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Asimov’s Future History Volume 12

Isaac Asimov

  Asimov’s Future History

  Volume XII

  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.

  Inferno-By Roger MacBride Allen. First published as Isaac Asimov’s Inferno, September, 1994

  Utopia -By Roger MacBride Allen. First published as Isaac Asimov's Utopia, August, 1996

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

  Layout and design by Dead^Man

  Cover art “Future City” by Alain Descamps of DeviantArt

  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


  3731 AD Inferno

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  3736 AD Utopia


  Part 1

  Part 2

  Part 3

  Part 4


  Sources for Dates


  3731 A.D.

  Chapter 3

  TONYA WELTON STALKED away from Shelabas Quellam, trying to calm herself. Could the man be that much of a fool? Did he really believe that Tonya would want to limit Settler smuggling operations? Surely the Spacer intelligence services knew what she had been up to. Did Quellam even read the intelligence reports? Or maybe the intell services didn’t bother–or didn’t dare–to give their reports to the President of the Legislative Council.

  Could anyone be that dense? Perhaps it all was nothing more than an act. But an act in aid of what? What purpose could it serve for Quellam to put the Settlers’ leader in an awkward position?

  “Hey! You’re the Settler lady, aren’t you?” a rather thick-sounding voice bellowed from behind her.

  Tonya turned with a frown and found herself face-to-face with a rather bleary-faced man wearing the latest version of the Ironhead uniform. The severely cut black-and-grey outfit was rather disheveled, to put it mildly, and it was cut a half size too tight for the wearer. A few of the fasteners looked as if they were likely to give way. “Yes,” she said. ‘Tm the Settler lady. Tonya Welton.” Sometimes it was best to be polite to drunks. If you brushed them off too abruptly, they could get belligerent.

  “Yeah, I thought so,” the Ironhead said. “Robot hater. You’re a robot hater,” he said, and nodded to himself, as if he had just revealed some hidden truth.

  “I don’t know if I’d put it quite that strongly,” Tonya said, “but no, I don’t approve of them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must–”

  “Wait a second!” the Ironhead said. “Jus’ a second. You got it all wrong. Let me explain about robots, and then you’ll see.”

  “Thank you, no,” Tonya said. “Not just now.”

  She turned and walked away.

  “Hey!” the man cried out from behind her. “Jus’ a second!”

  And then he put his hand on her shoulder.

  Tonya shoved his hand away and spun around to face him.

  “Don’t you walk away from me,” the man said, and reached for her. Maybe he just wanted to grab at her again, maybe he was taking a deliberate swing at her. His open hand caught her hard across the chin, a hard slap. Trained reflex took over as Tonya dropped back a step or two and gave the man a kick to the head, sending him sprawling.

  “Hey!” another voice shouted from behind, giving Tonya all the warning she needed. She heard the one behind her grunt as he lunged for her, and she ducked down to make him hit her higher than he meant to.

  He slammed into her from the back, knocking the wind out of her. She grabbed for his collar and pulled him forward, using his momentum to throw him over her shoulder.

  He hit the ground with a hard slap. Another Ironhead, all right, but this one in good enough shape not to look ridiculous in the uniform. He was already up, shaking off the impact, heading for her–

  And then strong robotic arms were on her, and another robot made a grab for her second attacker. It was over.

  Tonya struggled to escape, even though she knew it was pointless.

  She hated it when someone else finished what she had started.

  Now. Now. Now was the moment. The SSS guards on the door had pulled out twenty-five minutes before, just as Bissal had been promised. Nothing to worry about besides whatever Rangers might be by the door.

  Ottley Bissal, hovering at the edge of a crowd of late arrivals, checked his watch for the dozenth time. Now. He pulled his quite legitimate invitation from his pocket, to have it ready in case he was challenged. He stepped into the knot of laughing, happy people and allowed himself to be swept up as they went inside.

  Inside. Inside the Governor’s Residence. He was here, he had made it. It was all happening just the way they had promised it would.

  He felt a sense of triumph wash over him. But now was not the time for such things. Keep your mind on the task at hand. He had something under two minutes to get where he was going.

  Unseen, unnoticed, Ottley Bissal hurried toward his goal.

  The first Alvar Kresh knew of the altercation was the sound of it, muffled shouts and cries corning from the great hall as he was waiting to be admitted into the Governor’s private office. He ran back down the hallway, with Donald far out in the lead.

  Kresh rushed down the stairs, but stopped three or four stops from the bottom. A remarkable tableau greeted him. The robot Caliban was holding Tonya Welton from behind, keeping her arms pinned behind her and struggling–without much success–to keep her from kicking out with her legs.

  Another robot, jet-black and somewhat shorter than Caliban, was doing his best to keep a man in an Ironhead uniform out of range of Welton’s rather well-aimed kicks. As the man was doing his best to break free and rush at Welton, the second robot was not having an easy time of it. Damnation! Now Kresh remembered. The black robot was Prospero, one of the more visible of the New Law robots.

