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Forward the Foundation f-2, Page 2

Isaac Asimov

  Seldon started into the crowd, but Finangelos caught his sleeve. “Don’t start anything, Professor. He’s got goons with him.”

  There were six young men behind the speaker, spaced rather widely, legs apart, arms folded, scowling.


  “For rough stuff, in case anyone tries anything funny.”

  “Then he’s certainly not a member of the University and even a permit wouldn’t cover what you call his ‘goons.’—Finangelos, signal through to the University security officers. They should have been here by now without a signal.”

  “I guess they don’t want trouble,” muttered Finangelos. “Please, Professor, don’t try anything. If you want me to get the security officers, I will, but you just wait till they come.”

  “Maybe I can break this up before they come.”

  He began pushing his way through. It wasn’t difficult. Some of those present recognized him and all could see the professorial shoulder patch. He reached the platform, placed his hands on it, and vaulted up the three feet with a small grunt. He thought, with chagrin, that he could have done it with one hand ten years before and without the grunt.

  He straightened up. The speaker had stopped talking and was looking at him with wary and ice-hard eyes.

  Seldon said calmly, “Your permit to address the students, sir.”

  “Who are you?” said the speaker. He said it loudly, his voice carrying.

  “I’m a member of the faculty of this University,” said Seldon, equally loudly. “Your permit, sir?”

  “I deny your right to question me on the matter.” The young men behind the speaker had gathered closer.

  “If you have none, I would advise you to leave the University grounds immediately.”

  “And if I don’t?”

  “Well, for one thing, the University security officers are on their way.” He turned to the crowd. “Students,” he called out, “we have the right of free speech and freedom of assembly on this campus, but it can be taken away from us if we allow outsiders, without permits, to make unauthorized—”

  A heavy hand fell on his shoulder and he winced. He turned around and found it was one of the men Finangelos had referred to as “goons.”

  The man said, with a heavy accent whose provenance Seldon could not immediately identify, “Get out of here—fast.”

  “What good will that do?” said Seldon. “The security officers will be here any minute.”

  “In that case,” said Namarti with a feral grin, “there’ll be a riot. That doesn’t scare us.”

  “Of course it wouldn’t,” said Seldon. “You’d like it, but there won’t be a riot. You’ll all go quietly.” He turned again to the students and shrugged off the hand on his shoulder. “We’ll see to that, won’t we?”

  Someone in the crowd shouted, “That’s Professor Seldon! He’s all right! Don’t pound him!”

  Seldon sensed ambivalence in the crowd. There would be some, he knew, who would welcome a dustup with the University security officers, just on general principles. On the other hand, there had to be some who liked him personally and still others who did not know him but who would not want to see violence against a member of the faculty.

  A woman’s voice rang out. “Watch out, Professor!”

  Seldon sighed and regarded the large young men he faced. He didn’t know if he could do it, if his reflexes were quick enough, his muscles sturdy enough, even given his prowess at Twisting.

  One goon was approaching him, overconfidently of course. Not quickly, which gave Seldon a little of the time his aging body would need. The goon held out his arm confrontationally, which made it easier.

  Seldon seized the arm, whirled, and bent, arm up, and then down (with a grunt—why did he have to grunt?), and the goon went flying through the air, propelled partly by his own momentum. He landed with a thump on the outer edge of the platform, his right shoulder dislocated.

  There was a wild cry from the audience at this totally unexpected development. Instantly an institutional pride erupted.

  “Take them, Prof!” a lone voice shouted. Others took up the cry.

  Seldon smoothed back his hair, trying not to puff. With his foot he shoved the groaning fallen goon off the platform.

  “Anyone else?” he asked pleasantly. “Or will you leave quietly?”

  He faced Namarti and his five henchmen and as they paused irresolutely, Seldon said, “I warn you. The crowd is on my side now. If you try to rush me, they’ll take you apart. —Okay, who’s next? Let’s go. One at a time.”

