“Your request to see me is a little odd,” the Emperor said, “considering that Linge Chen’s Commission is putting you on trial for treason next month.” Klayus waggled his head from side to side and raised his eyebrows. “Don’t you think it’s unseemly for me to agree to a meeting?”
“Very,” Hari said, hands folded, head bowed. “It bespeaks your independence, Highness.”
“Yes, well I’m far more independent than anyone gives me credit for. In truth, I find the Commission convenient, because it does a lot of the uninteresting work of managing little details I care nothing for. Linge Chen is wise enough to let me handle my own affairs and projects without interference. So, why should I be interested in you? Other than your professorial eminence.”
“I thought you might be interested in the future, Highness,” Hari said.
Klayus snorted faintly. “Ah, yes, your eternal promise.”
Hari followed the Emperor through a central circular chamber at least twelve meters in diameter and perhaps thirty meters high. Above, all the inhabited star systems of the Galaxy rotated across the dome, blinking in order of settlement, tens of millions of them. Hari glanced up and squinted at the immensity of humanity’s reach. Klayus I ignored the display. His pinched lips and wide, yet somehow vacuous eyes disturbed Hari.
Klayus pushed open a huge door to his entertainment room. Silently, the door-more like the entrance to a vault-swung on its immense hinges, and insects, green and gold, crawled over the frame. Hari assumed they were projected, but would not have been surprised to discover they were real.
“I have very little interest in your future, Raven,” the Emperor said lightly. “I do manage to keep informed. I won’t stop the trial, and I won’t second-guess Chen on this.”
“I refer to your own immediate future, sire,” Hari said. I hope Daneel’s message was not just a dream, a fancy! This could turn deadly, if so.
The Emperor turned, smiling at this dramatic turn of phrase. “You’re on record as saying the Empire is doomed. That sounds treasonous enough to me. On this, Chen and I agree.”
“I say Trantor will be in ruins within five hundred years. But I’ve never predicted your future, sire.”
The entertainment room was filled with hulking sculptures of giant creatures from around the Galaxy, all savagely carnivorous, all caught in poses of attack. Hari regarded them with little appreciation for the artistry. Art had never interested him much, and certainly not the more popular forms, except where he could abstract entertainment trends as indicators for social health.
“I’ve had my palm read,” Klayus said, still smiling, “by a number of beautiful women. They all found it most attractive, and assured me my future was bright. No assassinations, Raven.”
“You will not be assassinated, sire.”
“Deposed? Exiled to Smyrmo? That’s where they sent my heroic quintuple-great-grandfather. Smyrmo, hot and dry, where you can’t go outside without protective clothing, where the rooms smell of sulfur and there are only cramped tunnels through the rock fit for vermin. His memoirs are quite good entertainment, Raven.”
“No, sire. You will be ridiculed until you lose all stature, then you will be ignored, and Linge Chen will never even have to defer to you. He will soon enough declare a people’s democracy and leave you only as a symbol, with declining revenues, until you can no longer even keep up appearances.”
The Emperor stopped between two Gareth-lions, the largest carnivores on any mid-gravity world, life-size-about twenty meters from clawed feet to razor-barbed, prehensile snouts. He leaned on the canted ankle of one. “Psychohistory tells you this?”
“No, sire. Experience and logical deduction, without benefit of psychohistory. Have you ever heard of Joranum?”
The Emperor shrugged. “I don’t think so. Person or place-or perhaps beast?”
“A man, who wanted to become Emperor, and who betrayed his hidden origins by subscribing to an ancient myth…About robots.”
“Robots! Yes, I believe in them.”
Hari was taken aback. “Not tiktoks, sire, but intelligent machines made in human form.”
“Of course. I believe they existed once, and that we outgrew them. Put them aside like toys. The tiktok experiment was simply an anachronism. We don’t need mechanical workers, much less mechanical intelligences.”
