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Daneel Olivaw 2 - The Naked Sun, Page 2

Isaac Asimov

  I was all set—and yet, something was wrong. I had grown steadily more interested in non-fiction in the 1950s, and for the first time, I started a novel which wouldn’t catch fire. After four chapters, I faded out and gave up. I decided that in my heart I felt I couldn’t handle the romance, couldn’t balance the human/robot mixture in properly equal fashion.

  For twenty-five years, that was the way it remained. Neither The Caves of Steel nor The Naked Sun died or went out of print. They appeared together in The Robot Novels; they appeared with a group of short stories in The Rest of the Robots. And they appeared in various softcover editions.

  For twenty-five years, therefore, readers had them available to read and, I presume, enjoy. As a result, many wrote me to ask for a third novel. At conventions they asked me directly. It became the most sure-fire request I was to receive (except the request for a fourth Foundation novel).

  And whenever I was asked if I intended to write a third robot novel, I always answered, “Yes—someday—so pray for a long life for me.”

  Somehow, I felt I ought to, but as the years passed I grew more and more certain that I couldn’t handle it, and more and more sadly convinced that the third novel was never going to be written.

  And yet, in March of 1983, I presented Doubleday with the “long-awaited” third robot novel. It has no connection whatever with the ill-fated attempt of 1958, and its name is The Robots of Dawn.

  —Isaac Asimov

  New York City



  Stubbornly Elijah Baley fought panic.

  For two weeks it had been building up. Longer than that, even. It had been building up ever since they had called him to Washington and there calmly told him he was being reassigned.

  The call to Washington had been disturbing enough in itself. It came without details, a mere summons; and that made it worse. It included travel slips directing round trip by plane and that made it still worse.

  Partly it was the sense of urgency introduced by any order for plane travel. Partly it was the thought of the plane; simply that. Still, that was just the beginning of uneasiness and, as yet, easy to suppress.

  After all, Lije Baley had been in a plane four times before. Once he had even crossed the continent. So, while plane travel is never pleasant, it would, at least, not be a complete step into the unknown.

  And then, the trip from New York to Washington would take only an hour. The take-off would be from New York Runway Number 2, which, like all official Runways, was decently enclosed, with a lock opening to the unprotected atmosphere only after air speed had been achieved. The arrival would be at Washington Runway Number 5, which was similarly protected.

  Furthermore, as Baley well knew, there would be no windows on the plane. There would be good lighting, decent food, all necessary conveniences. The radio-controlled flight would be smooth; there would scarcely be any sensation of motion once the plane was airborne.

  He explained all this to himself, and to Jessie, his wife, who had never been airborne and who approached such matters with terror.

  She said, “But I don’t like you to take a plane, Lije. It isn’t natural. Why can’t you take the Expressways?”

  “Because that would take ten hours”—Baley’s long face was set in dour lines—“and because I’m a member of the City Police Force and have to follow the orders of my superiors. At least, I do if I want to keep my C-6 rating.”

  There was no arguing with that.

  Baley took the plane and kept his eyes firmly on the news-strip that unreeled smoothly and continuously from the eye-level dispenser. The City was proud of that service: news, features, humorous articles, educational bits, occasional fiction. Someday the strips would be converted to film, it was said, since enclosing the eyes with a viewer would be an even more efficient way of distracting the passenger from his surroundings.

  Baley kept his eyes on the unreeling strip, not only for the sake of distraction, but also because etiquette required it. There were five other passengers on the plane (he could not help noticing that much) and each one of them had his private right to whatever degree of fear and anxiety his nature and upbringing made him feel.

  Baley would certainly resent the intrusion of anyone else on his own uneasiness. He wanted no strange eyes on the whiteness of his knuckles where his hands gripped the armrest, or the dampish stain they would leave when he took them away.

  He told himself: I’m enclosed. This plane is just a little City.

