters-not the ones that he strapped around his hips ordinarily, but more substantial ones that were part of his suit. Carefully, he inserted the blaster in the right-hand holster, the neuronic whip in the left. Again, they had been recharged and this time, he thought grimly, nothing would take them away from him.
Bliss smiled. “Are you going to carry weapons even on a world without air or-Never mind! I won’t question your decisions.”
Trevize said, “Good!” and turned to help Pelorat adjust his helmet, before donning his Own.
Pelorat, who had never worn a space suit before, said, rather plaintively, “Will I really be able to breathe in this thing, Golan?”
“I promise you,” said Trevize.
Bliss watched as the final joints were sealed, her arm about Fallom’s shoulder. The young Solarian stared at the two space-suited figures in obvious alarm. She was trembling, and Bliss’s arm squeezed her gently and reassuringly.
The airlock door opened, and the two stepped inside, their bloated arms waving a farewell. It closed. The mainlock door opened and they stepped clumsily onto the soil of a dead world.
It was dawn. The sky was clear, of course, and purplish in color, but the sun had not yet risen. Along the lighter horizon where the sun would come, there was a slight haze.
Pelorat said, “It’s cold.”
“Do you feel cold?” said Trevize, with surprise. The suits were well insulated and if there was a problem, now and then, it was with the getting rid of body heat.
Pelorat said, “Not at all, but look--” His radioed voice sounded Trevize’s ear, and his finger pointed.
In the purplish light of dawn, the crumbling stone front of the building they were approaching was sheathed in hoar frost.
Trevize said, “With a thin atmosphere, it would get colder at night than you would expect, and warmer in the day. Right now it’s the coldest part of’ the day and it should take several hours before it gets too hot for us to remain in the sun.”
As though the word had been a cabalistic incantation, the rim of the sun appeared above the horizon.
“Don’t look at it,” said Trevize conversationally. “Your face-plate is reflective and ultraviolet-opaque, but it would still be dangerous.”
He turned his back to the rising sun and let his long shadow fall on the building. The sunlight was causing the frost to disappear, even as he watched. For a few moments, the wall looked dark with dampness and then that disappeared, too.
Trevize said, “The buildings don’t look as good down here as they looked from the sky. They’re cracked and crumbling. That’s the result of the temperature change, I suppose, and of having the water traces freeze and melt each night and day for maybe as much as twenty thousand years.”
Pelorat said, “There are letters engraved in the stone above the entrance, but crumbling has made them difficult to read.”
“Can you make it out, Janov?”
“A financial institution of some sort. At least I make out a word which may be ‘bank.”‘
“A building in which assets were stored, withdrawn, traded, invested, loaned-if it’s what I think it is.”
“A whole building devoted to it? No computers?”
“Without computers taking over altogether.”
Trevize shrugged. He did not find the details of ancient history inspiring.
They moved about, with increasing haste, spending less time at sac building. The silence, the deadness, was completely depressing. The slow millennial-long collapse into which they had intruded made the place seem like the skeleton of a city, with everything gone but the bones.
They were well up in the temperate zone, but Trevize imagined he could feel the heat of the sun on his back.
Pelorat, about a hundred meters to his right, said sharply, “Look at that.”
Trevize’s ears rang. He said, “Don’t shout, Janov. I can hear your whispers clearly no matter how far away you are. What is it?”
Pelorat, his voice moderating at once, said, “This building is the ‘Hall of the Worlds.’ At least, that’s what I think the inscription reads.”
Trevize joined him. Before them was a three-story structure, the line of its roof irregular and loaded with large fragments of rock, as though some sculptured object that had once stood there had fallen to pieces.
“Are you sure?” said Trevize.
“If we go in, we’ll find out.”
They climbed five low, broad steps, and crossed a space-wasting plaza. In the thin sir, their metal-shod footsteps made a whispering vibration rather than a sound.
“I see what you mean by ‘large, useless, and expensive,’ “ muttered Trevize.
They entered a wide and high hall, with sunlight shining through tall windows and illuminating the interior too harshly where it struck and yet leaving things obscure in the shadow. The thin atmosphere scattered little light.
In the center was a larger than life-size human figure in what seemed to be a synthetic stone. One arm had fallen off. The other arm was cracked at the shoulder and Trevize felt that if he tapped it sharply that arm, too, would break off. He stepped back as though getting too near might tempt him into such unbearable vandalism.
