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42.

Lodovik approached the small, thick door in its darkened vestibule. A light flashed on as he touched the door, and a small voice asked for the appropriate code for entry. He spoke the code precisely, and the door opened to let him in.

Within, the library was cast in penumbrous spots of soft golden light. The first room was circular, less than three meters across, with an empty table in the middle. On the table was set a small, angled riser, like a lectern, but obviously meant to hold ancient information devices such as paper books. The table and riser were many thousands of years old, surrounded and protected by a surface-hugging conservation field, not unlike a personal shield.

Lodovik stood before the table and waited for several seconds. A melodious female voice, that of Huy Markin herself, now used by the collections automated server, then asked for a subject or subjects to search for.

Calvin, Susan, he said, and felt a small shiver within at that ancient and powerful name. He did not expect this blunt approach to work, and it did not. The server listed thirty-two entries on various Calvins, two Susans-all mere thousands of years old, and having nothing to do with the mother of robots. There was no record of Calvinians.

Eternals, he suggested, with reference to conspiracies of immortal beings. A few seconds later, the server projected a text manuscript onto the top of the table and the riser, giving the remarkable impression of a real and open book.

Myths of the Eternals, the server said. By a committee of three hundred authors, in ninety-two volumes of text with twenty-nine hours of other documentary media, compiled G.E. 8045-8068. This is the authoritative work on a subject little studied nowadays, and this is the only known copy on Trantor, or indeed on the prime thousand worlds of the Empire.

Lodovik watched a chair rise from the floor, but as he did not need the chair, he told it to retract. He stood before the book and began to absorb the material at high speed.

There was a lot of information that seemed completely useless, probably untrue, legends and fabulous stories compiled over thousands of years. He noted with some interest that in the past few millennia. such legends and even this kind of storytelling seemed to have diminished considerably, and not just on the topics of the Eternals: humans on Trantor and most of the prime worlds had simply lost interest in fabulous tales of any kind, or even in the more spectacular episodes of history.

Humanitys childhood had long since passed. Now, the concerns of the Imperial cultures were strictly practical.

Humor had declined as well; this, he found suggested in an afterword to this set, appended by a scholar less than fifteen hundred years before. Then, suddenly, the recorded image of Huy Markin herself appeared in the small chamber, frozen, with a caption glowing faintly at her feet: Excerpt from spoken lecture. There was no date given.

Retrieve and play, Lodovik instructed.

The image moved and spoke. The decline of humor and comedy in the myths and entertainments of the modern Imperial culture seems inevitable to the sober gentry and Greys of our time. But certain meritocrats feel a peculiar lack in the present panoply of the fantastic arts. All has been subsumed by the immediate and the practical; modern humans of the ruling and imaginative classes dream less and laugh less than ever before in history. This does not hold for the citizens, but their humor, for thousands of years, has remained a raucous collection of generic jokes and tales at the expense of other classes, showing little insight and even less effectiveness as satire. All has been subsumed by the quest for stability and comfort

Lodovik pushed ahead through this rather long lecture until he found the link with the text he was searching, and his subject. Some, Huy Markin said, have laid blame for these intellectual failures on the perfidious influence of brain fever, contracted by nearly all children at an early age, but somehow never more than lightly affecting the sturdy foundations of the citizens. The gentry and meritocrats, however, according to some statisticians, have apparently suffered substantial losses in intellectual capacity. Legends about the misty origins of brain fever abound. The most prominent myth is of an ancient war between the worlds Earth and Solaria. Robots, it is said, carried this disease from world to world. Some of these robots

Lodovik marveled that this analysis had been judged the product of an eccentric by the Universitys finest scholars. Not even Hari Seldon had seen fit to look into the collection-perhaps because of some interdiction by Daneel.

He sped ahead. The most common explanation of brain fever in all these myths is that of human competition for the colonization of the Galaxy. Brain fever may have been a weapon in such a competition. But a persistent alternative explanation points to the Eternals, who fought with the servants of Solaria to prevent a hideous crime, the details of which have since been totally expunged from all known records. The Eternals, it has been said, created brain fever to control the destructive urges of a human race out of control. The Eternals have been described as immortal humans, but have also been described as long-lived robots of extraordinary intelligence

There it was again, Lodovik thought. The attempt by robots to control the destructive tendencies of humans-but what was this great crime?

Was it the same crime hinted at by Daneel, supposedly carried out by those robots who, very early on, disagreed with Daneels plans?

Daneel was quite obviously an Eternal, perhaps the Eternal, the oldest thinking machine in the Galaxy

The oldest and most dedicated puppet master.

Lodovik looked up from the projection he was reading and tried to find the source of this interjection. The words disturbed him; they did not seem to originate in any of the branches of his mentality.

He remembered the faint touches he had felt on the dying ship, the impressions of a ghostly intelligence interested in his plight. Until now, he had dismissed this as an effect of neutrino damage in his mind; but Yan Kansarv had found no detectable damage.

