THE FOUR KINGDOMS -- The name given to those portions of the Province of Anacreon which broke away from the First Empire in the early years of the Foundational Era to form independent and short-lived kingdoms. The largest and most powerful of these was Anacreon itself which in area...
... Undoubtedly the most interesting aspect of the history of the Four Kingdoms involves the strange society forced temporarily upon it during the administration of Salvor Hardin....
That Salvor Hardin had seen it coming made it none the more pleasant. On the contrary, he found anticipation distinctly annoying.
Yohan Lee advocated extreme measures. “I don’t see, Hardin,” he said, “that we need waste any time. They can’t do anything till next election -- legally, anyway -- and that gives us a year. Give them the brush-off.”
Hardin pursed his lips. “Lee, you’ll never learn. In the forty years I’ve known you, you’ve never once learned the gentle art of sneaking up from behind.”
“It’s not my way of fighting,” grumbled Lee.
“Yes, I know that. I suppose that’s why you’re the one man I trust.” He paused and reached for a cigar. “We’ve come a long way, Lee, since we engineered our coup against the Encyclopedists way back. I’m getting old. Sixty-two. Do you ever think how fast those thirty years went?”
Lee snorted. “I don’t feel old, and I’m sixty-six.”
“Yes, but I haven’t your digestion.” Hardin sucked lazily at his cigar. He had long since stopped wishing for the mild Vegan tobacco of his youth. Those days when the planet, Terminus, had trafficked with every part of the Galactic Empire belonged in the limbo to which all Good Old Days go. Toward the same limbo where the Galactic Empire was heading. He wondered who the new emperor was -- or if there was a new emperor at all -- or any Empire. Space! For thirty years now, since the breakup of communications here at the edge of the Galaxy, the whole universe of Terminus had consisted of itself and the four surrounding kingdoms.
How the mighty had fallen! Kingdoms! They were prefects in the old days, all part of the same province, which in turn had been part of a sector, which in turn had been part of a quadrant, which in turn had been part of the all-embracing Galactic Empire. And now that the Empire had lost control over the farther reaches of the Galaxy, these little splinter groups of planets became kingdoms -- with comic-opera kings and nobles, and petty, meaningless wars, and a life that went on pathetically among the ruins.
A civilization falling. Nuclear power forgotten. Science fading to mythology -- until the Foundation had stepped in. The Foundation that Hari Seldon had established for just that purpose here on Terminus.
Lee was at the window and his voice broke in on Hardin’s reverie. “They’ve come,” he said, “in a late-model ground car, the young pups.” He took a few uncertain steps toward the door and then looked at Hardin.
Hardin smiled, and waved him back. “I’ve given orders to have them brought up here.”
“Here! What for? You’re making them too important.”
“Why go through all the ceremonies of an official mayor’s audience? I’m getting too old for red tape. Besides which, flattery is useful when dealing with youngsters -- particularly when it doesn’t commit you to anything.” He winked. “Sit down, Lee, and give me your moral backing. I’ll need it with this young Sermak.”
“That fellow, Sermak,” said Lee, heavily, “is dangerous. He’s got a following, Hardin, so don’t underestimate him.”
“Have I ever underestimated anybody?”
“Well, then, arrest him. You can accuse him of something or other afterward.”
Hardin ignored that last bit of advice. “There they are, Lee.” In response to the signal, he stepped on the pedal beneath his desk, and the door slid aside.
They filed in, the four that composed the deputation, and Hardin waved them gently to the armchairs that faced his desk in a semicircle. They bowed and waited for the mayor to speak first.
Hardin flicked open the curiously carved silver lid of the cigar box that had once belonged to Jord Fara of the old Board of Trustees in the long-dead days of the Encyclopedists. It was a genuine Empire product from Santanni, though the cigars it now contained were home-grown. One by one, with grave solemnity, the four of the deputation accepted cigars and lit up in ritualistic fashion.
Sef Sermak was second from the right, the youngest of the young group -- and the most interesting with his bristly yellow mustache trimmed precisely, and his sunken eyes of uncertain color. The other three Hardin dismissed almost immediately; they were rank and file on the face of them. It was on Sermak that he concentrated, the Sermak who had already, in his first term in the City Council, turned that sedate body topsy-turvy more than once, and it was to Sermak that he said:
“I’ve been particularly anxious to see you, Councilman, ever since your very excellent speech last month. Your attack on the foreign policy of this government was a most capable one.”
Sermak’s eyes smoldered. “Your interest honors me. The attack may or may not have been capable, but it was certainly justified.”
“Perhaps! Your opinions are yours, of course. Still you are rather young.”
Dryly. “It is a fault that most people are guilty of at some period of their life. You became mayor of the city when you were two years younger than I am now.”
Hardin smiled to himself. The yearling was a cool customer. He said, “I take it now that you have come to see me concerning this same foreign policy that annoys you so greatly in the Council Chamber. Are you speaking for your three colleagues, or must I listen to each of you separately?” There were quick mutual glances among the four young men, a slight flickering of eyelids.
Sermak said grimly, “I speak for the people of Terminus -- a people who are not now truly represented in the rubberstamp body they call the Council.”
“I see. Go ahead, then!”
“It comes to this, Mr. Mayor. We are dissatisfied--”
“By ‘we’ you mean ‘the people,’ don’t you?”
Sermak stared hostilely, sensing a trap, and replied coldly, “I believe that my views reflect those of the majority of the voters of Terminus. Does that suit you?”
“Well, a statement like that is all the better for proof, but go on, anyway. You are dissatisfied.”
“Yes, dissatisfied with the policy which for thirty years had been stripping Terminus defenseless against the inevitable attack from outside.”
“I see. And therefore? Go on, go on.”
“It’s nice of you to anticipate. And therefore we are forming a new political party; one that will stand for the immediate needs of Terminus and not for a mystic ‘manifest destiny’ of future Empire. We are going to throw you and your lick-spittle clique of appeasers out of City Hall-and that soon.”
“Unless? There’s always an ‘unless,’ you know.”
“Not much of one in this case: Unless you resign now. I’m not asking you to change your policies -- I wouldn’t trust you that far. Your promises are worth nothing. An outright resignation is all we’ll take.”
“I see.” Hardin crossed his legs and teetered his chair back on two legs. “That’s your ultimatum. Nice of you to give me warning. But, you see, I rather think I’ll ignore it.”
“Don’t think it was a warning, Mr. Mayor. It was an announcement of principles and of action. The new party has already been formed, and it will begin its official activities tomorrow. There is neither room nor desire for compromise, and, frankly, it was only our recognition of your services to the City that induced us to offer the easy way out. I didn’t think you’d take it, but my conscience is clear.
The next election will be a more forcible and quite irresistible reminder that resignation is necessary.”
He rose and motioned the rest up.
Hardin lifted his arm. “Hold on! Sit down!”
Sef Sermak seated himself once more with just a shade too much alacrity and Hardin smiled behind a straight face. In spite of his words, he was waiting for an offer.
Hardin said, “In exactly what way do you want our foreign policy changed? Do you want us to attack the Four Kingdoms, now, at once, and all four simultaneously?”
“I make no such suggestion, Mr. Mayor. It is our simple proposition that all appeasement cease immediately. Throughout your administration, you have carried out a policy of scientific aid to the Kingdoms. You have given them nuclear power. You have helped rebuild power plants on their territories. You have established medical clinics, chemical laboratories and factories.”
“Well? And your objection?”
“You have done this in order to keep them from attacking us. With these as bribes, you have been playing the fool in a colossal game of blackmail, in which you have allowed Terminus to be sucked dry -- with the result that now we are at the mercy of these barbarians.”
“In what way?”
“Because you have given them power, given them weapons, actually serviced the ships of their navies, they are infinitely stronger than they were three decades ago. Their demands are increasing, and with their new weapons, they will eventually satisfy all their demands at once by violent annexation of Terminus. Isn’t that the way blackmail usually ends?”
“And your remedy?”
“Stop the bribes immediately and while you can. Spend your effort in strengthening Terminus itself -- and attack first!”
Hardin watched the young fellow’s little blond mustache with an almost morbid interest. Sermak felt sure of himself or he wouldn’t talk so much. There was no doubt that his remarks were the reflection of a pretty huge segment of the population, pretty huge.
His voice did not betray the slightly perturbed current of his thoughts. If was almost negligent. “Are you finished?”
“For the moment.”
“Well, then, do you notice the framed statement I have on the wall behind me? Read it, if you will!”
Sermak’s lips twitched. “It says: ‘Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.’ That’s an old man’s doctrine, Mr. Mayor.”
“I applied it as a young man, Mr. Councilman -- and successfully. You were busily being born when it happened, but perhaps you may have read something of it in school.”
He eyed Sermak closely and continued in measured tones, “When Hari Seldon established the Foundation here, it was for the ostensible purpose of producing a great Encyclopedia, and for fifty years we followed that will-of-the-wisp, before discovering what he was really after. By that time, it was almost too late. When communications with the central regions of the old Empire broke down, we found ourselves a world of scientists concentrated in a single city, possessing no industries, and surrounded by newly created kingdoms, hostile and largely barbarous. We were a tiny island of nuclear power in this ocean of barbarism, and an infinitely valuable prize.
“Anacreon, then as now, the most powerful of the Four Kingdoms, demanded and later actually established a military base upon Terminus, and the then rulers of the City, the Encyclopedists, knew very well that this was only a preliminary to taking over the entire planet. That is how matters stood when I ... uh ... assumed actual government. What would you have done?”
Sermak shrugged his shoulders. “That’s an academic question. Of course, I know what you did.”
“I’ll repeat it, anyway. Perhaps you don’t get the point. The temptation was great to muster what force we could and put up a fight. It’s the easiest way out, and the most satisfactory to self-respect -- but, nearly invariably, the stupidest. You would have done it; you and your talk of ‘attack first.’ What I did, instead, was to visit the three other kingdoms, one by one; point out to each that to allow the secret of nuclear power to fall into the hands of Anacreon was the quickest way of cutting their own throats; and suggest gently that they do the obvious thing. That was all. One month after the Anacreonian force had landed on Terminus, their king received a joint ultimatum from his three neighbors. In seven days, the last Anacreonian was off Terminus.
Now tell me, where was the need for violence?”
The young councilman regarded his cigar stub thoughtfully and tossed it into the incinerator chute. “I fail to see the analogy. Insulin will bring a diabetic to normal without the faintest need of a knife, but appendicitis needs an operation. You can’t help that. When other courses have failed, what is left but, as you put it, the last refuge? It’s your fault that we’re driven to it.”
