THE Far Star took off quietly, rising slowly through the atmosphere, leaving the dark island below. The few faint dots of light beneath them dimmed and vanished, and as the atmosphere grew thinner with height, the ship’s speed grew greater, and the dots of light in the sky above them grew more numerous and brighter.
Eventually, they looked down upon the planet, Alpha, with only a crescent illuminated and that crescent largely wreathed in clouds.
Pelorat said, “I suppose they don’t have an active space technology. They can’t follow us.”
“I’m not sure that that cheers me up much,” said Trevize, his face dour, his voice disheartened. “I’m infected.”
“But with an inactive strain,” said Bliss.
“Still, it can be made active. They had a method. What is the method?”
Bliss shrugged. “Hiroko said the virus, left inactive, would eventually die in a body unadapted to it-as yours is.”
“Yes?” said Trevize angrily. “How does she know that? For that matter, how do I know that Hiroko’s statement wasn’t a self-consoling lie? And isn’t it possible that the method of activation, whatever it is, might not be duplicated naturally? A particular chemical, a type of radiation, a-a-who knows what? I may sicken suddenly, and then the three of you would die, too. Or if it happens after we have reached a populated world, there may be a vicious pandemic which fleeing refugees would carry to other worlds.”
He looked at Bliss. “Is there something you can do about it?”
Slowly, Bliss shook her head. “Not easily. There are parasites making up Gaia-microorganisms, worms. They are a benign part of the ecological balance. They live and contribute to the world consciousness, but never overgrow. They live without doing noticeable harm. The trouble is, Trevize, the virus that affects you is not part of Gaia.”
“You say ‘not easily,”‘ said Trevize, frowning. “Under the circumstances, can you take the trouble to do it even though it might be difficult? Can you locate the virus in me and destroy it? Can you, failing that, at least strengthen my defenses?”
“Do you realize what you ask, Trevize? I am not acquainted with the microscopic flora of your body. I might not easily tell a virus in the cells of your body from the normal genes inhabiting them. It would be even more difficult to distinguish between viruses your body is accustomed to and those with which Hiroko infected you. I will try to do it, Trevize, but it will take time and I may not succeed.”
“Take time,” said Trevize. “Try.”
“Certainly,” said Bliss.
Pelorat said, “If Hiroko told the truth, Bliss, you might be able to find viruses that seem to be already diminishing in vitality, and you could accelerate their decline.”
“I could do that,” said Bliss. “It is a good thought.”
“You won’t weaken?” said Trevize. “You will have to destroy precious bits of life when you kill those viruses, you know.”
“You are being sardonic, Trevize,” said Bliss coolly, “but, sardonic or not, you are pointing out a true difficulty. Still, I can scarcely fail to put you ahead of the virus. I will kill them if I have the chance, never fear. After all, even if I fail to consider you”-and her mouth twitched as though she were repressing a smile-”then certainly Pelorat and Fallom are also at risk, and you might feel more confidence in my feeling for them than in my feeling for you. You might even remember that I myself am at risk.”
“I have no faith in your self-love,” muttered Trevize. “You’re perfectly ready to give up your life for some high motive. I’ll accept your concern for Pelorat, however.” Then, he said, “I don’t hear Fallom’s flute. Is anything wrong with her?”
“No,” said Bliss. “She’s asleep. A perfectly natural sleep that I had nothing to do with. And I would suggest that, after you work out the Jump to the star we think is Earth’s sun, we all do likewise. I need it badly and I suspect you do, too, Trevize.”
“Yes, if I can manage.-You were right, you know, Bliss.”
“About what, Trevize?”
“About Isolates. New Earth was not a paradise, however much it might have seemed like one. That hospitality-all that outgoing friendliness at first-was to put us off our guard, so that one of us might be easily infected. And all the hospitality afterward, the festivals of this and that, were designed to keep us there till the fishing fleet returned and the activation could be carried through. And it would have worked but for Fallom and her music. It might be you were right there, too.”
“Yes. I didn’t want to take her along, and I’ve never been happy with her being on the ship. It was your doing, Bliss, that we have her here and it was she who, unwittingly, saved us. And yet-”
“And yet what?”
“Despite that, I’m still uneasy at Fallom’s presence. I don’t know why.”