“I wonder who that is?” said Trevize. “No markings anywhere. I suppose those who set it up felt that his fame was so obvious he needed no identification, but now-” He felt himself in danger of growing philosophical and turned his attention away.
Pelorat was looking up, and Trevize’s glance followed the angle of Pelorat’s head. There were markings-carvings-on the wall which Trevize could not read.
“Amazing,” said Pelorat. “Twenty thousand years old, perhaps, and, in here, protected somewhat from sun and damp, they’re still legible.”
“Not to me,” said Trevize.
“It’s in old script and ornate even for that. Let’s see now-seven-one-two-” His voice died away in a mumble, and then he spoke up again. “There are fifty names listed and there are supposed to have been fifty Spacer worlds and this is ‘The Hall of the Worlds.’ I assume those are the names of the fifty Spacer worlds, probably in the order of establishment. Aurora is first and Solaria is last. If you’ll notice, there are seven columns, with seven names in the first six columns and then eight names in the last. It is as though they had planned a seven-by-seven grid and then added Solaria after the fact. My guess, old chap, is that that list dates back to before Solaria was terraformed and populated.”
“And which one is this planet we’re standing on? Can you tell?”
Pelorat said, “You’ll notice that the fifth one down in the third column, the nineteenth in order, is inscribed in letters a little larger than the others. The listers seem to have been self-centered enough to give themselves some pride of place. Besides-”
“What does the name read?”
“As near as I can make out, it says Melpomenia. It’s a name I’m totally unfamiliar with.”
“Could it represent Earth?”
Pelorat shook his head vigorously, but that went unseen inside his helmet. He said, “There are dozens of words used for Earth in the old legends. Gaia is one of them, as you know. So is Terra, and Erda, and so on. They’re all short. I don’t know of any long name used for it, or anything even resembling a short version of Melpomenia.”
“Then we’re standing on Melpomenia, and it’s not Earth.”
“Yes. And besides-as I started to say earlier-an even better indication than the larger lettering is that the co-ordinates of Melpomenia are given as 0, 0, 0, and you would expect co-ordinates to be referred to one’s own planet.”
“Co-ordinates?” Trevize sounded dumbfounded. “That list gives the coordinates, too?”
“They give three figures for each and I presume those are co-ordinates. What else can they be?”
Trevize did not answer. He opened a small compartment in the portion of the space suit that covered his right thigh and took out a compact device with wire connecting it to the compartment. He put it up to his eyes and carefully focused it on the inscription on the wall, his sheathed fingers making a difficult job out of something that would ordinarily have been a moment’s work.
“Camera?” asked Pelorat unnecessarily.
“It will feed the image directly into the ship’s computer,” said Trevize.
He took several photographs from different angles; then said, “Wait! I’ve got to get higher. Help me, Janov.”
Pelorat clasped his hands together, stirrup-fashion, but Trevize shook his head. “That won’t support my weight. Get on your hands and knees.”
Pelorat did so, laboriously, and, as laboriously, Trevize, having tucked the camera into its compartment again, stepped on Pelorat’s shoulders and from them on to the pedestal of the statue. He tried to rock the statue carefully to judge its firmness, then placed his foot on one bent knee and used it as a base for pushing himself upward and catching the armless shoulder. Wedging his toes against some unevenness at the chest, he lifted himself and, finally, after several grunts, managed to sit on the shoulder. To those long-dead who had revered the statue and what it represented, what Trevize did would have seemed blasphemy, and Trevize was sufficiently influenced by that thought to try to sit lightly.
“You’ll fall and hurt yourself,” Pelorat called out anxiously.
“I’m not going to fall and hurt myself, but you might deafen me.” Trevize unslung his camera and focused once more. Several more photographs were taken and then he replaced the camera yet again and carefully lowered himself till his feet touched the pedestal. He jumped to the ground and the vibration of his contact was apparently the final push, for the still intact arm crumbled, and produced a small heap of rubble at the foot of the statue. It made virtually no noise as it fell.
Trevize froze, his first impulse being that of finding a place to hide before the watchman came and caught him. Amazing, he thought afterward, how quickly one relives the days of one’s childhood in a situation like that-when you’ve accidentally broken something that looks important. It lasted only a moment, but it cut deeply.
Pelorat’s voice was hollow, as befitted one who had witnessed and even abetted an act of vandalism, but he managed to find words of comfort. “It’s- it’s all right, Golan. It was about to come down by itself, anyway.”
