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15.

Haris legs hurt from standing so long. Klayus had finally stopped describing his beast statues and gone off, and Hari had found a divan and sat gingerly, blowing out his breath.

Here was his chance to see just how far things had gone to ruin, and how much further the Empire had to decay. He didnt relish the opportunity, but he had long since learned that the best way to get along in life was to find multiple uses for unpleasant experiences. He longed to get back to his Prime Radiant and lose himself in the equations. People! So many tiny and yet possibly disastrous disruptions, like being chewed by hungry insects

Hari turned toward the still-open hatchway and tried to see the crawling insects, but the projectors had turned off at Klayuss exit. When he turned back, a small Lavrentian servant, a young male, stood beside him.

The Emperor says I shall make you comfortable before your business engagement, the servant said, smiling pleasantly, his round, smooth face like a small lamp in the gloom of the statue room. Are you hungry? Theres to be an elaborate dinner later this evening, but you should probably eat something now, something light and deliciousShall I prepare something for you?

Yes, please, Hari said. He had eaten Palace food often enough not to turn down a chance to have more, and to eat in semiprivacy was a luxury he had not hoped for. My muscles ache, too. Could I have a masseur sent in?

Certainly! The Lavrentian smiled broadly. My name is Koas. I am assigned to you for your stay. Youve been here before, havent you?

Yes, the last time in the reign of Agis XIV, Hari said.

I was here then! Koas said. Perhaps I or my parents served you.

Perhaps, Hari said. I remember being very well treated, and Im afraid parts of this evening are not going to be pleasant. Im sure youll relax me and prepare me for the work to be done?

Our pleasure, Koas said, and bowed fluidly. What shall I prepare for you, or do you require a menu? We will, of course, use only the finest offworld and Mycogenian ingredients.

Farad Sinter is a connoisseur of Mycogenian delicacies, is he not? Hari asked.

Oh, no, sir, Koas said, lips turned down. He is fond of much simpler fare. Koas did not seem to approve of this.

Then hes in Mycogen to force a little information out of them, Hari thought. Their myths about robots. The man may very well be obsessed!

Koas did not specialize in bodyworks, so two female servants entered with a suspension couch. Hari lay on the couch and gave in to their skilled ministrations with a grateful sigh, and for a few minutes, at least, was almost glad he had come to the Palace and requested his audience with Klayus.

The masseuses began work on his legs, smoothing out the corded muscles and somehow removing a pain in his left knee that had been bothering him for weeks. They then worked on his arms, pushing and prodding with a surprising force, causing a delicious sort of pain that quickly melted into a liquid lassitude.

As they worked, Hari thought of the special privileges accorded to leaders and their associates, their families. There was, of course, the velvet trap of power, sufficient luxuries to attract reasonably competent and competitive individuals to an ungratefully demanding job (in Haris opinion; of course, Cleon I had been remarkably sanguine about being an Emperor at times, and even Agis had tried to act the part, which had led to his downfall under Linge Chens Commission).

For Klayus, there was luxury without much responsibility; that meant endless opportunities for distortions of the personality, which Hari had seen so often in history, among figurehead rulers of various systems

As the masseuses caressed and pummeled and prodded, he lapsed back into his memories of the meetings with the tyrants. They had taken place more than a kilometer beneath the Hall of Justice and the Imperial Courts, in the Rikerian Prison, at the center of a labyrinth of precisely controlled security systems. During his decades on Trantor, Hari had come to love interior spaces, even small ones, but the Rikerian Prison had been designed to punish, to flatten the spirit.

He had had nightmares about those tiny confined spaces, on and off, for years after.

In a cell barely tall enough to stand in, with slick hard black walls and two holes in the floor, one for waste and one for food and water, and no chairs, he had interviewed Nikolo Pas of Sterrad, the butcher of fifty billion human beings.

Cleon had his bizarre sense of humor, forcing the interview to take place there and not in some neutral meeting area. Perhaps he had wanted Hari to understand the mans current plight, to put things in perspective, perhaps to pity him, at least feel something, and not reduce everything to equations and numbers, as Cleon felt was Haris wont.

Im sorry I have nothing to offer in the way of hospitality, Nikolo had said as they faced each other in the tiny, dim space. Hari had responded with some dismissive pleasantry.

The man before him was more than six centimeters shorter than Hari, with pale blond, almost white hair, large dark eyes, a small pug nose, broad lips, and a short chin. He wore a thin gray shirt and shorts and sandals. Youve come to study the Monster, Nikolo continued. The guards say youre the First Minister. Surely youre not here to pick up some political tips.

No, Hari said.

To observe Cleons triumph and the restoration of dignity and order?

No.

I never rebelled against Cleon. I never usurped the Emperors authority.

I understand. How do you explain what you did? Hari asked, deciding to jump in with no further preliminaries. What was your reasoning, your goal?

They tell everybody I butchered billions on four worlds within my system, the system I was chosen to preserve and protect.

Thats what the records tell. What happened, in your opinion? And I warn you-I have the accounts from thousands of witnesses and other records at my disposal.

Why should I even bother talking with you, then? Nikolo said.

Because its possible what you say can prevent more butchery, in the future. An explanation, an understanding, could help us all avoid similar situations.

By killing a monster such as myself at birth?

Hari did not answer.

No, I see youre more subtle than that, Nikolo murmured. By preventing the rise to power of one like myself.

Perhaps, Hari said.

What do I get out of it?

Nothing, Hari said.

Nothing for Nikolo PasHow about the right to kill myself?

Cleon would never allow that, Hari said.

Just the right to inform Cleons First Minister, to give him more understanding, and therefore more power

I suppose you could look at it that way.

Not in this hole, Nikolo had said. Ill talk, but someplace clean and comfortable. Thats my price. You wouldnt put vermin in a hole like this. And I have ever so much to tell youabout humans as well as machines, or about machines that seem human.past as well as future.

Hari had listened, trying to keep his face impassive. Im not sure I can get Clean to-

Then youll learn nothing, Hari Seldon. And I see by the look in your eyesIve touched something that provokes a deep curiosity, havent I?

Hari twitched on the suspension couch and the masseuse working on his neck softly ordered him to lie still. Why havent I remembered this conversation before now? Hari asked himself. What else has been suppressed? And why?

Then, tension spoiling all the masseuses work, another question, Daneel, what have you done to me?


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