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Asimov’s Future History Volume 16

Isaac Asimov

  Asimov’s Future History

  Volume XVI

  All stories copyright Isaac Asimov and the Estate of Isaac Asimov, unless otherwise noted below.

  All other stories copyright by the respective authors listed below.

  Wanda Seldon-First published in Forward the Foundation, April, 1993

  Foundation and Chaos -By Greg Bear. February, 1998

  The Psychohistorians - First published in Foundation, 1951

  Foundation’s Triumph - By David Brin. May, 1999

  This ePub edition v1.0 by Dead^Man March, 2011

  Layout and design by Dead^Man

  Cover art “Spaceship” by Brian Vadell

  Future History inlay “Summer days” by Talros of DeviantArt

  Cover design by Dead^Man

  Chronology of events in Isaac Asimov’s positronic robot and Foundation stories, compiled by Johnny Pez.

  Table of Contents


  12058 GE Wanda Seldon

  12067 GE Foundation and Chaos

  12067 GE The Psychohistorians

  12068 GE Foundation’s Triumph

  Part 1

  A Foretold Destiny

  Part 2

  An Ancient Plague

  Sources of Dates

  Wanda Seldon

  12058 G.E.






  HARI SELDON WALKED into the Galactic Library (limping a little, as he did more and more often these days) and made for the banks of skitters, the little vehicles that slid their way along the interminable corridors of the building complex.

  He was held up, however, by the sight of three men seated at one of the galactography alcoves, with the Galactograph showing the Galaxy in full three-dimensional representation and, of course, its worlds slowly pinwheeling around its core, spinning at right angles to that as well.

  From where Seldon stood he could see that the border Province of Anacreon was marked off in glowing red. It skirted the edge of the Galaxy and took up a great volume, but it was sparsely populated with stars. Anacreon was not remarkable for either wealth or culture but was remarkable for its distance from Trantor: ten thousand parsecs away.

  Seldon acting on impulse, took a seat at a computer console near the three and set up a random search he was sure would take an indefinite period. Some instinct told him that such an intense interest in Anacreon must be political in nature–its position in the Galaxy made it one of the least secure holdings of the current Imperial regime. His eyes remained on his screen, but Seldon’s ears were open for the discussion near him. One didn’t usually hear political discussions in the Library. They were, in point of fact, not supposed to take place.

  Seldon did not know any of the three men. That was not entirely surprising. There were habitues of the Library, quite a few, and Seldon knew most of them by sight–and some even to talk to–but the Library was open to all citizens. No qualifications. Anyone could enter and use its facilities. (For a limited period of time, of course. Only a select few, like Seldon were allowed to “set up shop” in the Library. Seldon had I1uen granted the use of a locked private office and complete access to Library resources.)

  One of the men (Seldon thought of him as Hook Nose, for obvious reasons) spoke in a low urgent voice.

  “Let it go,” he said. “Let it go. It’s costing us a mint to try to hold on and, even if we do, it will only be while they’re there. They can’t stay there forever and, as soon as they leave, the situation will revert to what it was.”

  Seldon knew what they were talking about. The news had come over TrantorVision only three days ago that the Imperial government had decided on a show of force to bring the obstreperous Governor of Anacreon into line. Seldon’s own psychohistorical analysis had shown him that it was a useless procedure, but the government did not generally listen when its emotions were stirred. Seldon smiled slightly and grimly at hearing Hook Nose say what he himself had said–and the young man said it without the benefit of any knowledge of psychohistory.

  Hook Nose went on. “If we leave Anacreon alone, what do we lose? It’s still there, right where it always was, right at the edge of the Empire. It can’t pick up and go to Andromeda, can it? So it still has to trade with us and life continues. What’s the difference if they salute the Emperor or not? You’ll never be able to tell the difference.”

  The second man, whom Seldon had labeled Baldy, for even more obvious reasons, said, “Except this whole business doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If Anacreon goes, the other border provinces will go. The Empire will break up.”

  “So what?” whispered Hook Nose fiercely. “The Empire can’t run itself effectively anymore, anyway. It’s too big. Let the border go and take care of itself–if it can. The Inner Worlds will be all the stronger and better off. The border doesn’t have to be ours politically; it will still be ours economically.”

  And now the third man (Red Cheeks) said, “I wish you were right, but that’s not the way it’s going to work. If the border provinces establish their independence, the first thing each will do will be to try to increase its power at the expense of its neighbors. There’ll be war and conflict and every one of the governors will dream of becoming Emperor at last. It will be like the old days before the Kingdom of Trantor–a dark age that will last for thousands of years.”

  Baldy said, “Surely things won’t be that bad. The Empire may break up, but it will heal itself quickly when people find out that the breakup just means war and impoverishment. They’ll look back on the golden days of the intact Empire and all will be well again. We’re not barbarians, you know. We’ll find a way.”

