Foundation's Future

the sequel to

Issac Asimov's Foundation And Earth

by Kenneth Dwain Harrelson

Golan Trevize

Golan Trevize – ...on his triumphant return to Terminus, Golan Trevize was chagrined to find that it was business as usual on his former world and they had no need for a savior of the Foundation. His gravitic ship, the Far Star, was confiscated and that left him without a job and without purpose in his life for the first time ever.

So, he began to wonder what else there was out there for him. A sudden thought formed in his mind, out there, where...?

Encyclopedia Galactica*

*All quotations from the Encyclopedia Galactica here reproduced are taken from the 116th Edition published in 1020 F.E. by the Encyclopedia Galactica Publishing Co., Terminus, with permission of the publishers.

1.

"Trevise, my dear fellow, I can't say how thankful I am for the ride you've provided me. I hated to part with Bliss, even if it was only temporary, but you were the quickest means I knew of to get here and then back to Gaia."

Golan Trevise sat comfortably back on the black leather-like couch and tasted his drink of iced orange juice. It was your average boring Foundation libation that he had long known, but somehow now that he had visited several different worlds recently, he could appreciate it more. He had just finished an equally satisfying, if somewhat plain, dinner of canned off-world delicacies as a guest at Janov Pelorat's home. The two had dined alone and now sat sipping a cool drink afterwards. Since Bliss was of no real concern to him, but his old friend was, he felt this was as good a time as any to break the news to him. He cleared his throat, sat his glass down and began.

"I've been meaning to talk to you about that. You've been quite busy in the short time we've been back and I can never seem to catch you at home."

"True, true. It's all these scientific articles I'm trying to finish up. The council has promised me that they'll publish them, each and every one, and I can't begin to tell you what that will mean to my name and reputation. Why just the one about Gaia alone will…."

"Janov…."

"Was I going on again? I do apologize, but this is the chance for which I've studied my whole life. I can't let the opportunity pass me by."

"Well, I certainly agree with that, but…."

Janov looked over at his friend. Though it seemed like a lifetime had passed since they had first met, in actuality, it had been less than a year. However, in that short time, he had grown to know and love Trevise almost like a brother. He couldn't help but notice that there was some concern on his mind right now. The troubled look on his face told him that something must be bothering him.

"You look a little pale. Was there anything wrong with the tinned mollusk I served?"

Golan shook his head. "It's not that at all."

"But I can see that you've certainly got something on your mind. What is it?"

"If you'd let me tell it in my own way, I might manage to get it out. It's not easy to say."

"I hope it's nothing against Bliss. You haven't gone back on your decision about Gaia, have you?"

Trevise picked up his glass and took a long, slow drink from it. As the cool liquid slid down his throat, it had a calming affect on his mental attitude. 'Breathe calmly,' he thought inwardly. 'You can get through this, Golan.'

"In a roundabout way, it does relate to Bliss, but not in the manner which you seem to be worried about. I haven't changed my mind and Bliss is still just Bliss to me."

"Oh, good. For a moment there…."

Golan held up his hand to silence Janov. Either he said it now or it would find it much harder to do so later.

"Please just let me say this and be done with it. About the Far Star…."

"Marvelous ship. A wonder of technology…. sorry, my good man. I didn't mean to interrupt you again."

"That's all right. Now, about the ship. We won't be able to use it for the return trip."

Janov relaxed visibly. "I suppose it will need some kind of check-up after all we've put it through."

"It might, but I wouldn't know about that."

"Of course not. I don't expect you to. Your forté has not been one of keeping it maintained and repaired, but that of piloting us about in it. And an excellent job of it you did, too. I still can't thank you enough for making my first journey into space such an easy experience. I feel I'm an old spacedog now. You've forever convinced me to it's advantages."

He frowned. "Your thanks aren't really necessary, trust me. I had no choice in the matter. When the council…."

Janov cleared his throat. "Pardon me if I've exposed a sore spot there. I shouldn't have said anything."

Golan sat his glass down just a little too unexpectedly and the resounding clap against the solid wood of the table rang out through the house for a good ten seconds. After he had let it die down, he stood up and began pacing around the large rug that lined the livingroom floor.

"Janov, what I'm trying to say is that the Council has rescinded my privilege to pilot the Far Star. They've taken it back and it's no longer mine to use as I see fit. I'm…. we're both stranded here on Terminus now." He turned to face Janov to see what effect the words would have on him.

"But, Bliss…. Gaia…. how am I to ever….?"

"I know. I've been wondering about all those things myself for the last week and a half. I couldn't seem to find you here so I could break the news."

"That long? Why, they must have taken it back immediately."

"There were guards waiting at the spaceport. You didn't notice them because you were concentrating on your work. Since my career as a politician was finished before we left, I didn't have anything else to vie for my attention. I knew what was going on the minute I laid eyes on them."

"But, my dear fellow…. can they do that?"

"It's their ship. They can do anything with it they have a mind to and I couldn't stop them. What have I to say in the matter?"

"Surely, since you've successfully completed the mission they sent you out to do, that should stand for something. Even if they don't know how much it was you actually accomplished. I mean, about the Second Foundation and all."

"You'd think so, but you would be dead wrong. It's their precious ship, and my reason for using it has ended. What care do they have about me now?"

"You don't mean to imply that they've offered you nothing for your time spent away, have they?"

Golan sat back down. The worst of it was over and Janov seemed to be taking it better than he had expected.