  He had raised his voice with the last sentence and made small come-hither motions with his fingers. The crowd yelled its pleasure.

  Namarti stood there stolidly. Seldon leaped past him and caught his neck in the crook of his arm. Students were climbing onto the platform now, shouting “One at a time! One at a time!” and getting between the bodyguards and Seldon.

  Seldon increased the pressure on the other’s windpipe and whispered in his ear, “There’s a way to do this, Namarti, and I know how. I’ve practiced it for years. If you make a move and try to break away, I’ll ruin your larynx so that you’ll never talk above a whisper again. If you value your voice, do as I say. When I let up, you tell your bunch of bullies to leave. If you say anything else, they’ll be the last words you’ll say normally. And if you ever come back to this campus again, no more Mr. Nice Guy. I’ll finish the job.”

  He released the pressure momentarily. Namarti said huskily, “All of you. Get out.” They retreated rapidly, helping their stricken comrade.

  When the University security officers arrived a few moments later, Seldon said, “Sorry, gentlemen. False alarm.”

  He left the Field and resumed his walk home with more than a little chagrin. He had revealed a side of himself he did not want to reveal. He was Hari Seldon, mathematician, not Hari Seldon, sadistic Twister.

  Besides, he thought gloomily, Dors would hear of this. In fact, he’d better tell her himself, lest she hear a version that made the incident seem worse than it really was.

  She would not be pleased.


  She wasn’t.

  Dors was waiting for him at the door of their apartment in an easy stance, hand on one hip, looking very much as she had when he had first met her at this very University eight years before: slim, shapely, with curly reddish-gold hair—very beautiful in his eyes but not very beautiful in any objective sense, though he had never been able to assess her objectively after the first few days of their friendship.

  Dors Venabili! That’s what he thought when he saw her calm face. There were many worlds, even many sectors on Trantor where it would have been common to call her Dors Seldon, but that, he always thought, would put the mark of ownership on her and he did not wish it, even though the custom was sanctioned by existence back into the vague mists of the pre-Imperial past.

  Dors said, softly and with a sad shake of her head that barely disturbed her loose curls, “I’ve heard, Hari. Just what am I going to do with you?”

  “A kiss would not be amiss.”

  “Well, perhaps, but only after we probe this a little. Come in.” The door closed behind them. “You know, dear, I have my course and my research. I’m still doing that dreadful history of the Kingdom of Trantor, which you tell me is essential to your own work. Shall I drop it all and take to wandering around with you, protecting you? It’s still my job, you know. It’s more than ever my job, now that you’re making progress with psychohistory.”

  “Making progress? I wish I were. But you needn’t protect me.”

  “Needn’t I? I sent Raych out looking for you. After all, you were late and I was concerned. You usually tell me when you’re going to be late. I’m sorry if that makes me sound as though I’m your keeper, Hari, but I am your keeper.”

  “Does it occur to you, Keeper Dors, that every once in a while I like to slip my leash?”

  “And if something happens to you, what do I tell Demerzel?”

“Am I too late for dinner? Have we clicked for kitchen service?”

  “No. I was waiting for you. And as long as you’re here, you click it. You’re a great deal pickier than I am when it comes to food. And don’t change the subject.”

  “Didn’t Raych tell you that I was all right? So what’s there to talk about?”

  “When he found you, you were in control of the situation and he got back here first, but not by much. I didn’t hear any details. Tell me— What—were—you—doing?”

  Seldon shrugged. “There was an illegal gathering, Dors, and I broke it up. The University could have gotten a good deal of trouble it didn’t need if I hadn’t.”

  “And it was up to you to prevent it? Hari, you’re not a Twister anymore. You’re an—”

  He put in hastily, “An old man?”

  “For a Twister, yes. You’re forty. How do you feel?”

  “Well— A little stiff.”

  “I can well imagine. And one of these days, when you try to pretend you’re a young Heliconian athlete, you’ll break a rib. —Now tell me about it.”

