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90.

Hari relaxed in his most comfortable chair in the small study. He was becoming used to this new existence, this realization of failure. He was glad for the visits of his granddaughter and her husband, but not for their wheedling attempts to get me back on track, as he described it.

Perhaps the most irritating thing about his new mental state was its unreliability, the interruption of mental peace by his continuing useless revision of certain minor elements in the equations of the Plan.

Something itched at the back of his mind, a realization that not all was lost-but it refused to come forward, and even worse, threatened to give him that which he least desired right now: hope.

The original first date for his recordings of the Seldon crisis announcements had passed. The studio where his voice and image would have been permanently stored in billennial vault memory was still availableTimes had been reserved at regular intervals throughout the next year and a half.

But if he kept missing recording dates. the opportunity would soon pass, and he could finally stop feeling the least shred of guilt.

Hari simply wanted to live his last few years-or however long he had-as a nonentity, unimportant, forgotten.

Being forgotten would not take long. Trantor would manufacture other interests in a few days. Memory of the trial of the year would fade

I dont want to meet him, Klia said to Daneel. They stood in the waiting room of Seldons apartment block. Neither does Brann.

Brann seemed unwilling to be caught up in a debate. He crossed his thick arms in front of him and looked for all the world like a genie in a childs story.

Plussix wanted me to change his mind Klia said. Dors shot Klia a surprisingly angry look, and Klia turned away. Shes a robot-I know shes a robot! How can she care what we do, what happens? I wouldnt have, she stammered. I couldnt have, but that was what they wanted me to do. Lodovik-Kallusin- She took a deep breath. I am so embarrassed.

We have discussed this, Daneel said. Our decision has been made.

Her mind itched. She felt genuinely uncomfortable around the robots. I just want to go somewhere safe with Brann and be left alone, Klia said softly, and she turned away from Dors accusing stare.

It is necessary for Hari Seldon to meet you face-to-face, Daneel said patiently.

I dont understand why.

That may be so, but it is necessary. He held his hand out, directing them toward the lift. A measure of freedom will follow for all of us, then.

Klia shook her head in disbelief, but did as she was told, and Brann, holding his opinions to himself for now, followed.

Hari came out of a light doze and wandered groggily toward the door, half expecting to see Wanda and Stettin back for another pep talk. The door display allowed him to observe the group of figures standing in the hall vestibule: a tall, handsome man of middle years, whom he almost immediately recognized as Daneel; a burly Dahlite male and slender, intense-looking young woman; and another woman

Hari backed away from the door display and closed his eyes. It was not over. He would never be his own man; history had him too firmly in its grip.

No dream, he said to himself, only a nightmare, but he felt a small surge both of anticipation and irritation. He told himself he really did not want to see anybody, but the gooseflesh on his arms betrayed him.

He let the door slide open.

Come in, he said, raising his eyebrows at Daneel. You might as well be a dream. I know Im going to forget this meeting as soon as you all leave. Daneel returned Haris expression with a nod, businesslike as usual. He would make a terrific trader in the big Galactic combines, Hari thought. Why do I feel affection for this machine? Sky knows-! But its true-I am glad to see him.

You may remember now, Daneel said. And Hari did remember all that had happened in the Hall of Dispensation. Vara Lisos death at the hands of Lodovik TremaAnd this young girl and her large friend.

And the female who might have been-must have been!-Dors.

He met the girls brief glance and nodded to her. He hardly dared glance at the other woman.

They wanted me to discourage you, Klia said in a small voice, staring around the front room with its small pieces of furniture, its stacks of bookfilms, the Minor Radiant-a miniature and less powerful version of Yugo Amaryls Prime Radiant-and his portraits of Dors and Raych and the grandchildren. Despite herself, she was impressed by the sense of order, the simplicity, the monkish austerity. There wasnt time-and I couldnt have, anyway, she concluded.

I dont know the details, but I thank you for your restraint, Hari said. It seems not to have been necessary, perhaps. He braced himself, swallowed, and half turned toward the other woman. Weve methere before, I think, he said, and swallowed again. Then he turned to Daneel. I must know. I must not be made to forget! You assigned me my love, my companion-Daneel, as my friend, as my mentor, is this Dors Venabili?