"Oh, no, they've definitely given me something for my troubles. A smaller estate in the new Seldon division, complete with a cozy little 7-room prison. That and the news that my presence on the Council is no longer needed. Or welcomed."

"They aren't still going to keep you under house arrest, are they?"

"No, but they might as well. Coming back to Terminus, I had no clue what I would do next, but I would certainly have never dreamed of settling down in a comfortable little home to pass the last of my years away in silent anonymity. I just don't have it in me to do that."

Janov scratched the tip of his nose and looked even more scholarly in the process.

"Then, what is it you do intend on doing?"

"That is a very good question. I know I won't be happy gestating here on Terminus for the rest of my days. Somehow, I've got to find another ship. It would be nice if I could get the Far Star again, but that looks like an impossibility, thanks to the Mayor. So, I'll probably just cash in the estate they've settled on me and see how much of a ship I can afford."

"I say, not to insinuate that your problems aren't important enough, but might I ask how it is that I will be able to return to Bliss…. and Gaia? I hadn't intended on being here on Terminus for very long, actually. She'll be wondering what's keeping me. I don't want her to think that I've ran off and left her."

"I'm sure she doesn't think that of you, Janov."

"Thank you for your vote of confidence. It means a lot to me. But, still…."

"Well, I appreciate your saying so, but Bliss will always be Bliss and she'll be waiting for you."

"For how long of a time, though?"

"I don't propose to find out, if I can help it. I've already had a few offers on my property."

"You have? So soon?"

"Don't act surprised, Janov. It's prime real estate. Why shouldn't people be interested in it?"

"But, you just got it."

"And, therefore, I'm not as attached to it and might let it go for a lot less than had I lived in it for years."

"That's a decided point in your favor, I'll admit. But, if you don't mind my asking, how does this help me return to Bliss?"

"I would have thought you wouldn't lose faith in me so quickly and easily. You don't suppose I'd let anything happen to you now, do you?"

"Well, really…. I didn't know…."

"No, Janov. As soon as I can acquire a ship of my own, I'm off of here forever. And you're coming with me."

A smile broke out on Janov's face. One that completely lit up his countenance. "My dear fellow, you don't mean it, do you?"

"I certainly do. Why not? I hardly think you can find your way back to Gaia all by yourself. You need me for that."

"I'm not the incompetent you seem to think I am."

"In some things, no. But, trust me on this. I'll see that you get where you need to go. It's the least I can do for you."

Janov placed his hands on his knees and sat back in contemplation. The only sound to be heard was from the computerized simulator which mimicked an old-fashioned grandfather clock, and which he kept in the hall. It's electronic ticking was all the more noticeable in the silence that built up around them. At last, Janov broke the stillness.

"I say, that's very decent of you to feel that way. How will I ever repay you?"

"By making Bliss as happy as you can."

Janov looked at him curiously. "But, what will you do after all that is said and done?"

"That is the 64-thousand-credit question, my friend. If I knew that, I'd certainly tell you."

"Yes, I suppose you would."

2.

Trevise watched carefully as the man made his way down the sidewalk to where he sat on a bench in the middle of the city square two days after he had dined at Janov Pelorat's home. It was a sunny and warm day on Terminus (as it always was, thanks to the weather control), and the few clouds there were, high up in the sky, scooted along and out of view far toward the horizon. He had been sitting here for about an hour when he spotted the man coming. 'That must be him,' he thought ruefully, noticing the ostentatious and outlandish nature of the man's clothing. 'I hope he doesn't think his uniform will impress me.'

He tried not to appear to be staring at the man, who was intently not looking at Trevise, but he wanted to take in as much of him as he could before he arrived. Once here, Trevise would studiously avoid looking at him so as not to give away any false impressions. The man had contacted him and talked of an 'arrangement' that might be 'suitable for all parties concerned.' Just what it was or who was to be considered the concerned parties, he hadn't said. He had only alluded to enough subtleties as to intrigue Trevise and to get an agreement to meet him here, sometime around midday. And since he didn't have anything else with which to take up his time these days, political intrigue might just as well suffice.

He glanced up at the sun as it sank lower in the sky. It was certainly past the point where one could consider it midday, but he wouldn't say anything. Best to hear the man out, first.

There were other people out enjoying the always spring-like weather, but nobody paid him much attention. A father with his two small children were throwing coins in a fountain on the other side of the street and a woman walked her dog through the park grass that grew evenly because of "Foundation superiority." 'What claptrap,' he was sure, but the people still believed it and in Seldon's Plan. If only he could tell them about the Second Foundation and of the true purpose of Gaia…. but no. Perhaps that wouldn't be a wise course. He shook his head to clear it of such thoughts and the man he was waiting for stopped and pretended to read the sign that stood next to the bench. After a few seconds, he cleared his throat. Trevise knew this was the pitch he had been waiting for.

"I say, but do you know when the next ground conveyance comes through here?"

"No, sir, I can't say. But, if you'll pull up a seat here beside me, we can wait for it together." If anybody had been paying attention to him sitting here, they would have noticed that at least four such vehicles had come and went, without him having given any of them so much as a second glance. But, no one had paid him any mind, so he didn't think about it.

The man sat down beside him, at the far edge of the bench so as not to appear that he was interested in conversation, and straightened his long shirtdress beneath him. He looked both ways up and down the street, but avoided looking into the eyes of Trevise. They both knew why he was here, so there was no need to acknowledge his presence to a mere ex-councilman. Trevise waited for the man to start the conversation in his own way.