He walked over to the pieces on the pedestal and floor as though he were going to demonstrate the point, reached out for one of the larger fragments, and then said, “Golan, come here.”
Trevize approached and Pelorat, pointing at a piece of stone that had clearly been the portion of the arm that had been joined to the shoulder, said, “What is this?”
Trevize stared. There was a patch of fuzz, bright green in color. Trevize rubbed it gently with his suited finger. It scraped off without trouble.
“It looks a lot like moss,” he said.
“The life-without-mind that you mentioned?”
“I’m not completely sure how far without mind. Bliss, I imagine, would insist that this had consciousness, too-but she would claim this stone also had it.”
Pelorat said, “Do you suppose that moss stuff is what’s crumbling the rock?”
Trevize said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if it helped. The world has plenty of sunlight and it has some water. Half what atmosphere it has is water vapor. The rest is nitrogen and inert gases. Just a trace of carbon dioxide, which would lead one to suppose there’s no plant life-but it could be that the carbon dioxide is low because it is virtually all incorporated into the rocky crust. Now if this rock has some carbonate in it, perhaps this moss breaks it down by secreting acid, and then makes use of the carbon dioxide generated. This may be the dominant remaining form of life on this planet.”
“Fascinating,” said Pelorat.
“Undoubtedly,” said Trevize, “but only in a limited way. The co-ordinates of the Spacer worlds are rather more interesting but what we really want are the co-ordinates of Earth. If they’re not here, they may be elsewhere in the building-or in another building. Come, Janov.”
“But you know-”began Pelorat.
“No, no,” said Trevize impatiently. “We’ll talk later. We’ve got to see what else, if anything, this building can give us. It’s getting warmer.” He looked .the small temperature reading on the back of his left glove. “Come, Janov.”
They tramped through the rooms, walking as gently as possible, not because they were making sounds in the ordinary sense, or because there was anyone to hear them, but because they were a little shy of doing further damage through vibration.
They kicked up some dust, which moved a short way upward and settled quickly through the thin air, and they left footmarks behind them.
Occasionally, in some dim corner, one or the other would silently point out more samples of moss that were growing. There seemed a little comfort in the presence of life, however low in the scale, something that lifted the deadly, suffocating feel of walking through a dead world, especially one in which artifacts all about showed that once, long ago, it had been an elaborately living one.
And then, Pelorat said, “I think this must be a library.”
Trevize looked about curiously. There were shelves and, as he looked more narrowly, what the corner of his eye had dismissed as mere ornamentation, seemed as though they might well be book-films. Gingerly, he reached for one. They were thick and clumsy and then he realized they were only cases. He fumbled with his thick fingers to open one, and inside he saw several discs. They were thick, too, and seemed brittle, though he did not test that.
He said, “Unbelievably primitive.”
“Thousands of years old,” said Pelorat apologetically, as though defending the old Melpomenians against the accusation of retarded technology.
Trevize pointed to the spine of the film where there were dim curlicues of the ornate lettering that the ancients had used. “Is that the title? What does it say?”
Pelorat studied it. “I’m not really sure, old man. I think one of the words refers to microscopic life. It’s a word for ‘microorganism,’ perhaps. I suspect these are technical microbiological terms which I wouldn’t understand even in Standard Galactic.”
“Probably,” said Trevize morosely. “And, equally probably, it wouldn’t do us any good even if we could read it. We’re not interested in germs.-Do me a favor, Janov. Glance through some of these books and see if there’s anything there with an interesting title. While you’re doing that, I’ll look over these book-viewers.”
“Is that what they are?” said Pelorat, wondering. They were squat, cubical structures, topped by a slanted screen and a curved extension at the top that might serve as an elbow rest or a place on which to put an electro-notepad-if they had had such on Melpomenia.
Trevize said, “if this is a library, they must have book-viewers of one kind or another, and this seems as though it might suit.”
He brushed the dust off the screen very gingerly and was relieved that the screen, whatever it might be made of, did not crumble at his touch. He manipulated the controls lightly, one after another. Nothing happened. He tried another book-viewer, then another, with the same negative results.
He wasn’t surprised. Even if the device were to remain in working order for twenty millennia in a thin atmosphere and was resistant to water vapor, there was still the question of the power source. Stored energy had a way of leaking, no matter what was done to stop it. That was another aspect of the all embracing, irresistible second law of thermodynamics.
