“We’ll all be dead,” Hari said, “before the results are proved or disproved.”
“Come, Dr. Seldon,” Chen said. “Speak with me frankly, as one old manipulator to another. I am told you have planned the results of this trial years in advance, through careful political arrangement--and with considerable political skill.”
“Not planned; foretold through mathematics,” Hari said.
“Whatever. Now, we are at last done with each other, to our mutual relief.”
“My lord, what about the Commission of General security?” Hari asked. “They might object to these results.”
“There is no longer such an agency,” Chen said. “The Emperor has withdrawn their charter. Perhaps that was foretold as well, by your mathematics.”
Hari folded his hands before him. “They don’t even show in the lattice of results, my lord,” he said, and realized his tone might be considered arrogant. Too late.
Chen accepted these words in silence, then spoke in a chilling monotone. “You have studied me, Professor Seldon, but you do not know me. If I have my way, you never will.” The Chief Commissioner curled his lip and stared up at the ceiling. “I despise your mathematics. It is nothing more than dressed-up superstition, tricked-out religion, and it smells of the same degeneration and decay you so enthusiastically embrace and promote. You are of a kind with those who hunt for God-like robots in every shadow. I let you go now because you are nothing to me, you no longer have any place in my designs.”
The Chief Commissioner waved his hand to the bailiff. “You are remanded to civil authority for release,” he said, and left the room with a small swirl of his cassock.
The Lavrentian servant glanced briefly and curiously at Hari, and departed after his master. Hari could have sworn the servant was trying to communicate a sense of relief.
“Professor Seldon,” the bailiff said, with an age-old air of professional courtesy, “follow me.”
Kallusin had finished the removal of Plussix’s head. He withdrew the cables which had provided temporary power to the robot as the most recent memories were fixed in permanent storage within the iridium-sponge backup, then he lifted the head from the plastic cradle, away from the slightly smoking neck, and lowered it into the archival metal box.
He could hear the commotion among Plussix’s wards as the troops moved through the warehouse. Through the window overlooking the warehouse interior, Kallusin could see Prothon’s troops herding the young mentalics--thirty in all--toward personnel carriers at street level. Whatever their persuasive skills, they did not seem able to escape.
He could do nothing for them now. He lifted the box, carried it to the end of the long chamber, and stopped as he heard boots beyond the door.
To Kallusin’s surprise, it was Prothon himself who entered, pushing the door open with a slight kick. Kallusin stood in place as the general walked into the chamber. Prothon surveyed the dilapidated equipment and the half dismantled robot in the harness a few meters away.
The general was unarmed, and his troops hung back behind the door. For a moment, nothing was said and neither moved.
“Are you human?” Prothon finally asked.
Kallusin did not reply.
“Robot, then. All my men down there are getting headaches--I’m just as glad you’re not one of the youngsters.” Prothon nodded at the box carrying Plussix’s head. “What’s that--a bomb?”
Kallusin said, “No.”
“No weapons, no means of defense--almost certainly a robot.” Prothon regarded him curiously. “In good condition, and very convincing. Very old, centuries?”
Kallusin did not even blink. There was nothing more he could do without harming Prothon or the troops before him, and he could not harm humans.
“I order you to identify yourself,” Prothon said, then, astonishingly, he added, “Owner identity may be excluded, but personal type and origin and serial number may not.”
“R. Kallusin Dass, S-13407-D-IO237.”
“Robot Kallusin Dass, Solaria, late model,” Prothon said quietly. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. I have instructions to take two robots into custody. One is R. Daneel or Danee, surname and ID unknown. The other is R. Lodovik Trema, ID also unknown. You are neither of these?”
Kallusin shook his head.
“What’s in the box, R. Kallusin? Mandatory, excluding information that may be of harm to your master or owner.”
Prothon knew the old forms of interrogation. Kallusin could have eluded a question that his programming could consider ambiguous or harmful to his owners--the human race. Plussix had reassigned ownership of his robots to the broader category a century before, foreseeing advantages to this workaround.
A restrained kind of Zeroth Law...Never necessary, until now.
Kallusin could not, on short notice, come up with any reason not to inform Prothon what was in the box. Their mission was over, at any rate.
“A robotic head,” Kallusin said. “Nonfunctional.”
“Are you the only robot remaining? We have reason to believe others have left this building already, before we arrived.”
“I am the only one remaining.”
“If I take you into custody, will you remain functional?”
“No,” Kallusin said. That would harm the cause, and possibly therefore harm his owner--the human race.
