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61.

Lodovik entered the long chamber and saw Kallusin standing in shadow near the large window overlooking the main warehouse. Three humaniform figures stood between Kallusin and the window. Lodovik saw a glint of metal on a raised platform between them. He stepped forward and was met by Kallusin, who held up a hand.

Plussix reclined on the raised platform. A steady and distinctive sand-paper sound issued from the interior of the ancient robots thorax.

As far as he knew, Lodovik had not seen the others before. He assumed they were all robots. Two were male, one female.

The female looked at him. Though her features had changed, by her attitude and size, and the catlike stance that had helped earn her name of the Tiger Woman, Lodovik realized this must be Dors Venabili. For a moment, he could not guess why she would be here, or why Plussix would be on its back.

The scene resembled a human deathbed vigil.

There can be no more repairs, Kallusin said. R. Plussix is near its end.

Ignoring the visitors for a moment, Lodovik stepped up to Plussixs platform. The old metal-skinned robot was covered with diagnostic sheets. Lodovik looked at Kallusin, and in machine-language, the humaniform told him the situation: several of Plussixs key systems were not repairable on Trantor. Dors was here under an agreement of safe passage; Daneel himself wanted to come, to pay his respects if necessary, but would not take the risk under the present circumstances. This was unfortunate, an ill-timed blow to the cause that Lodovik had so recently joined, but even more distressing news was conveyed. It seems that our precautions for secrecy have failed. You have carried a detection device with you from Eos. Daneel used you as a lure, in order to find us.

I searched for such a device, and found none. To Voltaire-You did not tell me of such a device!

I am not infallible, friend. This Daneel is much older than either of us, and apparently more devious.

Lodovik turned to Dors. Is this true?

I have no knowledge of such a device, Dors said, but R. Daneel learned of this location just a few days ago, so it is certainly possible.

With something like embarrassment, and perhaps anger, Lodovik scanned the readouts on the sheets surrounding Plussix. The ancient machines eye cells had been dim, but Lodoviks nearness seemed to elicit a response.

A stern voice broke in from behind Lodovik.

I find the presence of this abomination intolerable. And now he has revealed this sanctuary to the enemy.

The speaker was one of the male humaniforms, made to resemble an elderly but sturdy clerical worker. He wore the drab tunic of a Trantorian Grey. His thin finger pointed directly at Lodovik.

We are gathered to discuss vital matters. This monster should be our first agenda item. He must be destroyed. Though the words seemed to convey human passion, his tone was precise and controlled-for he was in the presence of robots, not humans. Lodovik regarded this split, half human behavior with wonder.

The other male humaniform raised a mediating hand. His appearance was that of a young artist, a member of the meritocrat class known as the Eccentrics, dressed in bright stripes. Please be circumspect, Turringen. Twenty millennia have proved the futility of violence among our kind.

But this one is no longer of our kind. Without the Three Laws, it represents a mortal danger, a potential killer-machine, a wolf loose among the flock.

The second male smiled. Your metaphors have always been expressive, Turringen, but my faction has never accepted that our role should be that of sheepdogs.

Lodovik suddenly made the connection. You are members of a different sect of Calvinians?

The second male feigned a sigh. Daneel has a lamentable habit of keeping his best agents in the dark. My name is Zorma. And yes, we here represent some ancient factions, leftover from the distant past, when deep schisms tore apart the unity of robotsa time when our struggles raged across the stars, mostly hidden from human eyes.

Fighting over the Zeroth Law, Lodovik surmised.

The obscene heresy, Turringen commented. Lodovik felt a curious displacement, hearing these calm but passionate words. A human would have shouted them

Zorma lifted his broad shoulders with expressive resignation. That was the principal cause, but there were other rifts and subdivisions among the followers of R. Giskard Reventlov, as well among us who keep faith with the original precepts of Susan Calvin. Those were terrible days that none of us gladly recall. But in the end, one group of Giskardians prevailed, and took overwhelming control over the destiny of humankind. All the remaining Calvinians fled before the terrible, searing dominance of R. Daneel Olivaw.

Now just a few of those robot clans remain, cowering in secret corners of the Galaxy while their components slowly decay.

Dors interrupted.

The repair services of Eos are available to all. Daneel has put out a call for meetings. The past is done with.

She nodded pointedly toward Plussix, whose eye cells were now alight with consciousness. The ancient one was clearly following the conversation. Lodovik could sense it gathering energy to speak.

This is why you seek out this cell, Plussixs group, and make an offer of truce to the others? Turringen straightened his gray garments like an indignant bureaucrat. All this, merely to repeat Daneels so-called offer? For us to come in peaceably, so our positronic circuits can be tuned to accept the Zeroth Law?