Pelorat was behind him. “Golan?”
“I have a book-film here-”
“I think it’s a history of space flight.”
“Perfect-but it won’t do us any good if I can’t make this viewer work.” His hands clenched in frustration.
“We could take the film back to the ship.”
“I wouldn’t know how to adapt it to our viewer. It wouldn’t fit and our scanning system is sure to be incompatible.”
“But is all that really necessary, Golan? If we-”
“It is really necessary, Janov. Now don’t interrupt me. I’m trying to decide what to do. I can try adding power to the viewer. Perhaps that is all it needs.”
“Where would you get the power?”
“Well-” Trevize drew his weapons, looked at them briefly, then settled his blaster back into its holster. He cracked open his neuronic whip, and studied the energy-supply level. It was at maximum.
Trevize threw himself prone upon the floor and reached behind the viewer (he kept assuming that was what it was) and tried to push it forward. It moved a small way and he studied what he found in the process.
One of those cables had to carry the power supply and surely it was the one that came out of the wall. There was no obvious plug or joining. (How does one deal with an alien and ancient culture where the simplest taken-for granted matters are made unrecognizable?)
He pulled gently at the cable, then harder. He turned it one way, then the other. He pressed the wall in the vicinity of the cable, and the cable in the vicinity of the wall. He turned his attention, as best he could, to the half-hidden back of the viewer and nothing he could do there worked, either.
He pressed one hand against the floor to raise himself and, as he stood up, the cable came with him. What he had done that had loosened it, he hadn’t the slightest idea.
It didn’t look broken or torn away. The end seemed quite smooth and it had left a smooth spot in the wall where it had been attached.
Pelorat said softly, “Golan, may I-”
Trevize waved a peremptory arm at the other. “Not now, Janov. Please!”
He was suddenly aware of the green material caking the creases on his left glove. He must have picked up some of the moss behind the viewer and crushed it. His glove had a faint dampness to it, but it dried as he watched, and the greenish stain grew brown.
He turned his attention toward the cable, staring at the detached end carefully. Surely there were two small holes there. Wires could enter.
He sat on the floor again and opened the power unit of his neuronic whip. Carefully, he depolarized one of the wires and clicked it loose. He then, slowly and delicately, inserted it into the hole, pushing it in until it stopped. When he tried gently to withdraw it again, it remained put, as though it had been seized. He suppressed his first impulse to yank it out again by force. He depolarized the other wire and pushed it into the other opening. It was conceivable that that would close the circuit and supply the viewer with power.
“Janov,” he said, “you’ve played about with book-films of all kinds. See if you can work out a way of inserting that book into the viewer.”
“Is it really nece-”
“Please, Janov, you keep trying to ask unnecessary questions. We only have so much time. I don’t want to have to wait far into the night for the building to cool off to the point where we can return.”
“It must go in this way,” said Janov, “but-”
“Good,” said Trevize. “If it’s a history of space flight, then it will have to begin with Earth, since it was on Earth that space flight was invented. Let’s see if this thing works now.”
Pelorat, a little fussily, placed the book-film into the obvious receptacle and then began studying the markings on the various controls for any hint as to direction.
Trevize spoke in a low voice, while waiting, partly to ease his own tension. “I suppose there must be robots on this world, too-here and there-in reasonable order to all appearances-glistening in the near-vacuum. The trouble is their power supply would long since have been drained, too, and, even if repowered, what about their brains? Levers and gears might withstand the millennia, but what about whatever microswitches or subatomic gizmos they had in their brains? They would have to have deteriorated, and even if they had not, what would they know about Earth. What would they”
Pelorat said, “The viewer is working, old chap. See here.”
In the dim light, the book-viewer screen began to flicker. It was only faint, but Trevize turned up the power slightly on his neuronic whip and it grew brighter. The thin air about them kept the area outside the shafts of sunlight comparatively dim, so that the room was faded and shadowy, and the screen seemed the brighter by contrast.
It continued to flicker, with occasional shadows drifting across the screen.
“It needs to be focused,” said Trevize.
“I know,” said Pelorat, “but this seems the best I can do. The film itself must have deteriorated.”
The shadows came and went rapidly now, and periodically there seemed something like a faint caricature of print. Then, for a moment, there was sharpness and it faded again.
“Get that back and hold it, Janov,” said Trevize.
Pelorat was already trying. He passed it going backward, then again forward, and then got it and held it.