Out of the corner of his eye, Trevise noted that he wore singularly thick-soled shoes and no socks. (Which had been common among men here on Terminus for a couple years at least.) The shirtdress he wore came down to his ankles and covered his arms to a point past his wrists, so he couldn't discern whether the man spent much time out of doors. The color of his outfit was coordinated in a pattern that induced all looks in his direction to be funneled up toward his face. Obviously the look of somebody not to be taken for granted! Upon his face he wore nothing but an unusually large and perfidious smile. No facial hair of any sort. The hair on the top of his head was cut full and had a wave over his left ear, which had become the fashion sometime while he had been away. It was as black as night with not a hint of grey in it. The man must be young to have not had his worries manifest themselves in such a manner.

"I have no doubts but that I am addressing Golan Trevise. Your notoriety precedes you." He stared straight ahead while he spoke.

Trevise pulled at his collar, becoming slightly moist with sweat. After all the time he'd spent in space lately, the sun on his skin felt hot. "I am at a disadvantage, sir. For, I don't recognize you at all."

"That is hardly of any importance. I had only reached the point I now find myself at while you were off gallivanting on your adventures. Might I say, that, if they are true, they are very impressive." He allowed his voice to adopt an even more sugary-sounding sweetness. Surely the man wasn't a fool.

"It happened, all right."

"Good, good, I thought as much."

"I've been waiting here, in this stifling sun, mind you, for over two hours now. If you could just state the reason you have had me roasted practically beyond endurance, I would be forever in your gratitude."

"Ah, a man who knows his mind."

"Yes, and if you don't mind…." Trevise's patience was just about gone.

"Mayor Branno was right. You don't have enough patience for the Council."

"I fail to see what that has to do…."

He held up his hand to forestall another tirade. "However, you seem to be a master when it comes to spaceflight." This was unexpected. Trevise caught himself looking over at the man, despite his earlier vow not to. "I see I have touched on an interesting subject of yours."

"Yes, I make no qualms about being more comfortable in space than of being planetbound. Perhaps I never realized it when I was younger."

"The fact is, you realize it now. And, so do I."

"Then, you know my situation. The ship I piloted has been taken from me."

"I know all about your problems. If I may say so, that is why I have asked you here like this."

Trevise sat up. The hairs on the back of his neck began to bristle in anticipation. Was it another one of his 'hunches?' "You mean to say that the only reason I'm here is so you can find out what it's like to fly?"

"My dear fellow, I don't give a flying fig if I ever leave Terminus. My aspirations lie elsewhere."

"Your position in the…." Trevise hesitated. "….Council?"

"That's a good guess, but it is wrong. No, I am an aide to the Mayor herself. A very highly placed aide, but an aide nonetheless."

"What do I care about your position?"

"You should care. Because I am in a position to do you some good."

"Simply out of the altruistic kindness of your heart, no doubt."

"Let's just say that perhaps we can be of some service to each other in the matter."

"Why would I want to help you?"

"Why, to get the Far Star back, that's why."

Trevise caught his breath in a deep rush. Hopefully the action hadn't attracted any undue attention to him from passersby. He looked around, but still, nobody seemed concerned about their conversation.

The man on his left smiled warmly. This time, it looked real. "I see I have said something of much interest to you."

"Just who are you?"

"I might as well tell you my name. It would be an easy task for you to find it out otherwise. My name is Caro Landow, I'm 32 years old and I wish to be the Mayor of Terminus before I reach 35."

Trevise smiled back. "You do have aspirations."

"I trust that you have no recording devices secreted on your person anywhere?"

"If I had, it would be the end of your political career. But, I don't." He hadn't even thought of it, by space!

"I had to ask."

"Just what are your intentions, if I may ask?"

"I want to be the next Mayor and I want to use you to achieve this goal."

"How can I help you? I feel I would probably be more of a hindrance than anything, after my brief and uninspired tenure as a councilman."

"It is not your political connections that I intend on making use of."

"Then, what?"

"The very fact that you have been a 'lightning rod' of sorts for Harla Branno in the past tells me that there is something about your person that is not being revealed to the general populace of Terminus, me included. But, it must be so, or the Mayor wouldn't have sent you in the first place like she did. I'm willing to bet that that little trait of yours can be taken advantage of by more than just she and her cronies in power now. I propose to send you out on another 'mission,' one the Mayor herself will not be a part of and one that, during the following moment of confusion, I will gain control of the seat of power. If all goes as I have planned, when the masterstroke is taken, you will have long since left Terminus in the Far Star to parts unknown."

"What parts are those, exactly?" To Trevise, his proposal sounded too good to be true, so there had to be a catch to it in some way. He also didn't want to seem like he needed the Far Star so badly.

The man waved his arm about the air wildly. "Out there, anywhere. It doesn't really matter."

"I have to have some destination in mind. I can't just wander about aimlessly."

"Is it not enough that you will have the ship of your dreams back in your possession? Why bite the hand that feeds you?"

"How do you know all this?"

"You don't become an important aide to Branno herself without being privy to some kind of inside information."

"Information about me?"

"Why, I've read your whole dossier, so to speak."

"What's in this collection?"

"Only everything you've ever said or done publicly in your whole life. The only reason we don't know your early private life, is because it's just too cost prohibitive to spy on everybody. Only the obviously important people get that kind of attention."

"Well, I certainly feel a whole lot better knowing what class of citizen you think I belong to."