“If it will make you feel better, Trevize, I don’t know that we can lay all the credit at Fallom’s feet. Hiroko advanced Fallom’s music as her excuse for committing what the other Alphans would surely consider to be an act of treason. She may even have believed this, but there was something in her mind in addition, something that I vaguely detected but could not surely identify, something that perhaps she was ashamed to let emerge into her conscious mind. I am under the impression that she felt a warmth for you, and would not willingly see you die, regardless of Fallom and her music.”
“Do you really think so?” said Trevize, smiling slightly for the first time since they had left Alpha.
“I think so. You must have a certain proficiency at dealing with women. You persuaded Minister Lizalor to allow us to take our ship and leave Comporellon, and you helped influence Hiroko to save our lives. Credit where it’s due.”
Trevize smiled more broadly. “Well, if you say so.-On to Earth, then.” He disappeared into the pilot-room with a step that was almost jaunty.
Pelorat, lingering behind, said, “You soothed him after all, didn’t you, Bliss?”
“No, Pelorat, I never touched his mind.”
“You certainly did when you pampered his male vanity so outrageously.”
“Entirely indirect,” said Bliss, smiling.
“Even so, thank you, Bliss.”
AFTER THE Jump, the star that might well be Earth’s sun was still a tenth of a parsec away. It was the brightest object in the sky by far, but it was still no more than a star.
Trevize kept its light filtered for ease of viewing, and studied it somberly.
He said, “There seems no doubt that it is the virtual twin of Alpha, the star that New Earth circles. Yet Alpha is in the computer map and this star is not. We don’t have a name for this star, we aren’t given its statistics, we lack any information concerning its planetary system, if it has one.”
Pelorat said, “Isn’t that what we would expect if Earth circles this sun? Such a blackout of information would fit with the fact that all information about Earth seems to have been eliminated.”
“Yes, but it could also mean that it’s a Spacer world that just happened not to be on the list on the wall of the Melpomenian building. We can’t be altogether sure that that list was complete. Or this star could be without planets and therefore perhaps not worth listing on a computer map which is primarily used for military and commercial purposes.-Janov, is there any legend that tells of Earth’s sun being a mere parsec or so from a twin of itself.”
Pelorat shook his head. “I’m sorry, Golan, but no such legend occurs to me. There may be one, though. My memory isn’t perfect. I’ll search for it.”
“It’s not important. Is there any name given to Earth’s sun?”
“Some different names are given. I imagine there must be a name in each of the different languages.”
“I keep forgetting that Earth had many languages.”
“It must have had. It’s the only way of making sense out of many of the legends.”
Trevize said peevishly, “Well, then, what do we do? We can’t tell anything about the planetary system from this distance, and we have to move closer. I would like to be cautious, but there’s such a thing as excessive and unreasoning caution, and I see no evidence of possible danger. Presumably anything powerful enough to wipe the Galaxy clean of information about Earth may be powerful enough to wipe us out even at this distance if they seriously did not wish to be located, but nothing’s happened. It isn’t rational to stay here forever on the mere possibility that something might happen if we move closer, is it?”
Bliss said, “I take it the computer detects nothing that might be interpreted as dangerous.”
“When I say I see no evidence of possible danger, it’s the computer I’m relying on. I certainly can’t see anything with the unaided eye. I wouldn’t expect to.”
“Then I take it you’re just looking for support in making what you consider a risky decision. All right, then. I’m with you. We haven’t come this far in order to turn back for no reason, have we?”
“No,” said Trevize. “What do you say, Pelorat?”
Pelorat said, “I’m willing to move on, if only out of curiosity. It would be unbearable to go back without knowing if we have found Earth.”
“Well, then,” said Trevize, “we’re all agreed.”
“Not all,” said Pelorat. “There’s Fallom.”
Trevize looked astonished. “Are you suggesting we consult the child? Of what value would her opinion be even if she had one? Besides, all she would want would be to get back to her own world.”
“Can you blame her for that?” asked Bliss warmly.
And because the matter of Fallom had arisen, Trevize became aware of her flute, which was sounding in a rather stirring march rhythm.
“Listen to her,” he said. “Where has she ever heard anything in march rhythm?”
“Perhaps Jemby played marches on the flute for her.”