I am, Dors said, and stepping forward, she took Haris hand in hers, squeezing it ever so gently, as had been her habit years ago.

She hasnt forgotten! Hari held his free hand up to the ceiling, forming a fist, and his eyes filled with tears. He shook his fist at the ceiling as Brann and Klia watched in embarrassment, seeing such an old man exhibit his emotions so openly.

Even Hari did not quite understand what his emotions were-rage, joy, frustration? He lowered his arm and in one motion reached out to embrace Dors, their hands still awkwardly clasped between them. Secret steel, gripping him so gently. No dream, he murmured into her shoulder, and Dors held him, feeling his aging body, so different from the mature Hari. She looked at Daneel then, and her eyes were filled with resentment, her own anger, for Hari was in pain, their presence was causing him pain, and she had been programmed above all other imperatives to prevent harm and pain coming to Hari Seldon.

Daneel did not turn away from her stare. He had endured worse conflicts with his robotic conscience, though this was near the top of any list.

But they were so close-and he would make it up to Hari.

I have brought Klia here to show you the future, Daneel said. Klia sucked in her breath and shook her head, not understanding.

Hari let go of Dors and drew himself up, his formerly stooped posture straightening. He gained fully three centimeters in height.

What can this young woman tell me? he said. He gestured to the furniture. I forget my manners, he said stiffly. Please, make yourselves comfortable. Robots need not sit if they do not wish to.

I would love to sit here again, and relax with you, Dors said, and lowered herself to the small chair beside him. So many intense memories from this place. I have missed you so! She could not take her eyes off him.

Hari smiled down on her. The worst part is, I was never able to thank you. You gave me so much, and I was never able to say farewell. His hand patted her shoulder. No gesture, no words, seemed adequate to this occasion. But then, had you beenorganic, I would not have you back with me now, would I? However transitory the experience may be.

Suddenly, the deep anger built up for decades came to a head and Hari turned on Daneel, pointed a finger into his chest. Get this done with! Be done with me! Do your work and make me forget, and leave me in peace! Do not torment me with your false flesh and steel bones and immortal thoughts! I am mortal, Daneel. I dont have your strength or your vision!

You see farther than any other in this room, Daneel said.

No more! My seeing is over. I was wrong. Im as blind as any of the quadrillion little points in the equations!

Klia backed away as far as she could from this old man with his deep, sharp eyes. Brann stood staring straight ahead, embarrassed, out of his class, out of his place. Klia reached for his hand and hugged his arm, to reassure him. Together they stood among the robots and the famous meritocrat, and Klia defied anyone to think them the least of those present.

You were not wrong, Daneel said. There is a balance. The Plan is made stronger, but it must take some devious routes. I think you will show us how, a few minutes from now.

You overestimate me, Daneel. This young woman-and her companion-and Vara Liso, represent a powerful force I cant fold into the equations. This upwelling of biology

How do you differ from Vara Liso? Daneel asked Klia.

Branns nostrils flared and his face darkened. Ill answer that, he said. Theyre as different as night from day. There isnt a hateful bone in Klias body-

I wouldnt go that far, Klia said, but she was proud of his defense.

I mean it. Vara Liso was a monster! Brann straightened his neck and thrust out his jaw belligerently, as if daring Daneel to contradict him.

Are you a monster, Klia Asgar? Hari asked, focusing on her with those deep and discerning eyes.

She did not turn away. Hari Seldon clearly did not think she was his inferior. There was something beyond respect in his gaze-there was a kind of intellectual terror.

Im different, she said.

Hari smiled wolfishly and shook his head in admiring wonder. Yes, indeed, you are that. I think Daneel will agree with me that we are done with robots for now, and you are proof of that?

Im very uncomfortable around these robots, Klia confirmed.

Yet you worked with some-did you not? With Lodovik Trema? Hari turned to Daneel. These suppositions and theories had been perking in his head, subconsciously, for days since the incident in the Hall of Dispensation. Daneel could stop the conscious access of memory, but he could not halt all the deep workings of Haris mind. He was a robot, wasnt he-Daneel?

Yes, Daneel said.

One of yours?

Yes.

But-something went wrong.

Yes.

He turned against you. Is he still against you?

