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Cleon the Emperor

Isaac Asimov

  Cleon the Emperor

  Isaac Asimov

  Isaac Asimov

  Cleon the Emperor

  First published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, April 1992

  Locus Award Nominee

  CLEON I-…Though he often received panegyrics for being the last Emperor under whom the First Galactic Empire was reasonably united and reasonably prosperous, the quarter-century reign of Cleon I was one of continuous decline. This cannot be viewed as his direct responsibility, for the Decline of Empire was based on political and economic factors too strong for anyone to deal with at the time. He was fortunate in his First Ministers-Eto Demerzel and, then, Hari Seldon, in whose development of Psychohistory the Emperor never lost faith. Cleon and Seldon, as the objects of the final Joranumite conspiracy, with its bizarre climax-

  Encyclopedia Galactica

  All quotations from the Encyclopedia Galactica here reproduced are taken from the 116th Edition, published 1020 F.E. by the Encyclopedia Galactica Publishing Co., Terminus, with the permission of the publishers.


  Mandell Gruber was a happy man. He seemed so to Hari Seldon, certainly. Seldon stopped his morning constitutional to watch him.

  Gruber, perhaps in his late forties, a few years younger than Seldon, was a bit gnarled from his continuing work on the Imperial Palace grounds, but he had a cheerful, smoothly shaven face, topped by a pink skull, not much of which was hidden by his thin, sandy hair. He whistled softly to himself as he inspected the leaves of the bushes for any signs of insect infestation beyond the ordinary.

  He was not the Chief Gardener, of course. The Chief Gardener of the Imperial Palace Grounds was a high functionary who had a palatial office in one of the buildings of the enormous Imperial complex, with an army of men and women under him. The chances are he did not step out onto the grounds oftener than once or twice a year.

  Gruber was one of the army. His title, Seldon knew, was Gardener First-Class, and it had been well-earned, with nearly thirty years of faithful service.

  Seldon called to him as he paused on the perfectly level crushed gravel walk. “Another marvelous day, Gruber.”

  Gruber looked up and his eyes twinkled. “Yes, indeed, First Minister, and it's sorry I am for those cooped-up indoors.”

  “You mean as I am about to be.”

  “There's not much about you, First Minister, for people to sorrow over, but if you're disappearing into those buildings on a day like this, it's a bit of sorrow that we fortunate few can feel for you.”

  “I thank you for your sympathy, Gruber, but you know we have forty billion Trantorians under the dome. Are you sorry for all of them?”

  “Indeed, I am. I am grateful I am not of Trantorian extraction myself so that I could qualify as gardener. There be few of us on this world that work in the open, but here I be, one of the fortunate few.”

  “The weather isn't always this ideal.”

  “That is true. And I have been out here in the sluicing rains and the whistling winds. Still, as long as you dress fittingly… Look,” and Gruber spread his arms open, wide as his smile, as if to embrace the vast expanse of the Palace grounds. “I have my friends, the trees and the lawns and all the animal life-forms to keep me company, and growth to encourage in geometric form, even in the winter. Have you ever seen the geometry of the grounds, First Minister?”

  “I am looking at it right now, am I not?”

  “I mean the plans spread out so you can really appreciate it all, and marvelous it is, too. It was planned by Tapper Savand, over three hundred years ago, and it has been little changed since. Tapper was a great horticulturist, the greatest-and he came from my planet.”

  “That was Anacreon, wasn't it?”

  “Indeed. A far-off world near the edge of the galaxy, where there is still wilderness and life can be sweet. I came here when I was still an ear-wet lad, when the present Chief Gardener took power under the old Emperor. Of course, now they're talking of re-designing the grounds.” Gruber sighed deeply and shook his head. “That would be a mistake. They are just right as they are now, properly proportioned, well-balanced, pleasing to the eye and spirit. But it is true that in history, the grounds have occasionally been re-designed. Emperors grow tired of the old, and are always seeking the new, as if new is somehow always better. Our present Emperor, may he live long, has been planning re-design with the Chief Gardener. At least that is the word that runs from gardener to gardener.” This last he added quickly, as if abashed at spreading Palace gossip.

