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Major Namm held the neural whip in an unsteady hand. Sweat streaked his face. He stumbled slightly as he tried to turn away from the diminutive woman in her special emerald green gown. Vara Liso wore a quizzical expression, eyes turned up, as if she did not really need to look at the major to control him.

She seemed to be inspecting the ceiling over his head.

The major whimpered, and the whip fell from his hand.

She was so tired. She walked around the major. She would need something sweet to drink very soon, and something to eat, but first she had to go through the door and see Farad Sinter, make her final report to the man she had hoped someday to marry. Foolish dreams, absurd hopes.

Vara Liso entered the anteroom of Sinters new office and saw the new furnishings, the banks of special Imperial-grade informers that would have hooked him directly to the orbiting receivers and processors. This would have been his command center. Sinter. She smiled crookedly. Heating without melting, dry at the center, a pile of sand, no man, no success, no fault, she had thrown the wands in the ancient game of Bioka, always resorted to when she was at her wits end, and the wands said no fault, correction in order, all is not right at the Sinter.

Beyond the immense bronze doors she could hear shouting and even wailing. She leaned her shoulder against the door. Nothing. Then she turned her full attention to the major, bade him come forward and give his code to the door. He got off his knees, face contorted and dripping sweat. He punched in the code and applied his palm.

The door swung open, and the major fell back. Vara Liso entered the office.

Farad stood there in full ceremonial outfit, conferring with two advisors and an advocate; no matter, his Commission was at an end. He saw her and frowned. I need to get things in order-Vara, please leave.

Vara spotted a tray full of delicate sweets on the expansive desk, beside the most powerful informer/processor she had ever beheld, perhaps able to distill information from ten thousand systems. It was not functioning now. Access to the Empire denied. Power gone. She lifted a handful of the sweets and chewed on them.

Sinter stared at her. Please, he said softly. He sensed her distress but could not know its cause. Theyre melting down our robot. Seldon is being released. Im trying to reach the Emperor now. This is very important.

Nobody will see us, she said, her finger stirring the candies in the tray.

It isnt that bad, Sinter insisted, his face pale. How did you get in? The major-her major-had been released by Prothon to inform Sinter of the situation. He had then been posted in the anteroom to keep her out. So much was obvious without even tasting their thoughts.

She had never been able to read thoughts directly; at best she could taste emotions, pick up flashes of vision, sound, but never detail. Humans were not alike, deep inside. Minds developed differently.

Vara knew that all humans were aliens to each other, but her own alienation was of a different order.

Miss Liso, you need to leave now, the advocate said, and walked toward her. Ill contact you later about representation in the Imperial courts-

He stumbled and his face turned up and he started to stutter and drool. Farad looked on him with dawning alarm. Vara, are you doing that? he demanded.

She let the advocate go. You lied, she said to Sinter.

What are you talking about?

Ill get Seldon myself, she said. You stay here, and well leave together.

No! Sinter cried. Stop this stupidity! We have to-

For a moment, Vara Liso went blank. The room turned black and swam, then seemed to flash into existence again. Sinter clutched his desk and stared at her with very round eyes. He looked down at his chest, at his knees twitching, legs folding beneath him. Then he looked up at her again. His advisors had already fallen to their knees, arms straight by their sides, fists clenched. They keeled over in opposite directions, and one hit his head on the edge of the desk.

Farads heart slowed. Vara did not know if she was doing this thing or not. She did not believe she was so strong, had never done such a thing before, but no matter.

She turned away from the man she would have married, in all her best dreams and hopes, and said, Now I am undeniably a monster. The word sounded delicious, free, very final.

She left the office and walked with a lovely lightness through the anteroom past the major, still gasping, then paused-but only for an instant-and grimaced.

Farad was dying. She could feel the emptiness and silence in his chest. She touched her cheek.

Now he was dead.

She picked up the majors neural whip and continued on.

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