  The robots and the humans they were restraining were surrounded by a pack of astonished party-goers, four or five Rangers in waiter’s uniforms clearly on the alert, but not quite sure what to do. The whole room was in a general state of turmoil.

  Kresh realized that another Ironhead was out cold, flat on his back, a bit too close to the flailing would-be combatants for anyone to get to him and render aid without risking the receipt of a misaimed punch or kick. Donald, however, had no reason to fear injury from anything a human could dish out, and would not have cared if he did. He rushed between Welton and the conscious Ironhead and got to the man who was down.

  “All right, quiet! “Kresh shouted, with enough authority behind it that the crowd went quiet. Kresh made his way down the last few stairs, and the wall of people parted in front of him. He was tempted to ask what had happened, but he knew damn well that was the best way to get everyone talking and shouting allover again. At least Welton and the still-conscious Ironhead had been distracted enough by his entrance to calm down a bit. Kresh turned to the Ironhead first, still being held by the black robot.

  “You,” he said. “You, the Ironhead. What’s your name?”

  “Blare. Reslar Blare,” the man said. “She started it. Deam was just cor
ning up to talk to her, and she kicked him in the head!”

  “Talk!” Welton said. “He talked to me with a punch in the head.”

  “Sheriff Kresh! Sheriff Kresh! “Kresh turned to see Simcor Beddle pulling at his sleeve, looking rather more flustered and anxious than a short, fat man in a uniform could without looking ridiculous. “These two men are not Ironheads,” Beddle announced.

  “Then why are they wearing your damned comic opera uniforms?” Welton demanded.

  “They are not Ironheads, I tell you!” Beddle protested. “I know all the men and women entitled to wear uniforms of their rank–and I have never seen these two before! Someone has sent them to cause a provocation and blame us!”

  That was nearly plausible, Kresh admitted to himself. Beddle had been trying to move his people a bit closer to respectability in recent months, with more of an eye toward the ballot box than bullyboy techniques.

  “All right, Beddle,” he said. “We’ll find out who’s who.” Kresh turned to Tonya Welton. This could be tricky, damned tricky, if she decided to make trouble. A diplomatic incident and then some. Best to try to smooth her feathers, if he could. “Let her go,” he said to Caliban, careful not to address him by name. Why get the crowd agitated allover again by reminding them which robot this was?

  Caliban hesitated. Damnation, Kresh thought. Hard to remember he doesn’t have Second Law. On the other hand, he doesn’t have First Law either. What the devil was he doing breaking up a fight? “It’s all right. I don’t think Madame Welton is going to do anything unwise.”

  Caliban let the Settler leader go, and she pulled herself away from his grip without a great deal of good grace.

  “Don’t take it out on the robots, Madame Welton,” Kresh said, before she could say anything to Caliban. “All they did was break up the fight.”

  “Maybe so,” Welton said, “but I don’t have to like it.”

  “No, you don’t,” Kresh agreed. He looked around the room full of staring faces and decided he didn’t want this much of an audience while he was sorting this out. Not unless he wanted a fresh shouting match–or fistfight–to break out. What with a New Law and a No Law robot and allegedly false Ironheads and a Settler mixed up in this already, he didn’t need any further complications.

  Just then, three Settler Security Service agents came rushing into the room. They had been dozing somewhere on duty, no doubt, when someone had summoned them. Well, they could be of some use now, just the same. “You three. Take charge of these two men,” he said, pointing out Blare and Deam. “Donald!” Kresh called out. “Front and center!”

  Donald was still kneeling by Deam. “Sir, this man is unconscious–”

  “Is he in any immediate danger?” Kresh demanded, bullying Donald just a bit. “Will he come to harm if these SSS agents take care of him?”

  “No, sir,” Donald conceded. “He is in no immediate danger.”

  “Then let someone else care for him and find someplace for me to talk to Madame Welton in private.”

  Kresh always assumed that, in the case of a public brawl, witnesses would contradict each other and get muddled about what happened when and who did what to whom.

  With luck, he could calm Tonya Welton down here and now, get a coherent story, and find some way to slap her attackers on the wrists without a lot of formalities, and make it all go away by morning. It was, after all, just a brawl, and it did not make much sense for it to take up too much of his time or anyone else’s. He doubted that Tonya Welton would wish to spend much time as a witness in a police court.

  In short order, Donald had found a vacant sitting room and ushered Tonya Welton in. She sat down on a low couch, while Kresh took a chair opposite. The three robots, Donald, Caliban, and Prospero, came in as well, and remained standing.

  Kresh was not too sure about having Caliban and Prospero there. Although standard Three-Law robots could not lie, there was, so far as Kresh was aware, nothing to prevent these two from telling any story that came into their heads. On the other hand, there was no danger that their reactions or memories would be colored by panic or surprise.

  “All right, Tonya,” Kresh said. “What happened?”