  “It might not happen soon.”

  “I hope not, First Minister. Please, if you have the chance to take some time from all the heart-stopping work you must be after doing, study the design of the grounds. It is a rare beauty and, if I had my way, there should not be a leaf moved out of place, nor a flower, nor a rabbit, anywhere in all these hundreds of square kilometers.’

  Seldon smiled. “You are a dedicated man, Gruber. I would not be surprised if someday you were Chief Gardener.”

  “May Fate protect me from that. The Chief Gardener breathes no fresh air, sees no natural sights, and forgets all he has learned of nature. He lives there,” Gruber pointed, scornfully, “and I think he no longer knows a bush from a stream unless one of his underlings leads him out and places his hand on one or dips it into the other.”

  For a moment, it seemed as though Gruber would expectorate his scorn, but he could not find any place on which he could bear to spit.

  Seldon laughed quietly. “Gruber, it's good to talk to you. When I am overcome with the duties of the day, it is pleasant to take a few moments to listen to your philosophy of life.”

  “Ah, First Minister, it is no philosopher I am. My schooling was very sketchy.”

  “You don't need schooling to be a philosopher. Just an active mind and experience with life. Take care, Gruber. I have the temptation to see you promoted.”

  “If you but leave me as I am, First Minister, you will have my total gratitude.”

  Seldon was smiling as he passed on, but the smile faded as his mind turned once more to his current problems. Ten years as First Minister-and if Gruber knew how heartily sick Seldon was of his position, his sympathy would rise to enormous heights. Could Gruber grasp the fact that Seldon's progress in the techniques of Psychohistory showed promise of facing him with an unbearable dilemma?


  Seldon's thoughtful stroll across the grounds was the epitome of peace. It was hard to believe, here in the midst of the Emperor's immediate domain, that he was on a world that except for this area was totally enclosed by a dome. Here, in this spot, he might be on his home world of Helicon, or Gruber's world of Anacreon.

  Of course, the sense of peace was an illusion. The grounds were guarded-thick with security.

  Once, a thousand years ago, the Imperial Palace grounds, much less palatial, much less differentiated from a world only beginning to construct domes over individual regions, had been open to all citizens and the Emperor himself could walk along the paths, unguarded, nodding his head in greeting to his subjects.

  No more. Now security was in place and no one from Trantor itself could possibly invade the grounds. That did not remove the danger, however, for that, when it came, came from discontented Imperial functionaries and from corrupt and suborned soldiers. It was within the grounds that the Emperor and his ministers were most in danger. What would have happened if on that occasion, nearly ten years before, Seldon had not been accompanied by Dors Venabili?

  It had been in his first year as First Minister and it was only natural, he supposed (after the fact), that there would be heart-burning over his unexpected choice for the post. Many others, far better qualified in training, in years of service, and, most of all, i
n their own eyes, could view the appointment with anger. They did not know of Psychohistory or of the importance the Emperor attached to it, and the easiest way to correct the situation was to corrupt one of the sworn protectors of the First Minister.

  Venabili must have been more suspicious than Seldon himself was. Or else, with Demerzel's disappearance from the scene, her instructions to guard Seldon had been strengthened. The truth was that, for the first few years of his First Ministership, she was at his side more often than not.

  And on the late afternoon of a warm, sunny day, Venabili noted the glint of the westering sun-a sun never seen under Trantor's dome-on the metal of a blaster.

  “Down, Hari!” she cried suddenly, and her legs devoured the grass as she raced toward the sergeant.

  “Give me that blaster, sergeant,” she said tightly.

  The would-be assassin, momentarily immobilized by the unexpected sight of a woman running toward him, now reacted quickly, raising the drawn blaster.

