by Isaac Asimov



Author’s Note


When I wrote “Foundation, “ which appeared in the May 1942 issue of Astounding Science Faction, I had no idea that I had begun a series of stories that would eventually grow into six volumes and a total of 650, 000 words (so far). Nor did I have any idea that it would be unified with my series of short stories and novels involving robots and my novels involving the Galactic Empire for a grand total (so far) of fourteen volumes and a total of about 1, 450, 000 words.

            You will see, if you study the publication dates of these books, that there was a twenty-five-year hiatus between 1957 and 1982, during which I did not add to this series. This was not because I had stopped writing. Indeed, I wrote full-speed throughout the quarter century, but I wrote other things. That I returned to the series in 1982 was not my own notion but was the result of a combination of pressures from readers and publishers that eventually became overwhelming.

            In any case, the situation has become sufficiently complicated for me to feel that the readers might welcome a kind of guide to the series, since they were not written in the order in which (perhaps) they should be read.

            The fourteen books, all published by Doubleday, offer a kind of history of the future, which is, perhaps, not completely consistent, since I did not plan consistency to begin with. The chronological order of the books, in terms of future history (and not of publication date), is as follows:


1. The Complete Robot (1982). This is a collection of thirty-one robot short stories published between 1940 and 1976 and includes every story in my earlier collection 1. Robot (1950). Only one robot short story has been written since this collection appeared. That is “Robot Dreams, “ which has not yet appeared in any Doubleday collection.

2. The Caves of Steel (1954). This is the first of my robot novels.

3. The Naked Sun (1957). The second robot novel.

4. The Robots of Dawn (1983 ). The third robot novel.

5. Robots and Empire (1985). The fourth robot novel.

6. The Currents of Space (1952). This is the first of my Empire novels.

7. The Stars, Like Dust (1951). The second Empire novel.

8. Pebble in the Sky (1950). The third Empire novel.

9. Prelude to Foundation (1988). This is the first Foundation novel (although it is the latest written, so far).

10. Foundation (1951). The second Foundation novel. Actually, it is a collection of four stories, originally published between 1942 and 1944, plus an introductory section written for the book in 1949.

11. foundation and Empire (1952). The third Foundation novel, made up of two stories, originally published in 1945.

12. Second foundation (1953). The fourth Foundation novel, made up of two stories, originally published in 1948 and 1949.

13. Foundations Edge (1982). The fifth Foundation novel.

14. Foundation and Earth (1983). The sixth Foundation novel.


            Will I add additional books to the series? I might. There is room for a book between Robots and Empire (5) and The Currents of Space (6) and between Prelude to Foundation (9) and Foundation (10) and of course between others as well. And then I can follow Foundation and Earth (14) with additional volumes -- as many as I like.

            Naturally, there’s got to be some limit, for I don’t expect to live forever, but I do intend to hang on as long as possible.




        CLEON I -- . . . The last Galactic Emperor of the Entun dynasty. He was born in the year 11, 988 of the Galactic Era, the same year in which Hari Seldon was born. (It is thought that Seldon’s birthdate, which some consider doubtful, may have been adjusted to match that of Cleon, whom Seldon, soon after his arrival on Trantor, is supposed to have encountered.)

            Having succeeded to the Imperial throne in 12, 010 at the age of twenty-two, Cleon I’s reign represented a curious interval of quiet in those troubled times. This is undoubtedly due to the skills of his Chief of Staff, Eto Demerzel, who so carefully obscured himself from public record that little is known about him.

            Cleon himself . . .



            (All quotations from the Encyclopedia Galactica here reproduced are taken from the 116th Edition, published 1, 020 FE by the Encyclopedia Galactica Publishing Co., Terminus, with permission of the publishers.)




            Suppressing a small yawn, Cleon said, “Demerzel, have you by any chance ever heard of a man named Hari Seldon?”

            Cleon had been Emperor for just over ten years and there were times at state occasions when, dressed in the necessary robes and regalia, he could manage to look stately. He did so, for instance, in the holograph of himself that stood in the niche in the wall behind him. It was placed so that it clearly dominated the other niches holding the holographs of several of his ancestors.

            The holograph was not a totally honest one, for though Cleon’s hair was light brown in hologram and reality alike, it was a bit thicker in the holograph. There was a certain asymmetry to his real face, for the left side of his upper lip raised itself a bit higher than the right side, and this was somehow not evident in the holograph. And if he had stood up and placed himself beside the holograph, he would have been seen to be 2 centimeters under the 1.83-meter height that the image portrayed -- and perhaps a bit stouter.

            Of course, the holograph was the official coronation portrait and he had been younger then. He still looked young and rather handsome, too, and when he was not in the pitiless grip of official ceremony, there was a kind of vague good nature about his face.

            Demerzel said, with the tone of respect that he carefully cultivated, “Hari Seldon? It is an unfamiliar name to me, Sire. Ought I to know of him?”

            “The Minister of Science mentioned him to me last night. I thought you might.”

            Demerzel frowned slightly, but only very slightly, for one does not frown in the Imperial presence. “The Minister of Science, Sire, should have spoken of this man to me as Chief of Staff. If you are to be bombarded from every side--”

            Cleon raised his hand and Demerzel stopped at once. “Please, Demerzel, one can’t stand on formality at all times. When I passed the Minister at last night’s reception and exchanged a few words with him, he bubbled over. I could not refuse to listen and I was glad I had, for it was interesting.”

            “In what way interesting, Sire?”

            “Well, these are not the old days when science and mathematics were all the rage. That sort of thing seems to have died down somehow, perhaps because all the discoveries have been made, don’t you think? Apparently, however, interesting things can still happen. At least I was told it was interesting.”

            “By the Minister of Science, Sire?”

            “Yes. He said that this Hari Seldon had attended a convention of mathematicians held here in Trantor -- they do this every ten years, for some reason -- and he said that he had proved that one could foretell the future mathematically.”

            Demerzel permitted himself a small smile. “Either the Minister of Science, a man of little acumen, is mistaken or the mathematician is. Surely, the matter of foretelling the future is a children’s dream of magic.”

            “Is it, Demerzel? People believe in such things.”

            “People believe in many things, Sire.”

            “But they believe in such things. Therefore, .it doesn’t matter whether the forecast of the future is true or not. If a mathematician should predict a long and happy reign for me, a time of peace and prosperity for the Empire -- Eh, would that not be well?”

            “It would be pleasant to hear, certainly, but what would it accomplish, Sire?”

            “But surely if people believe this, they would act on that belief. Many a prophecy, by the mere force of its being believed, is transmuted to fact. These are ‘self-fulfilling prophecies.’ Indeed, now that I think of it, it was you who once explained this to me.”

            Demerzel said, “I believe I did, Sire.” His eyes were watching the Emperor carefully, as though to see how far he might go on his own. “Still, if that be so, one could have any person make the prophecy. “

            “Not all persons would be equally believed, Demerzel. A mathematician, however, who could back his prophecy with mathematical formulas and terminology, might be understood by no one and yet believed by everyone.”

            Demerzel said, “As usual, Sire, you make good sense. We live in troubled times and it would be worthwhile to calm them in a way that would require neither money nor military effort--which, in recent history, have done little good and much harm.”

            “Exactly, Demerzel, “ said the Emperor with excitement. “Reel in this Hari Seldon. You tell me you have your strings stretching to every part of this turbulent world, even where my forces dare not go. Pull on one of those strings, then, and bring in this mathematician. Let me see him.”

            “I will do so, Sire, “ said Demerzel, who had already located Seldon and who made a mental note to commend the Minister of Science for a job well done.




            Hari Seldon did not make an impressive appearance at this time. Like the Emperor Cleon I, he was thirty-two years old, but he was only 1.73 meters tall. His face was smooth and cheerful, his hair dark brown, almost black, and his clothing had the unmistakable touch of provinciality about it.

            To anyone in later times who knew of Hari Seldon only as a legendary demigod, it would seem almost sacrilegious for him not to have white hair, not to have an old lined face, a quiet smile radiating wisdom, not to be seated in a wheelchair. Even then, in advanced old age, his eyes had been cheerful, however. There was that.

            And his eyes were particularly cheerful now, for his paper had been given at the Decennial Convention. It had even aroused some interest in a distant sort of way and old Osterfith had nodded his head at him and had said, “Ingenious, young man. Most ingenious.” Which, coming from Osterfith, was satisfactory. Most satisfactory.

            But now there was a new--and quite unexpected--development and Seldon wasn’t sure whether it should increase his cheer and intensify his satisfaction or not.

            He stared at the tall young man in uniform--the Spaceship-and-Sun neatly placed on the left side of his tunic.

            “Lieutenant Alban Wellis, “ said the officer of the Emperor’s Guard before putting away his identification. “Will you come with me now, sir?”

            Wellis was armed, of course. There were two other Guardsmen waiting outside his door. Seldon knew he had no choice, for all the other’s careful politeness, but there was no reason he could not seek information. He said, “To see the Emperor?”

            “To be brought to the Palace, sir. That’s the extent of my instructions. “

            “But why?”

            “I was not told why, sir. And I have my strict instructions that you must come with me--one way or another.”

            “But this seems as though I am being arrested. I have done nothing to warrant that.”

            “Say, rather, that it seems you are being given an escort of honor--if you delay me no further.”

            Seldon delayed no further. He pressed his lips together, as though to block of further questions, nodded his head, and stepped forward. Even if he was going to meet the Emperor and to receive Imperial commendation, he found no joy in it. He was for the Empire--that is, for the worlds of humanity in peace and union but he was not for the Emperor.

            The lieutenant walked ahead, the other two behind. Seldon smiled at those he passed and managed to look unconcerned. Outside the hotel they climbed into an official ground-car. (Seldon ran his hand over the upholstery; he had never been in anything so ornate. )

            They were in one of the wealthiest sections of Trantor. The dome was high enough here to give a sensation of being in the open and one could swear--even one such as Hari Seldon, who had been born and brought up on an open world--that they were in sunlight. You could see no sun and no shadows, but the air was light and fragrant.

            And then it passed and the dome curved down and the walls narrowed in and soon they were moving along an enclosed tunnel, marked periodically with the Spaceship-and-Sun and so clearly reserved (Seldon thought) for official vehicles.

            A door opened and the ground-car sped through. When the door closed behind them, they were in the open--the true, the real open. There were 250 square kilometers of the only stretch of open land on Trantor and on it stood the Imperial Palace. Seldon would have liked a chance to wander through that open land--not because of the Palace, but because it also contained the Galactic University and, most intriguing of all, the Galactic Library.