Trevize shook his head. “I doubt it. Dance rhythms, I should think, lullabies.-Listen, Fallom makes me uneasy. She learns too quickly.”
“I help her,” said Bliss. “Remember that. And she’s very intelligent and she has been extraordinarily stimulated in the time she’s been with us. New sensations have flooded her mind. She’s seen space, different worlds, many people, all for the first time.”
Fallom’s march music grew wilder and more richly barbaric.
Trevize sighed and said, “Well, she’s here, and she’s producing music that seems to breathe optimism, and delight in adventure. I’ll take that as her vote in favor of moving in more closely. Let us do so cautiously, then, and check this sun’s planetary system.”
“If any,” said Bliss.
Trevize smiled thinly. “There’s a planetary system. It’s a bet. Choose your sum.”
“You lose,” said Trevize abstractedly. “How much money did you decide to bet?”
“None. I never accepted the wager,” said Bliss.
“Just as well. I wouldn’t like to accept the money, anyway.”
They were some 10 billion kilometers from the sun. It was still star-like, but it was nearly 1/4,000 as bright as the average sun would have been when viewed from the surface of a habitable planet.
“We can see two planets under magnification, right now,” said Trevize. “From their measured diameters and from the spectrum of the reflected light, they are clearly gas giants.”
The ship was well outside the planetary plane, and Bliss and Pelorat, staring over Trevize’s shoulder at the viewscreen, found themselves looking at two tiny crescents of greenish light. The smaller was in the somewhat thicker phase of the two.
Trevize said, “Janov! It is correct, isn’t it, that Earth’s sun is suppose to have four gas giants.”
“According to the legends. Yes,” said Pelorat.
“The nearest of the four to the sun is the largest, and the second nearest has rings. Right?”
“Large prominent rings, Golan. Yes. Just the same, old chap, you have to allow for exaggeration in the telling and retelling of a legend. If we should not find a planet with an extraordinary ring system, I don’t think we ought to let that count seriously against this being Earth’s star.”
“Nevertheless, the two we see may be the farthest, and the two nearer ones may well be on the other side of the sun and too far .to be easily located against the background of stars. We’ll have to move still closer-and beyond the sun to the other side.”
“Can that be done in the presence of the star’s nearby mass?”
“With reasonable caution, the computer can do it, I’m sure. If it judges the danger to be too great, however, it will refuse to budge us, and we can then move in cautious, smaller steps.”
His mind directed the computer-and the starfield on the viewscreen changed. The star brightened sharply and then moved off the viewscreen as the computer, following directions, scanned the sky for another gas giant. It did so successfully.
All three onlookers stiffened and stared, while Trevize’s mind, almost helpless with astonishment, fumbled at the computer to direct further magnification.
“Incredible,” gasped Bliss.
A GAS giant was in view, seen at an angle that allowed most of it to be sunlit. About it, there curved a broad and brilliant ring of material, tipped so as to catch the sunlight on the side being viewed. It was brighter than the planet itself and along it, one third of the way in toward the planet, was a narrow, dividing line.
Trevize threw in a request for maximum enhancement and the ring became ringlets, narrow and concentric, glittering in the sunlight. Only a portion of the ring system was visible on the viewscreen and the planet itself had moved off. A further direction from Trevize and one corner of the screen marked itself off and showed, within itself, a miniature of the planet and rings under lesser magnification.
“Is that sort of thing common?” asked Bliss, awed.
“No,” said Trevize. “Almost every gas giant has rings of debris, but they tend to be faint and narrow. I once saw one in which the rings were narrow, but quite bright. But I never saw anything like this; or heard of it, either.”
Pelorat said, “That’s clearly the ringed giant the legends speak of. If this is really unique-”
“Really unique, as far as I know, or as far as the computer knows,” said Trevize.
“Then this must be the planetary system containing Earth. Surely, no one could invent such a planet. It would have had to have been seen to be described.”
Trevize said, “I’m prepared to believe just about anything your legends say now. This is the sixth planet and Earth would be the third?”
“Then I would say we were less than 1.5 billion kilometers from Earth, and we haven’t been stopped. Gaia stopped us when we approached.”
Bliss said, “You were closer to Gaia when you were stopped.”