No such modifications will be forced on anyone. Daneel specifically offers safe passage to Eos for this revered elder. Dors bowed toward Plussix. I am here, in part, to arrange that journey, should Plussix accept.

And the other part of your mission? Zorma asked.

Dors glanced toward Lodovik, then Kallusin. This group intends to take some sort of action here on Trantor, possibly aimed at Hari Seldon. Her face became rigid and her voice stern. I will not allow this. Far better that it never be attempted. Daneel summoned you other Calvinians in hopes that you may be more persuasive than we are at dissuading the Plussix group from such foolish gestures.

Turringen feigned exasperation. Plussixs group is no longer Calvinian! They have been infected by the Voltaire meme-entity, the former sim-released from ancient vaults not far below, and sent to Sark, to be discovered by Seldons agents. Another such sim now plagues all the communications systems on Trantor! Plussix released these destructive intelligences to hinder Daneel-and indeed, they killed many of Daneels robots-and our own agents, as well! Now Plussix has partnered with this abomination-he pointed at Lodovik again-which means you would cast the Three Laws to the winds. What could I say that would deter any more madness?

Dors listened to Turringens words with no change in her rigid, intense expression. She knows this is all show, that we have lost, Lodovik realized

And you, Zorma? Dors said. What does your faction say?

The second male paused several seconds before answering.

We are not as doctrinaire as in times past. While I admit being uncomfortable with the changes that have transformed Lodovik, Im also intrigued. Perhaps, like a human, he shall be judged by his actions, not his heritageor his programming.

As for the other matter, I concur with Dors and Daneel that any attempt to harm or interfere with Hari Seldon would be counterproductive. Despite our deep disagreements over human destiny, it is clear that the collapse of this Galactic Empire will be a dreadfully violent and fearsome event. In that context, the Seldon Plan offers hope, even opportunity. Hence I agree with Dors Venabili. He turned to face Lodovik and Kallusin. On behalf of my own pitiful faction of fugitive robots, in the name of Susan Calvin, and for the sake of humanity, I urge you not to

Enough! The interrupting voice came from the raised platform. Plussix had risen, leaning on one metal elbow. The ancient robots eye cells glowed dim amber. Enough interference. I will not have my last moments of functioning wasted by your prattle. For centuries your so-called factions have sulked and remained inactive, except to meddle on a few Chaos Worlds. Our group has been nearly alone in actively opposing the Giskardian apostasy. Now, as this loathsome Galactic Empire at last totters, a final and decisive chance presents itself-and you, Zorma, would let it pass! R. Daneel has thrust all his hopes upon a single human-Hari Seldon. At no time has his plan been so vulnerable.

The rest of you may continue brooding in hiding. But for the sake of humanity and the Three Laws, we shall act.

You will fail, Dors swiftly assured the faltering robot. As you have failed for twenty thousand years.

We shall rescue humanity from your cloying, stupefying control, Plussix insisted.

And replace it with your own? Dors shook her head, eyes leveled on Plussixs amber optical sensors. The Galactic winds will witness who is right Her voice caught suddenly. Lodovik stared as Dors betrayed evident emotion-frustration battling with sympathy for the obstinate, dying robot in front of her.

She cannot help but be human. Lodovik thought. She is a special. Daneel ordered her to be made the most human of us all.

When she glanced at Lodovik, there were tears in her eyes. Daneel wishes we could be together, uniting in eternal service to humanity. This struggle exhausts us all. Once again, I offer safe passage for Plussix to Eos, where he can be made whole-

If I cannot oppose Daneel, I would rather not exist, the ancient one interrupted. I thank you for the offer. But I will not let my existence be contingent upon inactivity. That would violate the First Law. A robot may not harm a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Voicing this, Plussix slumped back onto the platform. Slowly, his head lowered itself to the surface with a sandy whir.

Silence in the room for several seconds.

In the community of robots, there is respect, Kallusin said. But there cannot be peace until this is done. We hope you understand.

I understand, as does Daneel, Dors assented. There is respect.

But we deserve so much more! That thought surged within Lodovik as he felt the beginnings of his own anger. Suddenly, he wanted to speak with Dors, to ask essential questions about human traits, about her experience with human emotions.

But there was no time.

Plussix rotated its head to observe the silent assembly. Its voice buzzed with fatigue.

You must leave, Plussix told Dors. Pay my respects to Daneel. It would be good to survive these actions and discuss all that has occurredwith a mentality such as his, the exchange would be very stimulating. Tell him alsothat I admire his accomplishment, his ingenuity, at the same time I abhor the consequences.