Eagerly, Trevize tried to read it, then said, in frustration, “Can you make it out, Janov?”
“Not entirely,” said Pelorat, squinting at the screen. “It’s about Aurora. I can tell that much. I think it’s dealing with the first hyperspatial expedition-the ‘prime outpouring,’ it says.”
He went forward, and it blurred and shadowed again. He said finally, “All the pieces I can get seem to deal with the Spacer worlds, Golan. There’s nothing I can find about Earth.”
Trevize said bitterly, “No, there wouldn’t be. It’s all been wiped out on this world as it has on Trantor. Turn the thing off.”
“But it doesn’t matter-” began Pelorat, turning it off:
“Because we can try other libraries? It will be wiped out there, too. Everywhere. Do you know-” He had looked at Pelorat as he spoke, and now he stared at him with a mixture of horror and revulsion. “What’s wrong with your face-plate?” he asked.
PELORAT automatically lifted his gloved hand to his face-plate and then took it away and looked at it.
“What is it?” he said, puzzled. Then, he looked at Trevize and went on, rather squeakily, “There’s something peculiar about your face-plate, Golan.”
Trevize looked about automatically for a mirror. There was none and he would need a light if there were. He muttered, “Come into the sunlight, will you?”
He half-led, half-pulled Pelorat into the shaft of sunlight from the nearest window. He could feel its warmth upon his back despite the insulating effect of the space suit.
He said, “Look toward the sun, Janov, and close your eyes.”
It was at once clear what was wrong with the face-plate. There was moss growing luxuriantly where the glass of the face-plate met the metallized fabric of the suit itself. The face-plate was rimmed with green fuzziness and Trevize knew his own was, too.
He brushed a finger of his glove across the moss on Pelorat’s face-plate. Some of it came off, the crushed green staining the glove. Even as he watched it glisten in the sunlight, however, it seemed to grow stiffer and drier. He tried again, and this time, the moss crackled off. It was turning brown. He brushed the edges of Pelorat’s face-plate again, rubbing hard.
“Do mine, Janov,” he said. Then, later, “Do I look clean? Good, so do you.-Let’s go. I don’t think there’s more to do here.”
The sun was uncomfortably hot in the deserted airless city. The stone buildings gleamed brightly, almost achingly. Trevize squinted as he looked at them and, as far as possible, walked on the shady side of the thoroughfares. He stopped at a crack in one of the building fronts, one wide enough to stick his little finger into, gloved as it was. He did just that, looked at it, muttered, “Moss,” and deliberately walked to the end of the shadow and held that finger out in the sunlight for a while.
He said, “Carbon dioxide is the bottleneck. Anywhere they can get carbon dioxide-decaying rock-anywhere-it will grow. We’re a good source of carbon dioxide, you know, probably richer than anything else on this nearly dead planet, and I suppose traces of the gas leak out at the boundary of the face-plate.”
“So the moss grows there.”
It seemed a long walk back to the ship, much longer and, of course, hotter than the one they had taken at dawn. The ship was still in the shade when they got there, however; that much Trevize had calculated correctly, at least.
Pelorat said, “Look!”
Trevize saw. The boundaries of the mainlock were outlined in green moss.
“More leakage?” said Pelorat.
“Of course. Insignificant amounts, I’m sure, but this moss seems to be a better indicator of trace amounts of carbon dioxide than anything I ever heard of. Its spores must be everywhere and wherever a few molecules of carbon dioxide are to be found, they sprout.” He adjusted his radio for ship’s wavelength and said, “Bliss, can you hear me?”
Bliss’s voice sounded in both sets of oars. “Yes. Are you ready to come in? Any luck?”
“We’re just outside,” said Trevize, “but don’t open the lock. We’ll open it from out here. Repeat, don’t open the lock.”
“Bliss, just do as I ask, will you? We can have a long discussion afterward.”
Trevize brought out his blaster and carefully lowered, its intensity to minimum, then gazed at it uncertainly. He had never used it at minimum. He looked about him. There was nothing suitably fragile to test it on.
In sheer desperation, he turned it on the rocky hillside in whose shadow the Fur Star lay.-The target didn’t turn red-hot. Automatically, he felt the spot he had hit. Did ‘it feel warm? He couldn’t tell with any degree of certainty through the insulated fabric of his suit.
