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91.

Better late than never, Gaal Dornick told the technician as they watched Professor Seldon settle into his chair in the recording booth.

He seems tired, the technician said, and checked his gauges to make sure he had the proper settings for the voice of an old man.

Hari consulted his papers, looking at the first point of major divergence within the equations. He hummed softly to himself, then looked up, waiting for the signal to begin. He was brightly illuminated; the studio beyond was dark, though he could see small lights twinkling in the recording booth.

Three spherical lenses descended from above and hovered at a level with his chest. He adjusted the blanket on his legs. Four days ago, he had told his colleagues, and in particular Gaal Dornick, that he had had a small stroke, and lost an entire days recollections. They had bustled about him and insisted that he not strain himself. So he wore this blanket. He could hardly cough without being surrounded by concerned faces.

It was a small enough lie. And he had mentioned to Gaal that with the stroke had come a calm and peace he had never known beforeand a determination to finish his work before Death came finally.

He suspected word would get back to Daneel. Somehow, his old friend and mentor would hear, and approve.

Hari had felt the subtle workings of Daneels persuasion, at the conclusion of the meeting with Dors and Klia Asgar and Brann. For a moment, he had felt the memories fading, even as the group headed for the door, and Dors had looked back upon him with an almost bitter and passionate regret. And he had felt something else, bright and intense and impulsive, blocking Daneels effort without the robot knowing.

It must have come from defiant Klia, stronger than Daneel, naturally resisting the manipulations of a robot, however well-meaning. And Hari was grateful. To remember clearly that meeting, and to know what would happen in a year or twoTo remember Daneels promise, delivered in private in Haris bedroom, while the others waited outside, old friends having a final chat, that Dors would be with him when her work was done, when his life was nearing its close.

She could not be with him now. He was too much in the public eye. The return of the Tiger Woman, or someone very like her, was not feasible.

But there was something else at work here as well. Hari knew that the time of the robots had come to an end, must come to an end; and he knew that it was very likely Daneel would never completely let go of his task. The same eternal concern and devotion that Daneel felt for Hari, to so gift him with the return of his great love, would eventually move him to interfere again

So Daneel must be kept in ignorance of some things, a difficult proposition at best.

Together, Wanda, Stet tin, Klia, and Brann would see to it, however. Together, they were strong enough and subtle enough.

Could you speak, please, Professor Seldon? the technician asked from his position in the engineering booth. Gaal Dornick stood beside him, barely visible from where Hari sat.

I am Hari Seldon, old and full of years.

The technician flipped off the voice switch to the studio and looked up at Gaal with some concern. I hope hes a little more cheerful when we begin in earnest.

Youre going to Terminus, arent you? Gaal asked the man.

Of course. My familys packed and ready to go. Do you think Id be here if-

Have you ever met Hari Seldon before now?

Never had the privilege, the man sniffed. Ive heard tales, of course.

He knows quite well what hes doing, and what kind of figure to play. Never underestimate him, Gaal said, and though that was inadequate warning or description, he stopped there, and pointed to the Console.

Right, the technician said, and focused on his equipment. Ill draw the curtain now and bring in the scramblers. Nobody will know what hes saying besides himself.

Hari tapped his finger lightly on the chair arm. The lights on the spheres changed to amber, then to red. He pushed himself up from the chair and stared into the darkness beyond, imagining faces, people, men and women, anxious to learn their fates. Well, most of the time, for a few occasions at least, he would be able to help. The devil of it was, he did not know specifically when these little speeches would begin to be useless!

He would record only one message that day, the rest over the next year and a half, as each necessary nudge became clear within the adjusted equations.

With his most professorial air, quite confident and deliberate, Hari began to speak. He recorded a simple message to those of the Second Foundation, the psychologists and mathists, the mentalics who would train them and alter their germ lines: nothing very profound, merely a kind of pep talk. To my true grandchildren, he said, I give my profoundest thanks and wish you luck. You will never need to hear of an impending Seldon Crisis from meYou will never need anything so dramatic, for you know

He had spoken to Wanda the day before, telling her the final part of the puzzle of the Second Foundation. At first, she had been disappointed, vastly; she had so wanted to get away from Trantor, to start fresh on a new world, however barren. But she had held up remarkably well.

And he had told her that Daneel must never learn of the true whereabouts of the Second Foundation, of the mentalics who could resist all the efforts of the Giskardian robots, should they ever return to take up the reins of secret power.

A few minutes and he was finished.

He pulled aside the blankets and draped them on the edge of the chair, then stood to leave. The three lenses rose into the darkness above.

Waiting for Gaal to join him, Hari wondered if Death would be a robot. How problematical for a robot it would be to bring both comfort and an end to a human master! He saw a large, smooth, black-skinned robot, infinitely cautious and caring, serving him and driving him to the last.

The thought made him smile. Would that the universe could ever be so caring and so gentle.


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