The memory could be replayed quite easily, and analyzed. The label Volarr or Voldarr was attached to these faint traces, these subliminal touches.

But nothing useful could be drawn from these memories.

Lodovik resumed his main search, and scanned the main volumes in less than three hours. He could have searched and absorbed the material much more rapidly, but the library displays had been set for human researchers, not robots.

Robots of human or superior intelligence, every volume and bit of documentation in Markins library suggested, had long since ceased to function, if they had ever existed at all.

Lodovik shut down the projectors and left the library. As he passed through the impressive doorway, the image of Huy Markin appeared.

Youre the first visitor in two decades, the image told him. Please come again!

Lodovik stared at the image as it faded. He stepped out from under the overhang that shielded the doorway and strolled along a mid-class tier of the Agora of Vendors, among the Greys. So many pieces to fit together-in a puzzle thousands of years old, with so many pieces missing or deliberately obscured.

What echoed through Lodoviks positronic brain, cascading into conclusions that reinforced impressions and hypotheses already made, was the effect of Imperial culture (and brain fever?) on human nature. Where once the human race had laughed and reveled in the absurd, in the products of pure imagination, they now earnestly pursued stasis. The leading artists, scientists, engineers, philosophers, and politicians, were eager to confirm the discoveries of the past, not make new ones. And now, few even remembered the past well enough to know what had already been discovered! The past itself was no longer of interest-had not been for centuries, even thousands of years.

The light had gone out. Stability and stasis across millennia had led to stagnation.

Daneel uses his psychohistorian to confirm what he must already know-that the forest is overgrown, filled with rotten wood, desperately in need of a conflagration that he will not allow to happen!

Lodovik paused at a surge of the crowd through the agora, listened to murmurs and shouts. A retinue of Imperial Specials was pushing through the crowd. Lodovik backed away, found an alley of smaller shops. He wanted to avoid making himself conspicuous in any way. He could not know who might be watching-and who might be reporting back to Daneel, human or robot. While he was not yet behaving suspiciously

Just outside the alley, he heard a womans shrill shouts, commands. Dont let it get away!

He paused, turned, and saw two of the Specials turn into the alley, followed by a woman riding a small cart. He felt something brush through him, like a feather, and deduced instantly that the woman was a mentalic.

He knew a little of the mentalics assembled by Hari Seldon to provide a backup and alternative to his First Foundation, but none of them were as strong as this woman-and none of them would have dreamed of pursuing him!

Quite clearly, that was what the woman was doing. She pointed and screeched again. Lodovik knew it would make no difference if he altered his appearance-this woman was fixed on something below the surface.

She recognizes your difference.

Again the voice, the interior presence-producing a cascading conclusion he might not have reached by himself: the woman was feathering the fields associated with his iridium sponge brain!

When pressed, Lodovik could move very rapidly indeed. One moment, the shoppers in the narrow alley of antiques dealers and sellers of trinkets became aware that the Specials were approaching a plump and homely looking man-and the next, he was gone.

Vara Liso stood on her cart, her face flaming with anger and excitement. Hes escaped! she shouted, and she struck at the young police escort with her hand, as if he were a wayward child. You let him escape!

Then, from another alley, more Specials appeared.

The plump man walked quickly ahead of them, herded by the press of a crowd of shoppers, like unwanted fish pulled together in a dragnet. The Greys expressed their anger with shouts and threats of complaining to their class senate.

Lodovik dared not move too quickly among so many people. He might injure a bystander. This he wanted to avoid at all costs-though he realized that if the situation became dangerous enough, he could injure and even kill a Special-or that woman-and not suffer grievous damage to his mind. I am a monster here-a machine without restraints!

Thats him! Vara Liso cried. Hes not human! Capture him-but dont hurt him!

Brann urged the transport into an empty alcove as the police pushed by again, hiding Klia with the bulk of his body. Shes found somebody, he said, glancing over his shoulder. His face twisted with hatred. How could they let her loose? Were citizens, arent we? We have rights! He mumbled these words under his breath; not for some years had anyone from Dahl truly believed all the citizens of Trantor had rights. But the crowds of Greys were becoming uncharacteristically agitated by this going to and fro of Vara Liso and her Imperial Specials. More and more Greys shouted at the passing cordons. The Specials ignored them.

Klia could see their faces as they passed, feel their inner thoughts to some degree: the police liked this work no better than the Greys. They felt out of place; most Specials were recruited from the citizens.

Then her probing mind touched a very peculiar person indeed, some dozens of meters away. Time seemed to slow as she felt a sudden bright impression of thoughts moving at inhuman speed, a silvery glissando of memories, and sensations unlike anything she had experienced before. She let out her breath in a gasp, as if she had been lightly punched in the stomach.

What is it? Brann asked, staring down at her with some concern.

I dont know, she said. He shook his head and frowned.

Neither do I, he said. I feel it, too.