He hesitated again, then thought that the hull of the ship would be as resistant, within an order of magnitude at any rate, as the hillside. He turned the blaster on the rim of the lock and flicked the contact briefly, holding his breath.
Several centimeters of the moss-like growth browned at once. He waved his hand in the vicinity of the browning and even the mild breeze set up in the thin air in this way sufficed to set the light skeletal remnants that made up the brown material to scattering.
“Does it work?” said Pelorat anxiously.
“Yes, it does,” said Trevize. “I turned the blaster into a mild heat ray.”
He sprayed the heat all around the edge of the lock and the green vanished at the touch. All of it. He struck the mainlock to create a vibration that would knock off what remained and a brown dust fell to the ground-a dust so fine that it even lingered in the thin atmosphere, buoyed up by wisps of gas.
“I think we can open it now,” said Trevize, and, using his wrist controls, he tapped out the emission of the radio-wave combination that activated the opening mechanism from inside. The lock gaped and had not opened more than halfway when Trevize said, “Don’t dawdle, Janov, get inside.-Don’t wait for the steps. Climb in.”
Trevize followed, sprayed the rim of the lock with his toned-down blaster. He sprayed the steps, too, once they had lowered. He then signaled the close_ of the lock and kept on spraying till they were totally enclosed.
Trevize said, “We’re in the lock, Bliss. We’ll stay here a few minutes. Continue to do nothing!”
Bliss’s voice said, “Give me a hint. Are you all right? How is Pel?”
Pel said, “I’m here, Bliss, and perfectly well. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“If you say so, Pel, but there’ll have to be explanations later. I hope you know that.”
“It’s a promise,” said Trevize, and activated the lock light.
The two space-suited figures faced each other.
Trevize said, “We’re pumping out all the planetary air we can, so let’s just wait till that’s done.”
“What about the ship air? Are we going to let that in?”
“Not for a while. I’m as anxious to get out of the space suit as you are, Janov. I just want to make sure that we get rid of any spores that have entered with us-or upon us.”
By the not entirely satisfactory illumination of the lock light, Trevize turned his blaster on the inner meeting of lock and hull, spraying the heat methodically along the floor, up and around, and back to the floor.
“Now you, Janov.”
Pelorat stirred uneasily, and Trevize said, “You may feel warm. It shouldn’t be any worse than that. If it grows uncomfortable, just say so.”
He played the invisible beam over the face-plate, the edges particularly, then, little by little, over the rest of the space suit.
He muttered, “Lift your arms, Janov.” Then, “Rest your arms on my shoulder, and lift one foot-I’ve got to do the soles-now the other.-Are you getting too warm?”
Pelorat said, “I’m not exactly bathed in cool breezes, Golan.”
“Well, then, give me a taste of my own medicine. Go over me.”
“I’ve never held a blaster.”
“You must hold it. Grip it so, and, with your thumb, push that little knob-and squeeze the holster tightly. Right.-Now play it over my face-plate. Move it steadily, Janov, don’t let it linger in one place too long. Over the rest of the helmet, then down the cheek and neck.”
He kept up the directions, and when he had been heated everywhere and was in an uncomfortable perspiration as a result, he took back the blaster and studied the energy level.
“More than half gone,” he said, and sprayed the interior of the lock methodically, back and forth over the wall, till the blaster was emptied of its charge, having itself heated markedly through its rapid and sustained discharge. He then restored it to its holster.
Only then did he signal for entry into the ship. He welcomed the hiss and feel of air coming into the lock as the inner door opened. Its coolness and its convective powers would carry off the warmth of the space suit far more quickly than radiation alone would do. It might have been imagination, but he felt the cooling effect at once. Imagination or not, he welcomed that, too.
“Off with your suit, Janov, and leave it out here in the lock,” said Trevize.
“If you don’t mind,” said Pelorat, “a shower is what I would like to have before anything else.”
“Not before anything else. In fact, before that, and before you can empty your bladder, even, I suspect you will have to talk to Bliss.”
Bliss was waiting for them, of course, and with a look of concern on her face. Behind her, peeping out, was Fallom, with her hands clutching firmly at Bliss’s left arm.
“What happened?” Bliss asked severely. “What’s been going on?”
“Guarding against infection,” said Trevize dryly, “so I’ll be turning on the ultraviolet radiation. Break out the dark glasses. Please don’t delay.”
With ultraviolet added to the wall illumination, Trevize took off his moist garments one by one and shook them out, turning them in one direction and another.