“I? Oh, yes, again my policy of appeasement. You still seem to lack grasp of the fundamental necessities of our position. Our problem wasn’t over with the departure of the Anacreonians. They had just begun. The Four Kingdoms were more our enemies than ever, for each wanted nuclear power-and each was kept off our throats only for fear of the other three. We are balanced on the point of a very sharp sword, and the slightest sway in any direction -- If, for instance, one kingdom becomes too strong; or if two form a coalition -- You understand?”
“Certainly. That was the time to begin all-out preparations for war.”
“On the contrary. That was the time to begin all-out prevention of war. I played them one against the other. I helped each in turn. I offered them science, trade, education, scientific medicine. I made Terminus of more value to them as a flourishing world than as a military prize. It worked for thirty years.”
“Yes, but you were forced to surround these scientific gifts with the most outrageous mummery. You’ve made half religion, half balderdash out of it. You’ve erected a hierarchy of priests and complicated, meaningless ritual.”
Hardin frowned. “What of that? I don’t see that it has anything to do with the argument at all. I started that way at first because the barbarians looked upon our science as a sort of magical sorcery, and it was easiest to get them to accept it on that basis. The priesthood built itself and if we help it along we are only following the line of least resistance. It is a minor matter.”
“But these priests are in charge of the power plants. That is not a minor matter.”
“True, but we have trained them. Their knowledge of their tools is purely empirical; and they have a firm belief in the mummery that surrounds them.”
“And if one pierces through the mummery, and has the genius to brush aside empiricism, what is to prevent him from learning actual techniques, and selling out to the most satisfactory bidder? What price our value to the kingdoms, then?”
“Little chance of that, Sermak. You are being superficial. The best men on the planets of the kingdoms are sent here to the Foundation each year and educated into the priesthood. And the best of these remain here as research students. If you think that those who are left, with practically no knowledge of the elements of science, or worse, still, with the distorted knowledge the priests receive, can penetrate at a bound to nuclear power, to electronics, to the theory of the hyperwarp -- you have a very romantic and very foolish idea of science. It takes lifetimes of training and an excellent brain to get that far.”
Yohan Lee had risen abruptly during the foregoing speech and left the room. He had returned now and when Hardin finished speaking, he bent to his superior’s ear. A whisper was exchanged and then a leaden cylinder. Then, with one short hostile look at the deputation, Lee resumed his chair.
Hardin turned the cylinder end for end in his hands, watching the deputation through his lashes. And then he opened it with a hard, sudden twist and only Sermak had the sense not to throw a rapid look at the rolled paper that fell out.
“In short, gentlemen,” he said, “the Government is of the opinion that it knows what it is doing.”
He read as he spoke. There were the lines of intricate, meaningless code that covered the page and the three penciled words scrawled in one comer that carried the message. He took it in at a glance and tossed it casually into the incinerator shaft.
“That,” Hardin then said, “ends the interview, I’m afraid. Glad to have met you all. Thank you for coming.” He shook hands with each in perfunctory fashion, and they filed out.
Hardin had almost gotten out of the habit of laughing, but after Sermak and his three silent partners were well out of earshot, he indulged in a dry chuckle and bent an amused look on Lee.
“How did you like that battle of bluffs, Lee?”
Lee snorted grumpily. “I’m not sure that he was bluffing. Treat him with kid gloves and he’s quite liable to win the next election, just as he says.”
“Oh, quite likely, quite likely -- if nothing happens first.”
“Make sure they don’t happen in the wrong direction this time, Hardin. I tell you this Sermak has a following. What if he doesn’t wait till the next election? There was a time when you and I put things through violently, in spite of your slogan about what violence is.”
Hardin cocked an eyebrow. “You are pessimistic today, Lee. And singularly contrary, too, or you wouldn’t speak of violence. Our own little putsch was carried through without loss of life, you remember. It was a necessary measure put through at the proper moment, and went over smoothly, painlessly, and all but effortlessly. As for Sermak, he’s up against a different proposition. You and I, Lee, aren’t the Encyclopedists. We stand prepared. Order your men onto these youngsters in a nice way, old fellow. Don’t let them know they’re being watched -- but eyes open, you understand.”
Lee laughed in sour amusement. “I’d be a fine one to wait for your orders, wouldn’t I, Hardin? Sermak and his men have been under surveillance for a month now.”
The mayor chuckled. “Got in first, did you? All right. By the way,” he observed, and added softly, “Ambassador Verisof is returning to Terminus. Temporarily, I hope.”
There was a short silence, faintly horrified, and then Lee said, “Was that the message? Are things breaking already?”
“Don’t know. I can’t tell till I hear what Verisof has to say. They may be, though. After all, they have to before election. But what are you looking so dead about?”
“Because I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. You’re too deep, Hardin, and you’re playing the game too close to your chest.”
“Even you?” murmured Hardin. And aloud, “Does that mean you’re going to join Sermak’s new party?”
Lee smiled against his will. “All right. You win. How about lunch now?”
There are many epigrams attributed to Hardin -- a confirmed epigrammatist -- a good many of which are probably apocryphal. Nevertheless, it is reported that on a certain occasion, he said:
“It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.”
Poly Verisof had had occasion to act on that advice more than once for he was now in the fourteenth year of his double status on Anacreon -- a double status the upkeep of which reminded him often and unpleasantly of a dance performed barefoot on hot metal.
To the people of Anacreon he was high priest, representative of that Foundation which, to those “barbarians,” was the acme of mystery and the physical center of this religion they had created -- with Hardin’s help -- in the last three decades. As such, he received a homage that had become horribly wearying, for from his soul he despised the ritual of which he was the center.
But to the King of Anacreon -- the old one that had been, and the young grandson that was now on the throne -- he was simply the ambassador of a power at once feared and coveted.
On the whole, it was an uncomfortable job, and his first trip to the Foundation in three years, despite the disturbing incident that had made it necessary, was something in the nature of a holiday.
And since it was not the first time he had had to travel in absolute secrecy, he again made use of Hardin’s epigram on the uses of the obvious.
He changed into his civilian clothes -- a holiday in itself -- and boarded a passenger liner to the Foundation, second class. Once at Terminus, he threaded his way through the crowd at the spaceport and called up City Hall at a public visiphone.
He said, “My name is Jan Smite. I have an appointment with the mayor this afternoon.”
The dead-voiced but efficient young lady at the other end made a second connection and exchanged a few rapid words, then said to Verisof in dry, mechanical tone, “Mayor Hardin will see you in half an hour, sir,” and the screen went blank.
Whereupon the ambassador to Anacreon bought the latest edition of the Terminus City Journal, sauntered casually to City Hall Park and, sitting. down on the first empty bench he came to, read the editorial page, sport section and comic sheet while waiting. At the end of half an hour, he tucked the paper under his arm, entered City Hall and presented himself in the anteroom.
In doing all this he remained safely and thoroughly unrecognized, for since he was so entirely obvious, no one gave him a second look.
Hardin looked up at him and grinned. “Have a cigar! How was the trip?”
Verisof helped himself. “Interesting. There was a priest in the next cabin on his way here to take a special course in the preparation of radioactive synthetics -- for the treatment of cancer, you know --”
“Surely, he didn’t call it radioactive synthetics, now?”
“I guess not! It was the Holy Food to him.”
The mayor smiled. “Go on.”
“He inveigled me into a theological discussion and did his level best to elevate me out of sordid materialism.”
“And never recognized his own high priest?”
“Without my crimson robe? Besides, he was a Smyrnian. It was an interesting experience, though. It is remarkable, Hardin, how the religion of science has grabbed hold. I’ve written an essay on the subject -- entirely for my own amusement; it wouldn’t do to have it published. Treating the problem sociologically, it would seem that when the old Empire began to rot at the fringes, it could be considered that science, as science, had failed the outer worlds. To be reaccepted it would have to present itself in another guise and it has done just that. It works out beautifully.”
“Interesting!” The mayor placed his arms around his neck and said suddenly, “Start talking about the situation at Anacreon!”
The ambassador frowned and withdrew the cigar from his mouth. He looked at it distastefully and put it down. “Well, it’s pretty bad.”
“You wouldn’t be here, otherwise.”
“Scarcely. Here’s the position. The key man at Anacreon is the Prince Regent, Wienis. He’s King Lepold’s uncle.”
“I know. But Lepold is coming of age next year, isn’t he? I believe he’ll be sixteen in February.”
“Yes.” Pause, and then a wry addition. “If he lives. The king’s father died under suspicious circumstances. A needle bullet through the chest during a hunt. It was called an accident.”
“Hmph. I seem to remember Wienis the time I was on Anacreon, when we kicked them off Terminus. It was before your time. Let’s see now. If I remember, he was a dark young fellow, black hair and a squint in his right eye. He had a funny hook in his nose.”
“Same fellow. The hook and the squint are still there, but his hair’s gray now. He plays the game dirty. Luckily, he’s the most egregious fool on the planet. Fancies himself as a shrewd devil, too, which mades his folly the more transparent.”
“That’s usually the way.”
“His notion of cracking an egg is to shoot a nuclear blast at it. Witness the tax on Temple property he tried to impose just after the old king died two years ago. Remember?”
Hardin nodded thoughtfully, then smiled. “The priests raised a howl.”
“They raised one you could hear way out to Lucreza. He’s shown more caution in dealing with the priesthood since, but he still manages to do things the hard way. In a way, it’s unfortunate for us; he has unlimited self-confidence.”
“Probably an over-compensated inferiority complex. Younger sons of royalty get that way, you know.”
“But it amounts to the same thing. He’s foaming at the mouth with eagerness to attack the Foundation. He scarcely troubles to conceal it. And he’s in a position to do it, too, from the standpoint of armament. The old king built up a magnificent navy, and Wienis hasn’t been sleeping the last two years. In fact, the tax on Temple property was originally intended for further armament, and when that fell through he increased the income tax twice.”
“Any grumbling at that?”
“None of serious importance. Obedience to appointed authority was the text of every sermon in the kingdom for weeks. Not that Wienis showed any gratitude.”
“All right. I’ve got the background. Now what’s happened?”
“Two weeks ago an Anacreonian merchant ship came across a derelict battle cruiser of the old Imperial Navy. It must have been drifting in space for at least three centuries.”
Interest flickered in Hardin’s eyes. He sat up. “Yes, I’ve heard of that. The Board of Navigation has sent me a petition asking me to obtain the ship for purposes of study. It is in good condition, I understand.”
“In entirely too good condition,” responded Verisof, dryly. “When Wienis received your suggestion last week that he turn the ship over to the Foundation, he almost had convulsions.”