  “Well, I told you how Amaryl warned me that Demerzel was in trouble because of the demagoguery of Jo-Jo Joranum.”

  “Jo-Jo. Yes, I know that much. What don’t I know? What happened today?”

  “There was a rally at the Field. A Jo-Jo partisan named Namarti was addressing the crowd—”

  “Namarti is Gambol Deen Namarti, Joranum’s right-hand man.”

  “Well, you know more about it than I do. In any case, he was addressing a large crowd and he had no permit and I think he was hoping there would be some sort of riot. They feed on these disorders and if he could close down the University even temporarily, he would charge Demerzel with the destruction of academic freedom. I gather they blame him for everything. So I stopped them. —Sent them off without a riot.”

  “You sound proud.”

  “Why not? Not bad for a man of forty.”

  “Is that why you did it? To test your status at forty?”

  Seldon thoughtfully clicked the dinner menu. Then he said, “No. I really was concerned that the University would get into needless trouble. And I was concerned about Demerzel. I’m afraid that Yugo’s tales of danger had impressed me more than I realized. That was stupid, Dors, because I know that Demerzel can take care of himself. I couldn’t explain that to Yugo or to anyone but you.”

  He drew in a deep breath. “It’s amazing what a pleasure it is that I can at least talk to you about it. You know and I know and Demerzel knows and no one else knows—at least, that I know of—that Demerzel is untouchable.”

  Dors touched a contact on a recessed wall panel and the dining section of their living quarters lit up with a soft peach-colored glow. Together, she and Hari walked to the table, which was already set with linen, crystal, and utensils. As they sat, the dinner began to arrive—there was never any long delay at this time of evening—and Seldon accepted it quite casually. He had long since grown accustomed to the social position that made it unnecessary for them to patronize the faculty dinners.

  Seldon savored the seasonings they had learned to enjoy during their stay at Mycogen—the only thing about that strange, male-dominated, religion-permeated, living-in-the-past sector they had not detested.

  Dors said softly, “How do you mean, ‘untouchable’?”

  “Come, dear, he can alter emotions. You haven’t forgotten that. If Joranum really became dangerous, he could be”—he made a vague gesture with his hands—“altered; made to change his mind.”

  Dors looked uncomfortable and the meal proceeded in an unusual silence. It wasn’t until it was over and the remains—dishes, cutlery, and all—swirled down the disposal chute in the center of the table (which then smoothly covered itself over) that she said, “I’m not sure I want to talk about this, Hari, but I can’t let you be fooled by your own innocence.”

  “Innocence?” He frowned.

  “Yes. We’ve never talked about this. I never thought it would come up, but Demerzel has shortcomings. He is not untouchable, he may be harmed, and Joranum is indeed a danger to him.”

  “Are you serious?”

  “Of course I am. You don’t understand robots—certainly not one as complex as Demerzel. And I do.”


  There was a short silence again, but only because thoughts are silent. Seldon’s were tumultuous enough.

  Yes, it was true. His wife did seem to have an uncanny knowledge of robots. Hari had wondered about this so often over the years that he had finally given up, tucked it away in the back of his mind. If it hadn’t been for Eto Demerzel—a robot—Hari would never have met Dors. For Dors worked for Demerzel; it was Demerzel who “assigned” Dors to Hari’s case eight years ago to protect him during his flight throughout the various sectors of Trantor. Even though now she was his wife, his help-meet, his “better half,” Hari still occasionally wondered about Dors’s strange connection with the robot Demerzel. It was the only area of Dors’s life where Hari truly felt he did not belong—nor welcome. And that brought to mind the most painful question of all: Was it out of obedience to Demerzel that Dors stayed with Hari or was it out of love for him? He wanted to believe the latter—and yet . . .

  His life with Dors Venabili was a happy one, but it was so at a cost, at a condition. The condition was all the more stringent, in that it had been settled not through discussion or agreement but by a mutual unspoken understanding.

