Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Asimov’s Future History Volume 14

Isaac Asimov

  Asimov’s Future History

  Volume XIV

  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.

  Pebble in the Sky - First published in 1950

  Blind Alley - First published in Astounding Science Fiction, March, 1945

  Prelude to Foundation - First published May, 1988

  Eto Demerzel - First published in Forward the Foundation, April, 1993

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

  Layout and design by Dead^Man

  Cover art by Unknown

  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


  Pebble in the Sky

  Thirteen: Spider Web at Washenn

  Fourteen: Second Meeting

  Fifteen: The Odds that Vanished

  Sixteen: Choose Your Side!

  Seventeen: Change Your Side!

  Eighteen: Duel!

  Nineteen: The Deadline that Approached

  Twenty: The Deadline that was Reached

  Twenty-One: The Deadline that Passed

  Twenty-Two: The Best is Yet to Be

  Blind Alley






  Prelude to Foundation




















  Eto Demerzel


























  Sources of Dates

  Pebble in the Sky

  827 G.E. (12411 A.D.)

  Thirteen: Spider Web at Washenn

  The grounds of the College of Ancients in Washenn are nothing if not sedate. Austerity is the key word, and there is something authentically grave about the clustered knots of novices taking their evening stroll among the trees of the Quadrangle–where none but Ancients might trespass. Occasionally the green-robed figure of a Senior Ancient might make its way across the lawn, receiving reverences graciously.

  And, once in a long while, the High Minister himself might appear.

  But not as now, at a half run, almost in a perspiration, disregarding the respectful raising of hands, oblivious to the cautious stares that followed him, the blank looks at one another, the slightly raised eyebrows.

  He burst into the Legislative Hall by the private entrance and broke into an open run down the empty, step-ringing ramp. The door that he thundered at opened at the foot pressure of the one within, and the High Minister entered.

  His Secretary scarcely looked up from behind his small, plain desk, where he hunched over a midget Field-shielded Televisor, listening intently and allowing his eyes to rove over a quire or so of official-looking communications that piled high before him.

  The High Minister rapped sharply on the desk. “What is this? What is going on?”

  The Secretary’s eyes flicked coldly at him, and the Televisor was put to one side. “Greetings, Your Excellency.”

  “Greet me no greetings!” retorted the High Minister impatiently. “I want to know what is going on.”

  “In a sentence, our man has escaped.”

  “You mean the man who was treated by Shekt with the Synapsifier–the Outsider–the spy–the one on the farm outside Chica–”

  It is uncertain how many qualifications the High Minister, in his anxiety, might have rattled out had not the Secretary interrupted with an indifferent “Exactly.”

  “Why was I not informed? Why am I never informed?”

  “Immediate action was necessary and you were engaged. I substituted, therefore, to the best of my ability.”

  “Yes, you are careful about my engagements when you wish to do without me. Now, I’ll not have it. I will not permit myself to be by-passed and sidetracked. I will not–”

  “We delay,” was the reply at ordinary speaking volume, and the High Minister’s half shout faded. He coughed, hovered uncertainly at further speech, then said mildly:

  “What are the details, Balkis?”

  “Scarcely any. After two months of patient waiting, with nothing to show for it, this man Schwartz left–was followed–and was lost.”

  “How lost?”

  “We are not sure, but there is a further fact. Our agent, Natter, missed three reporting periods last night. His alternates set out after him along the highway toward Chica and found him at dawn. He was in a ditch at the side of the highway–quite dead.”

  The High Minister paled. “The Outsider had killed him?”

  “Presumably, though we cannot say certainly. There were no visible signs of violence other than a look of agony on the dead face. There will be an autopsy, of course. He might have died of a stroke just at that inconvenient moment.”

  “That would be an incredible coincidence.”

  “So I think, “was the cool response, “but if Schwartz killed him, it makes subsequent events puzzling. You see, Your Excellency, it seemed quite obvious from our previous analysis that Schwartz would make for Chica in order to see Shekt, and Natter was found dead on the highway between the Maren farm and Chica. We therefore sent out an alarm to that city three hours ago and the man was caught.”

  “Schwartz?” incredulously.