“He hasn’t answered yet.”
“He won’t -- except with guns, or so he thinks. You see, he came to me on the day I left Anacreon and requested that the Foundation put this battle cruiser into fighting order and turn it over to the Anacreonian navy. He had the infernal gall to say that your note of last week indicated a plan of the Foundation’s to attack Anacreon. He said that refusal to repair the battle cruiser would confirm his suspicions; and indicated that measures for the self-defense of Anacreon would be forced upon him. Those are his words. Forced upon him! And that’s why I’m here.”
Hardin laughed gently.
Verisof smiled and continued, “Of course, he expects a refusal, and it would be a perfect excuse -- in his eyes -- for immediate attack.”
“I see that, Verisof. Well, we have at least six months to spare, so have the ship fixed up and present it with my compliments. Have it renamed the Wienis as a mark of our esteem and affection.”
He laughed again.
And again Verisof responded with the faintest trace of a smile, “I suppose it’s the logical step, Hardin -- but I’m worried.”
“It’s a ship! They could build in those days. Its cubic capacity is half again that of the entire Anacreonian navy. It’s got nuclear blasts capable of blowing up a planet, and a shield that could take a Q-beam without working up radiation. Too much of a good thing, Hardin --”
“Superficial, Verisof, superficial. You and I both know that the armament he now has could defeat Terminus handily, long before we could repair the cruiser for our own use. What does it matter, then, if we give him the cruiser as well? You know it won’t ever come to actual war.”
“I suppose so. Yes.” The ambassador looked up. “But Hardin --”
“Well? Why do you stop? Go ahead.”
“Look. This isn’t my province. But I’ve been reading the paper.” He placed the Journal on the desk and indicated the front page. “What’s this all about?”
Hardin dropped a casual glance. “‘A group of Councilmen are forming a new political party.”‘
“That’s what it says.” Verisof fidgeted. “I know you’re in better touch with internal matters than I am, but they’re attacking you with everything short of physical violence. How strong are they?”
“Damned strong. They’ll probably control the Council after next election.”
“Not before?” Verisof looked at the mayor obliquely. “There are ways of gaining control besides elections.”
“Do you take me for Wienis?”
“No. But repairing the ship will take months and an attack after that is certain. Our yielding will be taken as a sign of appalling weakness and the addition of the Imperial Cruiser will just about double the strength of Wienis’ navy. He’ll attack as sure as I’m a high priest. Why take chances? Do one of two things. Either reveal the plan of campaign to the Council, or force the issue with Anacreon now!”
Hardin frowned. “Force the issue now? Before the crisis comes? It’s the one thing I mustn’t do. There’s Hari Seldon and the Plan, you know.”
Verisof hesitated, then muttered, “You’re absolutely sure, then, that there is a Plan?”
“There can scarcely be any doubt,” came the stiff reply. “I was present at the opening of the Time Vault and Seldon’s recording revealed it then.”
“I didn’t mean that, Hardin. I just don’t see how it could be possible to chart history for a thousand years ahead. Maybe Seldon overestimated himself.” He shriveled a bit at Hardin’s ironical smile, and added, “Well, I’m no psychologist,”
“Exactly. None of us are. But I did receive some elementary training in my youth -- enough to know what psychology is capable of, even if I can’t exploit its capabilities myself. There’s no doubt but that Seldon did exactly what he claims to have done. The Foundation, as he says, was established as a scientific refuge -- the means by which the science and culture of the dying Empire was to be preserved through the centuries of barbarism that have begun, to be rekindled in the end into a second Empire.”
Verisof nodded, a trifle doubtfully. “Everyone knows that’s the way things are supposed to go. But can we afford to take chances? Can we risk the present for the sake of a nebulous future?”
“We must -- because the future isn’t nebulous. It’s been calculated out by Seldon and charted. Each successive crisis in our history is mapped and each depends in a measure on the successful conclusion of the ones previous. This is only the second crisis and Space knows what effect even a trifling deviation would have in the end.”
“That’s rather empty speculation.”
“No! Hari Seldon said in the Time Vault, that at each crisis our freedom of action would become circumscribed to the point where only one course of action was possible.”
“So as to keep us on the straight and narrow?”
“So as to keep us from deviating, yes. But, conversely, as long as more than one course of action is possible, the crisis has not been reached. We must let things drift so long as we possibly can, and by space, that’s what I intend doing.”
Verisof didn’t answer. He chewed his lower lip in a grudging silence. It had only been the year before that Hardin had first discussed the problem with him -- the real problem; the problem of countering Anacreon’s hostile preparations. And then only because he, Verisof, had balked at further appeasement.
Hardin seemed to follow his ambassador’s thoughts. “I would much rather never to have told you anything about this.”
“What makes you say that?” cried Verisof, in surprise.
“Because there are six people now -- you and I, the other three ambassadors and Yohan Lee -- who have a fair notion of what’s ahead; and I’m damned afraid that it was Seldon’s idea to have no one know.”
“Because even Seldon’s advanced psychology was limited. It could not handle too many independent variables. He couldn’t work with individuals over any length of time; any more than you could apply kinetic theory of gases to single molecules. He worked with mobs, populations of whole planets, and only blind mobs who do not possess foreknowledge of the results of their own actions.”
“That’s not plain.”
“I can’t help it. I’m not psychologist enough to explain it scientifically. But this you know. There are no trained psychologists on Terminus and no mathematical texts on the science. It is plain that he wanted no one on Terminus capable of working out the future in advance. Seldon wanted us to proceed blindly -- and therefore correctly -- according to the law of mob psychology. As I once told you, I never knew where we were heading when I first drove out the Anacreonians. My idea had been to maintain balance of power, no more than that. It was only afterward that I thought I saw a pattern in events; but I’ve done my level best not to act on that knowledge. Interference due to foresight would have knocked the Plan out of kilter.”
Verisof nodded thoughtfully. “I’ve heard arguments almost as complicated in the Temples back on Anacreon. How do you expect to spot the fight moment of action?”
“It’s spotted already. You admit that once we repair the battle cruiser nothing will stop Wienis from attacking us. There will no longer be any alternative in that respect.”
“All right. That accounts for the external aspect. Meanwhile, you’ll further admit that the next election will see a new and hostile Council that will force action against Anacreon. There is no alternative there.”
“And as soon as all the alternatives disappear, the crisis has come. Just the same -- I get worried.”
He paused, and Verisof waited. Slowly, almost reluctantly, Hardin continued, “I’ve got the idea -- just a notion -- that the external and internal pressures were planned to come to a head simultaneously. As it is, there’s a few months difference. Wienis will probably attack before spring, and elections are still a year off.”
“That doesn’t sound important.”
“I don’t know. It may be due merely to unavoidable errors of calculation, or it might be due to the fact that I knew too much. I tried never to let my foresight influence my action, but how can I tell? And what effect will the discrepancy have? Anyway,” he looked up, “there’s one thing I’ve decided.”
“And what’s that?”
“When the crisis does begin to break, I’m going to Anacreon. I want to be on the spot ... Oh, that’s enough, Verisof. It’s getting late. Let’s go out and make a night of it. I want some relaxation.”
“Then get it right here,’ said Verisof. “I don’t want to be recognized, or you know what this new party your precious Councilmen are forming would say. Call for the brandy.”
And Hardin did -- but not for too much.
In the ancient days when the Galactic Empire had embraced the Galaxy, and Anacreon had been the richest of the prefects of the Periphery, more than one emperor had visited the Viceregal Palace in state. And not one had left without at least one effort to pit his skill with air speedster and needle gun against the feathered flying fortress they call the Nyakbird.
The fame of Anacreon had withered to nothing with the decay of the times. The Viceregal Palace was a drafty mass of ruins except for the wing that Foundation workmen had restored. And no Emperor had been seen in Anacreon for two hundred years.
But Nyak hunting was still the royal sport and a good eye with the needle gun still the first requirement of Anacreon’s kings.
Lepold I, King of Anacreon and -- as was invariably, but untruthfully added -- Lord of the Outer Dominions, though not yet sixteen had already proved his skill many times over. He had brought down his first Nyak when scarcely thirteen; had brought down his tenth the week after his accession to the throne; and was returning now from his forty-sixth.
“Fifty before I come of age,” he had exulted. “Who’ll take the wager?”
But Courtiers don’t take wagers against the king’s skill. There is the deadly danger of winning. So no one did, and the king left to change his clothes in high spirits.
The king stopped mid-step at the one voice that could cause him to do so. He turned sulkily.
Wienis stood upon the threshold of his chambers and beetled at his young nephew.
“Send them away,” he motioned impatiently. “Get rid of them.”
The king nodded curtly and the two chamberlains bowed and backed down the stairs. Lepold entered his uncle’s room.
Wienis stared at the king’s hunting suit morosely. “You’ll have more important things to tend to than Nyak hunting soon enough.”
He turned his back and stumped to his desk. Since he had grown too old for the rush of air, the perilous dive within wing-beat of the Nyak, the roll and climb of the speedster at the motion of a foot, he had soured upon the whole sport.
Lepold appreciated his uncle’s sour-grapes attitude and it was not without malice that he began enthusiastically, “But you should have been with us today, uncle. We flushed one in the wilds of Sarnia that was a monster. And game as they come. We had it out for two hours over at least seventy square miles of ground. And then I got to Sunwards -- he was motioning graphically, as though he were once more in his speedster --”and dived torque-wise. Caught him on the rise just under the left wing at quarters. It maddened him and he canted athwart. I took his dare and veered a-left, waiting for the plummet. Sure enough, down he came. He was within wing-beat before I moved and then --”
“Well!-- I got him.”
“I’m sure you did. Now will you attend?”
The king shrugged and gravitated to the end table where he nibbled at a Lera nut in quite an unregal sulk. He did not dare to meet his uncle’s eyes.
Wienis said, by way of preamble, “I’ve been to the ship today.”
“There is only one ship. The ship. The one the Foundation is repairing for the navy. The old Imperial cruiser. Do I make myself sufficiently plain?”
“That one? You see, I told you the Foundation would repair it if we asked them to. It’s all poppycock, you know, that story of yours about their wanting to attack us. Because if they did, why would they fix the ship? It doesn’t make sense, you know.”
“Lepold, you’re a fool!”
The king, who had just discarded the shell of the Lera nut and was lifting another to his lips, flushed.
“Well now, look here,” he said, with anger that scarcely rose above peevishness, “I don’t think you ought to call me that. You forget yourself. I’ll be of age in two months, you know.”
“Yes, and you’re in a fine position to assume regal responsibilities. If you spent half the time on public affairs that you do on Nyak hunting, I’d resign the regency directly with a clear conscience.”