  But he didn’t fool himself. There was an inch of steel at his left; he could feel it with his elbow. Past that, nothing——

  Well, air! But that was nothing, really.

  A thousand miles of it in one direction. A thousand in another. One mile of it, maybe two, straight down.

  He almost wished he could see straight down, glimpse the top of the buried Cities he was passing over; New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington. He imagined the rolling, low-slung cluster-complexes of domes he had never seen but knew to be there. And under them, for a mile underground and dozens of miles in every direction, would be the Cities.

  The endless, hiving corridors of the Cities, he thought, alive with people; apartments, community kitchens, factories, Expressways; all comfortable and warm with the evidence of man.

  And he himself was isolated in the cold and featureless air in a small bullet of metal, moving through emptiness.

  His hands trembled, and he forced his eyes to focus on the strip of paper and read a bit.

  It was a short story dealing with Galactic exploration and it was quite obvious that the hero was an Earthman.

  Baley muttered in exasperation, then held his breath momentarily in dismay at his boorishness in making a sound.

  It was completely ridiculous, though. It was pandering to childishness, this pretense that Earthmen could invade space. Galactic exploration! The Galaxy was closed to Earthmen. It was preempted by the Spacers, whose ancestors had been Earthmen centuries before. Those ancestors had reached the Outer Worlds first, found themselves comfortable, and their descendants had lowered the bars to immigration. They had penned in Earth and their Earthman cousins. And Earth’s City civilization completed the task, imprisoning Earthmen within the Cities by a wall of fear of open spaces that barred them from the robot-run farming and mining areas of their own planet; from even that.

  Baley thought bitterly: Jehoshaphat! If we don’t like it, let’s do something about it. Let’s not just waste time with fairy tales.

  But there was nothing to do about it, and he knew it.

  Then the plane landed. He and his fellow-passengers emerged and scattered away from one another, never looking.

  Baley glanced at his watch and decided there was time for freshening before taking the Expressway to the Justice Department. He was glad there was. The sound and clamor of life, the huge vaulted chamber of the airport with City corridors leading off on numerous levels, everything else he saw and heard, gave him the feeling of being safely and warmly enclosed in the bowels and womb of the City. It washed away anxiety and only a shower was necessary to complete the job.

  He needed a transient’s permit to make use of one of the community bathrooms, but presentation of his travel orders eliminated any difficulties. There was only the routine stamping, with private-stall privileges (the date carefully marked to prevent abuse) and a slim strip of directions for getting to the assigned spot.

  Baley was thankful for the feel of the strips beneath his feet. It was with something amounting to luxury that he felt himself accelerate as he moved from strip to moving strip inward toward the speeding Expressway. He swung himself aboard lightly, taking the seat to which his rating entitled him.

  It wasn’t a rush hour; seats were available. The bathroom, when he reached it, was not unduly crowded either. The stall assigned to him was in decent order with a launderette that worked well.

  With his water ration consumed to good purpose and his clothing freshened he felt r
eady to tackle the Justice Department. Ironically enough, he even felt cheerful.

  Undersecretary Albert Minnim was a small, compact man, ruddy of skin, and graying, with the angles of his body smoothed down and softened. He exuded an air of cleanliness and smelled faintly of tonic. It all spoke of the good things of life that came with the liberal rations obtained by those high in Administration.

  Baley felt sallow and rawboned in comparison. He was conscious of his own large hands, deep-set eyes, a general sense of cragginess.

  Minnim said cordially, “Sit down, Baley. Do you smoke?”

  “Only a pipe, sir,” said Baley.

  He drew it out as he spoke, and Minnim thrust back a cigar he had half drawn.

  Baley was instantly regretful. A cigar was better than nothing and he would have appreciated the gift. Even with the increased tobacco ration that went along with his recent promotion from C-5 to C-6 he wasn’t exactly swimming in pipe fixings.