Hari blinked slowly, and wondered if he had underestimated this young man. “Joranum believed”-(Was led to believe, by Raych! he reminded himself)-”that a robot had infiltrated the Palace. He claimed First Minister Demerzel was a robot.”
“Ah, yes, I seem to remember something about that…not that long ago, was it? Though before I was born.”
“Demerzel laughed at him, sire, and Joranum’s political movement collapsed under the weight of ridicule.”
“Yes, yes, I remember now. Demerzel resigned and Cleon the First filled his shoes with another’s feet. With your feet. Correct, Raven?”
“That’s where you acquired the political skills you so ably exercise, isn’t it?”
“My political skills are minimal, your Highness.”
“I don’t think so, Raven. You’re alive, and yet Cleon the first was assassinated by…a gardener….who had strong connections to you, correct?”
“In a way, sire.”
“Still alive, Raven. Very savvy indeed, perhaps with your own secret and embarrassing files to reveal at key moments to key players. Do you have a secret file on Linge Chen, Raven?”
Hari, despite himself, let out a chuckle. Klayus seemed amused by this reaction, rather than affronted. “No, Your Highness. Chen is politically very well armored. His personal behavior is above reproach.”
“Isn’t it, now! Who, then? Who will disgrace me and bring me down?”
“You have an assistant, a member of your privy council, who believes in robots.” This is what Daneel wanted me to know. For a moment, Hari felt a chill. What if Daneel no longer existed, or had left Trantor, and he was imagining all this? The strain of the last few months, his constant gnawing grief…
“Robots currently existing on Trantor. He is hunting them down and shooting them. With kinetic weapons.”
Wanda’s information had nested so well with Daneel’s: the link, the gnawing suspicion, had come together. But Hari wanted, desperately needed, to think over his interviews with the tyrants. Something was still missing!
“Really?” The Emperor’s eyes gleamed. “He’s found real robots?”
“No, sire. Humans. Your subjects. Citizens of Trantor, even one offworlder, from Helicon, oddly enough, my home world.”
“How interesting! I did not know he was hunting for robots. Shall I bring him here and question him, in front of you, Raven?”
“That is of no matter to me, Your Highness.”
“I assume you refer to Farad Sinter.”
“Shooting and killing subjects! I did not know that. Well, I doubt that, Raven, but if it’s true, I shall stop that part…But as for hunting down robots, surely that gives him something harmless to do.”
“Linge Chen will let out enough wire for Sinter to entangle himself thoroughly, then he will turn on the power…And there will be many sparks, my Emperor, as Sinter fries. You might get burned.”
“Ah, I see-Chen will remind everybody of the forgotten Joranum, and of the disgrace of my allowing such a person to run around killing citizens.” Klayus buried his chin in one hand and frowned. “An Emperor, killing citizens…or ignoring their unjust deaths. Very volatile. Highly inflammable. I see it clearly enough, and it’s not an unlikely outcome. Yes.” The Emperor’s expression darkened and his eyes narrowed. “I had plans for tonight, Raven. You’ve spoiled them, I’m afraid. I doubt this is something I can dispose of in a meeting of a few minutes or less.”
“No, Your Highness.”
“And Sinter is in Mycogen today, not returning until after dinner. So you will stay with me, and perhaps give me some advice, then, after, Hari-may I call you Hari?”
“I would be honored, Your Highness.”
“After, we will celebrate, and I will reward you for your services.”
Hari showed nothing on his face, but this of all things was the last he wanted to do. The Emperor’s amusements were known to a few, and Linge Chen kept that number small by careful bribing and not-so-subtle pressure. Hari did not want to be one of the number Chen had to pressure, especially now…
He had to survive long enough for the trial, and beyond. to see the Foundations established…One by edict, the other in secret.
But he could not just allow Sinter’s odd madness to imperil Wanda and Stet tin’s future, and the future of all those who might yet go to Star’s End. Who had to go! The equations demanded it!