            And yet, in passing from the enclosed world of Trantor into the open patch of wood and parkland, he had passed into a world in which clouds dimmed the sky and a chill wind rued his shirt. He pressed the contact that closed the ground-car’s window.

            It was a dismal day outside.




            Seldon was not at all sure he would meet the Emperor. At best, he would meet some official in the fourth or fifth echelon who would claim to speak for the Emperor.

            How many people ever did see the Emperor? In person, rather than on holovision? How many people saw the real, tangible Emperor, an Emperor who never left the Imperial grounds that he, Seldon, was now rolling over.

            The number was vanishingly small. Twentyfive million inhabited worlds, each with its cargo of a billion human beings or more--and among all those quadrillions of human beings, how many had, or would ever, lay eyes on the living Emperor. A thousand?

            And did anyone care? The Emperor was no more than a symbol of Empire, like the Spaceship-and-Sun but far less pervasive, far less real. It was his soldiers and his officials, crawling everywhere, that now represented an Empire that had become a dead weight upon its people--not the Emperor.

            So it was that when Seldon was ushered into a moderately sized, lavishly furnished room and found a young-looking man sitting on the edge of a table in a windowed alcove, one foot on the ground and one swinging over the edge, he found himself wondering that any official should be looking at him in so blandly good-natured a way. He had already experienced the fact, over and over, that government officials--and particularly those in the Imperial service looked grave at all times, as though bearing the weight of the entire Galaxy on their shoulders. And it seemed the lower in importance they were, the graver and more threatening their expression.

            This, then, might be an official so high in the scale, with the sun of power so bright upon him, that he felt no need of countering it with clouds of frowning.

            Seldon wasn’t sure how impressed he ought to be, but he felt that it would be best to remain silent and let the other speak first.

            The official said, “You are Hari Seldon, I believe. The mathematician. “

            Seldon responded with a minimal “Yes, sir, “ and waited again.

            The young man waved an arm. “It should be ‘Sire, ‘ but I hate ceremony. It’s all I get and I weary of it. We are alone, so I will pamper myself and eschew ceremony. Sit down, professor.”

            Halfway through the speech, Seldon realized that he was speaking to the Emperor Cleon, First of that Name, and he felt the wind go out of him. There was a faint resemblance (now that he looked) to the official holograph that appeared constantly in the news, but in that holograph, Cleon was always dressed imposingly, seemed taller, nobler, frozen-faced.

            And here he was, the original of the holograph, and somehow he appeared to be quite ordinary.

            Seldon did not budge.

            The Emperor frowned slightly and, with the habit of command present even in the attempt to abolish it, at least temporarily, said peremptorily, “I said, ‘Sit down, ‘ man. That chair. Quickly.”

            Seldon sat down, quite speechless. He could not even bring himself to say, “Yes, Sire.”

            Cleon smiled. “That’s better. Now we can talk like two fellow human beings, which, after all, is what we are once ceremony is removed. Eh, my man?”

            Seldon said cautiously, “If Your Imperial Majesty is content to say so, then it is so.”

            “Oh, come, why are you so cautious? I want to talk to you on equal terms. It is my pleasure to do so. Humor me.”

            “Yes, Sire.”

            “A simple ‘Yes, ‘ man. Is there no way I can reach you?”

            Cleon stared at Seldon and Seldon thought it was a lively and interested stare.

            Finally the Emperor said, “You don’t look like a mathematician.”

            At last, Seldon found himself able to smile. “I don’t know what a mathematician is suppose to look like, Your Imp--”

            Cleon raised a cautioning hand and Seldon choked off the honorific.

            Cleon said, “White-haired, I suppose. Bearded, perhaps. Old, certainly.”

            “Yet even mathematicians must be young to begin with.”

            “But they are then without reputation. By the time they obtrude themselves on the notice of the Galaxy, they are as I have described.”

            “I am without reputation, I’m afraid.”

            “Yet you spoke at this convention they held here.”

            “A great many of us did. Some were younger than myself. Few of us were granted any attention whatever.”

            “Your talk apparently attracted the attention of some of my officials. I am given to understand that you believe it possible to predict the future.”

            Seldon suddenly felt weary. It seemed as though this misinterpretation of his theory was constantly going to occur. Perhaps he should not have presented his paper.

            He said, “Not quite, actually. What I have done is much more limited than that. In many systems, the situation is such that under some conditions chaotic events take place. That means that, given a particular starting point, it is impossible to predict outcomes. This is true even in some quite simple systems, but the more complex a system, the more likely it is to become chaotic. It has always been assumed that anything as complicated as human society would quickly become chaotic and, therefore, unpredictable. What I have done, however, is to show that, in studying human society, it is possible to choose a starting point and to make appropriate assumptions that will suppress the chaos. That will make it possible to predict the future, not in full detail, of course, but in broad sweeps; not with certainty, but with calculable probabilities.”

            The Emperor, who had listened carefully, said, “But doesn’t that mean that you have shown how to predict the future?”

            “Again, not quite. I have showed that it is theoretically possible, but no more. To do more, we would actually have to choose a correct starting point, make correct assumptions, and then find ways of carrying through calculations in a finite time. Nothing in my mathematical argument tells us how to do any of this. And even if we could do it all, we would, at best, only assess probabilities. That is not the same as predicting the future; it is merely a guess at what is likely to happen. Every successful politician, businessman, or human being of any calling must make these estimates of the future and do it fairly well or he or she would not be successful.”

            “They do it without mathematics.”

            “True. They do it by intuition.”

            “With the proper mathematics, anyone would be able to assess the probabilities. It wouldn’t take the rare human being who is successful because of a remarkable intuitive sense.”

            “True again, but I have merely shown that mathematical analysis is possible; I have not shown it to be practical.”

            “How can something be possible, yet not practical?”

            “It is theoretically possible for me to visit each world of the Galaxy and greet each person on each world. However, it would take far longer to do this than I have years to live and, even if I was immortal, the rate at which new human beings are being born is greater than the rate at which I could interview the old and, even more to the point, old human beings would die in great numbers before I could ever get to them.”

            “And is this sort of thing true of your mathematics of the future?”

            Seldon hesitated, then went on. “It might be that the mathematics would take too long to work out, even if one had a computer the size of the Universe working at hyperspatial velocities. By the time any answer had been received, enough years would have elapsed to alter the situation so grossly as to make the answer meaningless.”

            “Why cannot the process be simplified?” Cleon asked sharply.

            “Your Imperial Majesty--” Seldon felt the Emperor growing more formal as the answers grew less to his liking and responded with greater formality of his own “consider the manner in which scientists have dealt with subatomic particles. There are enormous numbers of these, each moving or vibrating in random and unpredictable manner, but this chaos turns out to have an underlying order, so that we can work out a quantum mechanics that answers all the questions we know how to ask. In studying society, we place human beings in the place of subatomic particles, but now there is the added factor of the human mind. Particles move mindlessly; human beings do not. To take into account the various attitudes and impulses of mind adds so much complexity that there lacks time to take care of all of it.”

            “Could not mind, as well as mindless motion, have an underlying order?”

            “Perhaps. My mathematical analysis implies that order must underlie everything, however disorderly it may appear to be, but it does not give any hint as to how this underlying order may be found. Consider Twenty-five million worlds, each with its overall characteristics and culture, each being significantly different from all the rest, each containing a billion or more human beings who each have an individual mind, and all the worlds interacting in innumerable ways and combinations! However theoretically possible a psychohistorical analysis may be, it is not likely that it can be done in any practical sense.”

            “What do you mean ‘psychohistorical’?”

            “I refer to the theoretical assessment of probabilities concerning the future as ‘psychohistory.’ “

            The Emperor rose to his feet suddenly, strode to the other end of the room, turned, strode back, and stopped before the still-sitting Seldon.

            “Stand up!” he commanded.

            Seldon rose and looked up at the somewhat taller Emperor. He strove to keep his gaze steady.

            Cleon finally said, “This psychohistory of yours . . . if it could be made practical, it would be of great use, would it not?”

            “Of enormous use, obviously. To know what the future holds, in even the most general and probabilistic way, would serve as a new and marvelous guide for our actions, one that humanity has never before had. But, of course--” He paused.

            “Well?” said Cleon impatiently.

            “Well, it would seem that, except for a few decision-makers, the results of psychohistorical analysis would have to remain unknown to the public.”

            “Unknown!” exclaimed Cleon with surprise.

            “It’s clear. Let me try to explain. If a psychohistorical analysis is made and the results are then given to the public, the various emotions and reactions of humanity would at once be distorted. The psychohistorical analysis, based on emotions and reactions that take place without knowledge of the future, become meaningless. Do you understand?”

            The Emperor’s eyes brightened and he laughed aloud. “Wonderful!”

            He clapped his hand on Seldon’s shoulder and Seldon staggered slightly under the blow.

            “Don’t you see, man?” said Cleon. “Don’t you see? There’s your use. You don’t need to predict the future. Just choose a future--a good future, a useful future--and make the kind of prediction that will alter human emotions and reactions in such a way that the future you predicted will be brought about. Better to make a good future than predict a bad one.”

            Seldon frowned. “I see what you mean, Sire, but that is equally impossible.”


            “Well, at any rate, impractical. Don’t you see? If you can’t start with human emotions and reactions and predict the future they will bring about, you can’t do the reverse either. You can’t start with a future and predict the human emotions and reactions that will bring it about.”

            Cleon looked frustrated. His lips tightened. “And your paper, then? . . . Is that what you call it, a paper? . . . Of what use is it?”

            “It was merely a mathematical demonstration. It made a point of interest to mathematicians, but there was no thought in my mind of its being useful in any way.”

            “I find that disgusting, “ said Cleon angrily.

            Seldon shrugged slightly. More than ever, he knew he should never have given the paper. What would become of him if the Emperor took it into his head that he had been made to play the fool?

            And indeed, Cleon did not look as though he was very far from believing that.

            “Nevertheless, “ he said, “what if you were to make predictions of the future, mathematically justified or not; predictions that government officials, human beings whose expertise it is to know what the public is likely to do, will judge to be the kind that will bring about useful reactions?”

            “Why would you need me to do that? The government officials could make those predictions themselves and spare the middleman.”

            “The government officials could not do so as effectively. Government officials do make statements of the sort now and then. They are not necessarily believed.”

            “Why would I be?”

            “You are a mathematician. You would have calculated the future, not . . . not intuited it--if that is a word.”

            “But I would not have done so.”