  “Please light up, if you care to,” said Minnim, and waited with a kind of paternal patience while Baley measured out a careful quantity of tobacco and affixed the pipe baffle.

  Baley said, his eyes on his pipe, “I have not been told the reason for my being called to Washington, sir.”

  “I know that,” said Minnim. He smiled. “I can fix that right now. You are being reassigned temporarily.”

  “Outside New York City?”

  “Quite a distance.”

  Baley raised his eyebrows and looked thoughtful. “How temporarily, sir?”

  “I’m not sure.”

  Baley was aware of the advantages and disadvantages of reassignment. As a transient in a City of which he was not a resident, he would probably live on a scale better than his official rating entitled him to. On the other hand, it would be very unlikely that Jessie and their son, Bentley, would be allowed to travel with him. They would be taken care of, to be sure, there in New York, but Baley was a domesticated creature and he did not enjoy the thought of separation.

  Then, too, a reassignment meant a specific job of work, which was good, and a responsibility greater than that ordinarily expected of the individual detective, which could be uncomfortable. Baley had, not too many months earlier, survived the responsibility of the investigation of the murder of a Spacer just outside New York. He was not overjoyed at the prospect of another such detail, or anything approaching it.

  He said, “Would you tell me where I’m going? The nature of the reassignment? What it’s all about?”

  He was trying to weigh the Undersecretary’s “Quite a distance” and make little bets with himself as to his new base of operations. The “Quite a distance” had sounded emphatic and Baley thought: Calcutta? Sydney?

  Then he noticed that Minnim was taking out a cigar after all and was lighting it carefully.

  Baley thought: Jehoshaphat! He’s having trouble telling me. He doesn’t want to say.

  Minnim withdrew his cigar from between his lips. He watched the smoke and said, “The Department of Justice is assigning you to temporary duty on Solaria.”

  For a moment Baley’s mind groped for an illusive identification: Solaria, Asia; Solaria, Australia … ?

  Then he rose from his seat and said tightly, “You mean, one of the Outer Worlds?”

  Minnim didn’t meet Baley’s eyes. “That is right.”

  Baley said, “But that’s impossible. They wouldn’t allow an Earthman on an Outer World.”

  “Circumstances do alter cases, Plainclothesman Baley. There has been a murder on Solaria.”

  Baley’s lips quirked into a sort of reflex smile. “That’s a little out of our jurisdiction, isn’t it?”

  “They’ve requested help.”

  “From us? Earth?” Baley was torn between confusion and disbelief. For an Outer World to take any attitude other than contempt toward the despised mother planet or, at best, a patronizing social benevolence was unthinkable. To come for help?

  “From Earth?” he repeated.

  “Unusual,” admitted Minnim, “but there it is. They want a Terrestrial detective assigned to the case. It’s been handled through diplomatic channels on the highest levels.”

  Baley sat down again. “Why me? I’m not a young man. I’m forty-three. I’ve got a wife and child. I couldn’t leave Earth.”

  “That’s not our choice, Plainclothesman. You were specifically asked for.”


  “Plainclothesman Elijah Baley, C-6, of the New York City Police Force. They knew what they wanted. Surely you see why.”

  Baley said stubbornly, “I’m not qualified.”

  “They think you are. The way you handled the Spacer murder has apparently reached them.”

  “They must have got it all mixed up. It must have seemed better than it was.”

  Minnim shrugged. “In any case, they’ve asked for you and we have agreed to send you. You are reassigned. The papers have all been taken care of and you must go. During your absence, your wife and child will be taken care of at a C-7 level since that will be your temporary rating during your discharge of this assignment.” He paused significantly. “Satisfactory completion of the assignment may make the rating permanent.”

  It was happening too quickly for Baley. None of this could be so. He couldn’t leave Earth. Didn’t they see that?

  He heard himself ask in a level voice that sounded unnatural in his own ears, “What kind of a murder? What are the circumstances? Why can’t they handle it themselves?”