“Just a precaution,” he said. “You do it, too, Janov.-And, Bliss, I’ll have to peel altogether. If that will make you uncomfortable, step into the next room.”
Bliss said, “It will neither make me uncomfortable, nor embarrass me. I have a good notion of what you look like, and it will surely present me with nothing new.-What infection?”
“Just a little something that, given its own way,” said Trevize, with a deliberate air of indifference, “could do great damage to humanity, I think.”
IT was all done. The ultraviolet light had done its part. Officially, according to the complex films of information and instructions that had come with the Far Star when Trevize had first gone aboard back on Terminus, the light was there precisely for purposes of disinfection. Trevize suspected, however, that the temptation was always there, and sometimes yielded to, to use it for developing a fashionable tan for those who were from worlds where tans were fashionable. The light was, however, disinfecting, however used.
They took the ship up into space and Trevize maneuvered it as close to Melpomenia’s sun as he might without making them all unpleasantly uncomfortable, turning and twisting the vessel so as to make sure that its entire surface was drenched in ultraviolet.
Finally, they rescued the two space suits that had been left in the lock and examined them until even Trevize was satisfied.
“All that,” said Bliss, at last, “for moss. Isn’t that what you said it was, Trevize? Moss?”
“I call it moss,” said Trevize, “because that’s what it reminded me of. I’m not a botanist, however. All I can say is that it’s intensely green and can probably make do on very little light-energy.”
“Why very little?”
“The moss is sensitive to ultraviolet and can’t grow, or even survive, in direct illumination. Its spores are everywhere and it grows in hidden corners, in cracks in statuary, on the bottom surface of structures, feeding on the energy of scattered photons of light wherever there is a source of carbon dioxide.”
Bliss said, “I take it you think they’re dangerous.”
“They might well be. If some of the spores were clinging to us when we entered, or swirled in with us, they would find illumination in plenty without the harmful ultraviolet. They would find ample water and an unending supply of carbon dioxide.”
“Only 0.03 percent of our atmosphere,” said Bliss.
“A great deal to them-and 4 percent in our exhaled breath. What if spores grew in our nostrils, and on our skin? What if they decomposed and destroyed our food? What if they produced toxins that killed us? Even if we labored to kill them but left some spores alive, they would be enough, when carried to another world by us, to infest it, and from there be carried to other worlds. Who knows what damage they might do?”
Bliss shook her head. “Life is not necessarily dangerous because it is different. You are so ready to kill.”
“That’s Gaia speaking,” said Trevize.
“Of course it is, but I hope I make sense, nevertheless. The moss is adapted to the conditions of this world. Just as it makes use of light in small quantities but is killed by large; it makes use of occasional tiny whiffs of carbon dioxide and may be killed by large amounts. It may not be capable of surviving on any world but Melpomenia.”
“Would you want me to take a chance on that?” demanded Trevize.
Bliss shrugged. “Very well. Don’t be defensive. I see your point. Being an Isolate, you probably had no choice but to do what you did.”
Trevize would have answered, but Fallom’s clear high-pitched voice broke in, in her own language.
Trevize said to Pelorat, “What’s she saying?”
Pelorat began, “What Fallom is saying-”
Fallom, however, as though remembering a moment too late that her own language was not easily understood, began again. “Was there Jemby there where you were?”
The words were pronounced meticulously, and Bliss beamed. “Doesn’t she speak Galactic well? And in almost no time.”
Trevize said, in a low voice, “I’ll mess it up if I try, but you explain to her, Bliss, that we found no robots on the planet.”
“I’ll explain it,” said Pelorat. “Come, Fallom.” He placed a gentle arm about the youngster’s shoulders. “Come to our room and I’ll get you another book to read.”
“A book? About Jemby?”
“Not exactly-” And the door closed behind them.
“You know,” said Trevize, looking after them impatiently, “we waste our time playing nursemaid to that child.”
“Waste? In what way does it interfere with your search for Earth, Trevize?-In no way. Playing nursemaid establishes communication, however, allays fear, supplies love. Are these achievements nothing?”
“That’s Gaia speaking again.”
“Yes,” said Bliss. “Let us be practical, then. We have visited three of the old Spacer worlds and we have gained nothing.”
Trevize nodded. “True enough.”
“In fact, we have found each one dangerous, haven’t we? On Aurora, there were feral dogs; on Solaria, strange and dangerous human beings; on Melpomenia, a threatening moss. Apparently, then, when a world is left to itself, whether it contains human beings or not, it becomes dangerous to the Interstellar community.”