“I don’t care. That has nothing to do with the case, you know. The fact is that even if you are the regent and my uncle, I’m still king and you’re still my subject. You oughtn’t to call me a fool and you oughtn’t to sit in my presence, anyway. You haven’t asked my permission. I think you ought to be careful, or I might do something about it pretty soon.”
Wienis’ gaze was cold. “May I refer to you as ‘your majesty’?”
“Very well! You are a fool, your majesty!”
His dark eyes blazed from beneath his grizzled brows and the young king sat down slowly. For a moment, there was sardonic satisfaction in the regent’s face, but it faded quickly. His thick lips parted in a smile and one hand fell upon the king’s shoulder.
“Never mind, Lepold. I should not have spoken harshly to you. It is difficult sometimes to behave with true propriety when the pressure of events is such as -- You understand?” But if the words were conciliatory, there was something in his eyes that had not softened.
Lepold said uncertainly, “Yes. Affairs of State are deuced difficult, you know.” He wondered, not without apprehension, whether he were not in for a dull siege of meaningless details on the year’s trade with Smyrno and the long, wrangling dispute over the sparsely settled worlds on the Red Corridor.
Wienis was speaking again. “My boy, I had thought to speak of this to you earlier, and perhaps I should have, but I know that your youthful spirits are impatient of the dry detail of statecraft.”
Lepold nodded. “Well, that’s all right--”
His uncle broke in firmly and continued, “However, you will come of age in two months. Moreover, in the difficult times that are coming, you will have to take a full and active part. You will be king henceforward, Lepold.”
Again Lepold nodded, but his expression was quite blank.
“There will be war, Lepold.”
“War! But there’s been truce with Smyrno--”
“Not Smyrno. The Foundation itself.”
“But, uncle, they’ve agreed to repair the ship. You said--”
His voice choked off at the twist of his uncle’s lip.
“Lepold” -- some of the friendliness had gone --”we are to talk man to man. There is to be war with the Foundation, whether the ship is repaired or not; all the sooner, in fact, since it is being repaired. The Foundation is the source of power and might. All the greatness of Anacreon; all its ships and its cities and its people and its commerce depend on the dribbles and leavings of power that the Foundation have given us grudgingly. I remember the time -- I, myself -- when the cities of Anacreon were warmed by the burning of coal and oil. But never mind that; you would have no conception of it.”
“It seems,” suggested the king timidly, “that we ought to be grateful--”
“Grateful?” roared Wienis. “Grateful that they begrudge us the merest dregs, while keeping space knows what for themselves -- and keeping it with what purpose in mind? Why, only that they may some day rule the Galaxy.”
His hand came down on his nephew’s knee, and his eyes narrowed. “Lepold, you are king of Anacreon. Your children and your children’s children may be kings of the universe -- if you have the power that the Foundation is keeping from us!”
“There’s something in that.” Lepold’s eyes gained a sparkle and his back straightened. “After all, what right have they to keep it to themselves? Not fair, you know. Anacreon counts for something, too.”
“You see, you’re beginning to understand. And now, my boy, what if Smyrno decides to attack the Foundation for its own part and thus gains all that power? How long do you suppose we could escape becoming a vassal power? How long would you hold your throne?”
Lepold grew excited. “Space, yes. You’re absolutely right, you know. We must strike first. It’s simply self-defense.”
Wienis’ smile broadened slightly. “Furthermore, once, at the very beginning of the reign of your grandfather, Anacreon actually established a military base on the Foundation’s planet, Terminus -- a base vitally needed for national defense. We were forced to abandon that base as a result of the machinations of the leader of that Foundation, a sly cur, a scholar, with not a drop of noble blood in his veins. You understand, Lepold? Your grandfather was humiliated by this commoner. I remember him! He was scarcely older than myself when he came to Anacreon with his devil’s smile and devil’s brain -- and the power of the other three kingdoms behind him, combined in cowardly union against the greatness of Anacreon.”
Lepold flushed and the sparkle in his eyes blazed. “By Seldon, if I had been my grandfather, I would have fought even so.”
“No, Lepold. We decided to wait -- to wipe out the insult at a fitter time. It had been your father’s hope, before his untimely death, that he might be the one to -- Well, well!” Wienis turned away for a moment. Then, as if stifling emotion, “He was my brother. And yet, if his son were--”
“Yes, uncle, I’ll not fail him. I have decided. It seems only proper that Anacreon wipe out this nest of troublemakers, and that immediately.”
“No, not immediately. First, we must wait for the repairs of the battle cruiser to be completed. The mere fact that they are willing to undertake these repairs proves that they fear us. The fools attempt to placate us, but we are not to be turned from our path, are we?”
And Lepold’s fist slammed against his cupped palm.
“Not while I am king in Anacreon.”
Wienis’ lip twitched sardonically. “Besides which we must wait for Salvor Hardin to arrive.”
“Salvor Hardin!” The king grew suddenly round-eyed, and the youthful contour of his beardless face lost the almost hard lines into which they had been compressed.
“Yes, Lepold, the leader of the Foundation himself is coming to Anacreon on your birthday -- probably to soothe us with buttered words. But it won’t help him.”
“Salvor Hardin!” It was the merest murmur.
Wienis frowned. “Are you afraid of the name? It is the same Salvor Hardin, who on his previous visit, ground our noses into the dust. You’re not forgetting that deadly insult to the royal house? And from a commoner. The dregs of the gutter.”
“No. I guess not. No, I won’t. I won’t! We’ll pay him back -- but...but -- I’m afraid -- a little.”
The regent rose. “Afraid? Of what? Of what, you young--” He choked off.
“It would be...uh...sort of blasphemous, you know, to attack the Foundation. I mean--” He paused.
Lepold said confusedly, “I mean, if there were really a Galactic Spirit, he...uh...it mightn’t like it. Don’t you think?
“No, I don’t,” was the hard answer. Wienis sat down again and his lips twisted in a queer smile. “And so you really bother your head a great deal over the Galactic Spirit, do you? That’s what comes of letting you run wild. You’ve been listening to Verisof quite a bit, I take it.”
“He’s explained a great deal--”
“About the Galactic Spirit?”
“Why, you unweaned cub, he believes in that mummery a good deal less than I do, and I don’t believe in it at all. How many times have you been told that all this talk is nonsense?”
“Well, I know that. But Verisof says--”
“Pay no heed to Verisof. It’s nonsense.”
There was a short, rebellious silence, and then Lepold said, “Everyone believes it just the same. I mean all this talk about the Prophet Hari Seldon and how he appointed the Foundation to carry on his commandments that there might some day be a return of the Galactic Paradise: and how anyone who disobeys his commandments will be destroyed for eternity. They believe it. I’ve presided at festivals, and I’m sure they do.”
“Yes, they do; but we don’t. And you may be thankful it’s so, for according to this foolishness, you are king by divine right -- and are semi-divine yourself. Very handy. It eliminates all possibilities of revolts and insures absolute obedience in everything. And that is why, Lepold, you must take an active part in ordering the war against the Foundation. I am only regent, and quite human. You are king, and more than half a god -- to them.”
“But I suppose I’m not really,” said the king reflectively.
“No, not really,” came the sardonic response, “but you are to everyone but the people of the Foundation. Get that? To everyone but those of the Foundation. Once they are removed there will be no one to deny you the godhead. Think of that!”
“And after that we will ourselves be able to operate the power boxes of the temples and the ships that fly without men and the holy food that cures cancer and all the rest? Verisof said only those blessed with the Galactic Spirit could--”
“Yes, Verisof said! Verisof, next to Salvor Hardin, is your greatest enemy. Stay with me, Lepold, and don’t worry about them. Together we will recreate an empire-not just the kingdom of Anacreon-but one comprising every one of the billions of suns of the Empire. Is that better than a wordy ‘Galactic Paradise’?”
“Can Verisof promise more?”
“Very well.” His voice became peremptory. “I suppose we may consider the matter settled.” He waited for no answer. “Get along. I’ll be down later. And just one thing, Lepold.”
The young king turned on the threshold.
Wienis was smiling with all but his eyes. “Be careful on these Nyak hunts, my boy. Since the unfortunate accident to your father, I have had the strangest presentiments concerning you, at times. In the confusion, with needle guns thickening the air with darts, one can never tell. You will be careful, I hope. And you’ll do as I say about the Foundation, won’t you?”
Lepold’s eyes widened and dropped away from those of his uncle. “Yes -- certainly.”
“Good!” He stared after his departing nephew, expressionlessly, and returned to his desk.
And Lepold’s thoughts as he left were somber and not unfearful. Perhaps it would be best to defeat the Foundation and gain the power Wienis spoke of. But afterward, when the war was over and he was secure on his throne-- He became acutely conscious of the fact that Wienis and his two arrogant sons were at present next in line to the throne.
But he was king. And kings could order people executed.
Even uncles and cousins.
Next to Sermak himself, Lewis Bort was the most active in rallying those dissident elements which had fused into the now-vociferous Action Party. Yet he had not been one of the deputation that had called on Salvor Hardin almost half a year previously. That this was so was not due to any lack of recognition of his efforts; quite the contrary. He was absent for the very good reason that he was on Anacreon’s capital world at the time.
He visited it as a private citizen. He saw no official and he did nothing of importance. He merely watched the obscure comers of the busy planet and poked his stubby nose into dusty crannies.
He arrived home toward the end of a short winter day that had started with clouds and was finishing with snow and within an hour was seated at the octagonal table in Sermak’s home.
His first words were not calculated to improve the atmosphere of a gathering already considerably depressed by the deepening snow-filled twilight outside..
“I’m afraid,” he said, “that our position is what is usually termed, in melodramatic phraseology, a ‘Lost Cause.’“
“You think so?” said Sermak, gloomily.
“It’s gone past thought, Sermak. There’s no room for any other opinion.”
“Armaments--” began Dokor Walto, somewhat officiously, but Bort broke in at once.
“Forget that. That’s an old story.” His eyes traveled round the circle. “I’m referring to the people. I admit that it was my idea originally that we attempt to foster a palace rebellion of some sort to install as king someone more favorable to the Foundation. It was a good idea. It still is. The only trifling flaw about it is that it is impossible. The great Salvor Hardin saw to that.”
Sermak said sourly, “If you’d give us the details, Bort--”
“Details! There aren’t any! It isn’t as simple as that. It’s the whole damned situation on Anacreon. It’s this religion the Foundation has established. It works!”