"I didn't mean it that way. You must listen to me. Can you be ready to leave by tomorrow?"

"Again I have to ask, leave to go where?"

"That's the beauty of my plan. Pick any destination you choose, only don't tell me what it is. Don't tell anyone. Simply leave and don't come back."

"I can't come back?"

Landow looked Trevise full in the face. "You don't have any desire to do so, I'm guessing?"

"No, I'll grant you're right on that point."

"I thought as much. You have no family on Terminus and very few real friends. One could almost say none at all."

"One could, but they would be wrong."

"You mean Dr. Pelorat?"

"Well, for one."

"For only one. You must not even tell him where you're going."

"Haven't you read his folder, too?"

"What? I didn't know he had one."

"He probably doesn't. But, if he had, you'd see that he has no great love of Terminus, either. In fact, he's got a girl waiting for him on the one of the worlds we visited recently."

"Dr. Pelorat? Are we talking of the same person?"

"I see you're not as informed as you pretend to be."

"But, what has he got to do with it?"

"Only that if I agree to do this for you, I will have to make one stipulation."

It was Landow who was now sweating profusely. He took a small handkerchief from one of his pockets and began to mop his brow. "What is this stipulation of yours?"

"Janov, that's Dr. Pelorat, has no great love of this planet like I said. He's only waiting for a ship to take him back to where this woman awaits his return. I don't think he cares about ever returning here. All his eyes can see now is his beloved Bliss."

"Bliss?"

"That's her name."

"She sounds quite like a…."

"I wouldn't finish that statement around him. He's liable to resort to fisticuffs over her honor."

"I certainly didn't mean anything by it. I fear, however, that this is far afield of the matter. If that is your only request, I can and do accede to it here and now. If neither of you have any great love for Terminus, then what cares have I if you never wish to return?"

"What cares indeed."

"Then, the matter is resolved."

"The matter is not resolved. Not fully. There's the little matter of the Far Star."

"Oh, that. It will be fully serviced and stocked with provisions by tonight. Here is your passkey for it. The hangar's number is on it." He reached into another pocket and pulled out a clear, acrylic card of about a millimeter in thickness. It's edges were gilded in silver and it glinted in the afternoon sunlight as he handed it over. Trevise took it in one hand and covered it with the palm of his other. He wasn't about to let go of it now.

"When do you want me to leave?" he asked Landow.

"First thing tomorrow morning. I don't want so much as a hint to get out that you're leaving. That way, when the rumors do start about what your mission might be, I'll be able to guide them along the pathway of my own choosing."

"Meaning that you'll be the one starting the rumors."

"Do you care? You'll never hear them."

"No, I suppose not. First thing tomorrow, huh?"

"Yes. Can your friend the Doctor be ready to go that soon?"

"He can if I may ask one other small favor of you."

"It doesn't hurt to ask. I can't guarantee whether or not I can honor it."

"The only reason he's here now, other than the fact that he has no available transportation back to…. Bliss, is that he's seeking to publish some papers on certain findings he made out there." Trevise waved his hand above his head in the same over-exaggerated way Landow had done. "Once these are finished, he's made it quite clear to me that he wishes to get back to her. And as soon as he can do so. There is a bit of an age difference between them and he's concerned that she won't be there waiting for him. I try to convince him that that's not the case, but still, he has his doubts. All I can do is get him back as quickly as I can. If I had the Far Star, I could do so."

Landow indicated the card between Golan's palms. "You have your ship, right there in your hands."

Trevise nodded. "So it would seem."

"Then, you're agreed to this plan?"

"Yes, totally. I can say that without any reserve. And if you can make sure that Janov's papers get published in whatever manner they need to be, we'll be gone before the sun has a chance to shine down upon those coins in the fountain over there."

"I think I can agree to that. How much trouble could it take to see that some papers are published?"

Trevise laughed. "It should be a cinch for someone of your ubiquitous position."

Landow levelled an even glare back at him. "Just make sure you never return."

"Wild horse couldn't drag me back."

"Wild…. horses?"

"Don't worry. You have my word that you will never lay eyes on me again. That's something that I can agree to. Once off of here, I will have no reason whatsoever to return. You have, of course, had all the hyper-relays removed from the Far Star."

"Of course."

"There is no 'of course' when it comes to matters such as these."

"Touché. The ship is ready to fly at a moment's notice. Once it leaves our atmosphere, there will be no way to trace where it's going. It would be fatal for my plan were it otherwise."

"I will, of course, have expenses to consider…."

"That card you hold in your hand is much more than it seems. It's as good as money. With it, you will be able to access a secret account I have set up for just such expenditures as you may encounter. It has the added benefit of not being in my name and therefore, untraceable to you or I. I trust you won't have the need for an extravagant life in space? For the funds in that account won't last forever."

"No, I won't require as much as you'd think and the money should last long enough. I can always be creative if I need more."

"Of that, I have no doubt."

The sun went behind another cloud and it got suddenly cooler.

"Then, Caro Landow, we have a deal." He held out his hand to him. Landow made sure nobody was watching before he reciprocated the gesture.

"You won't regret this, Trevise."

"I know I won't. I wonder about you, though." Landow gave him an undecipherable look.

Golan stood up, stretched his legs and walked off into the direction of the setting sun. He never looked back.

3.

"Dr. Pelorat, I presume?"