            “Who would know that?” Cleon watched him out of narrowed eyes.

            There was a pause. Seldon felt trapped. If given a direct order by the Emperor, would it be safe to refuse? If he refused, he might be imprisoned or executed. Not without trial, of course, but it is only with great difficulty that a trial can be made to go against the wishes of a heavy-handed officialdom, particularly one under the command of the Emperor of the vast Galactic Empire.

            He said finally, “It wouldn’t work.”

            “Why not?”

            “If I were asked to predict vague generalities that could not possibly come to pass until long after this generation and, perhaps, the next were dead, we might get away with it, but, on the other hand, the public would pay little attention. They would not care about a glowing eventuality a century or two in the future.

            “To attain results, “ Seldon went on, “I would have to predict matters of sharper consequence, more immediate eventualities. Only to these would the public respond. Sooner or later, though and probably sooner one of the eventualities would not come to pass and my usefulness would be ended at once. With that, your popularity might be gone, too, and, worst of all, there would be no further support for the development of psychohistory so that there would be no chance for any good to come of it if future improvements in mathematical insights help to make it move closer to the realm of practicality.”

            Cleon threw himself into a chair and frowned at Seldon. “Is that all you mathematicians can do? Insist on impossibilities?”

            Seldon said with desperate softness, “It is you, Sire, who insist on impossibilities.”

            “Let me test you, man. Suppose I asked you to use your mathematics to tell me whether I would some day be assassinated? What would you say?”

            “My mathematical system would not give an answer to so specific a question, even if psychohistory worked at its best. All the quantum mechanics in the world cannot make it possible to predict the behavior of one lone electron, only the average behavior of many.”

            “You know your mathematics better than I do. Make an educated guess based on it. Will I someday be assassinated?”

            Seldon said softly, “You lay a trap for me, Sire. Either tell me what answer you wish and I will give it to you or else give me free right to make what answer I wish without punishment.”

            “Speak as you will.”

            “Your word of honor?”

            “Do you want it an writing?” Cleon was sarcastic.

            “Your spoken word of honor will be sufficient, “ said Seldon, his heart sinking, for he was not certain it would be.

            “You have my word of honor.”

            “Then I can tell you that in the past four centuries nearly half the Emperors have been assassinated, from which I conclude that the chances of your assassination are roughly one in two.”

            “Any fool can give that answer, “ said Cleon with contempt. “It takes no mathematician.”

            “Yet I have told you several times that my mathematics is useless for practical problems.”

            “Can’t you even suppose that I learn the lessons that have been given me by my unfortunate predecessors?”

            Seldon took a deep breath and plunged in. “No, Sire. All history shows that we do not learn from the lessons of the past. For instance, you have allowed me here in a private audience. What if it were in my mind to assassinate you? --Which it isn’t, Sire, “ he added hastily.

            Cleon smiled without humor. “My man, you don’t take into account our thoroughness--or advances in technology. We have studied your history, your complete record. When you arrived, you were scanned. Your expression and voiceprints were analyzed. We knew your emotional state in detail; we practically knew your thoughts. Had there been the slightest doubt of your harmlessness, you would not have been allowed near me. In fact, you would not now be alive.”

            A wave of nausea swept through Seldon, but he continued. “Outsiders have always found it difficult to get at Emperors, even with technology less advanced. However, almost every assassination has been a palace coup. It is those nearest the Emperor who are the greatest danger to him. Against that danger, the careful screening of outsiders is irrelevant. And as for your own officials, your own Guardsmen, your own intimates, you cannot treat them as you treat me.”

            Cleon said, “I know that, too, and at least as well as you do. The answer is that I treat those about me fairly and I give them no cause for resentment.”

            “A foolish--” began Seldon, who then stopped in confusion.

            “Go on, “ said Cleon angrily. “I have given you permission to speak freely. How am I foolish?”

            “The word slipped out, Sire. I meant ‘irrelevant.’ Your treatment of your intimates is irrelevant. You must be suspicious; it would be inhuman not to be. A careless word, such as the one I used, a careless gesture, a doubtful expression and you must withdraw a bit with narrowed eyes. And any touch of suspicion sets in motion a vicious cycle. The intimate will sense and resent the suspicion and will develop a changed behavior, try as he might to avoid it. You sense that and grow more suspicious and, in the end, either he is executed or you are assassinated. It is a process that has proved unavoidable for the Emperors of the past four centuries and it is but one sign of the increasing difficulty of conducting the affairs of the Empire.”

            “Then nothing I can do will avoid assassination.”

            “No, Sire, “ said Seldon, “but, on the other hand, you may prove fortunate.”

            Cleon’s fingers were drumming on the arm of his chair. He said harshly, “You are useless, man, and so is your psychohistory. Leave me.” And with those words, the Emperor looked away, suddenly seeming much older than his thirty-two years.

            “I have said my mathematics would be useless to you, Sire. My profound apologies.”

            Seldon tried to bow but at some signal he did not see, two guards entered and took him away. Cleon’s voice came after him from the royal chamber. “Return that man to the place from which he was brought earlier.”




            Eto Demerzel emerged and glanced at the Emperor with a hint of proper deference. He said, “Sire, you have almost lost your temper.”

            Cleon looked up and, with an obvious effort, managed to smile. “Well, so I did. The man was very disappointing.”

            “And yet he promised no more than he offered.”

            “He offered nothing.”

            “And promised nothing, Sire.”

            “It was disappointing.”

            Demerzel said, “More than disappointing, perhaps. The man is a loose cannon, Sire.”

            “A loose what, Demerzel? You are always so full of strange expressions. What is a cannon?”

            Demerzel said gravely, “It is simply an expression I heard in my youth, Sire. The Empire is full of strange expressions and some are unknown on Trantor, as those of Trantor are sometimes unknown elsewhere.”

            “Do you come to teach me the Empire is large? What do you mean by saying that the man is a loose cannon?”

            “Only that he can do much harm without necessarily intending it. He does not know his own strength. Or importance.”

            “You deduce that, do you, Demerzel?”

            “Yes, Sire. He is a provincial. He does not know Trantor or its ways. He has never been on our planet before and he cannot behave like a man of breeding, like a courtier. Yet he stood up to

            “And why not? I gave him permission to speak. I left off ceremony. I treated him as an equal.”

            “Not entirely, Sire. You don’t have it within you to treat others as equals. You have the habit of command. And even if you tried to put a person at his ease, there would be few who could manage it. Most would be speechless or, worse, subservient and sycophantic. This man stood up to you.”

            “Well, you may admire that, Demerzel, but I didn’t like him.” Cleon looked thoughtfully discontented. “Did you notice that he made no effort to explain his mathematics to me? It was as though he knew I would not understand a word of it.”

            “Nor would you have, Sire. You are not a mathematician, nor a scientist of any kind, nor an artist. There are many fields of knowledge in which others know more than you. It is their task to use their knowledge to serve you. You are the Emperor, which is worth all their specializations put together.”

            “Is it? I would not mind being made to feel ignorant by an old man who had accumulated knowledge over many years. But this man, Seldon, is just my age. How does he know so much?”

            “He has not had to learn the habit of command, the art of reaching a decision that will affect the lives of others.”

            “Sometimes, Demerzel, I wonder if you are laughing at me.”

            “Sire?” said Demerzel reproachfully.

            “But never mind. Back to that loose cannon of yours. Why should you consider him dangerous? He seems a naive provincial to me.”

            “He is. But he has this mathematical development of his.”

            “He says it is useless.”

            “You thought it might be useful. I thought so, after you had explained it to me. Others might. The mathematician may come to think so himself, now that his mind has been focused on it. And who knows, he may yet work out some way of making use of it. If he does, then to foretell the future, however mistily, is to be in a position of great power. Even if he does not wish power for himself, a kind of self-denial that always seems to me to be unlikely, he might be used by others.”

            “I tried to use him. He would not.”

            “He had not given it thought. Perhaps now he will. And if he was not interested in being used by you, might he not be persuaded by--let us say--the Mayor of Wye?”

            “Why should he be willing to help Wye and not us?”

            “As he explained, it is hard to predict the emotions and behavior of individuals.”

            Cleon scowled and sat in thought. “Do you really think he might develop this psychohistory of his to the point where it is truly useful? He is so certain he cannot.”

            “He may, with time, decide he was wrong in denying the possibility.”

            Cleon said, “Then I suppose I ought to have kept him.”

            Demerzel said, “No, Sire. Your instinct was correct when you let him go. Imprisonment, however disguised, would cause resentment and despair, which would not help him either to develop his ideas further or make him eager to help us. Better to let him go as you have done, but to keep him forever on an invisible leash. In this way, we can see that he is not used by an enemy of yourself, Sire, and we can see that when the time comes and he has fully developed his science, we can pull on our leash and bring him in. Then we could be . . . more persuasive.”

            “But what if he it picked up by an enemy of mine or, better, of the Empire, for I am the Empire after all, or if, of his own accord, he wishes to serve an enemy--I don’t consider that out of the question, you see.”

            “Nor should you. I will see to it that this doesn’t happen, but if, against all striving, it does happen, it would be better if no one has him than if the wrong person does.”

            Cleon looked uneasy. “I’ll leave that all in your hands, Demerzel, but I hope we’re not too hasty. He could be, after all, nothing but the purveyor of a theoretical science that does not and cannot work.”

            “Quite possibly, Sire, but it would be safer to assume the man is--or might be--important. We lose only a little time and nothing more if we find that we have concerned ourselves with a nonentity. We may lose a Galaxy if we find we have ignored someone of great importance.”

            “Very well, then, “ said Cleon, “but I trust I won’t have to know the details--if they prove unpleasant.”

            Demerzel said, “Let us hope that will not be the case.”




            Seldon had had an evening, a night, and part of a morning to get over his meeting with the Emperor. At least, the changing quality of light within the walkways, moving corridors, squares, and parks of the Imperial Sector of Trantor made it seem that an evening, a night, and part of a morning had passed.

            He sat now in a small park on a small plastic seat that molded itself neatly to his body and he was comfortable. Judging from the light, it seemed to be midmorning and the air was just cool enough to seem fresh without possessing even the smallest bite.

            Was it like this all the time? He thought of the gray day outside when he went to see the Emperor. And he thought of all the gray days and cold days and hot days and rainy days and snowy days on Helicon, his home, and he wondered if one could miss them. Was it possible to sit in a park on Trantor, having ideal weather day after day, so that it felt as though you were surrounded by nothing at all--and coming to miss a howling wind or a biting cold or a breathless humidity?

