Klia shivered in the vast hollow space and looked between her feet at the conjunction of two of Trantor’s greatest rivers. Once, twelve thousand years ago, they had had names; now they were designated simply by numbers, but even those numbers hinted at greatness: One and Two. One worked its way across half of Sirta, the continent which supported some of the most populated Sectors, including the Imperial Palace, Streeling, and Dahl. Thousands of years ago, as Trantor’s population grew and engineers contemplated accommodating additional billions, they had made the decision to cover over all the landmasses, to dig beneath the crust and burrow even into the shelves which lay beneath the ocean shores.
Those ancient engineers wisely decided against attempting to reroute and change the nature of Trantor’s watersheds. To have the metal skin of their new structures support so much water on its rush to the sea was wasteful, so they lined deep channels where natural rivers once had flowed, and let the rains gather and flow into them. Where early Sectors laid claim to natural aquifers, the engineers-with the mandate of the legendary Emperor Kwan Shonam-created new porous materials for the basins to allow the aquifers to remain useful.
Klia could no more understand the intricacies of water on Trantor than any normal citizen. What she knew was that here, fifty meters below where she stood, in the roaring maelstrom where the two rivers mated, lay power. She appreciated power, but she was too young to adequately fear it; and besides, she had an arrogance born of her abilities. She could not persuade rivers of water to change, but human rivers…That was something else again.
Klia was cold and hungry and angry. She felt abused; if they only knew! She took deep breaths and contemplated the day when she could hunt down those who were now making her run and hide like a rat.
Then she sat on the grating of the maintenance walkway, calves crossed in an easy X, and brought her all-too-negative emotions under control. She had to find a place to sleep; here, it was too moist and cold and loud. She had to find food. There would be little of that below ground; she could wait for a maintenance tram to rumble past, flag it down, steal foodboxes and persuade the crew to forget…She smiled at that. She would be a ghost, a phantom, the phantom of the two rivers…
Some in Dahl believed that those who lived good lives became part of the great rivers and flowed to the covered seas, there to live in perfect communes far from the knowledge of Empire. Those who lived badly went into the heatsinks to sweat and work forever. She did not believe such things, but they were interesting to contemplate while her subconscious mind worked through her problems and presented solutions.
The tram kept popping back into her thoughts. She imagined it a big wormlike thing on many wheels, with comfortable and well-lighted compartments within. She could make friends with the maintenance workers. Perhaps one of them would be exceptional, a native Dahlite with a huge mustache, far more manly than her father or any of the furtive black marketeers; he would comfort her gently at first, forcing nothing, until she decided what she wanted, what her body wanted…
These romantic visions only made her more lonely. She felt very vulnerable. She pounded her fist on a rail and listened to the hollow boom be swallowed by the vaster roar. No time for such dreams! She would be inhuman, above all passions and needs; she would take swift vengeance and live to create fear and respect. Children would be told her name to make them behave…
Suddenly, her moist eyes dried and she simply laughed at her own ridiculous imaginings. The laughter rose high and clear and, wondrously, the river’s rage did not swallow the sound: instead, the laughter echoed through the great vaults over the confluence, and returned to her, like the laughter of hundreds.
For the time being-barring the appearance of that large, gentle Dahlite maintenance worker-she was licked. She knew it. She would have to go back up into Dahl soon, and she would need a place to hide. If people were looking for those with her talents, she would pick the best party and cooperatefor a while.
She sighed at this necessity, but Klia knew she was not an idiot. She would not languish with her dying dreams down there in the dark and wet, with no company but the great rivers.