Janov, bent over behind his desk, hurriedly straightened at the sound of the voice. In doing so, he bumped his head on a drawer that was open and growled softly. While rubbing the top of his skull where a new bruise would surely be forming, his watery eyes finally found the other occupant of the room. Trevise stood in front of him, smiling. "Oh, it's you, my good fellow. I didn't expect to see you here."

"I've never been here before."

"That isn't because I haven't invited you."

"I know." Trevise surveyed the room.

"You always said before you felt it would be too stuffy in here. That it stifled your…."

"Well, I'm here now. Care to take me on the grand tour?"

"There isn't that much to see. My office here is all I have."

Trevise looked at the top of his desk and noticed the small cube that contained all of his collected papers and legends on Earth lying amongst the clutter. Janov allowed his gaze to match that of Golan's.

"I see you've noticed my library. It's been updated, you know."

"I didn't know that, but I'm glad."

Janov picked it up and sat down in his chair. He indicated another one in front of the desk for Golan to use. He sat down, too.

"I have to say, Golan, this is a highly unexpected visit. Might I ask you what brings you here?" He thought about what he had just said. "I don't mean that to sound like what it must have. You're welcome here anytime, of course."

"I know that. I was just wondering if you could break away a little while for dinner. I could have you back here in under an hour, if we find a place nearby."

"There's an inexpensive cafeteria just around the corner. It always satisfies my quite unprepossessing tastes. Would that serve the purpose?"

Golan waved it away with his hand. "As well as any other, I suppose."

"Fine. Then, I'll just find my jacket, I know it's here somewhere…."

"It's draped over the back of your chair."

"Why, it certainly is. Thank you for noticing, Golan. Then, I'm quite ready to go now."

Golan stood and walked toward the door. Before he reached it, he turned and pointed at the cube. "Maybe you could bring that with us. I have a question I'd like to ask you."

"Of course. Whatever you wish." Janov scooped it up and slipped it into one of the pockets of his jacket. That done, they both walked out of the office.

After they had exited the building where Janov's office was located and walked down the sidewalk several hundred feet, Golan placed his hand on Janov's wrist. He spoke with his voice low and directed in toward Janov.

"We're not going to dinner."

"What? Why not? I hadn't realize how famished I had become."

"We'll eat later. But, first, I have to ask you something."

"Yes?"

"Do you own any other possessions that mean more to you than your cube?"

As they walked along, Janov thought the question over. It was curious coming like it did out of the blue just now, but he knew Golan must mean something by it. He was bound to explain after he'd answered. He always did.

He shook his head. "There is nothing that means to me quite what this little treasure trove does. I'd have to say…."

"You're sure about that?" Golan's pace had picked up imperceptively. At least, Janov felt like they were moving faster.

"Why, yes. I'd have to say so."

"Then, there's no mementos at home that you couldn't live without? No item from your past….?"

"I was never one to dwell sentimentally in the years of my youth. For me, it's always been better to look forward. At least in those matters"

"Good. We're not going to dinner right now." Trevise looked behind him to see if they were being followed. There was no one around. Janov started looking around, but not knowing what he was looking for, he gave it up and just walked beside Golan.

"What are we looking for? The cafeteria was back there on our right."

"We're not going to the cafeteria."

"We're not? When will we eat?"

"After we've cleared the atmosphere should be sufficient enough."

"Cleared the atmosphere? It sounds like you are proposing a space flight." Janov stopped in his tracks. "That is what you're suggesting, isn't it?"

Golan jerked his head forward, indicating they should resume their journey. Janov capitulated and fell into stride beside him once more. "I haven't really got the time to explain it all right now. I can only say this and hope that they aren't trying to listen to our conversation."

"They?"

"The Council or the Mayor herself."

"Why should they care whether or not we eat dinner?"

"We're not eating. We're going to the hangar where the Far Star is docked. We're going to get on it, using the passkey I possess and then we're going to take off on the fastest course that can get us away from here and in the least amount of time. After I've verified that no hyper-relays are keeping tabs on us, I'll tell the ship to make a jump in the direction of Gaia. When we're safely on our way and away from the influence of Terminus, then we'll eat."

"My good fellow, have you been drinking?"

"Of course I haven't."

"Then, you're serious about it?"

"Absolutely."

"Then…." The temerity of what Golan had been proposing suddenly sank in. Janov quicked his own pace and looked forward.

"Exactly," replied Golan.

"What about extra clothing or essentials?"

"No time."

"For anything?"

"That's why I asked if you had anything you couldn't bear to part with. There isn't any such thing, is there?"

"You speak as if we won't be coming back any time soon."

"That's about right. We'll never see Terminus again, if we're lucky."

"What about…." A couple of men were walking toward them, equally intent on their own hushed conversation. But, in the peculiar position Golan found himself in, it would be best not to take chances. He silenced Janov until after they had passed.

"I didn't want to risk being overheard."

Janov kept looking ahead, but spoke out of the side of his mouth toward Golan. "We won't be coming back here, you say?"

"No, I've been asked to leave and I'm going to do it."

"Are we being forced off on another mission?"

"Nothing quite like that. No, it's more in the way of a gift, being given the opportunity to leave. I was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth."

"A gift horse?"

Golan ignored the interruption. "Whatever the reason, it suited my purpose to leave. And I knew you had reasons of your own for wanting to get back in space."

"Bliss…."

"Yes, and now we're going to do it."

"At this hour of the evening?"

"That's right. I don't want anything happening that would prevent us from leaving. Nothing is going to stop us."

"What, or who, could or would, prevent us?"