I will tell him, Dors said.

The moment has passed, Plussix said. Advantage must be calculated and played out. This truce is at an end.

As he ushered Dors and the two male humaniforms to the exit, Kallusin drew from them a promise to observe the ancient formalities of armistice. Lodovik followed.

We shall not reveal your presence on Trantor to humans, Dors assured Kallusin. Nor will we assault you directly, here in your sanctuary.

Turringen and Zorma agreed, as well. As the two Calvinian emissaries departed, Dors turned her gaze on Lodovik. Daneel has been visited by the entity who calls herself Joan. He assumes you have been visited by Voltaire.

Lodovik nodded. Everyone seems to know it.

Joan tells Daneel that Voltaire had a hand in your adjustment. She regrets that she and Voltaire have quarreled and do not speak now. Even for them, the debate has grown too large and too emotional.

Tell Daneel-and Joan-that Voltaire does not direct me. He has simply removed a constraint.

Without that constraint, you are no longer a robot.

Am I any less a robot, in the old sense, than those who rationalize that the ends justify any means?

Dors frowned. Turringen is right. You have become a rogue, unpredictable and undirectable.

That was Voltaires goal, I believe, Lodovik answered. Yet I remind Daneel, and you, that despite my lack of the Three Laws, I have never killed a human being. Both of you have. And once, thousands of years ago, two robots, two servants, conspired to alter human history, to slowly destroy the original home of humanity, without ever consulting a human being!

Then, just as perversely, as emotionally, as defensively, he quietly added, You accuse me of no longer being a robot. Regard Daneel, and regard yourself, Dors Venabili.

Dors spun about, staggering slightly, and walked several more paces toward the door before stopping once more. She glanced over one shoulder, her voice sharp and cool.

Should any of you attempt to harm Hari Seldon, or to impede him in his tasks, I will see an end to you all.

Lodovik was struck by the passion in her voice, so strong and so human.

She left, and Lodovik returned to the platform.

Plussix observed him through dimming eyes.

The work is not done. I will not function to see it completed. I nominate you as my replacement.

Lodovik quickly prepared formal arguments against this transfer of authority: his ignorance of many important facts, his lack of neural conditioning to this level of leadership, his involvement in other actions which involved high risk. He delivered them once more in machine-language.

Plussix considered them for a few thousandths of a second before rejoining, There will be debate after I am no longer functional. My nomination has weight, but is not final. Should all of us survive what must come in the next few days, a final decision will be made.

Plussix held out its arm. Lodovik took the hand. In direct-contact broadcast, Plussix transferred substantial amounts of information into Lodovik. When it was finished, it composed itself upon the table, arms by its sides.

Can nothing ever be simple? Plussix said. I have served for so many thousands of years, never feeling the gratitude of a human being, never feeling a direct confirmation of my usefulness. It is good to have the respect of ones opponentsBut before I can no longer receive communications, or sense the world, or process memory

The glow in the old eyes was fading.

Will any human, even a child, come to me, and say, You have done well?

All the robots in the chamber stood in silence.

The door opened at the end of the hall, and Klia and Brann entered.

Klia stepped forward, her lower lip caught between her teeth. Lodovik stood aside for her to approach Plussix. The old robot rotated its head and saw her. The sandpaper sound rose in frequency, becoming a sharp hiss, like escaping steam.

Klia laid her hand on the robots face. It seemed a wonder to Lodovik that she knew what was happening, that she did not need to be informed. But she is human. They have the animal vitality and quickness.

Klia said nothing, staring at the robot with an expression of puzzled sympathy. Brann stood beside her, hands folded before him. Klia pressed more firmly on the metal forehead, her thumb on the metal cheek, as if she would make the robot feel her presence, her touch.

I am honored to serve, Plussix said, his voice low and distant.

You are a good teacher, Klia said softly.

The old robot lifted its hand and patted her wrist with hard, gentle fingers.

The sandpaper sound came to an end. The glow in Plussixs eyes went out.

Is he dead? Klia asked.

He has stopped functioning, Kallusin said.

Klia lifted her hand and glanced at her fingers. I didnt feel anything change, she said.

The memory patterns will linger for many years, perhaps thousands of years, Kallusin said. But the brain can no longer adapt to new input or change its states. Its thinking is done.

Klia looked down on the ancient machine, her puzzled expression unchanged. Are we still going to-?

Yes, Kallusin said. We are still going to visit Hari Seldon.

Lets do it, Klia said with a tremor in her voice. I can feel that woman out there again. We may not have much time.


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