If the cry of a child could have been made of knives, it could not have cut Klia any more deeply than the mentalic shock wave surrounding Vara Liso.
Disappointment, grief, anger, an intense sense of misplaced justice, images of people long dead-parents, young friends, who had disappointed this small woman with the knotted face and crab-curled fists-batted against Klia, fragments of ruin in a flood of pain.
The walls and pillars and panes of the Hall of Dispensation felt nothing. Vara Liso’s output was tuned to a purely human channel, to the roots of mind in matter. Because she had not focused her talents completely on him, Lodovik felt merely a buzzing and a pressure not dissimilar to the neutrino flux he had encountered between the stars.
He did, however, sense what Daneel saw very clearly-the disintegration of the entity who had spoken in him and through him. Voltaire stood in simple nakedness before this flux, this human tempest, and broke apart like a child’s puzzle.
For a moment, Klia’s sympathetic response nearly allowed her to die, to both drown and be burned by the outpouring. She felt the echoes of her own life, her own experiences, mesh with those of Vara Liso.
There were differences, however, and they were her salvation. She saw the strength of her own will, opposed to the vacillation and indecision of Vara Liso. She saw the not-always-apparent strength of her father and, earlier, before memory began clearly, her mother, faced with a willful child, giving her enough leeway to be what she must be, however much it might discomfit or even hurt them.
She was on the point of fighting back when the most dangerous similarity of all caught her unprepared.
Vara Liso cried out for freedom.
Her voice rose in a shriek to the highest reaches of the hall and echoed back: “Let us be what we must be! No robots, no killing metal hands, no conspiracies and shackles!”
Klia felt something smoking, crisping, in her thoughts, It was her sense of self. She would willingly sacrifice all before this urgent scream of pain-had felt it herself, though never so clearly and powerfully expressed. She recognized insanity buried within it, the insanity of a powerful and even self. destructive immune response-
as did Daneel, trying to recover and get to his feet, a few dozen meters away.
—A rejection of twenty thousand years of benevolence and guidance, of patient and secret servitude.
The cry of a child never allowed to mature, to feel its own pain and draw its own conclusions on life and death.
Klia closed her eyes and crawled along the floor, trying to find Brann. She could neither see nor sense him. She dared not open her eyes, or she would be blinded, she was sure. Vara Lisa could not broadcast with such intensity for so long, and indeed the undirected flood was narrowing, finding a channel. It was concentrating, and even though it suddenly diminished by half, what Vara Lisa was throwing directly at Klia doubled in strength.
Hari stood somehow on quivering legs and saw but did not quite comprehend these human forms, the small thin woman walking forward step by staggered step, features distorted as if seen through a broken lens, two others crawling along the floor, one a burly Dahlite male and the other a slender and not unattractive young woman, also dark.
He did not see the tall humanlike figure on the east side of the hall.
His mind filled with the waters of his own despair.
He had been in error. It had all been for nothing, worse than nothing.
Hari Seldon suddenly wanted to die, to be done with the pain and the realization of his failure.
But there was that woman who had tried to tackle Vara Liso, who he was sure was Dors Venabili.
Vara Liso was killing Klia Asgar and Brann. This much was clear to Lodovik. The buzz had diminished, but as he stepped toward the knotted and distorted woman, it increased again.
Lodovik paid little attention to Daneel, or to Hari Seldon, or to Dors; both seemed out of the immediate focus of Liso’s lethal projections. The knotted woman was clearly going to scramble all the essential patterns of Klia and Brann, then turn on the others.
Voltaire was no longer in place to advise.
Lodovik stepped toward the woman, now twisted and gnarled like an ancient willow.
Klia lifted her head, opened her eyes, prepared to be blinded, and saw down a short brilliant funnel of hatred to the eyes, all that were left of Vara Liso-a pair of desperate and hate-filled eyes.
Brann will die, too.
Never had she used her abilities to harm. Even making Lodovik dance had injured her sense of propriety and justice; she had never really believed she could do anything to Hari Seldon. She would think of her father, whom she had once made wet his pants…and the effort would collapse.
Brann will die along with you, then they will all die, and she will be destroyed as well. Useless.
She reached out for Brann. Alone she could do nothing against such naked and monstrous strength.
Brann was a filament of clean light in the torrent of flaming hatred. She tugged at him, as if she would wake him up.
Brann said yes, and they joined. She had almost felt this
happen during their physical joining, but had pulled back, still wishing to preserve her own self as a lone and defiant place.
Lodovik reached out with both hands, saw Vara Liso’s shoulders twitch in awareness of his presence. She swiveled her head suddenly, tears flying from her eyes.
Lodovik was willing to hurt her, kill her if need be, if she did not stop. This was what humans had done to each other throughout their history, and it hurt him that he had such freedom as well: freedom to harm and to kill. But he was under no misapprehension that he was no better than this gnarled and hideous female. Quite clearly she was evil; she was antihuman.
He made his judgment, his decision.
He could feel a rumbling tidal wash coming. He grasped her shoulder and neck, and, with a sudden twist of his arms
Broke the woman’s neck like a matchstick.
Poor small Vara Liso. At the age of five years, her mother had beaten her severely, venting anger against her father, who had not been in the small and immaculately clean apartment; her mother had held her down with a variety of persuasion that came only when she was enraged.
She had beaten young Vara with a long, flexible plastic pole, until little welts rose on her bottom and along her back.
And so there had come the day when she had caused her mother to die, a memory she sometimes grasped hard for strength. And she had taken her mother, perhaps just a memory but perhaps not, inside, to compensate. Held her in a little diamond cage in her dreams.
Bringing out her mother for extra strength did not help. Actually, it weakened her, because it made her a child again, even more than she had been before.
She had never been an adult, not really.
The combined ribbon of light and wave of terrified heat that caught her and shivered her (burning without flame: sinter), the hand on her neck twisting
was incredibly painful
and very welcome
and broke open all of her own cages
so that she was, for a second, calm
Klia felt the last gust of Vara Liso and it whispered free then was silent.
Lodovik knelt beside the body and saw that it was very tiny and when he picked it up, it was very light as well. So much trouble from so little mass-a human wonder.
Then he began to cry.
Dors had recovered enough to stand. She observed the men and the woman within the hall, and the dead thing in the arms of the robot Lodovik, and she started toward Hari, who seemed dazed and confused, though still alive. It was only natural for her to go to him.
Daneel was suddenly at her side and took her by the arm.
“He needs help,” Dors said, prepared to wrench her arm free from the grasp of her own master.
“There is nothing you can do,” Daneel said. By now, security in the Courts and Hall of Dispensation would be aware of the breach; they would soon be surrounded by heavily armed guards and no doubt even Imperial Specials.
He could not see any way of escaping. Nor could he predict what would happen next. Perhaps it did not matter.
It was very possible he had been completely in error in all of his actions, for over twenty thousand years.