"Well, let's just say that I'm taking no chances about it. We leave now and don't look back."

Janov stopped suddenly. "My papers! I haven't quite had the necessary time to see them through their complete journey. As of yet, they are still unpublished."

"Don't worry about them. I've seen to that."

"You have? You mean, they will be published after all?"

"Yes, that was one of the conditions I made before I agreed to this journey. I knew they were very important to you."

Janov rubbed his fingers underneath his eyes. "I don't know what to say."

"Let's get going. You can get sentimental on me after we're in space."

They hurried along until they came to the little hangar at the edge of town. Golan knew the Far Star would be waiting just inside. After making sure there were no guards around the place, the both of them went inside and found the ship. The key he had been given worked perfectly, and in no time, they were seated aboard the sleek little ship they had so recently called home. In less than five minutes, they were ready to take off. Nobody was there to see them off and Trevise was immensely glad of it. With his hands in place, he thought the proper command and Terminus was suddenly far below them.

There was no turning back now.

4.

Janov looked around the interior of the ship, and after noting Trevise's relaxed attitude, said: "When are we going to leave?"

"We already have," said Golan, removing his hands from the console.

"I don't think I will ever get used to this sensation…. er, lack of sensation when taking off. It's almost as unsettling as if I could feel it."

"Almost, but not quite."

"Well, I suppose you're correct there. The sensation probably wouldn't agree with me if I could feel it."

"Now, first things first."

"We'll be heading back to Gaia?"

"No, I meant now we eat. I'm starved."

"But, are we at least headed in that direction? As I remember, we should be able to make it fairly easily and quickly."

"You're right on both the latter points. Wrong on the former."

"You mean we're not going to Gaia after all?"

Golan opened one of the small galley cabinets and removed two food foil packets. One he handed to Janov and the other he kept for himself. "Eat up," he said, "while they're still hot."

"Er, yes."

"No, Janov, we'll be going to Gaia, all right. You can bet your mother's life on that. It's just that I want to make absolutely sure we're not followed first. To the best of my knowledge, there aren't any hyper-relays aboard, if I can still believe the computer, which I think I can. But, for all I know, they might have invented something newer and more sophisticated that I wouldn't even think of asking about. No, I'd like to cruise around awhile and make sure we're really on our own before I give away our intended destination."

"Oh, good. You had me worried there."

Golan shook his head. "I keep telling you that you should know me better by now. I'm ashamed of you, Janov."

Janov looked heart-stricken. "My good man!"

"I didn't mean it quite like that, just that you should have more faith in me by now."

"Well, really, I do, old man. It's just the shock of having left so suddenly. And without warning."

"You'll thank me for that someday. When you're back with Bliss."

"I'm sure I will. In fact, I will offer my sincerest congratulations right now on having gotten us this far. I know it's only a prelude to actually arriving back to her world. I only hope she…." His voice trailed off.

"She'll be waiting for you, Janov. I have a feeling about that. Remember Gaia believes that I possess that certain gift of knowing without having sufficient information to know." He pulled back the foil and his meal superheated. The steam began to rise up and it smelled delicious. "And you know all about my gift for intuitions."

"Oh, I'm sure about those, all right. I guess there's nothing really for me to do but sit back and enjoy my meal. What is it, by the way?"

Golan read the number off the top of the foil. "I believe you've got the chicken cordon bleu. I hope you like it."

"Actually, I could eat that gift horse you were talking about earlier, I'm so hungry." With that, Janov turned quickly to the process of opening his meal. Both of them had finished eating before anything more was said. Once they had vaporized the remaining foil containers, Golan leaned back in his chair, satisfied.

"Yes, that sure was what I needed. I feel totally rejuvenated."

"Are you sure that's it," intoned Janov, as he surveyed the ship around them. "Or maybe it's the elation at being on the Far Star again?"

"It's probably a little of both. Well, a lot of both. It does feel good to be back."

For the first time, the full realization of what they were doing finally dawned on Janov. He suddenly looked startled, felt around his pockets and removed his cube. Holding it between the forefinger and thumb of his left hand, he said: "I'm certainly glad you had the presence of mind to remind me of this. Had I left it behind, I would have almost begged you to go back just so I could retrieve it. It means that much to me."

"But, I didn't let you get away without it and we never have to go back to Terminus again."

"I meant to ask you about that. Just how is it the Far Star came to be in your possession once again?"

"Something to do with the Mayor herself. Or I should say, the Mayorlty itself."

"Political intrigue?"

"You might call it something like that. Political infighting is more like it."

"I don't suppose I need to know about it then."

"By all means, Janov. If you'd like to hear the whole sordid tale, I'd be only too glad to tell it to you."

Janov repocketed his cube. "No, it only matters to me that we're here, now, and soon to be headed back to Gaia and my sweet Bliss."

"That's the spirit!" Golan turned to the control panel and surveyed it's smoothness. He marvelled at the imprints where he placed his hands. It still seemed to fit like a glove; like it had been designed for his hands alone. What luck that had been. Now that he was flying the Far Star again, he felt a very heady feeling come over him. Almost like the entire galaxy was his. There was no place he couldn't go. He paused for a moment. No place he couldn't go. They had been halfway across the galaxy and back already. Where else could there be for them to go? He hadn't any secret desires to see any of the paradise worlds he'd heard about in his younger days. A sudden memory of Alpha brought to mind the thought that sometimes paradises weren't all they were cracked up to be. He shuddered involuntarily. Janov noticed.

