“No,” Hari said, and hoped that Daneel’s conditioning would deceive any lie-detection equipment being secretly employed by Chen.
“In your opinion, is this concern about robots symptomatic of a failing Empire?”
“No,” Hari said. “Throughout history, humans have always been distracted by upwellings from their mythic past.”
“And what do you mean by ‘mythic past’?”
“We try to make connections with our past, just as we try to extend ourselves indefinitely into the future. We are an aggrandizing race. We imagine a past that fits our present, or explains our present, and as our knowledge of the past dims, we fill it with our modern psychological concerns.”
“What concern do robots represent?”
“Loss of control, I would imagine.”
“Have you ever felt this ‘loss of control,’ professor?”
“Yes, but I have never blamed it on robots.”
The barons smiled, then immediately sobered at a rise of Chen’s index finger. Chen was listening very intently.
“Is this Empire threatened by a conspiracy of robots?”
“It does not figure in my calculations,” Hari said, quite truthfully.
“Are you prepared to answer even more detailed questions from the advocates for General Security tomorrow, pertaining to this subject?”
Hari nodded. “If necessary, yes.”
The advocate dismissed him. Hari returned to the box and leaned over to ask Boon, “What was that all about?”
“The Commission is covering its hindquarters,” Boon said, out of earshot of Gaal Dornick. “I’ve received a message from my office.” He produced a note. “Sinter is after you, professor. He’s asking for another indictment to be prepared on behalf of the Commission for General Security. He requests waiver of double prosecution on discovery of extraordinary evidence. That’s all I’ve been able to learn.”
“You mean, this trial won’t be the end of it?”
“I’m afraid not,” Boon said. “I’ll try to make the General Security proceedings just an extension--invoke your meritocratic right for adjunct hearing on related inquisition--but I don’t know how the new system will work.”
“Pity,” Hari said. “I know how much Linge Chen would like to be done with me. And I with him.” He looked at Boon with an expression that might have been mistaken for amusement.
Boon nodded solemnly. “Indeed,” he said.
Klia arose from vivid dreams and lifted her head from Brann’s shoulder. She could feel two robots approaching.
Kallusin entered the room without warning or embarrassment and stood looking down upon them.
“Is this a casual liaison,” he asked, “or one intended to signal a long-term bonding?”
“None of your business,” Klia said primly, not bothering to draw up her scattered clothes.
Plussix entered, slow and noisy, like a wheezy old transport. “We need your answer to begin preparations,” he said. “Lodovik believes there will soon be attempts made to change all the palace codes.”
“There is more search activity. It’s spread across fifty Sectors now,” Kallusin said. “Something is happening in the palace.”
Klia stood and put on her clothes. Somehow, she felt no modesty in front of the machines. She knew they were not human, did not have any human emotions as such; she felt no more embarrassment before them than she would have before a closet mirror. Still, as she finished, she realized these machines were capable of a very sophisticated variety of discrimination, even judgment.
“What is your answer?” Kallusin asked.
“Tell Lodovik to come here,” Brann said, and rose to get dressed as well, though with more modesty than Klia. He turned away as he put on his pants.
“He is on his way now,” Kallusin said.
They were standing in an awkward circle when Lodovik entered the room. Plussix and Kallusin drew aside, and he occupied the space between them.
“I have a question for you,” Brann said, before Klia could speak. She deferred to him.
“Please,” Plussix said. “Questions are my delight.”
“For Lodovik,” Brann said. “You used to be part of this conspiracy, loyal to Daneel, didn’t you?”
“What made you change sides?”
“An outside influence altered my programming in subtle ways,” Lodovik said. “A personality from the distant past, or rather, an expanded and enhanced simulation of that personality.”
He outlined this development in a few sentences, and Brann and Klia looked at each other. “Hari Seldon okayed the expansion of these illegal sims, just to study the way people used to think?” Klia asked.
“In part. I do not know the complete story,” Lodovik said. “The release caused much trouble for robots, and many others, decades ago.”
“But it’s more than a sim now?” Klia asked. “It’s like a ghost, angel, whatever?”
“They are immaterial presences very similar to humans in their psychological patterns.”
“They?” Klia asked.
“There is another who opposes us and supports Hari Seldon and Daneel. One is a male sim--the one within me. The other is female.”
“How can they be male or female?” Klia asked, glancing at Brann.
Lodovik blinked for a moment, not sure whether there was any good answer to this question. “I appear to be male,” he finally said, “but I am not. The same distinction may be true with them, but I really do not know.”
“They disagree?” Brann asked.
“Fervently,” Lodovik said.