“You’ve got to see it work to appreciate it. All you see here is that we have a large school devoted to the training of priests, and that occasionally a special show is put on in some obscure comer of the city for the benefit of pilgrims and that’s all. The whole business hardly affects us as a general thing. But on Anacreon--”
Lem Tarki smoothed his prim little Vandyke with one finger, and cleared his throat. “What kind of religion is it? Hardin’s always said that it was just a fluffy flummery to get them to accept our science without question. You remember, Sermak, he told us that day--”
“Hardin’s explanations,” reminded Sermak, “don’t often mean much at face value. But what kind of a religion is it, Bort?”
Bort considered. “Ethically, it’s fine. It scarcely varies from the various philosophies of the old Empire. High moral standards and all that. There’s nothing to complain about from that viewpoint. Religion is one of the great civilizing influences of history and in that respect, it’s fulfilling--”
“We know that,” interrupted Sermak, impatiently. “Get to the point.”
“Here it is.” Bort was a trifle disconcerted, but didn’t show it. “The religion -- which the Foundation has fostered and encouraged, mind you -- is built on on strictly authoritarian lines. The priesthood has sole control of the instruments of science we have given Anacreon, but they’ve learned to handle these tools only empirically. They believe in this religion entirely, and in the ... uh ... spiritual value of the power they handle. For instance, two months ago some fool tampered with the power plant in the Thessalekian Temple -- one of the large ones. He contaminated the city, of course. It was considered divine vengeance by everyone, including the priests.”
“I remember. The papers had some garbled version of the story at the time. I don’t see what you’re driving at.”
“Then, listen,” said Bort, stiffly. “The priesthood forms a hierarchy at the apex of which is the king, who is regarded as a sort of minor god. He’s an absolute monarch by divine right, and the people believe it, thoroughly, and the priests, too. You can’t overthrow a king like that. Now do you get the point?”
“Hold on,” said Walto, at this point. “What did you mean when you said Hardin’s done all this? How does he come in?”
Bort glanced at his questioner bitterly. “The Foundation has fostered this delusion assiduously. We’ve put all our scientific backing behind the hoax. There isn’t a festival at which the king does not preside surrounded by a radioactive aura shining forth all over his body and raising itself like a coronet above his head. Anyone touching him is severely burned. He can move from place to place through the air at crucial moments, supposedly by inspiration of divine spirit. He fills the temple with a pearly, internal light at a gesture. There is no end to these quite simple tricks that we perform for his benefit; but even the priests believe them, while working them personally.”
“Bad!” said Sermak, biting his lip.
“I could cry -- like the fountain in City Hall Park,” said Bort, earnestly, “when I think of the chance we muffed. Take the situation thirty years ago, when Hardin saved the Foundation from Anacreon -- At that time, the Anacreonian people had no real conception of the fact that the Empire was running down. They had been more or less running their own affairs since the Zeonian revolt, but even after communications broke down and Lepold’s pirate of a grandfather made himself king, they never quite realized the Empire had gone kaput.
“If the Emperor had had the nerve to try, he could have taken over again with two cruisers and with the help of the internal revolt that would have certainly sprung to life. And we we could have done the same; but no, Hardin established monarch worship. Personally, I don’t understand it. Why? Why? Why?”
“What,” demanded Jaim Orsy, suddenly, “does Verisof do? There was a day when he was an advanced Actionist. What’s he doing there? Is he blind, too?”
“I don’t know,” said Bort, curtly. “He’s high priest to them. As far as I know, he does nothing but act as adviser to the priesthood on technical details. Figurehead, blast him, figurehead!”
There was silence all round and all eyes turned to Sermak. The young party leader was biting a fingernail nervously, and then said loudly, “No good. It’s fishy!”
He looked around him, and added more energetically, “Is Hardin then such a fool?”
“Seems to be,” shrugged Bort.
“Never! There’s something wrong. To cut our own throats so thoroughly and so hopelessly would require colossal stupidity. More than Hardin could possibly have even if he were a fool, which I deny. On the one hand, to establish a religion that would wipe out all chance of internal troubles. On the other hand, to arm Anacreon with all weapons of warfare. I don’t see it.”
“The matter is a little obscure, I admit,” said Bort, “but the facts are there. What else can we think?”
Walto said, jerkily, “Outright treason. He’s in their pay.”
But Sermak shook his head impatiently. “I don’t see that, either. The whole affair is as insane and meaningless -- Tell me, Bort, have you heard anything about a battle cruiser that the Foundation is supposed to have put into shape for use in the Anacreon navy?”
“An old Imperial cruiser--”
“No, I haven’t. But that doesn’t mean much. The navy yards are religious sanctuaries completely inviolate on the part of the lay public. No one ever hears anything about the fleet.
“Well, rumors have leaked out. Some of the Party have brought the matter up in Council. Hardin never denied it, you know. His spokesmen denounced rumor mongers and let it go at that. It might have significance.”
“It’s of a piece with the rest,” said Bort. “if true, it’s absolutely crazy. But it wouldn’t be worse than the rest.”
“I suppose,” said Orsy, “Hardin hasn’t any secret weapon waiting. That might--”
“Yes,” said Sermak, viciously, “a huge jack-in-the-box that will jump out at the psychological moment and scare old Wienis into fits. The Foundation may as well blow itself out of existence and save itself the agony of suspense if it has to depend on any secret weapon.”
“Well,” said Orsy, changing the subject hurriedly, “the question comes down to this: How much time have we left? Eli, Bort?”
“All fight. It is the question. But don’t look at me; I don’t know. The Anacreonian press never mentions the Foundation at all. Right now, it’s full of the approaching celebrations and nothing else. Lepold is coming of age next week, you know.”
“We have months then.” Walto smiled for the first time that evening. “That gives us time--”
“That gives us time, my foot,” ground out Bort, impatiently. “The king’s a god, I tell you. Do you suppose he has to carry on a campaign of propaganda to get his people into fighting spirit? Do you suppose he has to accuse us of aggression and pull out all stops on cheap emotionalism? When the time comes to strike, Lepold gives the order and the people fight. Just like that. That’s the damnedness of the system. You don’t question a god. He may give the order tomorrow for all I know; and you can wrap tobacco round that and smoke it.”
Everyone tried to talk at once and Sermak was slamming the table for silence, when the front door opened and Levi Norast stamped in. He bounded up the stairs, overcoat on, trailing snow.
“Look at that!” he cried, tossing a cold, snow-speckled newspaper onto the table. “The visicasters are full of it, too.”
The newspaper was unfolded and five heads bent over it.
Sermak said, in a hushed voice, “Great Space, he’s going to Anacreon! Going to Anacreon!”
“It is treason,” squeaked Tarki, in sudden excitement. “I’ll be damned if Walto isn’t right. He’s sold us out and now he’s going there to collect his wage.”
Sermak had risen. “We’ve no choice now. I’m going to ask the Council tomorrow that Hardin be impeached. And if that fails--”
The snow had ceased, but it caked the ground deeply now and the sleek ground car advanced through the deserted streets with lumbering effort. The murky gray light of incipient dawn was cold not only in the poetical sense but also in a very literal way -- and even in the then turbulent state of the Foundation’s politics, no one, whether Actionist or pro-Hardin found his spirits sufficiently ardent to begin street activity that early.
Yohan Lee did not like that and his grumblings grew audible. “It’s going to look bad, Hardin. They’re going to say you sneaked away.”
“Let them say it if they wish. I’ve got to get to Anacreon and I want to do it without trouble. Now that’s enough, Lee.”
Hardin leaned back into the cushioned seat and shivered slightly. It wasn’t cold inside the well-heated car, but there was something frigid about a snow-covered world, even through glass, that annoyed him.
He said, reflectively, “Some day when we get around to it we ought to weather-condition Terminus. It could be done.”
“I,” replied Lee, “would like to see a few other things done first. For instance, what about weather-conditioning Sermak? A nice, dry cell fitted for twenty-five centigrade all year round would be just fight.”
“And then I’d really need bodyguards,” said Hardin, “and not just those two,” He indicated two of Lee’s bully-boys sitting up front with the driver, hard eyes on the empty streets, ready hands at their atom blasts. “You evidently want to stir up civil war.”
“I do? There are other sticks in the fire and it won’t require much stirring, I can tell you.” He counted off on blunt fingers, “One: Sermak raised hell yesterday in the City Council and called for an impeachment.”
“He had a perfect right to do so,” responded Hardin, coolly. “Besides which, his motion was defeated 206 to 184.”
“Certainly. A majority of twenty-two when we had counted on sixty as a minimum. Don’t deny it; you know you did.”
“It was close,” admitted Hardin.
“All right. And two; after the vote, the fifty-nine members of the Actionist Party reared upon their hind legs and stamped out of the Council Chambers.”
Hardin was silent, and Lee continued, “And three: Before leaving, Sermak howled that you were a traitor, that you were going to Anacreon to collect your payment, that the Chamber majority in refusing to vote impeachment had participated in the treason, and that the name of their party was not ‘Actionist’ for nothing. What does that sound like?”
“Trouble, I suppose.”
“And now you’re chasing off at daybreak, like a criminal. You ought to face them, Hardin -- and if you have to, declare martial law, by space!”
“Violence is the last refuge--”
“--Of the incompetent. Bah!”
“All right. We’ll see. Now listen to me carefully, Lee. Thirty years ago, the Time Vault opened, and on the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Foundation, there appeared a Hari Seldon recording to give us our first idea of what was really going on.”
“I remember,” Lee nodded reminiscently, with a half smile. “It was the day we took over the government.”
“That’s right. It was the time of our first major crisis. This is our second-and three weeks from today will be the eightieth anniversary of the beginning of the Foundation. Does that strike you as in any way significant?”
“You mean he’s coming again?”
“I’m not finished. Seldon never said anything about returning, you understand, but that’s of a piece with his whole plan. He’s always done his best to keep all foreknowledge from us. Nor is there any way of telling whether the computer is set for further openings short of dismantling the Vault -- and it’s probably set to destroy itself if we were to try that. I’ve been there every anniversary since the first appearance, just on the chance. He’s never shown up, but this is the first time since then that there’s really been a crisis.”
“Then he’ll come.”
“Maybe. I don’t know. However, this is the point. At today’s session of the Council, just after you announce that I have left for Anacreon, you will further announce, officially, that on March 14th next, there will be another Hari Seldon recording, containing a message of the utmost importance regarding the recent successfully concluded crisis. That’s very important, Lee. Don’t add anything more no matter how many questions are asked.”
Lee stared. “Will they believe it?”
“That doesn’t matter. It will confuse them, which is all I want. Between wondering whether it is true and what I mean by it if it isn’t -- they’ll decide to postpone action till after March 14th. I’ll be back considerably before then.”