"What's wrong? Is there something wrong with the ship?"

He shook his head to clear the feeling. "No, only a memory. I was thinking about Alpha. You'll remember what almost happened to us there."

"Yes, how could I ever forget? And such generous native people they were. You're not thinking of going back there, are you?"

"No, not in the least. I was thinking, however, that we should go somewhere. Just for a little while. I still don't trust Terminus not to come charging after us."

"You think it's possible?"

"Anything is possible, I suppose."

"But, you don't feel it very likely?"

"Let's just say, I'd like to make doubly sure first. You'll remember that their minds back on Terminus were being controlled when we were at Gaia. They don't know much about them and I certainly didn't tell them everything I knew. I didn't trust them then and I still don't."

"At what point will you know that it's safe to go back to Gaia?"

"I'm not sure, but I think somehow, I'll just know it instinctively. If you know what I mean."

"I think I do. Is there anything I can do in the meantime?"

"Well, let's see." Golan remembered his thoughts about travelling somewhere, anywhere. Perhaps Janov could suggest an appropriate place. "You said that your cube had been updated."

"Yes."

"Is there any new place you'd like to visit? I mean, in relation to your studies?"

"Now that we've located earth, it hardly seems worthwhile." Janov softly stroked his chin.

"But….?"

"You're very astute. There is one place I just came across a little tale about. It sounded…. intriguing is the word I would use for it."

"Intriguing sounds perfect. What's the name of this place? But, first, what's it's story?"

"It's a small planet at the outer edge of the galaxy. At least a full quarter away from our edge of it. Have you ever heard of Tantalus IV?"

Golan shook his head. "Can't say that I have."

"I take it that not many people have. It's just as the inhabitants would prefer it to be."

"It's not another forbidden world, is it?"

"Forbidden? Not from what I read about it."

"Then, what's it got that keeps them so secretive about it?"

"It's what they don't have that's so…. tantalizing, you might say."

"I suppose that's how it came about it's name?"

"I don't think so…. No, I'm almost certain of it."

"Well, don't keep me in suspense."

"Quite. The story goes, or so I've been led to believe if my sources were correct, and I assume them to be, is that Tantalus IV has no men on the planet."

"No men? How could that be? Why, the whole population would die out in no time if…. but, wait. There's probably a catch to it."

"No, no catch. It's only that the female population, and they are the rulers, obviously, don't allow males to permanently take up residence there. My sources say that they are permitted to land there, for short visits, but then they must leave. None are allowed to stay."

"It would be my guess that the females on this planet use them for…."

Janov quickly cleared his throat. "For their own natural purposes, I would assume. But, if it works for them, mine is not to question why." For all his newfound experiences in becoming a seasoned space traveller, he was still the same prudish man he had always been. And Golan liked him even more because of it.

"I suppose not." He thought about it for a moment, then smiled at the older man. "Why, I think this spacefaring kind of life has gotten into your blood, my good fellow. What's it going to be, a girl in every port?"

"Really, Golan, it's not like that at all. I merely mentioned how it might be interesting to see how the other half lived, so to speak. I certainly have no intentions of replacing Bliss already."

"I wondered." He shook his head. "No, I guess you wouldn't have a mind to do that."

"Thank you for having faith in me."

"Of course I do. But, please, tell me more about this Tantalus IV. It sounds like my kind place."

"I thought you might be inclined to think that about it. But, really, that's about all I know of it. The information I came across was only the briefest reference to it."

"Surely there must be something else you know about it."

"There was one other minor item, but I figured it was either a legend or an overexaggeration on someone's part in retelling the tale, so I didn't bother to mention it."

"Okay, out with it. You've got me hooked now."

"It seems there is an old legend about the place. That they are in perpetual state of watchfulness."

"For what?"

"It seems they are waiting for their 'god' to return."

"God? As in not a goddess but a male god?"

"That's what I believe it meant," answered Janov, nodding.

"No wonder they don't permit men to stay there. If they're comparing them all to this 'god' of theirs, or rather the memory they must have of him, I'd imagine that not many men could stack up to those kind of expectations."

"I'm certainly not worried that they would confuse me with this god of theirs."

Golan glanced sharply at his travelling companion. He could probably say something, but decided against it. Janov did have his sensitive areas and, after all, they would be in space together for awhile, maybe indefinitely. No sense in putting him off for something so mundane as a joke. Instead, he took a different tack. "I'm sure Bliss wouldn't like it if that happened, either."

"I'll make sure to see that it doesn't happen. I don't wish to jeopardize what we have together." He started getting a faraway look in his eyes and Golan didn't need mentalics to know he was thinking about her again. Well, no need to dwell on something that can't be had for awhile, so he changed the subject for Janov's sake.

"This Tantalus IV, did the legend happen to mention it's coordinates, by any chance?"

"It only speaks of the local system it's in. I'm sure if you were to check the data banks of the Far Star, there might be a record of it."

"There might be at that." He turned and placed his hands in position on the panel in front of him. "What was the name of it?"

"Just let me consult my cube." He pulled it out of his pocket and turned it on. After a few seconds, he switched it back off. "Got it. The system is called the Kerimus System. Does it sound familiar to you?"

"Hardly. I'm not really the Spacedog you think me to be. The galaxy is so huge, nobody could travel to all parts of it, even if they lived ten lifetimes. I've done my share of exploring and such, but most of that's been into the heart of the galaxy, not near the edges. Things happen in the middle and work their way outward."