            Perhaps. But not on the first day or the second or the seventh. He would have only this one day and he would leave tomorrow. He meant to enjoy it while he could. He might, after all, never return to Trantor.

            Still, he continued to feel uneasy at having spoken as independently as he had to a man who could, at will, order one’s imprisonment or execution--or, at the very least, the economic and social death of loss of position and status.

            Before going to bed, Seldon had looked up Cleon I in the encyclopedic portion of his hotel room computer. The Emperor had been highly praised as, no doubt, had all Emperors in their own lifetime, regardless of their deeds. Seldon had dismissed that, but he was interested in the fact that Cleon had been born in the Palace and had never left its grounds. He had never been in Trantor itself, in any part of the multi-domed world. It was a matter of security, perhaps, but what it meant was that the Emperor was in prison, whether he admitted the matter to himself or not. It might be the most luxurious prison in the Galaxy, but it was a prison just the same.

            And though the Emperor had seemed mild-mannered and had shown no sign of being a bloody-minded autocrat as so many of his predecessors had been, it was not good to have attracted his attention. Seldon welcomed the thought of leaving tomorrow for Helicon, even though it would be winter (and a rather nasty one, so far) back home.

            He looked up at the bright diffuse light. Although it could never rain in here, the atmosphere was far from dry. A fountain played not far from him; the plants were green and had probably never felt drought. Occasionally, the shrubbery rustled as though a small animal or two was hidden there. He heard the hum of bees.

            Really, though Trantor was spoken of throughout the Galaxy as an artificial world of metal and ceramic, in this small patch it felt positively rustic.

            There were a few other persons taking advantage of the park all wearing light hats, some quite small. There was one rather pretty young woman not far away, but she was bent over a viewer and he could not see her face clearly. A man walked past, looked at him briefly and incuriously, then sat down in a seat facing him and buried himself in a sheaf of teleprints, crossing one leg, in its tight pink trouser leg, over the other.

            There was a tendency to pastel shades among the men, oddly enough, while the women mostly wore white. Being a clean environment, it made sense to wear light colors. He looked down in amusement at his own Heliconian costume, which was predominantly dull brown. If he were to stay on Trantor as he was not he would need to purchase suitable clothing or he would become an object of curiosity or laughter or repulsion. The man with the teleprints had, for instance, looked up at him more curiously this time--no doubt intrigued by his Outworldish clothing.

            Seldon was relieved that he did not smile. He could be philosophical over being a figure of fun, but, surely, he could not be expected to enjoy it.

            Seldon watched the man rather unobtrusively, for he seemed to be engaged in some sort of internal debate. At the moment he looked as if he was about to speak, then seemed to think better of it, then seemed to wish to speak again. Seldon wondered what the outcome would be.

            He studied the man. He was tall, with broad shoulders and no sign of a paunch, darkish hair with a glint of blond, smooth-shaven, a grave expression, an air of strength though there were no bulging muscles, a face that was a touch rugged--pleasant, but with nothing “pretty” about it.

            By the time the man had lost the internal fight with himself (or won, perhaps) and leaned toward him, Seldon had decided he liked him.

            The man said, “Pardon me, weren’t you at the Decennial Convention? Mathematics?”

            “Yes, I was, “ said Seldon agreeably.

            “Ah, I thought I saw you there. It was--excuse me--that moment of recognition that led me to sit here. If I am intruding on your privacy--”

            “Not at all. I’m just enjoying an idle moment.”

            “Let’s see how close I can get. You’re Professor Seldom.”

            “Seldon. Hari Seldon. Quite close. And you?”

            “Chetter Hummin.” The man seemed slightly embarrassed. “Rather a homespun name, I’m afraid.”

            “I’ve never come across any Chetters before, “ said Seldon. “Or Hummins. So that makes you somewhat unique, I should think. It might be viewed as being better than being mixed up with all the countless Haris there are. Or Seldons, for that matter.”

            Seldon moved his chair closer to Hummin, scraping it against the slightly elastic ceramoid tiles.

            “Talk about homespun, “ he said, “What about this Outworldish clothing I’m wearing? It never occurred to me that I ought to get Trantorian garb.”

            “You could buy some, “ said Hummin, eyeing Seldon with suppressed disapproval.

            “I’ll be leaving tomorrow and, besides, I couldn’t afford it. Mathematicians deal with large numbers sometimes, but never in their income.--I presume you’re a mathematician, Hummin.”

            “No. Zero talent there.”

            “Oh.” Seldon was disappointed. “You said you saw me at the Decennial Convention.”

            “I was there as an onlooker. I’m a journalist.” He waved his teleprints, seemed suddenly aware that he was holding them and shoved them into his jacket pouch. “I supply the material for the news holocasts.” Then, thoughtfully, “Actually, I’m rather tired of it.”

            “The job?”

            Hummin nodded. “I’m sick of gathering together all the nonsense from every world. I hate the downward spiral.”

            He glanced speculatively at Seldon. “Sometimes something interesting turns up, though. I’ve heard you were seen in the company of an Imperial Guard and making for the Palace gate. You weren’t by any chance seen by the Emperor, were you?”

            The smile vanished from Seldon’s face. He said slowly, “If I was, it would scarcely be something I could talk about for publication.”

            “No no, not for publication. If you don’t know this, Seldon, let me be the first to tell you--The first rule of the news game is that nothing is ever said about the Emperor or his personal entourage except what is officially given out. It’s a mistake, of course, because rumors fly that are much worse than the truth, but that’s the way it is.”

            “But if you can’t report it, friend, why do you ask?”

            “Private curiosity. Believe me, in my job I know a great deal more than ever gets on the air.--Let me guess. I didn’t follow your paper, but I gathered that you were talking about the possibility of predicting the future.”

            Seldon shook his head and muttered, “It was a mistake.”

            “Pardon me?”


            “Well, prediction--accurate prediction--would interest the Emperor, or any man in government, so I’m guessing that Cleon, First of that Name, asked you about it and wouldn’t you please give him a few predictions.”

            Seldon said stiffly, “I don’t intend to discuss the matter.”

            Hummin shrugged slightly. “Eto Demerzel was there, I suppose. “


            “You’ve never heard of Eto Demerzel?”

            “Never. “

            “Cleon’s alter ego--Cleon’s brain--Cleon’s evil spirit. He’s been called all those things--if we confine ourselves to the nonvituperative. He must have been there.”

            Seldon looked confused and Hummin said, “Well, you may not have seen him, but he was there. And if he thinks you can predict the future”

            “I can’t predict the future, “ said Seldon, shaking his head vigorously. “If you listened to my paper, you’ll know that I only spoke of a theoretical possibility.”

            “Just the same, if he thinks you can predict the future, he will not let you go.”

            “He must have. Here I am.”

            “That means nothing. He knows where you are and he’ll continue to know. And when he wants you, he’ll get you, wherever you are. And if he decides you’re useful, he’ll squeeze the use out of you. And if he decides you’re dangerous, he’ll squeeze the life out of you.”

            Seldon stared. “What are you trying to do. Frighten me?”

            “I’m trying to warn you.”

            “I don’t believe what you’re saying.”

            “Don’t you? A while ago you said something was a mistake. Were you thinking that presenting the paper was a mistake and that it was getting you into the kind of trouble you don’t want to be in?”

            Seldon bit his lower lip uneasily. That was a guess that came entirely too close to the truth--and it was at this moment that Seldon felt the presence of intruders.

            They did not cast a shadow, for the light was too soft and widespread. It was a simply a movement that caught the corner of his eye--and then it stopped.




        TRANTOR--. . . The capital of the First Galactic Empire . . . Under Cleon I, it had its “twilight glow.” To all appearances, it was then at its peak. Its land surface of 200 million square kilometers was entirely domed (except for the Imperial Palace area) and underlaid with an endless city that extended beneath the continental shelves. The population was 40 billion and although the signs were plentiful (and clearly visible in hindsight) that there were gathering problems, those who lived on Trantor undoubtedly found it still the Eternal World of legend and did not expect it would ever . . .





            Seldon looked up. A young man was standing before him, looking down at him with an expression of amused contempt. Next to him was another young man--a bit younger, perhaps. Both were large and appeared to be strong.

            They were dressed in an extreme of Trantorian fashion, Seldon judged--boldly clashing colors, broad fringed belts, round hats with wide brims all about and the two ends of a bright pink ribbon extending from the brim to the back of the neck.

            In Seldon’s eyes, it was amusing and he smiled.

            The young man before him snapped, “What’re you grinning at, misfit?”

            Seldon ignored the manner of address and said gently, “Please pardon my smile. I was merely enjoying your costume.”

            “My costume? So? And what are you wearing? What’s that awful offal you call clothes?” His hand went out and his finger flicked at the lapel of Seldon’s jacket--disgracefully heavy and dull, Seldon himself thought, in comparison to the other’s lighthearted colors.

            Seldon said, “I’m afraid it’s my Outworlder clothes. They’re all I have.”

            He couldn’t help notice that the few others who were sitting in the small park were rising to their feet and walking off. It was as though they were expecting trouble and had no desire to remain in the vicinity. Seldon wondered if his new friend, Hummin, was leaving too, but he felt it injudicious to take his eyes away from the young man who was confronting him. He teetered back on his chair slightly.

            The young man said, “You an Outworlder?”

            “That’s right. Hence my clothes.”

            “Hence? What kind of word’s that? Outworld word?”

            “What I meant was, that was why my clothes seem peculiar to you. I’m a visitor here.”

            “From what planet?”


            The young man’s eyebrows drew together. “Never heard of it.” “It’s not a large planet.”

            “Why don’t you go back there?”

            “I intend to. I’m leaving tomorrow.”

            “Sooner! Now!”

            The young man looked at his partner. Seldon followed the look and caught a glimpse of Hummin. He had not left, but the park was now empty except for himself, Hummin, and the two young men.

            Seldon said, “I’d thought I’d spend today sight-seeing.”

            “No. You don’t want to do that. You go home now.”

            Seldon smiled. “Sorry. I won’t.”

            The young man said to his partner. “You like his clothes, Marbie?’’

            Marbie spoke for the first time. “No. Disgusting. Turns the stomach.”

            “Can’t let him go around turning stomachs, Marbie. Not good for people’s health.”

            “No, not by no means, Alem, “ said Marbie.

            Alem grinned. “Well now. You heard what Marbie said.”

            And now Hummin spoke. He said, “Look, you two, Alem, Marbie, whatever your names are. You’ve had your fun. Why don’t you go away?”