“Ah,” said Trevize, “but it’s my opinion Earth is more powerful than Gaia, and I take this to be a good sign. If we are not stopped, it may be that Earth does not object to our approach.”
“Or that there is no Earth,” said Bliss.
“Do you care to bet this time?” asked Trevize grimly.
“What I think Bliss means,” put in Pelorat, “is that Earth may be radioactive as everyone seems to think, and that no one stops us because there is no life on the Earth.”
“No,” said Trevize violently. “I’ll believe everything that’s said about Earth, but that. We’ll just close in on Earth and see for ourselves. And I have the feeling we won’t be stopped.”
THE GAS giants were well behind. An asteroid belt lay just inside the gas giant nearest the sun. (That gas giant was the largest and most massive, just as the legends said.)
Inside the asteroid belt were four planets.
Trevize studied them carefully. “The third is the largest. The size is appropriate .and the distance from the sun is appropriate. It could be habitable.”
Pelorat caught what seemed to be a note of uncertainty in Trevize’s words.
He said, “Does it have an atmosphere?”
“Oh yes,” said Trevize. “The second, third, and fourth planets all have atmospheres. And, as in the old children’s tale, the second’s is too dense, the fourth’s is not dense enough, but the third’s is just right.”
“Do you think it might be Earth, then?”
“Think?” said Trevize almost explosively. “I don’t have to think. It is Earth. It has the giant satellite you told me of.”
“It has?” And Pelorat’s face broke into a wider smile than any that Trevize had ever seen upon it.
“Absolutely! Here, look at it under maximum magnification.”
Pelorat saw two crescents, one distinctly larger and brighter than the other.
“Is that smaller one the satellite?” he asked.
“Yes. It’s rather farther from the planet than one might expect but it’s definitely revolving about it. It’s only the size of a small planet; in fact, it’s smaller than any of the four inner planets circling the sun. Still, it’s large for a satellite. It’s at least two thousand kilometers in diameter, which makes it in the size range of the large satellites that revolve about gas giants.”
“No larger?” Pelorat seemed disappointed. “Then it’s not a giant satellite?”
“Yes, it is. A satellite with a diameter of two to three thousand kilometers that is circling an enormous gas giant is one thing. That same satellite circling a small, rocky habitable planet is quite another. That satellite has a diameter over a quarter that of Earth. Where have you heard of such near-parity involving a habitable planet?”
Pelorat said timidly, “I know very little of such things.”
Trevize said, “Then take my word for it, Janov. It’s unique. We’re looking at something that is practically a double planet, and there are few habitable planets that have anything more than pebbles orbiting them. -Janov, if you consider that gas giant with its enormous ring system in sixth place, and this planet with its enormous satellite in third-both of which your legends told you about, against all credibility, before you ever saw them-then that world you’re looking at must be Earth. It cannot conceivably be anything else. We’ve found it, Janov; we’ve found it.”
THEY WERE on the second day of their coasting progress toward Earth, and Bliss yawned over the dinner meal. She said, “It seems to me we’ve spent more time coasting toward and away from planets than anything else. We’ve spent weeks at it, literally.”
“Partly,” said Trevize, “that’s because Jumps are dangerous too close to a star. And in this case, we’re moving very slowly because I do not wish to advance into possible danger too quickly.”
“I thought you said you had the feeling we would not be stopped.”
“So I do, but I don’t want to stake everything on a feeling.” Trevize looked at the contents of the spoon before putting it into his mouth and said, “You know, I miss the fish we had on Alpha. We only had three meals there.”
“A pity,” agreed Pelorat.
“Well,” said Bliss, “we visited five worlds and had to leave each one of them so hurriedly that we never had time to add to our food supplies and introduce variety. Even when the world had food to offer, as did Comporellon and Alpha, and, presumably-”
She did not complete the sentence, for Fallom, looking up quickly, finished it for her. “Solaria? Could you get no food there? There is plenty of food there. As much as on Alpha. And better, too.”
“I know that, Fallom,” said Bliss. “There was just no time.”
Fallom stared at her solemnly. “Will I ever see Jemby again, Bliss? Tell me the truth.”
Bliss said, “You may, if we return to Solaria.”
“Will we ever return to Solaria?”
Bliss hesitated. “I cannot say.”
“Now we go to Earth, is that right? Isn’t that the planet where you say we all originate?”