  “Why didn’t you say that immediately?”

  Balkis shrugged. “Your Excellency, there is more important work to be done. I said that Schwartz was in our hands. Well, he was caught quickly and easily, and that fact does not seem to me to jibe very well with the death of Natter. How could he be at once so clever as to detect and kill Natter–a most capable man–and so stupid as to enter Chica the very next morning and openly enter a factory, without disguise, to find a job?’

  “Is that what he did?”

  “That’s what he did.... There are two possible thoughts that this gives rise to, therefore. Either he has already transmitted such information as he has to Shekt or Arvardan, and has now let himself be caught in order to divert out attention, or else other agents are involved, whom we have not detected and whom he is now covering. In either case, we must not be overconfident.”

  “I don’t know,” said the High Minister helplessly, his handsome face twisted into anxious lines. “It gets too deep for me.”

  Balkis smiled with more than a trace of contempt and volunteered a statement. “You have an appointment four hours from now with Professor Bel Arvardan.”

  “I have? Why? What am I to say to him? I don’t want to see him.”

  “Relax. You must see him, Your Excellency. It seems obvious to me that since the date of commence
ment of his fictitious expedition is approaching, he must play out the game by asking you for permission to investigate the Forbidden Areas. Ennius warned us he would, and Ennius must know exactly the details of this comedy. I suppose that you are able to return him froth for froth in this matter and to counter pretense with pretense.”

  The High Minister bowed his head. “Well, I shall try.”

  Bel Arvardan arrived in good time, and was able to look about him. To a man well acquainted with the architectural triumphs of all the Galaxy, the College of Ancients could scarcely seem more than a brooding block of steel-ribbed granite, fashioned in an archaic style. To one who was an archaeologist as well, it might signify, in its gloomy, nearly savage austerity, the proper home of a gloomy, nearly savage way of life. It’s very primitiveness marked the turning back of eyes to the far past.

  And Arvardan’s thoughts slipped away once again. His two-month tour about Earth’s western continents had proven not quite–amusing. That first day had ruined things. He found himself thinking back to that day at Chica.

  He was instantly angry with himself for thinking about it again. She had been rude, egregiously ungrateful, a common Earthgirl. Why should he feel guilty? And yet...

  Had he made allowances for her shock at discovering him to be an Outsider, like that officer who had insulted her and whose arrogant brutality he had repaid with a broken arm? After all, how could he know how much she had already suffered at the hands of Outsiders? And then to find out, like that, without any softening of the blow, that he was one.

  If he had been more patient... Why had he broken it off so brutally? He didn’t even remember her name. It was Pola something. Strange! His memory was ordinarily better than that. Was it an unconscious effort to forget?

  Well, that made sense. Forget! What was there to remember, anyway? An Earthgirl. A common Earthgirl.

  She was a nurse in a hospital. Suppose he tried to locate the hospital. It had been just a vague blot in the night when he parted from her, but it must be in the neighborhood of that Foodomat.

  He snatched at the thought and broke into a thousand angry fragments. Was he mad? What would he have gained? She was an Earthgirl. Pretty, sweet, somehow entic–

  An Earthgirl!

  The High Minister was entering, and Arvardan was glad. It meant relief from that day in Chica. But, deep in his mind, he knew that they would return. They–the thoughts, that is–always did.

  As for the High Minister, his robe was new and glistening in its freshness. His forehead showed no trace of haste or doubt; perspiration might have been a stranger to it.

  And the conversation was friendly, indeed. Arvardan was at pains to mention the well-wishings of some of the great men of the Empire to the people of Earth. The High Minister was as careful to express the thorough gratification that must be felt by all Earth at the generosity and enlightenment of the Imperial Government.

  Arvardan expounded on the importance of archaeology to Imperial philosophy, on its contribution to the great conclusion that all humans of whatever world of the Galaxy were brothers–and the High Minister agreed blandly and pointed out that Earth had long held such to be the case and could only hope that the time would shortly come when the rest of the Galaxy might turn theory into practice.

  Arvardan smiled very shortly at that and said, “It is for that very purpose, Your Excellency, that I have approached you. The differences between Earth and some of the Imperial Dominions neighboring it rest largely, perhaps, on differing ways of thinking. Still, a good deal of friction could be removed if it could be shown that Earthmen were not different, racially, from other Galactic citizens.”