“Then how do you know that you haven’t been altered or...perverted, somehow?” Brann asked. “Hari Seldon or Daneel might have intended for all of this to happen.”
“In a way,” Lodovik said, “I share these uncertainties with humans. But I must act on a reasonable conclusion. I have no reason to believe that anything has been altered in my programming but my response to the Three Laws of robotics.”
“This all sounds like incredible nonsense to me,” Klia said breathlessly. “Laws--for robots!”
“Very important rules that determine our behavior,” Plussix said.
“But he’s saying he doesn’t have any rules!” She shook her head.
“That makes him more like a human,” Brann said quietly. “We don’t have any fixed rules, either.”
“I would be much more comfortable if the rules were still in effect,” Lodovik said.
Klia flung up her hands in exasperation “It’s so...so old I can’t grasp it,” she said. “Tell me one thing. I want to know what will happen if we help you. Will the robots just go away, leave all of us alone?”
“Not precisely,” Plussix said. “We cannot self-destruct, nor can we allow ourselves to be useless. We must regroup and find a situation that allows us to perform certain reasonable duties until we cease to function. Our programming says we must serve humans. So we hope to find a zone in the Galaxy where humans will allow us to serve. There must be one such.”
“And if Hari Seldon fails, there’ll be many of them, maybe,” Brann said suspiciously.” A lot of places for robots to hide.”
“A not unreasonable conclusion,” Plussix said.
“If we help you, I want you to promise to leave us alone,” Klia said. “Don’t serve us, don’t help us, just go away. Leave Trantor. Let us be human--the ones who really are human.” Klia turned to Lodovik. “What about you? What will you do?”
Lodovik stared at the two with a sad expression. He could feel Voltaire observing this attentively. “I will enjoy oblivion when it comes,” he said. “This confusion and uncertainty is an intolerable burden for me.” Then, his voice surprisingly passionate, he asked, “Why did humans ever build us? Why did they make us capable of understanding, with an urge to serve, then cast us aside, away from everything that would allow us to fulfill our nature?”
“I don’t know,” Klia said. “I wasn’t there. I hadn’t been born.” She could feel some of Lodovik’s internal character, his taste. He did not taste like metal at all, nor like electricity, or any other inhuman quality she could think of. He tasted like a rich meal stored in a refrigerator, just waiting to be warmed up. Then, she tasted something else both infinitely cold and incandescent, startling, like thousands of fiery spices on her tongue.
“I can feel your sim,” she said, a little afraid. “It sits on top of you like a...passenger.”
“Your perception is remarkable,” Lodovik said.
“Is it telling you what to do?”
“It observes,” Lodovik said. “It does not direct.”
“We need an answer,” Brann said, shaking his head in vigorous irritation at these diversions. “Will robots leave us alone...when this is all over?”
“We will do all we can to bring this unfortunate episode to an end,” Plussix said. “We will remove all robots from our faction on Trantor or in any location of influence in the human Galaxy. If Daneel is defeated, humans will be left to their own devices, their own history, to develop naturally.”
Klia tried to taste the robot’s thoughts, but found them far too confusing, too different. She could not find a flaw in its apparent sincerity, however. She swallowed hard, suddenly aware of the responsibility on her own shoulders, this immense weight that dangled from the hook of her inadequate judgment. She clasped Brann’s hand.
“Then we’ll help you,” she said.
Hari sat in silence as the judges entered. Boon stood beside him, but Gaal Dornick was not in the chamber. Boon looked uncomfortable. Hari had not slept much the night before. He wanted to squirm in his chair and find a more comfortable position, but froze as Linge Chen entered. The Chief Commissioner took the highest dais and stared solemnly into space.
Sky, I hate that man, Hari thought.
The advocate for the Commission of Public Safety entered and approached the judges.
“Today was scheduled as an opportunity for the Commission for General Security to interview Professor Seldon,” he said. “But the new Commissioners apparently have more important things to do, and have requested a postponement. Is it the wish of the Commissioner judges to grant this postponement?”
Linge Chen regarded the courtroom through heavy-lidded, almost sleepy eyes, then nodded. Hari thought he detected a small curve in the Chief Commissioner’s lips.
“Shall we then proceed with the trial to its final phase, or recess and continue the proceedings at a later date?”
Hari sat up with a grunt. Boon laid a hand on his arm.
Linge Chen looked up at the ceiling. “Recess,” he murmured, and looked down again.
“We shall recess until such time as the judges believe it is expedient to resume,” the advocate said.
Hari seemed to feel himself deflating. He shook his head and glared at the Chief Commissioner, but Chen was contemplating some higher sphere of being, with a satisfaction that Hari found doubly infuriating.