            Alem, who had been leaning slightly toward Seldon, straightened and turned. “Who are you?”

            “That’s not your business, “ snapped Hummin.

            “You’re Trantorian?” asked Alem.

            “Also not your business.”

            Alem frowned and said, “You’re dressed Trantorian. We’re not interested in you, so don’t go looking for problems.”

            “I intend to stay. That means there are two of us. Two against two doesn’t sound like your kind of fight. Why don’t you go away and get some friends so you can handle two people?”

            Seldon said, “I really think you ought to get away if you can, Hummin. It’s kind of you to try to protect me, but I don’t want you harmed.”

            “These are not dangerous people, Seldon. Just half-credit lackeys. “

            “Lackeys!” The word seemed to infuriate Alem, so that Seldon thought it must have a more insulting meaning on Trantor than it had on Helicon.

            “Here, Marbie, “ said Alem with a growl. “You take care of that other motherlackey and I’ll rip the clothes off this Seldon. He’s the one we want. Now--

            His hands came down sharply to seize Seldon’s lapels and jerk him upright. Seldon pushed away, instinctively it would seem, and his chair tipped backward. He seized the hands stretched toward him, his foot went up, and his chair went down.

            Somehow Alem streaked overhead, turning as he did so, and came down hard on his neck and back behind Seldon.

            Seldon twisted as his chair went down and was quickly on his feet, staring down at Alem, then looking sharply to one side for Marbie.

            Alem lay unmoving, his face twisted in agony. He had two badly sprained thumbs, excruciating pain in his groin, and a backbone that had been badly jarred.

            Hummin’s left arm had grabbed Marbie’s neck from behind and his right arm had pulled the other’s right arm backward at a vicious angle. Marbie’s face was red as he labored uselessly for breath. A knife, glittering with a small laser inset, lay on the ground beside them.

            Hummin eased his grip slightly and said, with an air of honest concern, “You’ve hurt that one badly.”

            Seldon said, “I’m afraid so. If he had fallen a little differently, he would have snapped his neck.”

            Hummin said, “What kind of a mathematician are you?”

            “A Heliconian one.” He stooped to pick up the knife and, after examining it, said, “Disgusting and deadly.”

            Hummin said, “An ordinary blade would do the job without requiring a power source.--But let’s let these two go. I doubt they want to continue any further.”

            He released Marbie, who rubbed first his shoulder then his neck. Gasping for air, he turned hate-filled eyes on the two men.

            Hummin said sharply, “You two had better get out of here. Otherwise we’ll have to give evidence against you for assault and attempted murder. This knife can surely be traced to you.”

            Seldon and Hummin watched while Marbie dragged Alem to his feet and then helped him stagger away, still bent in pain. They looked back once or twice, but Seldon and Hummin watched impassively.

            Seldon held out his hand. “How do I thank you for coming to the aid of a stranger against two attackers? I doubt I would have been able to handle them both on my own.”

            Hummin raised his hand in a deprecatory manner. “I wasn’t afraid of them. They’re just street-brawling lackeys. All I had to do was get my hands on them--and yours, too, of course.”

            “That’s a pretty deadly grip you have, “ Seldon mused.

            Hummin shrugged. “You too.” Then, without changing his tone of voice, he said, “Come on, we’d better get out of here. We’re wasting time.” .

            Seldon said, “Why do we have to get away? Are you afraid those two will come back?”

            “Not in their lifetime. But some of those brave people who cleared out of the park so quickly in their eagerness to spare themselves a disagreeable sight may have alerted the police.”

            “Fine. We have the hoodlums’ names. And we can describe them fairly well.”

            “Describe them? Why would the police want them?”

            “They committed an assault--”

            “Don’t be foolish. We don’t have a scratch. They’re virtually hospital bait, especially Alem. We’re the ones who will be charged.”

            “But that’s impossible. Those people witnessed the fact that--”

            “No people will be called. Seldon, get this into your head. Those two came to find you--specifically you. They were told you were wearing Heliconian clothes and you must have been described precisely. Perhaps they were even shown a holograph. I suspect they were sent by the people who happen to control the police, so let’s not wait any longer.”

            Hummin hurried off, his hand gripping Seldon’s upper arm. Seldon found the grip impossible to shake and, feeling like a child in the hands of an impetuous nurse, followed.

            They plunged into an arcade and, before Seldon’s eyes grew accustomed to the dimmer light, they heard the burring sound of a ground-car’s brakes.

            “There they are, “ muttered Hummin. “Faster, Seldon.” They hopped onto a moving corridor and lost themselves in the crowd.


            Seldon had tried to persuade Hummin to take him to his hotel room, but Hummin would have none of that.

            “Are you mad?” he half-whispered. “They’ll be waiting for you there.”

            “But all my belongings are waiting for me there too.”

            “They’ll just have to wait.”

            And now they were in a small room in a pleasant apartment structure that might be anywhere for all that Seldon could tell. He looked about the one-room unit. Most of it was taken up by a desk and chair, a bed, and a computer outlet. There were no dining facilities or washstand of any kind, though Hummin had directed him to a communal washroom down the hall. Someone had entered before Seldon was quite through. He had cast one brief and curious look at Seldon’s clothes, rather than at Seldon himself, and had then looked away.

            Seldon mentioned this to Hummin, who shook his head and said, “We’ll have to get rid of your clothes. Too bad Helicon is so far out of fashion--”

            Seldon said impatiently, “How much of this might just be your imagination, Hummin? You’ve got me half-convinced and yet it may be merely a kind of . . . of--”

            “Are you groping for the word ‘paranoia’?”

            “All right, I am. This may be some strange paranoid notion of yours.”

            Hummin said, “Think about it, will you? I can’t argue it out mathematically, but you’ve seen the Emperor. Don’t deny it. He wanted something from you and you didn’t give it to him. Don’t deny that either. I suspect that details of the future are what he wants and you refused. Perhaps Demerzel thinks you’re only pretending not to have the details that you’re holding out for a higher price or that someone else is bidding for it too. Who knows? I told you that if Demerzel wants you, he’ll get you wherever you are. I told you that before those two splitheads ever appeared on the scene. I’m a journalist and a Trantorian. I know how these things go. At one point, Alem said, ‘He’s the one we want.’ Do you remember that?”

            “As it happens, “ said Seldon. “I do.”

            “To him I was only the ‘other motherlackey’ to be kept off, while he went about the real job of assaulting you.”

            Hummin sat down in the chair and pointed to the bed. “Stretch out, Seldon. Make yourself comfortable. Whoever sent those two, it must have been Demerzel, in my opinion, can send others, so we’ll have to get rid of those clothes of yours. I think any other Heliconian in this sector caught in his own world’s garb is going to have trouble until he can prove he isn’t you.”

            “Oh come on.”

            “I mean it. You’ll have to take off the clothes and we’ll have to atomize them--if we can get close enough to a disposal unit without being seen. And before we can do that I’ll have to get you a Trantorian outfit. You’re smaller than I am and I’ll take that into account. It won’t matter if it doesn’t fit exactly--”

            Seldon shook his head. “I don’t have the credits to pay for it. Not on me. What credits I have, and they aren’t much, am in my hotel safe.”

            “We’ll worry about that another time. You’ll have to stay here for an hour or two while I go out in search of the necessary clothing.”

            Seldon spread his hands and sighed resignedly. “All right. If it’s that important, I’ll stay.”

            “You won’t try to get back to your hotel? Word of honor?”

            “My word as a mathematician. But I’m really embarrassed by all the trouble you’re taking for me. And expense too. After all, despite all this talk about Demerzel, they weren’t really out to hurt me or carry me off. All I was threatened with was the removal of my clothes.”

            “Not all. They were also going to take you to the spaceport and put you on a hypership to Helicon.”

            “That was a silly threat, not to be taken seriously.”

            “Why not?”

            “I’m going to Helicon. I told them so. I’m going tomorrow.”

            “And you still plan to go tomorrow?” asked Hummin.

            “Certainly. Why not?”

            “There are enormous reasons why not.”

            Seldon suddenly felt angry. “Come on, Hummin, I can’t play this game any further. I’m finished here and I want to go home. My tickets are in the hotel room. Otherwise I’d try to exchange them for a trip today. I mean it.”

            “You can’t go back to Helicon.”

            Seldon flushed. “Why not? Are they waiting for me there too?”

            Hummin nodded. “Don’t fire up, Seldon. They would be waiting for you there too. Listen to me. If you go to Helicon, you are as good as in Demerzel’s hands. Helicon is good, safe Imperial territory. Has Helicon ever rebelled, ever fallen into step behind the banner of an anti Emperor?”

            “No, it hasn’t, and for good reason. It’s surrounded by larger worlds. It depends on the Imperial peace for security.”

            “Exactly! Imperial forces on Helicon can therefore count on the full cooperation of the local government. You would be under constant surveillance at all times. Any time Demerzel wants you, he will be able to have you. And, except for the fact that I am now warning you, you would have no knowledge of this and you would be working in the open, filled with a false security.”

            “That’s ridiculous. If he wanted me in Helicon, why didn’t he simply leave me to myself? I was going there tomorrow. Why would he send those two hoodlums simply to hasten the matter by a few hours and risk putting me on my guard?”

            “Why should he think you would be put on your guard? He didn’t know I’d be with you, immersing you in what you call my paranoia.”

            “Even without the question of warning me, why all the fuss to hurry me by a few hours?”

            “Perhaps because he was afraid you would change your mind.”

            “And go where, if not home? If he could pick me up on Helicon, he could pick me up anywhere. He could pick me up on . . . on Anacreon, a good ten thousand parsecs away, if it should fall into my head to go there. What’s distance to hyperspatial ships? Even if I find a world that’s not quite as subservient to the Imperial forces as Helicon is, what world is in actual rebellion? The Empire is at peace. Even if some worlds are still resentful of injustices in the past, none are going to defy the Imperial armed forces to protect me. Moreover, anywhere but on Helicon I won’t be a local citizen and there won’t even be that matter of principle to help keep the Empire at bay.”

            Hummin listened patiently, nodding slightly, but looking as grave and as imperturbable as ever. He said, “You’re right, as far as you go, but there’s one world that is not really under the Emperor’s control. That, I think, is what must be disturbing Demerzel.”

            Seldon thought a while, reviewing recent history and finding himself unable to choose a world on which the Imperial forces might be helpless. He said at last, “What world is that?”