“If my men enter...you will not remain functional?”
“I will not,” Kallusin said
“A standoff, then. I have very little time, but I’m curious. What were you trying to do, here?”
Prothon had neglected to use the form of address. Kallusin weighed the situation carefully. He had no hope of escape, and there was no profit in discussing anything more with General Prothon. But before he shut himself down, permanently, he was himself curious--about Prothon’s knowledge.
“I will answer your question if you will answer mine,” Kallusin said.
“I’ll try.” Prothon seemed amused by this remarkable dialog.
“How do you know about robots?”
“Personally, suspicions, only suspicions, all these years of service to the Empire. Found a dysfunctional robot on a distant planet once-destroyed during an invasion. Haven’t seen one since.”
“How do you know the forms of address?”
“Linge Chen gave me instructions, told me to speak directly with any robots, also told me there was no danger addressing the robots we would find here.”
“Thank you,” Kallusin said. Suspicions, only suspicions, Daneel. “My answer is, I am here to serve my owner.” He reached into the box and pressed a hidden comer switch. The box began to heat. He placed it on the floor. Within several seconds, Plussix’s head would be cooked, useless. Then Kallusin stood tall. He could not deactivate himself just yet. The threat had to be immediate.
Prothon looked at the box, now glowing a dull red and crackling slightly against the tiles on the floor. He made a small grimace and called for his troops to enter.
That was enough. The threat of capture and interrogation became very real. Kallusin would become a danger to his owner.
He collapsed on the floor before anyone of the troops could reach him.
Prothon observed this with an air of profound respect. He had seen many human soldiers do precisely the same thing. It was time-honored, and actually, more than he had expected from a robot--but then, he had only known this one robot for a few minutes, and was in no position to judge.
He left the chamber and ordered it to be searched by a party of the Commissioner’s engineers.
Klia could feel the troops a few hundred meters above and behind them, intent on the search. Lodovik led them deeper beneath the warehouse district, until they came to a small round hatch almost completely blocked by debris from an ancient flood. Klia took hold of Brann’s arm and stepped back as Lodovik cleared the debris. Brann smiled down on her, barely visible in the dim light of the maintenance globes, pulled her hand loose, and went to help Lodovik. With a sigh, Klia also pitched in, and in less than a minute, they had the hatchway cleared.
Klia could not hear or otherwise sense anybody in the tunnel behind them, but she felt deeply uneasy nonetheless. The flood debris, the years of corrosion on the hatchway, the difficulty they had prying it open--it would not get any easier from this point on.
They were heading into the depths of the ancient hydraulic system for Trantor’s earliest cities. Beyond the hatchway, they could see even less--globes were spaced at thirty meter intervals, and seemed even dimmer. That they stayed illuminated at all was evidence of the skill of the early engineers and architects on Trantor, who realized that this deep infrastructure must be far more reliable, and persistent, than even the cities that would rise, be demolished, and rise again, far above.
“We go for about three kilometers this way,” Lodovik said, “then we start to climb again. There may be pedways, escalators, elevators--and there may not. Kallusin hasn’t explored these ways in decades.”
Klia said nothing, simply remained at Brann’s side as the robot led them deeper, until she could sense no humans whatsoever. She had never been this far from crowds. She wondered what it would be like, to have an entire planet to oneself, with no responsibilities, no guilt, no talents and no need for talents...
Lodovik’s footfalls ahead took them into murky darkness, and soon they were up to their ankles in stagnant water. From somewhere to their left came the sound of huge pumps, thumping into action, then cutting off with distant swallowing roars. Trantor’s heartbeat.
Brann looked down at her and helped her climb over a pile of eroded plastic parts, like blockage in an ancient artery.
“I can see fairly well now,” Lodovik said, “though I suspect you cannot. Please just stay close behind me. We’re much better off down here, following this route, than we would be up there.”
Klia suddenly felt something loud in her head, but very distant, like the report from a shell. She listened for it again as she walked beside Brann, and it came once more, more muddied, but she was ready for it, and she could almost taste its odd signature.
Vara Liso. Thousands of meters above and in front of them. Perhaps in the Palace.
“That woman,” Klia said to Brann.
“Yeah,” Brann said. “What’s she doing?”
“Feels like she’s exploding,” Klia said.
“Please stay close behind me,” Lodovik insisted. There was a lift shaft ahead, according to Kallusin--and soon he would have a chance to try his codes to gain entrance to the foundations of the Imperial Courts Building.
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.