Lee looked uncertain. “But that ‘successfully concluded.’ That’s bull!”
“Highly confusing bull. Here’s the airport!”
The waiting spaceship bulked somberly in the dimness. Hardin stamped through the snow toward it and at the open air lock turned about with outstretched hand.
“Good-by, Lee. I hate to leave you in the frying pan like this, but there’s not another I can trust. Now please keep out of the fire.”
“Don’t worry. The frying pan is hot enough. I’ll follow orders.” He stepped back, and the air lock closed.
Salvor Hardin did not travel to the planet Anacreon -- from which planet the kingdom derived its name -- immediately. It was only on the day before the coronation that he arrived, after having made flying visits to eight of the larger stellar systems of the kingdom, stopping only long, enough to confer with the local representatives of the Foundation.
The trip left him with an oppressive realization of the vastness of the kingdom. It was a little splinter, an insignificant fly speck compared to the inconceivable reaches of the Galactic Empire of which it had once formed so distinguished a part; but to one whose habits of thought had been built around a single planet, and a sparsely settled one at that, Anacreon’s size in area and population was staggering.
Following closely the boundaries of the old Prefect of Anacreon, it embraced twenty-five stellar systems, six of which included more than one inhabited world. The population of nineteen billion, though still far less than it had been in the Empire’s heyday was rising rapidly with the increasing scientific development fostered by the Foundation.
And it was only now that Hardin found himself floored by the magnitude of that task. Even in thirty years, only the capital world had been powered. The outer provinces still possessed immense stretches where nuclear power had not yet been re-introduced. Even the progress that had been made might have been impossible had it not been for the still workable relics left over by the ebbing tide of Empire.
When Hardin did arrive at the capital world, it was to find all normal business at an absolute standstill. In the outer provinces there had been and still were celebrations; but here on the planet Anacreon, not a person but took feverish part in the hectic religious pageantry that heralded the coming-of-age of their god-king, Lepold.
Hardin had been able to snatch only half an hour from a haggard and harried Verisof before his ambassador was forced to rush off to supervise still another temple festival. But the half-hour was a most profitable one, and Hardin prepared himself for the night’s fireworks well satisfied.
In all, he acted as an observer, for he had no stomach for the religious tasks he would undoubtedly have had to undertake if his identity became known. So, when the palace’s ballroom filled itself with a glittering horde of the kingdom’s very highest and most exalted nobility, he found himself hugging the wall, little noticed or totally ignored.
He had been introduced to Lepold as one of a long line of introducees, and from a safe distance, for the king stood apart in lonely and impressive grandeur, surrounded by his deadly blaze of radioactive aura. And in less than an hour this same king would take his seat upon the massive throne of rhodium-iridium alloy with jewel-set gold chasings, and then, throne and all would rise maestically into the air, skim the ground slowly to hover before the great window from which the great crowds of common folk could see their king and shout themselves into near apoplexy. The throne would not have been so massive, of course, if it had not had a shielded nuclear motor built into it.
It was past eleven. Hardin fidgeted and stood on his toes to better his view. He resisted an impulse to stand on a chair. And then he saw Wienis threading through the crowd toward him and he relaxed.
Wienis’ progress was slow. At almost every step, he had to pass a kindly sentence with some revered noble whose grandfather had helped Lepold’s grandfather brigandize the kingdom and had received a dukedom therefor.
And then he disentangled himself from the last uniformed peer and reached Hardin. His smile crooked itself into a smirk and his black eyes peered from under grizzled brows with glints of satisfaction in them.
“My dear Hardin,” he said, in a low voice, “you must expect to be bored, when you refuse to announce your identity.”
“I am not bored, your highness. This is all extremely interesting. We have no comparable spectacles on Terminus, you know.”
“No doubt. But would you care to step into my private chambers, where we can speak at greater length and with considerably more privacy?”
With arms linked, the two ascended the staircase, and more than one dowager duchess stared after them in surprise and wondered at the identity of this insignificantly dressed and uninteresting-looking stranger on whom such signal honor was being conferred by the prince regent.
In Wienis’ chambers, Hardin relaxed in perfect comfort and accepted with a murmur of gratitude the glass of liquor that had been poured out by the regent’s own hand.
“Locris wine, Hardin,” said Wienis, “from the royal cellars. The real thing -- two centuries in age. It was laid down ten years before the Zeonian Rebellion.”
“A really royal drink,” agreed Hardin, politely. “To Lepold I, King of Anacreon.”
They drank, and Wienis added blandly, at the pause, “And soon to be Emperor of the Periphery, and further, who knows? The Galaxy may some day be reunited.”
“Undoubtedly. By Anacreon?”
“Why not? With the help of the Foundation, our scientific superiority over the rest of the Periphery would be undisputable.”
Hardin set his empty glass down and said, “Well, yes, except that, of course, the Foundation is bound to help any nation that requests scientific aid of it. Due to the high idealism of our government and the great moral purpose of our founder, Hari Seldon, we are unable to play favorites. That can’t be helped, your highness.”
Wienis’ smile broadened. “The Galactic Spirit, to use the popular cant, helps those who help themselves. I quite understand that, left to itself, the Foundation would never cooperate.”
“I wouldn’t say that. We repaired the Imperial cruiser for you, though my board of navigation wished it for themselves for research purposes.”
The regent repeated the last words ironically. “Research purposes! Yes! Yet you would not have repaired it, had I not threatened war.”
Hardin made a deprecatory gesture. “I don’t know.”
“I do. And that threat always stood.”
“And still stands now?”
“Now it is rather too late to speak of threats.” Wienis had cast a rapid glance at the clock on his desk. “Look here, Hardin, you were on Anacreon once before. You were young then; we were both young. But even then we had entirely different ways of looking at things. You’re what they call a man of peace, aren’t you?”
“I suppose I am. At least, I consider violence an uneconomical way of attaining an end. There are always better substitutes, though they may sometimes be a little less direct.”
“Yes. I’ve heard of your famous remark: ‘Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.’ And yet” -- the regent scratched one ear gently in affected abstraction --”I wouldn’t call myself exactly incompetent.”
Hardin nodded politely and said nothing.
“And in spite of that,” Wienis continued, “I have always believed in direct action. I have believed in carving a straight path to my objective and following that path. I have accomplished much that way, and fully expect to accomplish still more.”
“I know,” interrupted Hardin. “I believe you are carving a path such as you describe for yourself and your children that leads directly to the throne, considering the late unfortunate death of the king’s father -- your elder brother and the king’s own precarious state of health. He is in a precarious state of health, is he not?”
Wienis frowned at the shot, and his voice grew harder. “You might find it advisable, Hardin, to avoid certain subjects. You may consider yourself privileged as mayor of Terminus to make ... uh ... injudicious remarks, but if you do, please disabuse yourself of the notion. I am not one to be frightened at words. It has been my philosophy of life that difficulties vanish when faced boldly, and I have never turned my back upon one yet.”
“I don’t doubt that. What particular difficulty are you refusing to turn your back upon at the present moment?”
“The difficulty, Hardin, of persuading the Foundation to co-operate. Your policy of peace, you see, has led you into making several very serious mistakes, simply because you underestimated the boldness of your adversary. Not everyone is as afraid of direct action as you are.”
“For instance?” suggested Hardin.
“For instance, you came to Anacreon alone and accompanied me to my chambers alone.”
Hardin looked about him. “And what is wrong with that?”
“Nothing,” said the regent, “except that outside this room are five police guards, well armed and ready to shoot. I don’t think you can leave, Hardin.”
The mayor’s eyebrows lifted, “I have no immediate desire to leave. Do you then fear me so much?”
“I don’t fear you at all. But this may serve to impress you with my determination. Shall we call it a gesture?”
“Call it what you please,” said Hardin, indifferently. “I shall not discommode myself over the incident, whatever you choose to call it.”
“I’m sure that attitude will change with time. But you have made another error, Hardin, a more serious one. It seems that the planet Terminus is almost wholly undefended.”
“Naturally. What have we to fear? We threaten no one’s interest and serve all alike.”
“And while remaining helpless,” Wienis went on, “you kindly helped us to arm ourselves, aiding us particularly in the development of a navy of our own, a great navy. In fact, a navy which, since your donation of the Imperial cruiser, is quite irresistible.”
“Your highness, you are wasting time.” Hardin made as if to rise from his seat. “If you mean to declare war, and are informing me of the fact, you will allow me to communicate with my government at once.”
“Sit down, Hardin. I am not declaring war, and you are not communicating with your government at all. When the war is fought -- not declared, Hardin, fought -- the Foundation will be informed of it in due time by the nuclear blasts of the Anacreonian navy under the lead of my own son upon the flagship, Wienis, once a cruiser of the Imperial navy.”
Hardin frowned. “When will all this happen?”
“If you’re really interested, the ships of the fleet left Anacreon exactly fifty minutes ago, at eleven, and the first shot will be fired as soon as they sight Terminus, which should be at noon tomorrow. You may consider yourself a prisoner of war.”
“That’s exactly what I do consider myself, your highness,” said Hardin, still frowning. “But I’m disappointed.”
Wienis chuckled contemptuously. “Is that all?”
“Yes. I had thought that the moment of coronation -- midnight, you know -- would be the logical time to set the fleet in motion. Evidently, you wanted to start the war while you were still regent. It would have been more dramatic the other way.”
The regent stared. “What in Space are you talking about?”
“Don’t you understand?” said Hardin, softly. “I had set my counterstroke for midnight.”
Wienis started from his chair. “You are not bluffing me. There is no counterstroke. If you are counting on the support of the other kingdoms, forget it. Their navies, combined, are no match for ours.”
“I know that. I don’t intend firing a shot. It is simply that the word went out a week ago that at midnight tonight, the planet Anacreon goes under the interdict.”
“Yes. If you don’t understand, I might explain that every priest in Anacreon is going on strike, unless I countermand the order. But I can’t while I’m being held incommunicado; nor do I wish to even if I weren’t!” He leaned forward and added, with sudden animation, “Do you realize, your highness, that an attack on the Foundation is nothing short of sacrilege of the highest order?”
Wienis was groping visibly for self-control. “Give me none of that, Hardin. Save it for the mob.”
“My dear Wienis, whoever do you think I am saving it for? I imagine that for the last half hour every temple on Anacreon has been the center of a mob listening to a priest exhorting them upon that very subject. There’s not a man or woman on Anacreon that doesn’t know that their government has launched a vicious, unprovoked attack upon the center of their religion. But it lacks only four minutes of midnight now. You’d better go down to the ballroom to watch events. I’ll be safe here with five guards outside the door.” He leaned back in his chair, helped himself to another glass of Locris wine, and gazed at the ceiling with perfect indifference.