“Where our forebears originated,” said Bliss.
“I can say ‘ancestors,”‘ said Fallom.
“Yes, we are going to Earth.”
Bliss said lightly, “Wouldn’t anyone wish to see the world of their ancestors?”
“I think there’s more to it. You all seem so concerned.”
“But we’ve never been there before. We don’t know what to expect.”
“I think it is more than that.”
Bliss smiled. “You’ve finished eating, Fallom dear, so why not go to the room and let us have a little serenade on your flute. You’re playing it more beautifully all the time. Come, come.” She gave Fallom an accelerating pat on the rear end, and off Fallom went, turning only once to give Trevize a thoughtful look.
Trevize looked after her with clear distaste. “Does that thing read minds?”
“Don’t call her a ‘thing,’ Trevize,” said Bliss sharply.
“Does she read minds? You ought to be able to tell.”
“No, she doesn’t. Nor can Gaia. Nor can the Second Foundationers. Reading minds in the sense of overhearing a conversation, or making out precise ideas is not something that can be done now, or in the foreseeable future. We can detect, interpret, and, to some extent, manipulate emotions, but that is not the same thing at all.”
“How do you know she can’t do this thing that supposedly can’t be done?”
“Because as you have just said, I ought to be able to tell.”
“Perhaps she is manipulating you so that you remain ignorant of the fact that she can.”
Bliss rolled her eyes upward. “Be reasonable, Trevize. Even if she had unusual abilities, she could do nothing with me for I am not Bliss, I am Gaia. You keep forgetting. Do you know the mental inertia represented by an entire planet? Do you think one Isolate, however talented, can overcome that?”
“You don’t know everything, Bliss, so don’t be overconfident,” said Trevize sullenly. “That th-She has been with us not very long. I couldn’t learn anything but the rudiments of a language in that time, yet she already speaks Galactic perfectly and with virtually a full vocabulary. Yes, I know you’ve been helping her, but I wish you would stop.”
“I told you I was helping her, but I also told you she’s fearfully intelligent. Intelligent enough so that I would like to have her part of Gaia. If we can gather her in; if she’s still young enough; we might learn enough about the Solarians to absorb that entire world eventually. It might well be useful to us.”
“Does it occur to you that the Solarians are pathological Isolates even by my standards?”
“They wouldn’t stay so as part of Gaia.”
“I think you’re wrong, Bliss. I think that Solarian child is dangerous and that we should get rid of her.”
“How? Dump her through the airlock? Kill her, chop her up, and add her to our food supply?”
Pelorat said, “Oh, Bliss.”
And Trevize said, “That’s disgusting, and completely uncalled for.” He listened for a moment. The flute was sounding without flaw or waver, and they had been talking in half-whispers. “When this is all over, we’ve got to return her to Solaria, and make sure that Solaria is forever cut off from the Galaxy. My own feeling is that it should be destroyed. I distrust and fear it.”
Bliss thought awhile and said, “Trevize, I know that you have the knack of coming to a right decision, but I also know you have been antipathetic to Fallom from the start. I suspect that may just be because you were humiliated on Solaria and have taken a violent hatred to the planet and its inhabitants as a result. Since I must not tamper with your mind, I can’t tell that for sure. Please remember that if we had not taken Fallom with us, we would be on Alpha right now-dead and, I presume, buried.”
“I know that, Bliss, but even so-”
“And her intelligence is to be admired, not envied.”
“I do not envy her. I fear her.”
Trevize licked his lips thoughtfully. “No, not quite.”
“I don’t know. Bliss, if I knew what I feared, I might not have to fear it. It’s something I don’t quite understand.” His voice lowered, as though he were speaking to himself. “The Galaxy seems to be crowded with things I don’t understand. Why did I choose Gaia? Why must I find Earth? Is there a missing assumption in psychohistory? If there is, what is it? And on top of all that, why does Fallom make me uneasy?”
Bliss said, “Unfortunately, I can’t answer those questions.” She rose, and left the room.
Pelorat looked after her, then said, “Surely things aren’t totally black, Golan. We’re getting closer and closer to Earth and once we reach it all mysteries may be solved. And so far nothing seems to be making any effort to stop us from reaching it.”