  Minnim rearranged small objects on his desk with carefully kept fingers. He shook his head. “I don’t know anything about the murder. I don’t know the circumstances.”

  “Then who does, sir? You don’t expect me to go there cold, do you?” And again a despairing inner voice: But I can’t leave Earth.

  “Nobody knows anything about it. Nobody on Earth. The Solarians didn’t tell us. That will be your job: to find out what is so important about the murder that they must have an Earthman to solve it. Or, rather, that will be part of your job.”

  Baley was desperate enough to say, “What if I refuse?” He knew the answer, of course. He knew exactly what declassification would mean to himself and, more than that, to his family.

  Minnim said nothing about declassification. He said softly, “You can’t refuse, Plainclothesman. You have a job to do.”

  “For Solaria? The hell with them.”

  “For us, Baley. For us.” Minnim paused. Then he went on, “You know the position of Earth with respect to the Spacers. I don’t have to go into that.”

  Baley knew the situation and so did every man on Earth. The fifty Outer Worlds, with a far smaller population, in combination, than that of Earth alone, nevertheless maintained a military potential perhaps a hundred times greater. With their underpopulated worlds resting on a positronic robot economy, their energy production per human was thousands of times that of Earth. And it was the amount of energy a single human could produce that dictated military potential, standard of living, happiness, and all besides.

  Minnim said, “One of the factors that conspires to keep us in that position is ignorance. Just that. Ignorance. The Spacers know all about us. They send missions enough to Earth, heaven knows. We know nothing about them except what they tell us. No man on Earth has ever as much as set foot on an Outer World. You will, though.”

  Baley began, “I can’t …”

  But Minnim repeated, “You will. Your position will be unique. You will be on Solaria on their invitation, doing a job to which they will assign you. When you return, you will have information useful to Earth.”

  Baley watched the Undersecretary through somber eyes. “You mean I’m to spy for Earth.”

  “No question of spying. You need do nothing they don’t ask you to do. Just keep your eyes and mind open. Observe! There will be specialists on Earth when you return to analyze and interpret your observations.”

  Baley said, “I take it there’s a crisis, sir.”

  “Why do you say t

  “Sending an Earthman to an Outer World is risky. The Spacers hate us. With the best will in the world and even though I’m there on invitation, I could cause an interstellar incident. The Terrestrial Government could easily avoid sending me if they chose. They could say I was ill. The Spacers are pathologically afraid of disease. They wouldn’t want me for any reason if they thought I were ill.”

  “Do you suggest,” said Minnim, “we try that trick?”

  “No. If the Government had no other motive for sending me, they would think of that or something better without my help. So it follows that it is the question of spying that is the real essential. And if that is so, there must be more to it than just a see-what-you-can-see to justify the risk.”

  Baley half expected an explosion and would have half welcomed one as a relief of pressure, but Minnim only smiled frostily and said, “You can see past the nonessentials, it seems. But then, I expected no less.”

  The Undersecretary leaned across his desk toward Baley. “Here is certain information which you will discuss with no one, not even with other government officials. Our sociologists have been coming to certain conclusions concerning the present Galactic situation. Fifty Outer Worlds, underpopulated, roboticized, powerful, with people that are healthy and long-lived. We ourselves, crowded, technologically underdeveloped, short-lived, under their domination. It is unstable.”

  “Everything is in the long run.”

  “This is unstable in the short run. A hundred years is the most we’re allowed. The situation will last our time, to be sure, but we have children. Eventually we will become too great a danger to the Outer Worlds to be allowed to survive. There are eight billions on Earth who hate the Spacers.”

  Baley said, “The Spacers exclude us from the Galaxy, handle our trade to their own profit, dictate to our Government, and treat us with contempt. What do they expect? Gratitude?”

  “True, and yet the pattern is fixed. Revolt, suppression, revolt, suppression—and within a century Earth will be virtually wiped out as a populated world. So the sociologists say.”