            Hummin said, “You’re on it, which is what makes the matter so dangerous in Demerzel’s eyes, I imagine. It is not so much that he is anxious to have you go to Helicon, as that he is anxious to have you leave Trantor before it occurs to you, for any reason, even if only tourist’s mania to stay.”

            The two men sat in silence until Seldon finally said sardonically, “Trantor! The capital of the Empire, with the home base of the fleet on a space station in orbit about it, with the best units of the army quartered here. If you believe that it is Trantor that is the safe world, you’re progressing from paranoia to outright fantasy.”

            “No! You’re an Outworlder, Seldon. You don’t know what Trantor is like. It’s forty billion people and there are few other worlds with even a tenth of its population. It is of unimaginable technological and cultural complexity. Where we are now is the Imperial Sector, with the highest standard of living in the Galaxy and populated entirely by Imperial functionaries. Elsewhere on the planet, however, are over eight hundred other sectors, some of them with subcultures totally different from what we have here and most of them untouchable by Imperial forces.”

            “Why untouchable?”

            “The Empire cannot seriously exert force against Trantor. To do so would be bound to shake some facet or other of the technology on which the whole planet depends. The technology is so interrelated that to snap one of the interconnections is to cripple the whole. Believe me, Seldon, we on Trantor observe what happens when there is an earthquake that manages to escape being damped out, a volcanic eruption that is not vented in time, a storm that is not defused, or just some human error that escapes notice. The planet totters and every effort must be made to restore the balance at once.”

            “I have never heard of such a thing.”

            A small smile flickered its way across Hummin’s face. “Of course not. Do you want the Empire to advertise the weakness at its core? However, as a journalist, I know what happens even when the Outworlds don’t, even when much of Trantor itself doesn’t, even when the Imperial pressure is interested in concealing events. Believe me! The Emperor knows, and Eto Demerzel knows, even if you don’t, that to disturb Trantor may destroy the Empire.”

            “Then are you suggesting I stay on Trantor for that reason?”

            “Yes. I can take you to a place on Trantor where you will be absolutely safe from Demerzel. You won’t have to change your name and you will be able to operate entirely in the open and he won’t be able to touch you. That’s why he wanted to force you off Trantor at once and if it hadn’t been for the quirk of fate that brought us together and for your surprising ability to defend yourself, he would have succeeded in doing so.”

            “But how long will I have to remain on Trantor?’’

            “For as long as your safety requires it, Seldon. For the rest of your life, perhaps.”




            Hari Seldon looked at the holograph of himself cast by Hummin’s projector. It was more dramatic and useful than a mirror would have been. In fact, it seemed as though there were two of him in the room.

            Seldon studied the sleeve of his new tunic. His Heliconian attitudes made him wish the colors were less vibrant, but he was thankful that, as it was, Hummin had chosen softer colors than were customary here on this world. (Seldon thought of the clothing worn by their two assailants and shuddered inwardly.)

            He said, “And I suppose I must wear this hat.”

            “In the Imperial Sector, yes. To go bareheaded here is a sign of low breeding. Elsewhere, the rules are different.”

            Seldon sighed. The round hat was made of soft material and molded itself to his head when he put it on. The brim was evenly wide all around, but it was narrower than on the hats his attackers had worn. Seldon consoled himself by noticing that when he wore the hat the brim curved rather gracefully.

            “It doesn’t have a strap under the chin.”

            “Of course not. That’s advanced fashion for young lanks.”

            “For young what?”

            “A lank is someone who wears things for their shock value. I’m sure you have such people on Helicon.”

            Seldon snorted. “There are those who wear their hair shoulder-length on one side and shave the other.” He laughed at the memory.

            Hummin’s mouth twisted slightly. “I imagine it looks uncommonly ugly.”

            “Worse. There are lefties and righties, apparently, and each finds the other version highly offensive. The two groups often engage in street brawls.”

            “Then I think you can stand the hat, especially without the strap.”

            Seldon said, “I’ll get used to it.”

            “It will attract some attention. It’s subdued for one thing and makes you look as if you’re in mourning. And it doesn’t quite fit. Then, too, you wear it with obvious discomfort. However, we won’t be in the Imperial Sector long. Seen enough?” And the holograph flickered out.

            Seldon said, “How much did this cost you?”

            “What’s the difference?”

            “It bothers me to be in your debt.”

            “Don’t worry about it. This is my choice. But we’ve been here long enough. I will have been described, I’m quite certain. They’ll track me down and they’ll come here.”

            “In that case, “ said Seldon, “the credits you’re spending are a minor matter. You’re putting yourself into personal danger on my account. Personal danger!”

            “I know that. But it’s my free choice and I can take care of myself.”

            “But why--”

            “We’ll discuss the philosophy of it later. I’ve atomized your clothes, by the way, and I don’t think I was seen. There was an energy surge, of course, and that would be recorded. Someone might guess what happened from that, it’s hard to obscure any action when probing eyes and mind are sharp enough. However, let us hope we’ll be safely away before they put it all together.”




            They traveled along walkways where the light was soft and yellow. Hummin’s eyes moved this way and that, watchful, and he kept their pace at crowd speed, neither passing nor being passed.

            He kept up a mild but steady conversation on indifferent topics.

            Seldon, edgy and unable to do the same, said, “There seems to be a great deal of walking here. There are endless lines in both directions and along the crossovers.”

            “Why not?” said Hummin. “Walking is still the best form of short distance transportation. It’s the most convenient, the cheapest, and the most healthful. Countless years of technological advance have not changed that. Are you acrophobic, Seldon?’’

            Seldon looked over the railing on his right into a deep declivity that separated the two walking lanes--each in an opposite direction between the regularly spaced crossovers. He shuddered slightly. “If you mean fear of heights, not ordinarily. Still, looking down isn’t pleasant. How far does it go down?”

            “Forty or fifty levels at this point, I think. This sort of thing is common in the Imperial Sector and a few other highly developed regions. In most places, one walks at what might be considered ground level.”

            “I should imagine this would encourage suicide attempts.”

            “Not often. There are far easier methods. Besides, suicide is not a matter of social obloquy on Trantor. One can end one’s life by various recognized methods in centers that exist for the purpose, if one is willing to go through some psychotherapy at first. There are, occasional accidents, for that matter, but that’s not why I was asking about acrophobia. We’re heading for a taxi rental where they know me as a journalist. I’ve done favors for them occasionally and sometimes they do favors for me in return. They’ll forget to record me and won’t notice that I have a companion. Of course, I’ll have to pay a premium and, again of course, if Demerzel’s people lean on them hard enough, they’ll have to tell the truth and put it down to slovenly accounting, but that may take considerable time.”

            “Where does the acrophobia come in?”

            “Well, we can get there a lot faster if we use a gravitic lift. Not many people use it and I must tell you that I’m not overjoyed at the idea myself, but if you think you can handle it, we had better.”

            “What’s a gravitic lift?”

            “It’s experimental. The time may come when it will be widespread over Trantor, provided it becomes psychologically acceptable, or can be made so to enough people. Then, maybe, it will spread to other worlds too. It’s an elevator shaft without an elevator cab, so to speak. We just step into empty space and drop slowly, or rise slowly, under the influence of antigravity. It’s about the only application of antigravity that’s been established so far, largely because it’s the simplest possible application.”

            “What happens if the power blinks out while we’re in transit?”

            “Exactly what you would think. We fall and, unless we’re quite near the bottom to begin with, we die. I haven’t heard of it happening yet and, believe me, if it had happened I would know. We might not be able to give out the news for security reasons, that’s the excuse they always advance for hiding bad news, but I would know. It’s just up ahead. If you can’t manage it, we won’t do it, but the corridors are slow and tedious and many find them nauseating after a while.”

            Hummin turned down a crossover and into a large recess where a line of men and women were waiting, one or two with children.

            Seldon said in a low voice, “I heard nothing of this back home. Of course, our own news media are terribly local, but you’d think there’d be some mention that this sort of thing exists.”

            Hummin said. “It’s strictly experimental and is confined to the Imperial Sector. It uses more energy than it’s worth, so the government is not really anxious to push it right now by giving it publicity. The old Emperor, Stanel VI, the one before Cleon who amazed everyone by dying in his bed, insisted on having it installed in a few places. He wanted his name associated with antigravity, they say, because he was concerned with his place in history, as old men of no great attainments frequently are. As I said, the technique may spread, but, on the other hand, it is possible that nothing much more than the gravitic lift will ever come of it.”

            “What do they want to come of it?” asked Seldon.

            “Antigrav spaceflight. That, however, will require many breakthroughs and most physicists, as far as I know, are firmly convinced it is out of the question. But, then, most thought that even gravitic lifts were out of the question.”

            The line ahead was rapidly growing shorter and Seldon found himself standing with Hummin at the edge of the floor with an open gap before him. The air ahead faintly glittered. Automatically, he reached out his hand and felt a light shock. It didn’t hurt, but he snatched his hand back quickly.

            Hummin grunted. “An elementary precaution to prevent anyone walking over the edge before activating the controls.” He punched some numbers on the control board and the glitter vanished.

            Seldon peered over the edge, down the deep shaft.

            “You might find it better, or easier, “ said Hummin, “if we link arms and if you close your eyes. It won’t take more than a few seconds.”

            He gave Seldon no choice, actually. He took his arm and once again there was no hanging back in that firm grip. Hummin stepped into nothingness and Seldon (who heard himself, to his own embarrassment, emit a small squeak) shuffled off with a lurch.

            He closed his eyes tightly and experienced no sense of falling, no feeling of air movement. A few seconds passed and he was pulled forward. He tripped slightly, caught his balance, and found himself on solid ground.

            He opened his eyes, “Did we make it?”

            Hummin said dryly, “We’re not dead, “ then walked away, his grip forcing Seldon to follow.

            “I mean, did we get to the right level?”

            “Of course.”

            “What would have happened if we were dropping down and someone else was moving upward?”

            “There are two separate lanes. In one lane everyone drops at the same speed; in the other everyone rises at the same speed. The shaft clears only when there are no people within ten meters of each other. There is no chance of a collision if all works well.”

            “I didn’t feel a thing.”

            “Why should you? There was no acceleration. After the first tenth of a second, you were at constant speed and the air in your immediate vicinity was moving down with you at the same speed.”


            “Absolutely. But uneconomic. And there seems no great pressure to increase the efficiency of the procedure and make it worthwhile. Everywhere one hears the same refrain. ‘We can’t do it. It can’t be done.’ It applies to everything.” Hummin shrugged in obvious anger and said, “But we’re here at the taxi rental. Let’s get on with it.”