Trevize’s eyes flickered toward Pelorat and he said in a low voice, “I wish something would.”
Pelorat said, “You do? Why should you want that?”
“Frankly, I’d welcome a sign of life.”
Pelorat’s eyes opened wide. “Have you found that Earth is radioactive after all?”
“Not quite. But it is warm. A bit warmer than I would have expected.”
“Is that bad?”
“Not necessarily. It may be rather warm but that wouldn’t make it necessarily uninhabitable. The cloud cover is thick and it is definitely water vapor, so that those clouds, together with a copious water ocean, could tend to keep things livable despite the temperature we calculated from microwave emission. I can’t be sure, yet. It’s just that-”
“Well, if Earth were radioactive, that might well account for its being warmer than expected.”
“But that doesn’t argue the reverse, does it? If it’s warmer than expected, that doesn’t mean it must be radioactive.”
“No. No, it doesn’t.” Trevize managed to force a smile. “No use brooding, Janov. In a day or two, I’ll be able to tell more about it and we’ll know for sure.”
FALLOM was sitting on the cot in deep thought when Bliss came into the room. Fallom looked up briefly, then down again.
Bliss said quietly, “What’s the matter, Fallom?”
Fallom said, “Why does Trevize dislike me so much, Bliss?”
“What makes you think he dislikes you.”
“He looks at me impatiently-Is that the word?”
“It might be the word.”
“He looks at me impatiently when I am near him. His face always twists a little.”
“Trevize is having a hard time, Fallom.”
“Because he’s looking for Earth?”
Fallom thought awhile, then said, “He is particularly impatient when I think something into moving.”
Bliss’s lips tightened. “Now, Fallom, didn’t I tell you you must not do that, especially when Trevize is present?”
“Well, it was yesterday, right here in this room, and he was in the doorway and I didn’t notice. I didn’t know he was watching. It was just one of Pel’s book-films, anyway, and I was trying to make it stand on one tip. I wasn’t doing any harm.”
“It makes him nervous, Fallom, and I want you not to do it, whether he’s watching or not.”
“Does it make him nervous because he can’t do it?”
“Can you do it?”
Bliss shook her head slowly. “No, I can’t.”
“It doesn’t make you nervous when I do it. It doesn’t make Pel nervous, either.”
“People are different.”
“I know,” said Fallom, with a sudden hardness that surprised Bliss and caused her to frown.
“What do you know, Fallom?”
“Of course, I just said so. People are different.”
“My shape is different. I can move things.”
Fallom said, with a shade of rebelliousness, “I must move things. Trevize should not be angry with me for that, and you should not stop me.”
“But why must you move things?”
“It is practice. Exerceez.-Is that the right word?”
“Not quite. Exercise.”
“Yes. Jemby always said I must train my-my-”
“Yes. And make them strong. Then, when I was grown up, I could power all the robots. Even Jemby.”
“Fallom, who did power all the robots if you did not?”
“Bander.” Fallom said it very matter-of-factly.
“Did you know Bander?”
“Of course. I viewed him many times. I was to be the next estate-head. The Bander estate would become the Fallom estate. Jemby told me so.”
“You mean Bander came to your-”
Fallom’s mouth made a perfect O of shock. She said in a choked voice, “Bander would never come to-” The youngster ran out of breath and panted a bit, then said, “I viewed Bander’s image.”
Bliss asked hesitantly, “How did Bander treat you?”
Fallom looked at Bliss with a faintly puzzled eye. “Bander would ask me if I needed anything; if I was comfortable. But Jemby was always near me so I never needed anything and I was always comfortable.”
Her head bent and she stared at the floor. Then she placed her hands over her eyes and said, “But Jemby stopped. I think it was because Bander-stopped, too.”
Bliss said, “Why do you say that?”
“I’ve been thinking about it. Bander powered all the robots, and if Jemby stopped, and all the other robots, too, it must be that Bander stopped. Isn’t that so?”
Bliss was silent.
Fallom said, “But when you take me back to Solaria I will power Jemby and all the rest of the robots, and I will be happy again.”
She was sobbing.
Bliss said, “Aren’t you happy with us, Fallom? Just a little? Sometimes?”
Fallom lifted her tear-stained face to Bliss and her voice trembled as she shook her head and said, “I want Jemby.”