  But she was already at him, her hand enclosing his right wrist in a steely grip and lifting his arm high. “Drop it,” she said through clenched teeth.

  The sergeant's face twisted as he attempted to yank loose his arm.

  “Don't try, sergeant,” said Venabili. “My knee is three inches from your groin, and, if you so much as blink, your genital equipment will be history. So just freeze. That's right. Okay, now open your hand. If you don't drop the blaster right now I will break your arm.”

  A gardener came running up with a rake. Venabili motioned him away. The blaster dropped.

  Seldon had arrived. “I'll take over, Dors.”

  “You will not. Get in among those trees, and take the blaster with you. Others may be involved, and ready.”

  Venabili had not loosed her grip on the sergeant. She said, “Now, sergeant, I want the name of whoever it was who persuaded you to make an attempt on the First Minister's life, and the name of everyone else who is in this with you.”

  The sergeant was silent.

  “Don't be foolish,” said Venabili. “Speak!” She twisted his arm and he sunk to his knees. She put her shoe on his neck. “If you think silence becomes you, I can crush your larynx and you will be silent forever. And even before that I am going to damage you badly-I won't leave one bone unbroken. You had better talk.”

  The sergeant talked.

  Later, Seldon had said to her, “How could you do that, Dors? I never believed you capable of such, such… violence.”

  Venabili said coolly, “I did not actually hurt him much, Hari. The threat was sufficient. In any case, your safety was paramount.”

  “You should have let me take care of him.”

  “Why? To salvage your masculine pride? You wouldn't have been fast enough, for one thing, not at fifty. Secondly, no matter what you would have succeeded in doing, you were a man and it would have been expected. I am a woman and women, in popular thought, are not considered as ferocious as men, and most, in general, do not have the strength to do what I did. The story will improve in the telling and everyone will be terrified of me. No one will dare to try to harm you for fear of me.”

  “For fear of you and for fear of execution. The sergeant and his cohorts are to be killed, you know.”

  At this, an anguished look clouded Dors's usually composed visage, as if she could not stand the thought of the traitorous sergeant being put to death even though he would have cut down her beloved Hari without a second thought.

  “But,” she exclaimed, “there is no need to execute the conspirators. Exile will do the job.”

  “No, it won't,” said Seldon. “It's too late. Cleon will hear of nothing but executions. I can quote him, if you wish.”

  “You mean he's already made up his mind?”

  “At once. I told him that exile or imprisonment would be all that was necessary, but he said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Every time I try to solve a problem by direct and forceful action, first Demerzel and then you talk of despotism and tyranny. But this is my palace. These are my grounds. These are my guards. My safety depends on the security of this place and the loyalty of my people. Do you think that any deviation from absolute loyalty can be met with anything but instant death? How else would you be safe? How else would I be safe?’

  “I said there would have to be a trial. ‘Of course,’ he said, ‘a short military trial, and I don't expect a single vote for anything but execution. I shall make that quite clear.'”

  Venabili looked appalled. “You're taking this very quietly. Do you agree with the Emperor?”

  Reluctantly, Seldon nodded. “I do.”

  “Because there was an attempt on your life. Have you abandoned principle for revenge?”

  “Now, Dors. I'm not a vengeful person. However, it was not myself alone that was at risk, far less the Emperor-if there is anything that the recent history of the Empire shows us, it is that Emperors come and go. It is Psychohistory that must be protected. Undoubtedly, even if something happens to me, Psychohistory will someday be developed, but the Empire is falling fast, and we cannot wait, and only I have advanced far enough to obtain the necessary techniques in time.”

  “You should perhaps teach what you know to others, then?” said Venabili gravely.

  “I'm doing so. Yugo Amaryl would be a reasonable successor, and I have gathered a group of technicians who will someday be useful, but-they won't be as-” he paused.

  “They won't be as good as you, as wise, as capable? Really?”