  “Not that much to tell,” she said. “I had been talking to Sero Phrost and Shelabas Quellam. I was crossing the room when this Deam fellow came up to me. He was almost polite at first, if maybe a bit drunk and aggressive. I think he wanted to explain some fine point of Ironhead philosophy to me. Maybe he thought that if I just got this one point, then the scales would fall from my eyes and I would be converted to the true way, or something.”

  “Sounds familiar,” Kresh said.

  “Anyway, as I said, he seemed a bit drunk, and I really didn’t want to talk with him, so I made some sort of polite excuse and started to leave. He grabbed me by the shoulder, and I pushed his hand off. Then he either made a grab for me and missed when I ducked, or else he tried to punch me and succeeded. Anyway, he caught me a good one right on the jaw. I fell back and then gave him a kick in the side of the head. It was all reflex reaction. Then the other one came and grabbed me from behind. I threw him, he got up–and then the two robots grabbed us.”

  “Neither of us saw the beginning of it, but that is how Prospero and myself saw it end,” Caliban said.

  Kresh ignored the robot. He shouldn’t have spoken unless spoken to in the first place. “Well, that should be all we need to know, Madame Welton. We’ll try not to pester you with any more questions if we don’t have to. My sincere apologies, and I’m sure the Governor will wish to add his own at the first opportunity.”

  “I quite understand,” Tonya said, standing up. “Feelings are running rather high just at the moment. There are bound to be–ah–incidents. So long as the two men who attacked me are properly punished, I will be quite satisfied.”

  “Thank you for that, Madame Welton. That is a most generous attitude.” Kresh thought for a moment. Maybe they could get all this over with right now. “If you wish, Madame Welton, I could question the two men here, now, in your presence, with Donald recording. We could have you done with your part in all this in a few minutes.”

  “I would appreciate that.”

  “Fine. I’ll call them in.”

  “Sir, perhaps now would not be the most–”

  “No, Donald. The sooner the better.” Kresh had worked with Donald long enough to know what he would have said next. The suspects should not be questioned in front of their accuser. Strictly speaking, Tonya Welton should be treated as just as much of a suspect as the Ironheads, as it was her word against theirs. That might all be strictly true from a standpoint of criminal investigation, but it wasn’t much good in terms of politics. “Private voicephone, Donald,” Kresh said. No sense in Welton and the robots listening in. “Put me through to the head of the SSS Residence detail.”

  Donald opened a compartment on his side and extracted a telephone handset. It gave off a gentle beep as Kresh put it to his ear. “Senior Agent Wylot here,” a hard-edged voice announced.

  “Yes, hello. This is Sheriff Kresh. We’re in Room 121, on the south side of the ground floor. Could your people escort the two Ironhead suspects in here?”

  “Ah, what Ironhead suspects would those be, sir?”

  Kresh frowned. “The ones three of your agents took into custody ten minutes ago.”

  “Sir, I don’t understand. We got the order to withdraw from our posts in the Residence half an hour ago. I’m talking to you from my aircar, heading back to base.”

  “Then who the hell took charge of those men?” Kresh demanded.

  “I don’t know, sir–but I can tell you they weren’t SSS. We never use a three-person team.”

  “Why the hell not?”

  “Bad tactics in a security operation. The third agent gets in the way. We use single agents and pairs, but the next largest formation is six.”

  “Was the entire SSS unit withdrawn?”

  “Not so far as I know, sir. Just the agents working the fro
nt door. It was all arranged beforehand. Once the guests had arrived, we did a handoff to the Rangers. Their turf.”

  “I see,” Kresh said, though he definitely did not. “Thank you, Agent Wylot.” He handed the phone back to Donald and looked to Welton. “Those weren’t SSS agents who picked up Deam and Blare,” he said. “Impostors, it would appear.”

  “What?” Welton said. “Why in the devil would anyone pose as SSS agents?”

  “To extract their men before we could ask any questions, presumably.”

  “But why?”

  Kresh smiled coldly. “As we can’t ask any questions, we don’t know, do we? How about it, Donald? Do you have anything?”

  “Sir, I have used a hyperwave link back to headquarters and run an ID check on the names and images of the two men involved in the–incident,” Donald said. “They do not appear on any of our Ironhead watch lists. Indeed, they are not listed in any database of residents of, or visitors to, this planet. They are on no list to which I have access.”

  “So who the hell were they?”

  “I have no idea, sir. They are either off-worlders or locals operating under elaborate disguise, or Infernal residents who have either never been registered or have found some way of altering or expunging their records. Sir, if I may pose yet another question,” Donald said. “Where was the SSS during the attack? Surely they should have been able to get to the scene faster than they did.”

  The agent on the phone had an explanation for that, but Donald could not know what it was from hearing Kresh’s side of the conversation. Nor could Welton, for that matter. It might be worth hearing her version. “Madame Welton? They’re your agents. Can you tell us that much, at least?”