  “Absolutely,” said Hook Nose. “We’ve got to remember that the Empire has faced crisis after crisis in its history and has pulled through time and again.”

  But Red Cheeks shook his head as he said, “This is not just another crisis. This is something much worse. The Empire has been deteriorating for generations. Ten years’ worth of the junta destroyed the economy and since the fall of the junta and the rise of this new Emperor, the Empire has been so weak that the governors on the Periphery don’t have to do anything. It’s going to fall of its own weight.”

  “And the allegiance to the Emperor–” began Hook Nose.

  “What allegiance?” said Red Cheeks. “We went for years without an Emperor after Cleon was assassinated and no one seemed to mind much. And this new Emperor is just a figurehead. There’s nothing he can do. There’s nothing anyone can do. This isn’t a crisis. This is the end.”

  The other two stared at Red Cheeks, frowning. Baldy said, “You really believe it! You think that the Imperial government will just sit there and let it all happen?”

  “Yes! Like you two, they won’t believe it is happening. That is, until it’s too late.”

  “What would you want them to do if they did believe it?” asked Baldy.

  Red Cheeks star
ed into the Galactograph, as if he might find an answer there. “I don’t know. Look, in due course of time I’ll die; things won’t be too bad by then. Afterward, as the situation gets worse, other people can worry about it. I’ll be gone. And so will the good old days. Maybe forever. I’m not the only one who thinks this, by the way. Ever hear of someone named Hari Seldon?”

  “Sure,” said Hook Nose at once. “Wasn’t he First Minister under Cleon?”

  “Yes,” said Red Cheeks. “He’s some sort of scientist. I heard him give a talk a few months back. It felt good to know I’m not the only one who believes the Empire is falling apart. He said–”

  “And he said everything’s going to pot and there’s going to be a permanent dark age?” Baldy interjected.

  “Well no,” said Red Cheeks. “He’s one of these real cautious types. Ire says it might happen, but he’s wrong. It will happen.”

  Seldon had heard enough. He limped toward the table where the three men sat and touched Red Cheeks on the shoulder.

  “Sir,” he said, “may I speak to you for a moment?”

  Startled, Red Cheeks looked up and then he said, “Hey, aren’t you Professor Seldon?”

  “I always have been,” said Seldon. He handed the man a reference tile bearing his photograph. “I would like to see you here in my Library office at 4 P.m., day after tomorrow. Can you manage that?”

  “I have to work.”

  “Call in sick if you have to. It’s important.”

  “Well, I’m not sure, sir.”

  “Do it,” said Seldon. “If you get into any sort of trouble over it, I’ll straighten it out. And meanwhile, gentlemen, do you mind if I study the Galaxy simulation for a moment? It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at one.”

  They nodded mutely, apparently abashed at being in the presence of a former First Minister. One by one the men stepped back and allowed Seldon access to the Galactograph controls.

  Seldon’s finger reached out to the controls and the red that had marked off the Province of Anacreon vanished. The Galaxy was unmarked, a glowing pinwheel of mist brightening into the spherical glow at the center, behind which was the Galactic black hole.

  Individual stars could not be made out, of course, unless the view were magnified, but then only one portion or another of the Galaxy would be shown on the screen and Seldon wanted to see the whole thing–to get a look at the Empire that was vanishing.

  He pushed a contact and a series of yellow dots appeared on the Galactic image. They represented the habitable planets–twenty-five million of them. They could be distinguished as individual dots in the thin fog that represented the outskirts of the Galaxy, but they were more and more thickly placed as one moved in toward the center. There was a belt of what seemed solid yellow (but which would separate into individual dots under magnification) around the central glow. The central glow itself remained white and unmarked, of course. No habitable planets could exist in the midst of the turbulent energies of the core.

  Despite the great density of yellow, not one star in ten thousand, Seldon knew, had a habitable planet circling it. This was true, despite the planet-molding and terraforming capacities of humanity. Not all the molding in the Galaxy could make most of the worlds into anything a human being could walk on in comfort and without the protection of a spacesuit.

  Seldon closed another contact. The yellow dots disappeared, but one tiny region glowed blue: Trantor and the various worlds directly dependent on it. As close as it could be to the central core and yet remaining insulated from its deadliness, it was commonly viewed as being located at the “center of the Galaxy,” which it wasn’t–not truly. As usual, one had to be impressed by the smallness of the world of Trantor, a tiny place in the vast realm of the Galaxy, but within it was squeezed the largest concentration of wealth, culture, and governmental authority that humanity had ever seen.

  And even that was doomed to destruction.

  It was almost as though the men could read his mind or perhaps they interpreted the sad expression on his face.

  Baldy asked softly, “Is the Empire really going to be destroyed?”

  Seldon replied, softer still, “It might. It might. Anything might happen.”

  He rose, smiled at the men, and left, but in his thoughts he screamed: It will! It will!