  Seldon understood that he found in Dors everything he would have wanted in a wife. True, he had no children, but he had neither expected any, nor, to tell the truth, had greatly wanted any. He had Raych, who was as much a son of his emotionally as if he had inherited the entire Seldonian genome—perhaps more so.

  The mere fact that Dors was causing him to think about the matter was breaking the agreement that had kept them in peace and comfort all these years and he felt a faint but growing resentment at that.

  But he pushed those thoughts, the questions, away again. He had learned to accept her role as his protector and would continue to do so. After all, it was he with whom she shared a home, a table, and a bed—not Eto Demerzel.

  Dors’s voice brought him out of his reverie.

  “I said— Are you sulking, Hari?”

  He started slightly, for there was the sound of repetition in her voice, and he realized he had been shrinking steadily deeper into his mind and away from her.

  “I’m sorry, dear. I’m not sulking. —Not deliberately sulking. I’m just wondering how I ought to respond to your statement.”

  “About robots?” She seemed quite calm as she said the word.

  “You said I don’t know as much about them as you do. How do I respond to that?” He paused, then added quietly (knowing he was taking a chance), “That is, without offense.”

  “I didn’t say you didn’t know about robots. If you’re going to quote me, do so with precision. I said you didn’t understand about robots. I’m sure that you know a great deal, perhaps more than I do, but to know is not necessarily to understand.”

  “Now, Dors, you’re deliberately speaking in paradoxes to be annoying. A paradox arises only out of an ambiguity that deceives either unwittingly or by design. I don’t like that in science and I don’t like it in casual conversation, either, unless it is meant humorously, which I think is not the case now.”

  Dors laughed in her particular way, softly, almost as though amusement were too precious to be shared in an overliberal manner. “Apparently the paradox has annoyed you into pomposity and you are always humorous when you are pompous. However, I’ll explain. It’s not my intention to annoy you.” She reached over to pat his hand and it was to Seldon’s surprise (and slight embarrassment) that he found that he had clenched his hand into a fist.

  Dors said, “You talk about psychohistory a great deal. To me, at any rate. You know that?”

  Seldon cleared his throat. “I throw myself on your mercy as far as that’s concerned. The project
is secret—by its very nature. Psychohistory won’t work unless the people it affects know nothing about it, so I can talk about it only to Yugo and to you. To Yugo, it is all intuition. He’s brilliant, but he is so apt to leap wildly into darkness that I must play the role of caution, of forever pulling him back. But I have my wild thoughts, too, and it helps me to be able to hear them aloud, even”—and he smiled—“when I have a pretty good notion that you don’t understand a word I’m saying.”

  “I know I’m your sounding board and I don’t mind. —I really don’t mind, Hari, so don’t begin making inner resolutions to change your behavior. Naturally I don’t understand your mathematics. I’m just a historian—and not even a historian of science. The influence of economic change on political development is what is taking up my time now—”

  “Yes, and I’m your sounding board on that or hadn’t you noticed? I’ll need it for psychohistory when the time comes, so I suspect you’ll be an indispensable help to me.”

  “Good! Now that we’ve settled why you stay with me—I knew it couldn’t be for my ethereal beauty—let me go on to explain that occasionally, when your discussion veers away from the strictly mathematical aspects, it seems to me that I get your drift. You have, on a number of occasions, explained what you call the necessity of minimalism. I think I understand that. By it, you mean—”

  “I know what I mean.”

  Dors looked hurt. “Less lofty, please, Hari. I’m not trying to explain it to you. I want to explain it to myself. You say you’re my sounding board, so act like one. Turnabout is fair play, isn’t it?”

  “Turnabout is fine, but if you’re going to accuse me of loftiness when I say one little—”

  “Enough! Shut up! —You have told me that minimalism is of the highest importance in applied psychohistory; in the art of attempting to change an undesired development into a desired one or, at any rate, a less undesired one. You have said that a change must be applied that is as minute, as minimal, as possible—”

  “Yes,” said Seldon eagerly, “that is because—”