In an agony of sympathy, Bliss threw her arms about the youngster. “Oh, Fallom, how I wish I could bring you and Jemby together again,” and was suddenly aware that she was weeping, too.
PELORAT entered and found them so. He halted in mid-step and said, “What’s the matter?”
Bliss detached herself and fumbled for a small tissue so that she might wipe her eyes. She shook her head, and Pelorat at once said, with heightened concern, “But what’s the matter?”
Bliss said, “Fallom, just rest a little. I’ll think of something to make things a little better for you. Remember-I love you just the same way that Jemby did.”
She seized Pelorat’s elbow and rushed him out into the living room, saying, “It’s nothing, Pel.-Nothing.”
“It’s Fallom, though, isn’t it? She still misses Jemby.”
“Terribly. And there’s nothing we can do about it. I can tell her that I love her-and, truthfully, I do. How can you help loving a child so intelligent and gentle?-Fearfully intelligent. Trevize thinks too intelligent. She’s seen Bander in her time, you know-or viewed it, rather, as a holographic image. She’s not moved by that memory, however; she’s very cold and matter-of-fact about it, and I can understand why. There was only the fact that Bander was owner of the estate and that Fallom would be the next owner that bound them. No other relationship at all.”
“Does Fallom understand that Bander is her father?”
“Her mother. If we agree that Fallom is to be regarded as feminine, so is Bander.”
“Either way, Bliss dear. Is Fallom aware of the parental relationship?”
“I don’t know that she would understand what that is. She may, of course, but she gave no hint. However, Pel, she has reasoned out that Bander is dead, for it’s dawned on her that Jemby’s inactivation must be the result of power loss and since Bander supplied the power-That frightens me.”
Pelorat said thoughtfully, “Why should it, Bliss? It’s only a logical inference, after all.”
“Another logical inference can be drawn from that death. Deaths must be few and far distant on Solaria with its long-lived and isolated Spacers. Experience of natural death must be a limited one for any of them, and probably absent altogether for a Solarian child of Fallom’s age. If Fallom continues to think of Bander’s death, she’s going to begin to wonder why Bander died, and the fact that it happened when we strangers were on the planet will surely lead her to the obvious cause and effect.”
“That we killed Bander?”
“It wasn’t we who killed Bander, Pel. It was I. “
“She couldn’t guess that.”
“But I would have to tell her that. She is annoyed with Trevize as it is, and he is clearly the leader of the expedition. She would take it for granted that it would be he who would have brought about the death of Bander, and how could I allow Trevize to bear the blame unjustly?”
“What would it matter, Bliss? The child feels nothing for her fath-mother. Only for her robot, Jemby.”
“But the death of the mother meant the death of her robot, too. I almost did own up to my responsibility. I was strongly tempted.”
“So I could explain it my way. So I could soothe her, forestall her own discovery of the fact in a reasoning process that would work it out in a way that would offer no justification for it.”
“But there was justification. It was self-defense. In a moment, we all would have been dead, if you had not acted.”
“It’s what I would have said, but I could not bring myself to explain. I was afraid she wouldn’t believe me.”
Pelorat shook his head. He said, sighing, “Do you suppose it might have been better if we had not brought her? The situation makes you so unhappy.”
“No,” said Bliss angrily, “don’t say that. It would have made me infinitely more unhappy to have to sit here right now and remember that we had left an innocent child behind to be slaughtered mercilessly because of what we had done.”
“It’s the way of Fallom’s world.”
“Now, Pel, don’t fall into Trevize’s way of thinking. Isolates find it possible to accept such things and think no more about it. The way of Gaia is to save life, however, not destroy it-or to sit idly by while it is destroyed. Life of all kinds must, we all know, constantly be coming to an end in order that other life might endure, but never uselessly, never to no end. Bander’s death, though unavoidable, is hard enough to bear; Fallom’s would have been past all bounds.”
“Ah well,” said Pelorat, “I suppose you’re right.-And in any case, it is not the problem of Fallom concerning which I’ve come to see you. It’s Trevize.”
“What about Trevize?”
“Bliss, I’m worried about him. He’s waiting to determine the facts about Earth, and I’m not sure he can withstand the strain.”
“I don’t fear for him. I suspect he has a sturdy and stable mind.”