Then, abruptly, all of the odd sensations passed, as if a shield had gone up between them and the source.

Of all things Lodovik needed just then, being detected by another pair of mentalics was not high on his list. He felt a bright triangle forming, with him at one of the vertices, the pursuing woman at another, and two more people-younger-at the third. Then, abruptly, a fog seemed to cover their traces.

He stood very still. The crowds of nervous Greys flowed around him with worried expressions, chivvied by the police presence. He modified his appearance yet again, as he covered his face, and shifted his body mass so that he appeared not so much plump as stocky.

Whatever the cause of this cessation of mentalic probes, he hoped to take advantage of it.

To the humans around him, Lodovik behaved like someone afraid, hiding his face, and few took any more notice of him than that. But one figure drew closer. He wore dusty green robes and a small floppy hat cocked to one side, and he seemed to know what he was doing-and for whom he was looking.

The cordons had passed by and the crowds were thinning, dispersing. Klia and Brann moved their transport back into an alleyway, still alert, but prepared to leave the Agora of Vendors and return to the warehouse.

Brann suddenly drew himself to his full height. Kallusin calls, he said. He pulled a small comm from his pocket. We need to He did not finish before he pulled off his coat and handed control of the transport to Klia.

Kallusin stood before Lodovik. Excuse me, Lodovik said, and pushed past him, but Kallusin stood his ground, and Lodovik bumped him hard, nearly knocking him over.

They stood in the middle of a concourse surrounded by larger shops. Here, there was no open well looking up to the higher levels, but the roof was vaulted to about seven meters, and ribbons of silvery light rippled without visible support overhead, illuminating the shop entrances, slideways, and a group of small fountains in nacreous splendor. Every detail of the faces around Lodovik seemed clear and precise. The man confronting him backed away and bowed slightly, then doffed his hat.

It is a privilege, sir, Kallusin said. We had hoped you were not lost.

I dont know you, Lodovik said brusquely.

Weve never met, Kallusin said with a smile. Im a collector of interesting individuals. You, sir, are in need of some assistance.

Why?

Because there is a very dangerous and perceptive woman seeking you.

I dont know what youre talking about. Please leave me be!

Lodovik tried to walk around the man, but he simply backed away and followed, walking to one side. He deftly avoided colliding with other shoppers.

Seven Specials walked into view at the opposite end of the concourse, blocking the path of Greys who wished to leave by that route. The Greys retreated, frowning and drawing broad gestures of irritation with expressive hands.

Lodovik stopped and stared at the police. The fog seemed to be lifting. He could feel the womans feathering touch again; any second and she would know he was nearby. Then, she appeared on her cart, behind the line of police.

I cant keep up this shield much longer, Kallusin said. He held up a small device in one hand, a green ovoid. Ive summoned a pair of friends who can help

I dont need help! Lodovik growled. I need to get out of here and go home-

They wont let you. And eventually shell find you. Shes backed by Farad Sinter.

Lodovik did not show any sign, but suddenly the man in dusty green, with his hat in hand, became much more interesting. Of course Lodovik knew of Farad Sinter-a minor irritation attached to the Emperor. The Emperors pimp.

You must be Lodovik, Kallusin said, drawing closer, whispering the name. Youve changed your appearance, but I think r d know you anywhere. Can Daneel save you now? Is he somewhere close?

Lodovik reached out and grabbed Kallusins arm, aware that his ignorance was now very dangerous. How this human knew his name, his nature, his connection with Daneel-and his present jeopardy-was inexplicable.

Kallusin twisted his arm from Lodoviks strong, mechanical grasp with surprising ease.

A tall, hulking, dark young man emerged from a broad shop doorway, followed by a small, lithe girl with intense eyes. Behind them, inside the shop itself, stood a floating cargo transport supporting an empty crate open on one side. The shopkeepers seemed to know the large young man, and they were studiously ignoring all that happened.

Lodovik assessed the situation at once, turned, and saw that both ends of the concourse were now blocked by police.

Into the crate, Kallusin said. Shut yourself down completely-no traces. Reactivate in an hour.

Lodovik did not hesitate. He caught only a glimpse of the young womaps frightened expression as he brushed past her, and climbed into the crate. Brann shut the open end and latched it. Lodovik arranged himself in the darkness and prepared to shut down.

He had no choice. Either he would fall into the hands of the Specials-and who knows what would happen to him then?-or give himself up to the mercies of the figure in the floppy green cap-not a human, but almost certainly a robot. He had wrested himself easily from Lodoviks grip, after all, and without apparent pain or injury. His companions were human mentalics. Lodovik could only assume they were part of Daneels plan, perhaps part of Hari Seldons secret Second Foundation.

How could they be otherwise?

Just as the shut-down process began, Lodovik arrived at another possible solution-and felt it hitch, stall, dissolve into useless fragments, become absorbed by the timeless darkness.

He fully entered the blankness and for an indefinite interval, ceased to think, to be.


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