            Seldon tried to look inconspicuous at the air-taxi rental terminus, which he found difficult. To look ostentatiously inconspicuous, to slink about, to turn his face away from all who passed, to study one of the vehicles overintently, was surely the way to invite attention. The way to behave was merely to assume an innocent normality.

            But what was normality? He felt uncomfortable in his clothes. There were no pockets, so he had no place to put his hands. The two pouches, which dangled from his belt on either side, distracted him by hitting against him as he moved, so that he was continually thinking someone had nudged him.

            He tried looking at women as they passed. They had no pouches, at least none dangling, but they carried little boxlike affairs that they occasionally clipped to one hip or another by some device he could not make out. It was probably pseudomagnetic, he decided. Their clothes were not particularly revealing, he noted regretfully, and not one had any sign of decolletage, although some dresses seemed to be designed to emphasize the buttocks.

            Meanwhile, Hummin had been very businesslike, having presented the necessary credits and returned with the superconductive ceramic tile that would activate a specific air-taxi.

            Hummin said, “Get in, Seldon, “ gesturing to a small two-seated vehicle.

            Seldon asked, “Did you have to sign your name, Hummin?’’

            “Of course not. They know me here and don’t stand on ceremony. “

            “What do they think you’re doing?”

            “They didn’t ask and I volunteered no information.” He inserted the tile and Seldon felt a slight vibration as the air-taxi came to life.

            “We’re headed for D-7, “ said Hummin, making conversation.

            Seldon didn’t know what D-7 was, but he assumed it meant some route or other.

            The air-taxi found its way past and around other ground-cars and finally moved onto a smooth upward-slanting track and gained speed. Then it lifted upward with a slight jolt.

            Seldon, who had been automatically strapped in by a webbed restraint, felt himself pushed down into his seat and then up against the webbing.

            He said, “That didn’t feel like antigravity.”

            “It wasn’t, “ said Hummin. “That was a small jet reaction. Just enough to take us up to the tubes.”

            What appeared before them now looked like a cliff patterned with cave openings, much like a checkerboard. Hummin maneuvered toward the D-7 opening, avoiding other air-taxis that were heading for other tunnels.

            “You could crash easily, “ said Seldon, clearing his throat.

            “So I probably would if everything depended on my senses and reactions, but the taxi is computerized and the computer can overrule me without trouble. The same is true for the other taxis. Here we go.”

            They slid into D-7 as if they had been sucked in and the bright light of the open plaza outside mellowed, turning a warmer yellow hue.

            Hummin released the controls and sat back. He drew a deep breath and said, “Well, that’s one stage successfully carried through. We might have been stopped at the station. In here, we’re fairly safe.”

            The ride was smooth and the walls of the tunnel slipped by rapidly. There was almost no sound, just a steady velvety whirr as the taxi sped along.

            “How fast are we going?” asked Seldon.

            Hummin cast an eye briefly at the controls. “Three hundred and fifty kilometers per hour.”

            “Magnetic propulsion?”

            “Yes. You have it on Helicon, I imagine.”

            “Yes. One line. I’ve never been on it myself, though I’ve always meant to. I don’t think it’s anything like this.”

            “I’m sure it isn’t. Trantor has many thousands of kilometers of these tunnels honeycombing the land subsurface and a number that snake under the shallower extensions of the ocean. It’s the chief method of long-distance travel.”

            “How long will it take us?”

            “To reach our immediate destination? A little over five hours.”

            “Five hours!” Seldon was dismayed.

            “Don’t be disturbed. We pass rest areas every twenty minutes or so where we can stop, pull out of the tunnel, stretch our feet, cat, or relieve ourselves. I’d like to do that as few times as possible, of course. “

            They continued on in silence for a while and then Seldon started when a blaze of light flared at their right for a few seconds and, in the flash, he thought he saw two air-taxis.

            “That was a rest area, “ said Hummin in answer to the unspoken question.

            Seldon said, “Am I really going to be safe wherever it is you are taking me?”

            Hummin said, “Quite safe from any open movement on the part of the Imperial forces. Of course, when it comes to the individual operator, the spy, the agent, the hired assassin, one must always be careful. Naturally, I will supply you with a bodyguard.”

            Seldon felt uneasy. “The hired assassin? Are you serious? Would they really want to kill me?”

            Hummin said, “I’m sure Demerzel doesn’t. I suspect he wants to use you rather than kill you. Still, other enemies may turn up or there may be unfortunate concatenations of events. You can’t go through life sleepwalking.”

            Seldon shook his head and turned his face away. To think, only forty eight hours ago he had been just an insignificant, virtually unknown Outworld mathematician, content only to spend his remaining time on Trantor sight-seeing, gazing at the enormity of the great world with his provincial eye. And now, it was finally sinking in: He was a wanted man, hunted by Imperial forces. The enormity of the situation seized him and he shuddered.

            “And what about you and what you’re doing right now?”

            Hummin said thoughtfully, “Well, they won’t feel kindly toward me, I suppose. I might have my head laid open or my chest exploded by some mysterious and never-found assailant.”

            Hummin said it without a tremor in his voice or a change in his calm appearance, but Seldon winced.

            Seldon said, “I rather thought you would assume that might be in store for you. You don’t seem to be . . . bothered by it.”

            “I’m an old Trantorian. I know the planet as well as anybody can. I know many people and many of them are under obligation to me. I like to think that I am shrewd and not easy to outwit. In short, Seldon, I am quite confident that I can take care of myself.”

            “I’m glad you feel that way and I hope you’re justified in thinking so, Hummin, but I can’t get it through my head why you’re taking this chance at all. What am I to you? Why should you take even the smallest risk for someone who is a stranger to you?”

            Hummin checked the controls in a preoccupied manner and then he faced Seldon squarely, eyes steady and serious. ‘

            “I want to save you for the same reason that the Emperor wants to use you, for your predictive powers.”

            Seldon felt a deep pang of disappointment. This was not after all a question of being saved. He was merely the helpless and disputed prey of competing predators. He said angrily, “I will never live down that presentation at the Decennial Convention. I have ruined my life.”

            “No. Don’t rush to conclusions, mathematician. The Emperor and his officers want you for one reason only, to make their own lives more secure. They are interested in your abilities only so far as they might be used to save the Emperor’s rule, preserve that rule for his young son, maintain the positions, status, and power of his officials. I, on the other hand, want your powers for the good of the Galaxy.„

            “Is there a distinction?” spat Seldon acidly.

            And Hummin replied with the stern beginning of a frown, “If you do not see the distinction, then that is to your shame. The human occupants of the Galaxy existed before this Emperor who now rules, before the dynasty he represents, before the Empire itself. Humanity is far older than the Empire. It may even be far older than the twentyfive million worlds of the Galaxy. There are legends of a time when humanity inhabited a single world.”

            “Legends!” said Seldon, shrugging his shoulders.

            “Yes, legends, but I see no reason why that may not have been so in fact, twenty thousand years ago or more. I presume that humanity did not come into existence complete with knowledge of hyperspatial travel. Surely, there must have been a time when people could not travel at superluminal velocities and they must then have been imprisoned in a single planetary system. And if we look forward in time, the human beings of the worlds of the Galaxy will surely continue to exist after you and the Emperor are dead, after his whole line comes to an end, and after the institutions of the Empire itself unravel. In that case, it is not important to worry overmuch about individuals, about the Emperor and the young Prince Imperial. It is not important to worry even about the mechanics of Empire. What of the quadrillions of people that exist in the Galaxy? What of them?”

            Seldon said, “Worlds and people would continue, I presume.”

            “Don’t you feel any serious need of probing the possible conditions under which they would continue to exist.

            “One would assume they would exist much as they do now.”

            “One would assume. But could one know by this art of prediction that you speak of?”

            “Psychohistory is what I call it. In theory, one could.”

            “And you feel no pressure to turn that theory into practice.”

            “I would love to, Hummin, but the desire to do so doesn’t automatically manufacture the ability to do so. I told the Emperor that psychohistory could not be turned into a practical technique and I am forced to tell you the same thing.”

            “And you have no intention of even trying to find the technique?”

            “No, I don’t, any more than I would feel I ought to try to tackle a pile of pebbles the size of Trantor, count them one by one, and arrange them in order of decreasing mass. I would know it was not something I could accomplish in a lifetime and I would not be fool enough to make a pretense of trying.”

            “Would you try if you knew the truth about humanity’s situation?”

            “That’s an impossible question. What it the truth about humanity’s situation? Do you claim to know it?”

            “Yes, I do. And in five words.” Hummin’s eyes faced forward again, turning briefly toward the blank changelessness of the tunnel as it pushed toward them, expanding until it passed and then dwindling as it slipped away. He then spoke those five words grimly.

            He said, “The Galactic Empire is dying.”




        STREELING UNIVERSITY--. . . An institution of higher learning in the Streeling Sector of ancient Trantor . . . Despite all these claims to fame in the fields of the humanities and silences alike, it is not for those that the University looms large in today’s consciousness. It would probably have come as a coral surprise to the generations of scholars at the University to know that in lacer times Streeling University would be most remembered because a certain Hari Seldon, during the period of The Flight, had been in residence there for a shore time.





            Hari Seldon remained uncomfortably silent for a while after Hummin’s quiet statement. He shrank within himself in sudden recognition of his own deficiencies.

            He had invented a new science: psychohistory. He had extended the laws of probability in a very subtle manner to take into account new complexities and uncertainties and had ended up with elegant equations in innumerable unknowns. Possibly an infinite number; he couldn’t tell.

            But it was a mathematical game and nothing more.

            He had psychohistory, or at least the basis of psychohistory but only as a mathematical curiosity. Where was the historical knowledge that could perhaps give some meaning to the empty equations?

            He had none. He had never been interested in history. He knew the outline of Heliconian history. Courses in that small fragment of the human story had, of course, been compulsory in the Heliconian schools. But what was there beyond that? Surely what else he had picked up was merely the bare skeletons that everyone gathered half legend, the other half surely distorted.

            Still, how could one say that the Galactic Empire was dying? It had existed for ten thousand years as an accepted Empire and even before that, Trantor, as the capital of the dominating kingdom, had held what was a virtual empire for two thousand years. The Empire had survived the early centuries when whole sections of the Galaxy would now and then refuse to accept the end of their local independence. It had survived the vicissitudes that went with the occasional rebellions, the dynastic wars, some serious periods of breakdown. Most worlds had scarcely been troubled by such things and Trantor itself had grown steadily until it was the worldwide human habitation that now called itself the Eternal World.