Wienis suddenly furious, rushed out of the room.
A hush had fallen over the elite in the ballroom, as a broad path was cleared for the throne. Lepold sat on it now, hands solidly on its arms, head high, face frozen. The huge chandeliers had dimmed and in the diffused multi-colored light from the tiny nucleo-bulbs that bespangled the vaulted ceiling, the royal aura shone out bravely, lifting high above his head to form a blazing coronet.
Wienis paused on the stairway. No one saw him; all eyes were on the throne. He clenched his fists and remained where he was; Hardin would not bluff him into action.
And then the throne stiffed. Noiselessly, it lifted upward -- and drifted. Off the dais, slowly down the steps, and then horizontally, five centimetres off the floor, it worked itself toward the huge, open window.
At the sound of the deep-toned bell that signified midnight, it stopped before the window -- and the king’s aura died.
For a frozen split second, the king did not move, face twisted in surprise, without an aura, merely human; and then the throne wobbled and dropped to the floor with a crashing thump, just as every light in the palace went out.
Through the shrieking din and confusion, Wienis’ bull voice sounded. “Get the flares! Get the flares!”
He buffeted right and left through the crowd and forced his way to the door. From without, palace guards had streamed into the darkness.
Somehow the flares were brought back to the ballroom; flares that were to have been used in the gigantic torchlight procession through the streets of the city after the coronation.
Back to the ballroom guardsmen swarmed with torches -- blue, green, and red; where the strange light lit up frightened, confused faces.
“There is no harm done,” shouted Wienis. “Keep your places. Power will return in a moment.”
He turned to the captain of the guard who stood stiffly at attention. “What is it, Captain?”
“Your highness,” was the instant response, “the palace is surrounded by the people of the city.”
“What do they want?” snarled Wienis.
“A priest is at the head. He has been identified as High Priest Poly Verisof. He demands the immediate release of Mayor Salvor Hardin and cessation of the war against the Foundation.” The report was made in the expressionless tones of an officer, but his eyes shifted uneasily.
Wienis cried, “if any of the rabble attempt to pass the palace gates, blast them out of existence. For the moment, nothing more. Let them howl! There will be an accounting tomorrow.”
The torches had been distributed now, and the ballroom was again alight. Wienis rushed to the throne, still standing by the window, and dragged the stricken, wax-faced Lepold to his feet.
“Come with me.” He cast one look out of the window. The city was pitch-black. From below there were the hoarse confused cries of the mob. Only toward the fight, where the Argolid Temple stood was there illumination. He swore angrily, and dragged the king away.
Wienis burst into his chambers, the five guardsmen at his heels. Lepold followed, wide-eyed, scared speechless.
“Hardin,” said Wienis, huskily, “you are playing with forces too great for you.”
The mayor ignored the speaker. In the pearly light of the pocket nucleo-bulb at his side, he remained quietly seated, a slightly ironic smile on his face.
“Good morning, your majesty,” he said to Lepold. “I congratulate you on your coronation.”
“Hardin,” cried Wienis again, “order your priests back to their jobs.”
Hardin looked up coolly. “Order them yourself, Wienis, and see who is playing with forces too great for whom. Right now, there’s not a wheel turning in Anacreon. There’s not a light burning, except in the temples. There’s not a drop of water running, except in the temples. On the wintry half of the planet, there’s not a calorie of heat, except in the temples. The hospitals are taking in no more patients. The power plants have shut down. All ships are grounded. If you don’t like it, Wienis, you can order the priests back to their jobs. I don’t wish to.”
“By Space, Hardin, I will. If it’s to be a showdown, so be it. We’ll see if your priests can withstand the army. Tonight, every temple on the planet will be put under army supervision.”
“Very good, but how are you going to give the orders? Every line of communication on the planet is shut down. You’ll find that neither wave nor hyperwave will work. In fact, the only communicator of the planet that will work -- outside of the temples, of course -- is the televisor right here in this room, and I’ve fitted it only for reception.”
Wienis struggled vainly for breath, and Hardin continued, “If you wish you can order your army into the Argolid Temple just outside the palace and then use the ultrawave sets there to contact other portions of the planet. But if you do that, I’m afraid the army contigent will be cut to pieces by the mob, and then what will protect your palace, Wienis? And your lives, Wienis?”
Wienis said thickly, “We can hold out, devil. We’ll last the day. Let the mob howl and let the power die, but we’ll hold out. And when the news comes back that the Foundation has been taken, your precious mob will find upon what vacuum their religion has been built, and they’ll desert your priests and turn against them. I give you until noon tomorrow, Hardin, because you can stop the power on Anacreon but you can’t stop my fleet.” His voice croaked exultantly. “They’re on their way, Hardin, with the great cruiser you yourself ordered repaired, at the head.”
Hardin replied lightly. “Yes, the cruiser I myself ordered repaired -- but in my own way. Tell me, Wienis, have you ever heard of a hyperwave relay? No, I see you haven’t. Well, in about two minutes you’ll find out what one can do.”
The televisor flashed to life as he spoke, and he amended, “No, in two seconds. Sit down, Wienis. and listen.”
Theo Aporat was one of the very highest ranking priests of Anacreon. From the standpoint of precedence alone, he deserved his appointment as head priest- attendant upon the flagship Wienis.
But it was not only rank or precedence. He knew the ship. He had worked directly under the holy men from the Foundation itself in repairing the ship. He had gone over the motors under their orders. He had rewired the ‘visors; revamped the communications system; replated the punctured hull; reinforced the beams. He had even been permitted to help while the wise men of the Foundation had installed a device so holy it had never been placed in any previous ship, but had been reserved only for this magnificent colossus of a vessel -- a hyperwave relay.
It was no wonder that he felt heartsick over the purposes to which the glorious ship was perverted. He had never wanted to believe what Verisof had told him -- that the ship was to be used for appalling wickedness; that its guns were to be turned on the great Foundation. Turned on that Foundation, where he had been trained as a youth, from which all blessedness was derived.
Yet he could not doubt now, after what the admiral had told him.
How could the king, divinely blessed, allow this abominable act? Or was it the king? Was it not, perhaps, an action of the accursed regent, Wienis, without the knowledge of the king at all. And it was the son of this same Wienis that was the admiral who five minutes before had told him:
“Attend to your souls and your blessings, priest. I will attend to my ship.”
Aporat smiled crookedly. He would attend to his souls and his blessings -- and also to his cursings; and Prince Lefkin would whine soon enough.
He had entered the general communications room now. His. acolyte preceded him and the two officers in charge made no move to interfere. The head priest-attendant had the right of free entry anywhere on the ship.
“Close the door,” Aporat ordered, and looked at the chronometer. It lacked Five minutes of twelve. He had timed it well.
With quick practiced motions, he moved the little levers that opened all communications, so that every part of the two-mile-long ship was within reach of his voice and his image.
“Soldiers of the royal flagship Wienis, attend! It is your priest-attendant that speaks!” The sound of his voice reverberated, he knew, from the stem atom blast in the extreme rear to the navigation tables in the prow.
“Your ship,” he cried, “is engaged in sacrilege. Without your knowledge, it is performing such an act as will doom the soul of every man among you to the eternal frigidity of space! Listen! It is the intention of your commander to take this ship to the Foundation and there to bombard that source of all blessings into submission to his sinful will. And since that is his intention, I, in the name of the Galactic Spirit, remove him from his command, for there is no command where the blessing of the Galactic Spirit has been withdrawn. The divine king himself may not maintain his kingship without the consent of the Spirit.”
His voice took on a deeper tone, while the acolyte listened with veneration and the two soldiers with mounting fear. “And because this ship is upon such a devil’s errand, the blessing of the Spirit is removed from it as well.”
He lifted his arms solemnly, and before a thousand televisors throughout the ship, soldiers cowered, as the stately image of their priest-attendant spoke:
“In the name of the Galactic Spirit and of his prophet, Hari Seldon, and of his interpreters, the holy men of the Foundation, I curse this ship. Let the televisors of this ship, which are its eyes, become blind. Let its grapples, which are its arms, be paralyzed. Let the nuclear blasts, which are its fists, lose their function. Let the motors, which are its heart, cease to beat. Let the communications, which are its voice, become dumb. Let its ventilations, which are its breath, fade. Let its lights, which are its soul, shrivel into nothing. In the name of the Galactic Spirit, I so curse this ship.”
And with his last word, at the stroke of midnight, a hand, light-years distant in the Argolid Temple, opened an ultrawave relay, which at the instantaneous speed of the ultrawave, opened another on the flagship Wienis.
And the ship died!
For it is the chief characteristic of the religion of science that it works, and that such curses as that of Aporat’s are really deadly.
Aporat saw the darkness close down on the ship and heard the sudden ceasing of the soft, distant purring of the hyperatomic motors. He exulted and from the pocket of his long robe withdrew a self-powered nucleo-bulb that filled the room with pearly light.
He looked down at the two soldiers who, brave men though they undoubtedly were, writhed on their knees in the last extremity of mortal terror. “Save our souls, your reverence. We are poor men, ignorant of the crimes of our leaders,” one whimpered.
“Follow,” said Aporat, sternly. “Your soul is not yet lost.”
The ship was a turmoil of darkness in which fear was so thick and palpable, it was all but a miasmic smell. Soldiers crowded close wherever Aporat and his circle of light passed, striving to touch the hem of his robe, pleading for the tiniest scrap of mercy.
And always his answer was, “Follow me!”
He found Prince Lefkin, groping his way through the officers’ quarters, cursing loudly for lights. The admiral stared at the priest-attendant with hating eyes.
“There you are!” Lefkin inherited his blue eyes from his mother, but there was that about the hook in his nose and the squint in his eye that marked him as the son of Wienis. “What is the meaning of your treasonable actions? Return the power to the ship. I am commander here.”
“No longer,” said Aporat, somberly.
Lefkin looked about wildly. “Seize that man. Arrest him, or by Space, I will send every man within reach of my voice out the air lock in the nude.” He paused, and then shrieked, “It is your admiral that orders. Arrest him.”
Then, as he lost his head entirely, “Are you allowing yourselves to be fooled by this mountebank, this harlequin? Do you cringe before a religion compounded of clouds and moonbeams? This man is an imposter and the Galactic Spirit he speaks of a fraud of the imagination devised to--”
Aporat interrupted furiously. “Seize the blasphemer. You listen to him at the peril of your souls.”
And promptly, the noble admiral went down under the clutching hands of a score of soldiers.