“We all have our limits. Listen, the planet Earth is warmer than he expected it to be; he told me so. I suspect that he thinks it may be too warm for life, though he’s clearly trying to talk himself into believing that’s not so.”
“Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s not too warm for life.”
“Also, he admits it’s possible that the warmth might possibly arise from a radioactive crust, but he is refusing to believe that also.-In a day or two, we’ll be close enough so that the truth of the matter will be unmistakable. What if Earth is radioactive?”
“Then he’ll have to accept the fact.”
“But-I don’t know how to say this, or how to put it in mental terms. What if his mind-”
Bliss waited, then said wryly, “Blows a fuse?”
“Yes. Blows a fuse. Shouldn’t you do something now to strengthen him? Keep him level and under control, so to speak?”
“No, Pel. I can’t believe he’s that fragile, and there is a firm Gaian decision that his mind must not be tampered with.”
“But that’s the very point. He has this unusual ‘rightness,’ or whatever you want to call it. The shock of his entire project falling to nothingness at the moment when it seems successfully concluded may not destroy his brain, but it may destroy his ‘rightness.’ It’s a very unusual property he has. Might it not be unusually fragile, too?”
Bliss remained for a moment in thought. Then she shrugged. “Well, perhaps I’ll keep an eye on him.”
FOR THE next thirty-six hours, Trevize was vaguely aware that Bliss and, to a lesser degree, Pelorat, tended to dog his footsteps. Still, that was not utterly unusual in a ship as compact as theirs, and he had other things on his mind.
Now, as he sat at the computer, he was aware of them standing just inside the doorway. He looked up at them, his face blank.
“Well?” he said, in a very quiet voice.
Pelorat said, rather awkwardly, “How are you, Golan?”
Trevize said, “Ask Bliss. She’s been staring at me intently for hours. She must be poking through my mind.-Aren’t you, Bliss?”
“No, I am not,” said Bliss evenly, “but if you feel the need for my help, I can try.-Do you want my help?”
“No, why should I? Leave me alone. Both of you.”
Pelorat said, “Please tell us what’s going on.”
“Yes, it is. What everyone insisted on telling us is perfectly true.” Trevize gestured at the viewscreen, where Earth presented its nightside and was eclipsing the sun. It was a solid circle of black against the starry sky, its circumference outlined by a broken orange curve.
Pelorat said, “Is that orange the radioactivity?”
“No. Just refracted sunlight through the atmosphere. It would be a solid orange circle if the atmosphere weren’t so cloudy. We can’t see the radioactivity. The various radiations, even the gamma rays, are absorbed by the atmosphere. However, they do set up secondary radiations, comparatively feeble ones, but the computer can detect them. They’re still invisible to the eye, but the computer can produce a photon of visible light for each particle or wave of radiation it receives and put Earth into false color. Look.”
And the black circle glowed with a faint, blotchy blue.
“How much radioactivity is there?” asked Bliss, in a low voice. “Enough to signify that no human life can exist there?”
“No life of any kind,” said Trevize. “The planet is uninhabitable. The last bacterium, the last virus, is long gone.”
“Can we explore it?” said Pelorat. “I mean, in space suits.”
“For a few hours-before we come down with irreversible radiation sickness.”
“Then what do we do, Golan?”
“Do?” Trevize looked at Pelorat with that same expressionless face. “Do you know what I would like to do? I would like to take you and Bliss-and the child-back to Gaia and leave you all there forever. Then I would like to go back to Terminus and hand back the ship. Then I would like to resign from the Council, which ought to make Mayor Branno very happy. Then I would like to live on my pension and let the Galaxy go as it will. I won’t care about the Seldon Plan, or about the Foundation, or about the Second Foundation, or about Gaia. The Galaxy can choose its own path. It will last my time and why should I care a snap as to what happens afterward?”
“Surely, you don’t mean it, Golan,” said Pelorat urgently.
Trevize stared at him for a while, and then he drew a long breath. “No, I don’t, but, oh, how I wish I could do exactly what I have just outlined to you.”
“Never mind that. What will you do?”
“Keep the ship in orbit about the Earth, rest, get over the shock of all this, and think of what to do next. Except that-”
And Trevize blurted out, “What can I do next? What is there further to look for? What is there further to find?”