            To be sure, in the last four centuries, turmoil had increased somehow and there had been a rash of Imperial assassinations and takeovers. But even that was calming down and right now the Galaxy was as quiet as it had ever been. Under Cleon I and before him under his father, Stanel VI, the worlds were prosperous and Cleon himself was not considered a tyrant. Even those who disliked the Imperium as an institution rarely had anything truly bad to say about Cleon, much as they might inveigh against Eto Demerzel.

            Why, then, should Hummin say that the Galactic Empire was dying and with such conviction?

            Hummin was a journalist. He probably knew Galactic history in some detail and he had to understand the current situation in great detail. Was it this that supplied him with the knowledge that lay behind his statement? In that case, just what was the knowledge?

            Several times Seldon was on the point of asking, of demanding an answer, but there was something in Hummin’s solemn face that stopped him. And there was something in his own ingrained belief that the Galactic Empire was a given, an axiom, the foundation stone on which all argument rested that prevented him too. After all, if that was wrong, he didn’t want to know.

            No, he couldn’t believe that he was wrong. The Galactic Empire could no more come to an end than the Universe itself could. Or, if the Universe did end, then--and only then--would the Empire end.

            Seldon closed his eyes, attempting to sleep but, of course, he could not. Would he have to study the history of the Universe in order to advance his theory of psychohistory?

            How could he? Twentyfive million worlds existed, each with its own endlessly complex history. How could he study all that? There were book-films in many volumes, he knew, that dealt with Galactic history. He had even skimmed one once for some now-forgotten reason and had found it too dull to view even halfway through.

            The book-films had dealt with important worlds. With some, it dealt through all or almost all their history; with others, only as they gained importance for a time and only till they faded away. He remembered having looked up Helicon in the index and having found only one citation. He had punched the keys that would turn up that citation and found Helicon included in a listing of worlds which, on one occasion, had temporarily lined up behind a certain claimant to the Imperial throne who had failed to make good his claim. Helicon had escaped retribution on that occasion, probably because it was not even sufficiently important to be punished.

            What good was such a history? Surely, psychohistory would have to take into account the actions and reactions and interactions of each world, each and every world. How could one study the history of twenty five million worlds and consider all their possible interactions? It would surely be an impossible task and this was just one more reinforcement of the general conclusion that psychohistory was of theoretical interest but could never be put to any practical use.

            Seldon felt a gentle push forward and decided that the air-taxi must be decelerating.

            “What’s up?” he asked.

            “I think we’ve come far enough, “ said Hummin, “to risk a small stopover for a bite to eat, a glass of something or other, and a visit to a washroom.”

            And, in the course of the next fifteen minutes, during which the air-taxi slowed steadily, they came to a lighted recess. The taxi swerved inward and found a parking spot among five or six other vehicles.




            Hummin’s practiced eye seemed to take in the recess, the other taxis, the diner, the walkways, and the men and women all at a glance. Seldon, trying to look inconspicuous and again not knowing how, watched him, trying not to do so too intently.

            When they sat down at a small table and punched in their orders, Seldon, attempting to sound indifferent, said, “Everything okay?”

            “Seems so, “ said Hummin.

            “How can you tell?”

            Hummin let his dark eyes rest on Seldon for a moment. “Instinct, “ he said. “Years of news gathering. You look and know, ‘No news here.’“

            Seldon nodded and felt relieved. Hummin might have said it sardonically, but there must be a certain amount of truth to it.

            His satisfaction did not last through the first bite of his sandwich. He looked up at Hummin with his mouth full and with a look of hurt surprise on his face.

            Hummin said, “This is a wayside diner, my friend. Cheap, fast, and not very good. The food’s homegrown and has an infusion of rather sharp yeast. Trantorian palates are used to it.”

            Seldon swallowed with difficulty. “But back in the hotel--”

            “You were in the Imperial Sector, Seldon. Food is imported there and where microfood is used it is high-quality. It is also expensive. “

            Seldon wondered whether to take another bite. “You mean that as long as I stay on Trantor--”

            Hummin made a hushing motion with his lips. “Don’t give anyone the impression that you’re used to better. There are places on Trantor where to be identified as an aristocrat is worse than being identified as an Outworlder. The food won’t be so bad everywhere,

            I assure you. These wayside places have a reputation for low quality. If you can stomach that sandwich, you’ll be able to eat anywhere on Trantor. And it won’t hurt you. It’s not decayed or bad or anything like that. It just has a harsh, strong taste and, honestly, you may grow accustomed to it. I’ve met Trantorians who spit out honest food and say it lacks that homegrown tang.”

            “Do they grow much food on Trantor?” asked Seldon. A quick side glance showed him there was no one seated in the immediate vicinity and he spoke quietly. “I’ve always heard it takes twenty surrounding worlds to supply the hundreds of freight ships required to feed Trantor every day.”

            “I know. And hundreds to carry off the load of wastes. And if you want to make the story really good, you say that the same freight ships carry food one way and waste the other. It’s true that we import considerable quantities of food, but that’s mostly luxury items. And we export considerable waste, carefully treated into inoffensiveness, as important organic fertilizer, every bit as important to other worlds as the food is to us. But that’s only a small fraction of the whole.”

            “It is?”

            “Yes. In addition to fish in the sea, there are gardens and truck farms everywhere. And fruit trees and poultry and rabbits and vast microorganism farms, usually called yeast farms, though the yeast makes up a minority of the growths. And our wastes are mostly used right here at home to maintain all that growth. In fact, in many ways Trantor is very much like an enormous and overgrown space settlement. Have you ever visited one of those?”

            “Indeed I have.”

            “Space settlements are essentially enclosed cities, with everything artificially cycled, with artificial ventilation, artificial day and night, and so on. Trantor is different only in that even the largest space settlement has a population of only ten million and Trantor has four thousand times that. Of course, we have real gravity. And no space settlement can match us in our microfoods. We have yeast vats, fungal mats, and algae ponds vast beyond the imagination. And we are strong on artificial flavoring, added with no light hand. That’s what gives the taste to what you’re eating.”

            Seldon had gotten through most of his sandwich and found it not as offensive as the first bite had been. “And it won’t affect me?”

            “It does hit the intestinal flora and every once in a while it afflicts some poor Outworlder with diarrhea, but that’s rare, and you harden even to that quickly. Still, drink your milkshake, which you probably won’t like. It contains an antidiarrhetic that should keep you safe, even if you tend to be sensitive to such things.”

            Seldon said querulously, “Don’t talk about it, Hummin. A person can be suggestible to such things.”

            “Finish the milkshake and forget the suggestibility.”

            They finished the rest of their meal in silence and soon were on their way again.




            They were now racing rapidly through the tunnel once more. Seldon decided to give voice to the question that had been nagging at him for the last hour or so.

            “Why do you say the Galactic Empire is dying?”

            Hummin turned to look at Seldon again. “As a journalist, I have statistics poured into me from all sides till they’re squeezing out of my ears. And I’m allowed to publish very little of it. Trantor’s population is decreasing. Twentyfive years ago, it stood at almost fortyfive billion.

            “Partly, this decrease is because of a decline in the birthrate. To be sure, Trantor never has had a high birthrate. If you’ll look about you when you’re traveling on Trantor, you won’t encounter very many children, considering the enormous population. But just the same it’s declining. Then too there is emigration. People are leaving Trantor in greater numbers than are arriving.”

            “Considering its large population, “ said Seldon, “that’s not surprising.”

            “But it’s unusual just the same because it hasn’t happened before. Again, all over the Galaxy trade is stagnating. People think that because there are no rebellions at the moment and because things are quiet that all is well and that the difficulties of the past few centuries are over. However, political infighting, rebellions, and unrest are all signs of a certain vitality too. But now there’s a general weariness. It’s quiet, not because people are satisfied and prosperous, but because they’re tired and have given up.”

            “Oh, I don’t know, “ said Seldon dubiously.

            “I do. And the antigrav phenomenon we’ve talked about is another case in point. We have a few gravitic lifts in operation, but new ones aren’t being constructed. It’s an unprofitable venture and there seems no interest in trying to make it profitable. The rate of technological advance has been slowing for centuries and is down to a crawl now. In some cases, it has stopped altogether. Isn’t this something you’ve noticed? After all, you’re a mathematician.”

            “I can’t say I’ve given the matter any thought.”

            “No one does. It’s accepted. Scientists are very good these days at saying that things are impossible, impractical, useless. They condemn any speculation at once. You, for instance, What do you think of psychohistory? It is theoretically interesting, but it is useless in any practical sense. Am I right?”

            “Yes and no, “ said Seldon, annoyed. “It is useless in any practical sense, but not because my sense of adventure has decayed, I assure you. It really it useless.”

            “That, at least, “ said Hummin with a trace of sarcasm, “is your impression in this atmosphere of decay in which all the Empire lives.”

            “This atmosphere of decay, “ said Seldon angrily, “is your impression. Is it possible that you are wrong?”

            Hummin stopped and for a moment appeared thoughtful. Then he said, “Yes, I might be wrong. I am speaking only from intuition, from guesses. What I need is a working technique of psychohistory. “

            Seldon shrugged and did not take the bait. He said, “I don’t have such a technique to give you. But suppose you’re right. Suppose the Empire it running down and will eventually stop and fall apart. The human species will still exist.”

            “Under what conditions, man? For nearly twelve thousand years, Trantor, under strong rulers, has largely kept the peace. There’ve been interruptions to that, rebellions, localized civil wars, tragedy in plenty, but, on the whole and over large areas, there has been peace. Why is Helicon so pro-Imperium? Your world, I mean. Because it is small and would be devoured by its neighbours were it not that the Empire keeps it secure.”

            “Are you predicting universal war and anarchy if the Empire fails?”

            “Of course. I’m not fond of the Emperor or of the Imperial institutions in general, but I don’t have any substitute for it. I don’t know what else will keep the peace and I’m not ready to let go until I have something else in hand.”

            Seldon said, “You talk as though you are in control of the Galaxy. You are not ready to let go? You must have something else in hand? Who are you to talk so?”

            “I’m speaking generally, figuratively, “ said Hummin. “I’m not worried about Chetter Hummin personally. It might be said that the Empire will last my time; it might even show signs of improvement in my time. Declines don’t follow a straight-line path. It may be a thousand years before the final crash and you might well imagine I would be dead then and, certainly, I will leave no descendants. As far as women are concerned, I have nothing but the occasional casual attachment and I have no children and intend to have none. I have given no hostages to fortune. I looked you up after your talk, Seldon. You have no children either.”