  “I happen to think so,” said Seldon. “And I happen to be human. Psychohistory is mine and, if I can possibly manage it, I want the credit.”

  “Human,” sighed Venabili, shaking her head, almost sadly.

  The executions went through. No such purge had been seen in over a century. Two Senior Councillors met their deaths, five officials of lower ranks, four soldiers, including the hapless sergeant. Every guard who could not withstand the most rigorous investigation was relieved of duty and sent to detachments on the Outer Worlds.

  Since then, there had been no whisper of disloyalty and so notorious had become the care with which the First Minister was guarded, to say nothing of the terrifying woman who watched over him, that it was no longer necessary for Dors to accompany him everywhere. Her invisible presence was an adequate shield, and the Emperor Cleon enjoyed nearly ten years of quiet, and of absolute security.

  Now, however, Psychohistory was finally reaching the point where predictions of a sort could be made, and, as Seldon crossed the grounds in his passage from his office (First Minister) to his laboratory (Psychohistorian), he was uneasily aware of the likelihood that this era of peace might be coming to an end.


  Yet even so, Hari Seldon could not repress the surge of satisfaction that he felt as he entered his laboratory.

  How things had changed.

  It had begun eighteen years earlier with his own doodlings on his second-rate Heliconian computer. It was then that the first hint of what was to become para-chaotic math came to him in cloudy fashion.

  Then there were the years at Streeling University when he and Yugo Amaryl, working together, attempted to renormalize the equations, get rid of the inconvenient infinities, and find a way around the worst of the chaotic effects. They made very little progress indeed.

  But now, after ten years as First Minister, he had a whole floor of the latest computers and a whole staff of people working on a large variety of problems.

  Of necessity, none of his staff, except for Yugo and himself, of course, could really know much more than the immediate problem they were dealing with. Each of them worked with only a small ravine or outcropping on the gigantic mountain range of Psychohistory that only Seldon and Amaryl could see as a mountain range-and even they could see it only dimly, its peaks hidden in clouds, its slopes in mist.

  Dors Venabili was right, of course. He would have to begin initiating his people into the entire mystery. The technique was getting well beyond what two men alone could hand
le. And Seldon was aging. Even if he could look forward to some additional decades, the years of his most fruitful breakthroughs were surely behind him.

  Even Amaryl would be thirty-nine within a month and though that was still young, it was perhaps not overyoung for a mathematician, and he had been working on the problem almost as long as Seldon himself. His capacity for new and tangential thinking might be dwindling, too.

  Amaryl had seen him enter and was now approaching. Seldon watched him fondly. Amaryl was as much a Dahlite as Seldon's foster-son, Raych, was, and yet Amaryl was not Dahlite at all. He lacked the mustache, he lacked the accent, he lacked, it would seem, any Dahlite consciousness. He had even been impervious to the lure of Jojo Joranum, who had appealed so thoroughly to the people of Dahl.

  It was as though Amaryl recognized no sectional patriotism, no planetary patriotism, not even Imperial patriotism. He belonged, completely and entirely, to Psychohistory.

  Seldon felt a twinge of insufficiency. He, himself, remained conscious of his first three decades on Helicon and there was no way he could keep from thinking of himself as a Heliconian. He wondered if that consciousness was not sure to betray him by causing him to skew his thinking about Psychohistory. Ideally, to use Psychohistory properly, one should be above sectors and worlds and deal only with humanity in the faceless abstract, and this was what Amaryl did.

  And Seldon didn't, he admitted to himself, sighing silently.

  Amaryl said, “We are making progress, Hari, I suppose.”

  “You suppose, Yugo? Merely suppose?”

  “I don't want to jump into outer space without a suit.” He said this quite seriously (he did not have much of a sense of humor, Seldon knew) and they moved into their private office. It was small, but it was also well-shielded.

  Amaryl sat down and crossed his legs. He said, “Your latest scheme for getting around chaos may be working in part-at the cost of sharpness, of course.”