Mors Planch was summoned from his well-appointed cell, not far from the private office of Farad Sinter. The guard who came to fetch him was of pure citizen stock, strong and unquestioning and taciturn.
“How is Farad Sinter today?” Planch asked.
“And you? You feel well?” Planch lifted an inquiring and sympathetic eyebrow.
“I am feeling a little uneasy myself. You see, this Sinter is every bit as terrible a human being as-”
A warning frown.
“Yes, but unlike you, I want to incur his wrath. He will kill me sooner or later, or what he has done will lead to my death-I don’t doubt that at all. He smells of death and corruption. He represents the worst the Empire can summon these days-”
The guard shook his head in remonstration and stepped around to open the door to the new Chief Commissioner of the Commission of General Security. Mors Planch closed his eyes, sucked in a deep breath, and entered.
“Welcome,” Sinter said. He stood in his new robes, even more grand (and much gaudier) than those of Linge Chen. His tailor, a small Lavrentian with a worried face, probably new to the palace, stood back and folded his hands as this new master enjoyed the unfinished work, and delayed its completion. “Mors Planch, I’m sure you will be delighted to know we have captured a robot. Vara Liso actually found it, and it did not escape.”
The small, intense, and thoroughly discomfiting woman had almost managed to hide behind Sinter, but now she bowed and acknowledged this praise. She did not look happy, however.
Sky, she’s ugly, Planch thought, and at the same time felt pity for her. Then she looked directly at him, narrowed one eye, and the pity froze in his veins.
“There may be robots everywhere, as I suspected, theorized, and as you discovered, Mors.” Sinter submitted to the tailor once more, lowering his arms and holding still. “Tell our witness about your find, Vara.”
“It was an old robot,” Liso said breathlessly. “A humaniform, in terrible condition, haunting the dark places of the municipalities, a pitiful thing-”
“But a robot,” Sinter said, “the first found in any kind of working order in thousands of years. Imagine! Surviving like a rodent all these centuries.”
“Its mind is weak,” Liso commented softly. “Its energy reserves are very low. It will not last much longer.”
“We shall take it before the Emperor this evening, then, tomorrow, I shall demand that my interview with Hari Seldon be moved forward. My sources tell me Chen is ready to give in and strike a deal with Seldon-the coward! The traitor! This evidence, along with your tape, should convince the worst skeptic. Linge Chen had hoped to destroy me. Soon I shall have more power than all the Commission of Public Safety’s stuffy barons combined-and just in time to save us all from servitude to these machines.”
Planch stood with hands folded before him, head lowered, and said nothing.
Sinter glared at him. “You’re not happy at this news? You should be delighted. It means you’ll have an official pardon for your transgressions. You have proved invaluable.”
“But we have not found Lodovik Trema,” Liso whispered, barely audible.
“Give us time!” Sinter crowed. “We’ll find all of them. Now-let’s bring in the machine!”
“You should not drain its energies,” Liso said, almost as if she felt pity for it.
“It’s lasted thousands of years,” Sinter said lightly, unperturbed. “It will last a few weeks more, and that’s all I need.”
Planch stiffened and stood to one side as the broad door opened again. Another guard entered, followed by four more, surrounding a shabbily dressed figure about Planch’s height, slim but not thin, hair ragged and face stained with dirt. Its eyes seemed flat, listless. The guards carried high-powered stun weapons, easily capable of shorting out the robot and frying its internal works.
“A female,” Sinter said, “as you see. How interesting-female robots! And fully capable sexually, I understand-examined by one of our physicians. Makes me wonder if in the past humans actually made robots to bear children! What would the children be like, us-or them? Biological, or mechanical? Not this one, however. Nothing besides the cosmetic and pneumatic-not fully practical.”
The feminine robot stood alone and silent as the guards withdrew, weapons held ready.
“If only the recent attempt on the Emperor’s life had been made by a robot,” Sinter said, then added unctuously, “Sky forbid!”
Planch narrowed his eyes. The man’s political savvy was weakening with every moment of perceived glory.
Vara Liso approached the robot with a worried expression. “This one is so like a human,” she muttered. “Even now it’s difficult to pick her out from, say, you, or you, Farad.” She pointed at Planch and then at Sinter. “She has humanlike thoughts, even humanlike concerns. I felt something similar in the robot we could not capture-”
“The one that got away.” Sinter smiled broadly.
“Yes. He seemed almost human-maybe even more human than this one.”
“Well, let us not forget they are none of them human,” Sinter said. “What you feel is the creative drollery of engineers thousands of years dead.”
“The one we could not capture…” She looked directly at Mors Planch and once again he suppressed a shiver. “He was bulkier, not very good-looking, with a distinct character to his face. I would have thought he was human…but for this flavor to his thoughts. He was about the same size and shape as the shorter, bulkier robot on your tape.”
“See? We almost had him,” Sinter said. “Just that close.” He pinched his fingers together. “And we’ll have him yet. Lodovik Trema and all the others. Even the tall one whose name we do not know…” Sinter approached the feminine robot. It wobbled slightly on its mechanical ankles, but there came no mechanical sound from its frame.
“Do you know the name of the one I am looking for?” Sinter asked. The robot turned to face him. Its voice emerged from parted jaws and writhing lips, a harsh croak. It spoke an old dialect of Galactic Standard, not heard on Trantor for thousands of years, except by scholars, just barely understandable.
“I ammm the lasssst,” the robot said. “Abandonn-n-ned. Not funnn-n-nctional.”
“I wonder,” Sinter said. “Did you ever meet Hari Seldon? Or Dors Venabili, Seldon’s Tiger?”
“I do not knn-n-now those names.”
“Just a hunch…Unless there are billions of robots here, something even I give no credence to…You must make contact with each other now and then. Must know each other.”
“I do not knn-n-n-now these things.”
“Pitiful,” Sinter said. “What do you think, Planch? Surely you’ve heard of Seldon’s superhuman companion, the Tiger. Do you think we’re looking at her now?”
Planch examined the robot more closely. “If she was a robot, and if she’s still on Trantor, or still functional, why would she allow herself to be captured?”
“Because she’s a broken-down bucket of oxidation and decay! “ Sinter shouted, waving his hands and glaring at Planch. “A wreck. Garbage, to be discarded. But worth more to us than any treasure on Trantor.”
He circled the robot, which seemed disinclined to watch his motions.
“I wonder what we can do to access its memories,” Sinter murmured. “And what we’ll learn when we do.”