  “And how would you propose to do that, sir?”

  “That is not easy to explain in a word. As Your Excellency may know, the two main currents of archaeological thinking are commonly called the Merger Theory and the Radiation Theory.”

  “I am acquainted with a layman’s view of both.”

  “Good. Now the Merger Theory, of course, involves the notion that the various types of humanity, evolving independently, have intermarried in the very early, scarcely documented days of primitive space travel. A conception like that is necessary to account for the fact that Humans are so alike one to the other now.”

  “Yes,” commented the High Minister dryly, “and such a conception also involves the necessity of having several hundred, or thousand, separately evolved beings of a more or less human type so closely related chemically and biologically that intermarriage is possible.”

  “True,” replied Arvardan with satisfaction. “You have put your finger on an impossibly weak point. Yet most archaeologists ignore it and adhere firmly to the Merger Theory, which would, of course, imply the possibility that in isolated portions of the Galaxy there might be subspecies of humanity who remained different, didn’t intermarry–”

  “You mean Earth,” commented the High Minister.

  “Earth is considered an example. The Radiation Theory, on the other hand–”

  “Considers us all descendants of one planetary group of humans.”


  “My people,” said the High Minister, “because of the evidence 0 (our own history, and of certain writings which are sacred to us and cannot be exposed to the view of Outsiders, are of the belief that Earth itself is the original home of humanity.”.

  “And so I believe as well, and I ask your help to prove this point to all the Galaxy.”

  “You are optimistic. Just what is involved?”

  “It is my conviction, Your Excellency, that many primitive artifacts and architectural remains may be located in those areas of your world which are now, unfortunately, masked by radioactivity. The age of the remains could be accurately calculated from the radioactive decay present and compared–”

  But the High Minister was shaking his head.. “That is out of the question.”

  “Why?” And Arvardan frowned in thorough amazement.

  “For one thing,” said the High Minister, reasoning mildly, “what do you expect to accomplish? If you prove your point, even to the satisfaction of all the worlds, what does it matter that a million years ago all of you were Earthmen? After all, a billion years ago we were all apes, yet we do not admit present-day apes into the relationship.”

  “Come, Your Excellency, the analogy is unreasonable.”

  “Not at all, sir. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that Earthmen, in their long isolation, have so changed from their emigrating cousins, especially under the influence of radioactivity, as now to form a different race?”

  Arvardan bit at his lower lip and answered reluctantly, “You argue well on the side of your enemy.”

  “Because I ask myself what my enemy will say. So you will accomplish nothing, sir, except perhaps to further exacerbate the hatred against us.”

  “But,” said Arvardan, “there is still the matter of the interests of pure science, the advance of knowledge–”

  The High Minister nodded gravely. “I am truly sorry to have to stand in the way of that. I speak now, sir, as one gentleman of the Empire to another. I myself would cheerfully help you, but my people are an obstinate and stiff-necked race, who over centuries have withdrawn into themselves because of the–uh–lamentable attitudes toward them in parts of the Galaxy. They have certain taboos, certain fixed Customs–which even I could not afford to violate.”

  “And the radioactive areas–”

  “Are one of the most important taboos. Even if I were to grant you permission, and certainly my every impulse is to do so, it would merely provoke rioting and disturbances, which would not only endanger your life and those of the members of your expedition but would, in the long run, bring down upon Earth the disciplinary action of the Empire. I would betray my position and the trust of my people if I were to allow that.”

  “But I am willing to take all reasonable precautions. If you wish to send observers with me–Or, of course, I can offer to consult you before publishing any results obta

  The High Minister said, “You tempt me, sir. It is an interesting project. But you overestimate my power, even if we leave the people themselves out of consideration. I am not an absolute ruler. In fact, my power is sharply limited–and all matters must be submitted to the consideration of the Society of Ancients before final decisions are possible.”

  Arvardan shook his head. “This is most unfortunate. The Procurator warned me of the difficulties, yet I was hoping that–When can you consult your legislature, Your Excellency?”