“Take him with you and follow me.”
Aporat turned, and with Lefkin dragged along after him, and the corridors behind black with soldiery, he returned to the communications room. There, he ordered the ex-commander before the one televisor that worked.
“Order the rest of the fleet to cease course and to prepare for the return to Anacreon.”
The disheveled Lefkin, bleeding, beaten, and half stunned, did so.
“And now,” continued Aporat, grimly, “we are in contact with Anacreon on the hyperwave beam. Speak as I order you.”
Lefkin made a gesture of negation, and the mob in the room and the others crowding the corridor beyond, growled fearfully.
“Speak!” said Aporat. “Begin: The Anacreonian navy--”
There was absolute silence in Wienis’ chambers when the image of Prince Lefkin appeared at the televisor. There had been one startled gasp from the regent at the haggard face and shredded uniform of his son, and then he collapsed into a chair, face contorted with surprise and apprehension.
Hardin listened stolidly, hands clasped lightly in his lap, while the just-crowned King Lepold sat shriveled in the most shadowy comer, biting spasmodically at his goldbraided sleeve. Even the soldiers had lost the emotionless stare that is the prerogative of the military, and, from where they lined up against the door, nuclear blasts ready, peered furtively at the figure upon the televisor.
Lefkin spoke, reluctantly, with a tired voice that paused at intervals as though he were being prompted-and not gently:
“The Anacreonian navy ... aware of the nature of its mission ... and refusing to be a party ... to abominable sacrilage ... is returning to Anacreon ... with the following ultimatum issued ... to those blaspheming sinners ... who would dare to use profane force ... against the Foundation ... source of all blessings ... and against the Galactic Spirit. Cease at once all war against ... the true faith . . . and guarantee in a manner suiting us of the navy ... as represented by our ... priest-attendant, Theo Aporat ... that such war will never in the future ... be resumed, and that”-- here a long pause, and then continuing --”and that the one-time prince regent, Wienis ... be imprisoned ... and tried before an ecclesiastical court ... for his crimes. Otherwise the royal navy ... upon returning to Anacreon ... will blast the palace to the ground ... and take whatever other measures ... are necessary ... to destroy the nest of sinners ... and the den of destroyers ... of men’s souls that now prevail.”
The voice ended with half a sob and the screen went blank.
Hardin’s fingers passed rapidly over the nucleo-bulb and its light faded until in the dimness, the hitherto regent, the king, and the soldiers were hazy-edged shadows; and for the first time it could be seen that an aura encompassed Hardin.
It was not the blazing light that was the prerogative of kings, but one less spectacular, less impressive, and yet one more effective in its own way, and more useful.
Hardin’s voice was softly ironic as he addressed the same Wienis who had one hour earlier declared him a prisoner of war and Terminus on the point of destruction, and who now was a huddled shadow, broken and silent.
“There is an old fable,” said Hardin, “as old perhaps as humanity, for the oldest records containing it are merely copies of other records still older, that might interest you. It runs as follows:
“A horse having a wolf as a powerful and dangerous enemy lived in constant fear of his life. Being driven to desperation, it occured to him to seek a strong ally. Whereupon he approached a man, and offered an alliance, pointing out that the wolf was likewise an enemy of the man. The man accepted the partnership at once and offered to kill the wolf immediately, if his new partner would only co-operate by placing his greater speed at the man’s disposal. The horse was willing, and allowed the man to place bridle and saddle upon him. The man mounted, hunted down the wolf, and killed him.
“The horse, joyful and relieved, thanked the man, and said: ‘Now that our enemy is dead, remove your bridle and saddle and restore my freedom.’
“Whereupon the man laughed loudly and replied, ‘Never!’ and applied the spurs with a will.”
Silence still. The shadow that was Wienis did not stir.
Hardin continued quietly, “You see the analogy, I hope. In their anxiety to cement forever domination over their own people, the kings of the Four Kingdoms accepted the religion of science that made them divine; and that same religion of science was their bridle and saddle, for it placed the life blood of nuclear power in the hands of the priesthood -- who took their orders from us, be it noted, and not from you. You killed the wolf, but could not get rid of the m--”
Wienis sprang to his feet and in the shadows, his eyes were maddened hollows. His voice was thick, incoherent. “And yet I’ll get you. You won’t escape. You’ll rot. Let them blow us up. Let them blow everything up. You’ll rot! I’ll get you!
“Soldiers!” he thundered, hysterically. “Shoot me down that devil. Blast him! Blast him!”
Hardin turned about in his chair to face the soldiers and smiled. One aimed his nuclear blast and then lowered it. The others never budged. Salvor Hardin, mayor of Terminus, surrounded by that soft aura, smiling so confidently, and before whom all the power of Anacreon had crumbled to powder was too much for them, despite the orders of the shrieking maniac just beyond.
Wienis shouted incoherently and staggered to the nearest soldier. Wildly, he wrested the nuclear blast from the man’s hand-aimed it at Hardin, who didn’t stir, shoved the lever and held it contacted.
The pale continuous beam impinged upon the force-field that surrounded the mayor of Terminus and was sucked harmlessly to neutralization. Wienis pressed harder and laughed tearingly.
Hardin still smiled and his force-field aura scarcely brightened as it absorbed the energies of the nuclear blast. From his comer Lepold covered his eyes and moaned.
And, with a yell of despair, Wienis changed his aim and shot again -- and toppled to the floor with his head blown into nothingness.
Hardin winced at the sight and muttered, “A man of ‘direct action’ to the end. The last refuge!”
The Time Vault was filled; filled far beyond the available seating capacity, and men lined the back of the room, three deep.
Salvor Hardin compared this large company with the few men attending the first appearance of Hari Seldon, thirty years earlier. There had only been six, then; the five old Encyclopedists -- all dead now -- and himself, the young figurehead of a mayor. It had been on that day, that he, with Yohan Lee’s assistance had removed the “figurehead” stigma from his office.
It was quite different now; different in every respect. Every man of the City Council was awaiting Seldon’s appearance. He, himself, was still mayor, but all-powerful now; and since the utter rout of Anacreon, all-popular. When he had returned from Anacreon with the news of the death of Wienis, and the new treaty signed with the trembling Lepold, he was greeted with a vote of confidence of shrieking unanimity. When this was followed in rapid order, by similar treaties signed with each of the other three kingdoms -- treaties that gave the Foundation powers such as would forever prevent any attempts at attack similar to that of Anacreon’s -- torchlight processions had been held in every city street of Terminus. Not even Hari Seldon’s name had been more loudly cheered.
Hardin’s lips twitched. Such popularity had been his after the first crisis also.
Across the room, Sef Sermak and Lewis Bort were engaged in animated discussion, and recent events seemed to have put them out not at all. They had joined in the vote of confidence; made speeches in which they publicly admitted that they had been in the wrong, apologized handsomely for the use of certain phrases in earlier debates, excused themselves delicately by declaring they had merely followed the dictates of their judgement and their conscience -- and immediately launched a new Actionist campaign.
Yohan Lee touched Hardin’s sleeve and pointed significantly to his watch.
Hardin looked up. “Hello there, Lee. Are you still sour? What’s wrong now?”
“He’s due in five minutes, isn’t he?”
“I presume so. He appeared at noon last time.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
“Are you going to wear me down with your worries all your life? If he doesn’t, he won’t.”
Lee frowned and shook his head slowly. “If this thing flops, we’re in another mess. Without Seldon’s backing for what we’ve done, Sermak will be free to start all over. He wants outright annexation of the Four Kingdoms, and immediate expansion of the Foundation -- by force, if necessary. He’s begun his campaign, already.”
“I know. A fire eater must eat fire even if he has to kindle it himself. And you, Lee, have got to worry even if you must kill yourself to invent something to worry about.”
Lee would have answered, but he lost his breath at just that moment -- as the lights yellowed and went dim. He raised his arm to point to the glass cubicle that dominated half the room and then collapsed into a chair with a windy sigh.
Hardin himself straightened at the sight of the figure that now filled the cubicle -- a figure in a wheel chair! He alone, of all those present could remember the day, decades ago, when that figure had appeared first. He had been young then, and the figure old. Since then, the figure had not aged a day, but he himself had in turn grown old.
The figure stared straight ahead, hands fingering a book in its lap.
It said, “I am Hari Seldon!” The voice was old and soft.
There was a breathless silence in the room and Hari Seldon continued conversationally, “This is the second time I’ve been here. Of course, I don’t know if any of you were here the first time. In fact, I have no way of telling, by sense perception, that there is anyone here at all, but that doesn’t matter. If the second crisis has been overcome safely, you are bound to be here; there is no way out. If you are not here, then the second crisis has been too much for you.”
He smiled engagingly. “I doubt that, however, for my figures show a ninety-eight point four percent probability there is to be no significant deviation from the Plan in the first eighty years.
“According to our calculations, you have now reached domination of the barbarian kingdoms immediately surrounding the Foundation. Just as in the first crisis you held them off by use of the Balance of Power, so in the second, you gained mastery by use of the Spiritual Power as against the Temporal.
“However, I might warn you here against overconfidence. It is not my way to grant you any foreknowledge in these recordings, but it would be safe to indicate that what you have now achieved is merely a new balance-though one in which your position is considerably better. The Spiritual Power, while sufficient to ward off attacks of the Temporal is not sufficient to attack in turn. Because of the invariable growth of the counteracting force known as Regionalism, or Nationalism, the Spiritual Power cannot prevail. I am telling you nothing new, I’m sure.
“You must pardon me, by the way, for speaking to you in this vague way. The terms I use are at best mere approximations, but none of you is qualified to understand the true symbology of psychohistory, and so I must do the best I can.
“In this case, the Foundation is only at the start of the path that leads to the Second Galactic Empire. The neighboring kingdoms, in manpower and resources are still overwhelmingly powerful as compared to yourselves. Outside them lies the vast tangled jungle of barbarism that extends around the entire breadth of the Galaxy. Within that rim there is still what is left of the Galactic Empire -- and that, weakened and decaying though it is, is still incomparably mighty.”
At this point, Hari Seldon lifted his book and opened it. His face grew solemn. “And never forget there was another Foundation established eighty years ago; a Foundation at the other end of the Galaxy, at Star’s End. They will always be there for consideration. Gentlemen, nine hundred and twenty years of the Plan stretch ahead of you. The problem is yours!”
He dropped his eyes to his book and flicked out of existence, while the lights brightened to fullness. In the babble that followed, Lee leaned over to Hardin’s ear. “He didn’t say when he’d be back.”
Hardin replied, “I know -- but I trust he won’t return until you and I are safely and cozily dead!”