“You can’t consider, that a general rule.”
“Three out of three certainly seems impressive.”
“And how does it impress you, Bliss?”
“I’ll tell you. Please listen to me with an open mind. If you have millions of interacting worlds in the Galaxy, as is, of course, the affil case, and if. each is made up entirely of Isolates, as they are, then on each world, human beings are dominant and can force their will on nonhuman life-forms, on the inanimate geological background, and even on each other. The Galaxy is, then, a very primitive and fumbling and misfunctioning Galaxia. The beginnings of a unit. Do you see what I mean?”
“I see what you’re trying to say-but that doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with you when you’re done saying it.”
“Just listen to me. Agree or not, as you please, but listen. The only way the Galaxy will work .is as a proto-Galaxia, and the less proto and the more Galaxia, the better. The Galactic Empire was an attempt at a strong proto-Galaxia, and when it fell apart, times grew rapidly worse and there was the constant drive to strengthen the proto-Galaxia concept. The Foundation Confederation is such an attempt. So was the Mule’s Empire. So is the Empire the Second Foundation is planning. But even if there were no such Empires or Confederations; even if-the entire Galaxy were in turmoil, it would be a connected turmoil, with each world interacting, even if only hostilely, with every other. That would, in itself, be a kind of union and it would not yet be the worst case.”
“What would be the worst, then?”
“You know the answer to that, Trevize. You’ve seen it. If a human-inhabited world breaks up completely, is truly Isolate, and if it loses all interaction with other human worlds, it develops-malignantly.”
“A cancer, then?”
“Yes. Isn’t Solaria just that? Its hand is against all worlds. And on it, the hand of each individual is against those of all others. You’ve seen it. And if human beings disappear altogether, the last trace of discipline goes. The each-against-each becomes unreasoning, as with the dogs, or is merely an elemental force as with the moss. You see, I suppose, that the closer we are to Galaxia, the better the society. Why, then, stop at anything short of Galaxia?”
For a while, Trevize stared silently at Bliss. “I’m thinking about it. But why this assumption that dosage is a one-way thing; that if a little is good, a lot is better, and all there is is best of all? Didn’t you yourself point out that it’s possible the moss is adapted to very little carbon dioxide so that a plentiful supply might kill it? A human being two meters tall is better off than one who is one meter tall; but is also better off than one who is three meters tall. A mouse isn’t better off, if it is expanded to the size of an elephant. He wouldn’t live. Nor would an elephant be better off reduced to the size of a mouse.
“There’s natural size, a natural complexity, some optimum quality for everything, whether star or atom, and it’s certainly true of living things and living societies. I don’t say the old Galactic Empire was ideal, and I csfa certainly see saws in the Foundation Confederation, but rm not prey say that because total Isolation is bad, total Unification is good. The eats: may both be equally horrible, and an old-fashioned Galactic Empire, however imperfect, may be the best we can do.”
Bliss shook her head. “I wonder if you believe yourself, Trevize. Are you going to argue that a virus and a human being are equally unsatisfactory, and wish to settle for something in-between-like a slime mold?”
“No. But I might argue that a virus and a superhuman being are equally unsatisfactory, and wish to settle for something in-between-like an ordinary person.-There is, however, no point in arguing. I will have my solution when I find Earth. On Melpomenia, we found the co-ordinates of forty-seven other Spacer worlds.”
“And you’ll visit them all?”
“Every one, if I have to.”
“Risking the dangers on each.”
“Yes, if that’s what it takes to find Earth.”
Pelorat had emerged from the room within which he had left Fallom, and seemed about to say something when he was caught up in the rapid-fire exchange between Bliss and Trevize. He stared from one to the other as they spoke in turn.
“How long would it take?” asked Bliss.
“However long it takes,” said Trevize, “and we ought find what we need on y the next one we visit.”
“Or on none of them.”
“That we cannot know till we search.”
And now, at last, Pelorat managed to insert a word. “But why look, Golan? We have the answer.”
Trevize waved an impatient hand in the direction of Pelorat, checked the motion, turned his head, and said blankly, “What?”
“I said we have the answer. I tried to tell you this on Melpomenia at least five times, but you were so wrapped up in what you were doing-”
“What answer do we have? What are you talking about?”
“About Earth. I think we know where Earth is.”