  SELDON SIGHED AS he climbed into one of the skitters that were ranked side by side in the large alcove. There had been a time, just a few years ago, when he had gloried in walking briskly along the interminable corridors of the Library, telling himself that even though he was past sixty he could manage it.

  But now, at seventy, his legs gave way all too quickly and he had to take a skitter. Younger men took them all the time because skitters saved them trouble, but Seldon did it because he had to–and that made all the difference.

  After Seldon punched in the destination, he closed a contact and the skitter lifted a fraction of an inch above the floor. Off it went at a rather casual pace, very smoothly, very silently, and Seldon leaned back and watched the corridor walls, the other skitters, the occasional walkers.

  He passed a number of Librarians and, even after all these years, he still smiled when he saw them. They were the oldest Guild in the Empire, the one with the most revered traditions, and they clung to ways that were more appropriate centuries before–maybe millennia before.

  Their garments were silky and off-white and were loose enough to be almost gownlike, coming together at the neck and billowing out from there.

  Trantor, like all the worlds, oscillated, where the males were concerned, between facial hair and smoothness. The people of Trantor itself–or at least most of its sectors–were smooth-shaven and had been smooth-shaven for as far back as he knew–excepting such anomalies as the mustaches worn by Dahlites, such as his own foster son, Raych.

  The Librarians, however, clung to the beards of long ago. Every Librarian had a rather short neatly cultivated beard running from ear to ear but leaving bare the upper lip. That alone was enough to mark them for what they were and to make the smooth-shaven Seldon feel a little uncomfortable when surrounded by a crowd of them.

  Actually the most characteristic thing of all was the cap each wore (perhaps even when asleep, Seldon thought). Square, it was made of a velvety material, in four parts that came together with a button at the top. The caps came in an endless variety of colors and apparently each color had significance. If you were familiar with Librarian lore, you could tell a particular Librarian’s length of service, area of expertise, grades of accomplishment, and so on. They helped fix a pecking order. Every Librarian could, by a glance at another’s hat, tell whether to be respectful (and to what degree) or overbearing (and to what degree).

  The Galactic Library was the largest single structure on Trantor (possibly in the Galaxy), much larger than even the Imperial Palace, and it had once gleamed and glittered, as though boasting of its size and magnificence. However, like the Empire itself, it had faded and withered. It was like an old dowager still wearing the jewels of her youth but upon a body that was wrinkled and wattled.

  The skitter stopped in front of the ornate doorway of the Chief Librarian’s office and Seldon climbed out.

  Las Zenow smiled as he greeted Seldon. “Welcome, my friend,” he said in his high-pitched voice. (Seldon wondered if he had ever sung tenor in his younger days but had never dared to ask. The Chief Librarian was a compound of dignity always and the question might have seemed offensive.)

  “Greetings,” said Seldon. Zenow had a gray beard, rather more than halfway to white, and he wore a pure white hat. Seldon understood that without any explanation. It was a case of reverse ostentation. The total absence of color represented the highest peak of position.

  Zenow rubbed his hands with what seemed to be an inner glee. “I’ve called you in, Hari, because I’ve got good news for you.–We’ve found it!

  “By ‘it,’ Las, you mean–”

  “A suitable world. You wanted
one far out. I think we’ve located the ideal one.” His smile broadened. “You just leave it to the Library. Hari. We can find anything.”

  “I have no doubt, Las. Tell me about this world.”

  “Well, let me show you its location first.” A section of the wall slid aside, the lights in the room dimmed, and the Galaxy appeared in three-dimensional form, turning slowly. Again, red lines marked off the Province of Anacreon, so that Seldon could almost swear that the episode with the three men had been a rehearsal for this.

  And then a brilliant blue dot appeared at the far end of the province. “There it is,” said Zenow. “It’s an ideal world. Sizable, well-watered, good oxygen atmosphere, vegetation, of course. A great deal of sea life. It’s there just for the taking. No planet-molding or terraforming required–or, at least, none that cannot be done while it is actually occupied.”

  Seldon said, “Is it an unoccupied world, Las?”

  “Absolutely unoccupied. No one on it.”

  “But why–if it’s so suitable? I presume that, if you have all the details about it, it must have been explored. Why wasn’t it colonized?”

  “It was explored, but only by unmanned probes. And there was no colonization–presumably because it was so far from everything. The planet revolves around a star that is farther from the central black hole than that of any inhabited planet–farther by far. Too far, I suppose, for prospective colonists, but I think not too far for you. You said, ‘The farther, the better.’”

  “Yes,” said Seldon, nodding. “I still say so. Does it have a name or is there just a letter-number combination?”

  “Believe it or not, it has a name. Those who sent out the probes named it Terminus, an archaic word meaning ‘the end of the line.’ Which it would seem to be.”

  Seldon said, “Is the world part of the territory of the Province of Anacreon?”