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32.

Mors Planch was deeply and quietly horrified. Wondering why he was still alive, he had watched Daneel and Lodovik board the trader ship and leave Madder Loss, and had finally concluded that Daneel did not know anything about his discovery.

At first, he did not know to whom to turn. Or indeed where to go, what to do, even what to think. The conversation recorded on his tape was too disturbing, too much like the ravings of a Mycogenian secret text.

Eternals! In the Empire! Running it from behind the scenes like puppet masters-for thousands of years!

Mors had never met a long-lived human; they no longer existed, he was certain. It had been several thousand years since the collapse of the last gerontocracy. Planets populated by people living more than 120 standard years had all collapsed in political and economic chaos

His first impulse-and second, and third-was to go into hiding, to get as far away from this danger as he could. Perhaps even to flee to one of the outlying Galactic Sectors edging away from Imperial control. There were so many possibilities for escape

But none of them suited him. Throughout his long and devious life, he had always regarded Trantor as a kind of locus, a point from which he could come and go, as the winds of money and his own whims propelled him. But never to see Trantor again

Worth it! Live out your life in peace-and simply live!

Soon enough, however, as the hours and days passed, he let this thought fade and considered others, more immediate. Of what use was his evidence? Perhaps they were simply pulling his leg.

But Lodovik Trema had survived the neutrino flux! No ordinary human, perhaps no human at all-no organic creature-could have survived

Then again, tapes of this kind could easily be faked. His own character, if deeply investigated, would be regarded by no authority as unimpeachable. The tape-and his efforts to spread a message of conspiracy-could mark him as a lunatic.

He doubted very much that Linge Chen or Klayus would pay much attention to it. He tried to think of others in positions of influence, others whose intuition matched their real-world savvy and political skill.

No one came to mind. He knew something about most of the top thirty ministers and their councilors in the palace, and a great deal about the Commission of Public Safety, that deep reservoir of career Greys and old-family elites. No one! Not one-

The tape was a curse. He wished he had never made it. Yet he could not bring himself to destroy it-in the right hands, it might be extremely valuable. And in the wrong hands-

It could bring about his execution.

He packed his kit in the small inn room he had occupied for the past three days. He had been waiting for the arrival of a commodities freighter, one of the ten or so ships that arrived on Madder Loss every week, down from the thousands of past decades. He had booked passage the day before and received confirmation.

Planch took a small ground-cab to the spaceport, along the main highway, open to the sky, past the brilliantly sunlit fields and small, shabby, but relatively tidy communities.

He stood in the dusty, trash-littered passenger lobby, his own clothes dusty and unkempt, waiting for the freighter to finish off-loading its cargo. Sunlight fell in dust-marked pillars through the skylights of the long hall leading back to the customs center. He cleaned off a chair with a few swipes of his hand and was about to sit behind a pillar, out of direct view from most angles, when he saw an adolescent boy pedaling a small quadricycle down the hall.

Swinging back and forth from empty gate to empty gate, the boy called out Planchs name in short, sharp barks. Planch was alone at this end of the terminal.

The boy wheeled toward him. There was no avoiding it; he identified himself to the messenger and accepted a metal-and-plastic hyperwave transfer card. It was coded to his personal touch, common enough in the confines of the Empire

But no one was supposed to know Planch was on Madder Loss.

Mors tipped the boy a credit, then hefted the message and considered his options. He looked up again.

The boy on the quadricycle rounded a comer at the beginning of the next terminal wing and vanished. Two men in blue uniforms-Imperial Navy officers-stood in the broad entrance to the wing. Mors frowned. He could not see them clearly at this distance, but their bearing was both assured and mildly arrogant. He had no difficulty imagining the sun-and-spaceship logos on their jackets, the powerful blasters at their hips.

He ran his finger over the playback slot on the card and the message scrolled down in the air before his eyes.



| Foundation and Chaos | MORS PLANCH.