I am learning, Hari. He has taught me much. Now it is time for you to teach meonce more. Show me what must be done. Daneel faced Hari.

What happened to Lodovik in space? Hari asked. Daneel explained. then, told Hari all that had happened with the Calvinians, including the end of Plussix and the knowledge of Linge Chen.

No more secrecy, Hari mused. Those who need to know will know, all over the Galaxy. What can I tell you, Daneel? Your work is done.

Not yet, Hari. Not until you find an answer to the problem.

Dors spoke now. There is a solution, Hari. I know there is-within your equations.

I am not an equation! Klia shouted. I am not an aberration or a monster! I just have certain abilities-and so does he! She pointed to Daneel.

Hari considered with chin in hand. The itchSo deeply buried, untraceable! He clutched Dors shoulder, as if to draw strength from her.

We shed the metal, he said. Time to take charge, for ourselves, isnt it, Daneel? And the time will come when psychohistorys equations will merge with the equations of all minds, all people. Every individual will be a general example of the whole progress of the people. They will blend.

Young woman, you are not a monster. You are the difficult future.

Klia stared in puzzlement at Hari.

You will have children, and they will have childrenstronger than Wanda and Stettin, stronger than the mentalics we have working for us now. Something will happen, something unpredictable, that my equations cant encompass-another and more successful mutation, a stronger Vara Liso. I cant put that into my equations-it is an unknown variable, an individual point-tyranny, all control radiating from one individual!

Haris face had become almost luminous.

YouHe held his hand out to Klia. Take this hand. Let me feel you.

She reluctantly reached out.

I need a little nudge, my young friend, Hari said. Show me what you are.

Almost without thinking, Klia reached into his mind, saw a brightness there obscured by dark nebulosities, and with a gentle breath of persuasion, another sign of her returning strength, she blew the clouds away.

Hari gasped and closed his eyes. His head dropped to one shoulder. He was suddenly more than merely tired. He felt a great sense of release, and for the first time in decades, a knot in his mind, in his body as well, seemed to untie itself. The brightness in his thoughts was not a way around his errors and the flaws in the equations-it was a deeper understanding of his own irrelevance, in the long term.

A thousand years from now, he would be a particle in the smooth flow once again, not his own kind of point-tyranny.

Dors got up from her chair, taking hold of his arm to help him stay on his feet.

His work would be forgotten. The Plan would serve its purpose and be swept away, merely one more hypothesis, guiding and shaping, but ultimately no more than another illusion among all the illusions of men-and robots.

What he had learned in his time fighting Lamurk for the role of First Minister-that the human race was its own kind of mind, its own self-organizing system, with its own reserved knowledge and tendencies-

Meant that it could also direct its own evolution. Philosophies and theories and truths were morphological appurtenances. Discarded when no longer neededwhen the morphology changed.

The robots had served their purpose. Now they would be rejected, shed, by humanitys body social. Psychohistory would be shed as well, when its purpose had been served. And Hari Seldon.

No man, no woman, no machine, no idea, could reign supreme forever.

Hari opened his eyes. They were as large as a childs now. He looked around the room, for a moment unable to distinguish people from furniture. Then his vision narrowed and focused.

Thank you, Hari said. Daneel was right. He steadied himself against Dors and, with his other hand, braced himself on the back of the chair. It took him some time to order his thoughts. He stared straight at Klia Asgar, and at Brann beyond her.

My own ego stood before the solution. Your children will balance. Your genes and talents will spread. There will be resolution of conflictand the Plan will continue. But not my Plan. The future will see how wrong I can be.

Your descendants, your many-times great-grandchildren, will correct me.

Klia had seen deeper into Hari than just the problem he faced. With a little shudder, she stepped forward, and with Dors, they lowered Hari into the chair. I was never told the truth about you, she said softly, reaching to touch his cheek. The skin was fine and dry and powdery-smooth, faintly resilient, with a ridge of hard bone beneath. Hari smelled clean and human, discipline overlying strength, if such things could be transferred by scent-and why not? How could one see that someone had these traits, and not smell them, as well? Old, and frail, and still quite beautiful and strong. You really are a great man! she whispered.

No, my dear, Hari said. I am nothing, really. And it is quite wonderful to be nothing, I assure you.


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