"That's typical of most everything."

"Right. Now, just let me check it with the computer. I'll have to ask you for complete silence. I don't want anything to interfere with the ship on this."

"It sounds like you have a greater desire to go there than I do."

He smiled. "For strictly scientific purposes, of course."

"Of course."

Golan turned to the panel and stared at it. After he had touched his hands to it to initiate power, the circle came to a soft glow. He then placed his palms down firmly on the two outlines and closed his eyes. Janov watched as his hands started to blanch, as if the blood was momentarily leaving them. He must be pressing extremely hard against the…. contacts, or whatever they were. The lights of the ship dimmed ever so slightly, but Janov never took his eyes off Golan. He watched, enthralled, as he became one with the ship again. Perhaps he might let somebody else try it for a second or two, some day. For strictly scientific purposes, of course. The lights came back on full and Golan removed his hands. He wiped a droplet of sweat that had trickled down his forehead and then turned back to Janov. He couldn't tell from the look on his face if Golan had been successful or not.

"I think you'll be glad to know," he began, "that not only has the ship heard of such a system, it has the coordinates and complete system data in it's memory banks. All I have to do is to think about going there and before you know it, we'll be at Tantalus IV. Or, rather, the Kerimus System. That particular planet wasn't mentioned, but surely, the inhabitants around there can direct us to it."

"I would think so. A reputation such as it has acquired couldn't be that easily overlooked."

"Not on your life, Janov."

"You say you wish to stall for some time somewhere and not go directly to Gaia?"

"That is my intention." Golan nodded his head.

"Then, I can think of no other place that would offer more in the way of timekilling possibilities than Tantalus IV."

"I am in total agreement with you."

"Then, when do we leave?"

"When would you like to?"

"I'd like to get back to Bliss, but if this trip to Tantalus IV will help us in our journey back to her, the sooner the better would be my request," answered Janov.

"Then, Tantalus IV it is."

He turned and placed his palms downward again and thought about a whole planet full of women. That would be one for the record books!

5.

Once they reached the system, it took practically no time to learn the coordinates of Tantalus IV. At every stop they made to get directions, their queries were answered with a look and a discreet wink of acknowledgment. 'This place must be better than I thought,' was Golan's reaction. Fortified with the planet's final vectors and a curiousity more intense than when they had started, he piloted the Far Star on the last leg of the journey. When Tantalus IV filled the forward viewscreen with it's disc, they were hailed by the nearest entry station to their relative position. Golan answered that they were there for recreational purposes, so they were permitted to dock with the station and be given the final checkover. Both of them were to be subjected to what was, essentially, only a minor and quickly concluded procedure, they were assured. With a hint of trepidation, Janov prepared to leave the comfort and safety of the Far Star. Golan merely patted him on the shoulder and tried to allay his fears by saying they would be through it soon enough and then they would see. Oh, yes, then they would see.

"I hope you're right, Golan."

"You'll see I am. Trust me."

"I do, really."

"Let's go, then."

"I'll follow you over."

"All right, if that's what you want. It doesn't make any difference to me."

Fifteen minutes later, they were ushered into the presence of the head officer for the station. That his office was almost totally devoid of the usual clutter found in these kind of places told Golan that he must indeed be the head guy. He wondered if this was the usual procedure. But, who could say with a planet ruled by women?

The man behind the desk stood up after they had entered. He came around to stand in front of them.

"There's just the two of you?"

Golan answered. "Yes, sir. Just the two of us."

The man looked them both up and down, as if trying to memorize the way they looked. Maybe he didn't get many visitors. Who could say? He was obviously in no hurry. Golan was used to these types, so he let him take his time and do it in his own way.

"I believe the computer gave your ship's registry as being from a place called Terminus? Is that correct?"

"Yes, sir, it is correct."

"I don't believe I've ever heard of the place. Is there anything special about it?"

The man had something on his mind, of that, Golan was certain. But, exactly what it was, he couldn't be sure. Better to tread lightly, here.

"It's just a small world on the outer edge of the galaxy. Practically unimportant in the overall scheme of things."

"What scheme would this be? The Foundation plans of Empire?"

"Foundation, sir?"

The man leaned against his desk and let the appearance of resignation settle over him. Golan guessed it to be a well-practised method with the man and became more wary because of it. What could he be after?

"Yes, I'm sure you've heard of it, being as you hail from their world."

"Oh, Foundation. That thing. I think I recall hearing something about it."

"I'll bet you have. From where did you get such a ship as the one you flew in here?" He saw the ready explanation about to fall from Golan's lips and forestalled him. "I recognized the way it came in as being a gravitic ship. You can't deny that it is." It was not a question.

"I never said it wasn't."

"No, you didn't."

"Are there any further questions you would like answered about my ship or where I come from? Being as I do come from Terminus, you surely don't expect me of smuggling or any of the other occupations that take place in the nether regions of uncontrolled space, do you?"

"You'll admit that it is highly irregular for you to be here."

"I'll admit to no such thing. We aren't aware of the number of visitors that come to this world, for purposes of vacationing or otherwise. No idea at all. We just wanted to see this place for ourselves."

"No ideas at all? None? In truth, you would have me believe that?"

"Why shouldn't we speak the truth? What have we got to hide?"

"What indeed."

Golan could see they were getting nowhere. He'd tried a different approach.

"If I may ask something of you."

The man hesitated. "Go ahead."

"We heard, and it might be a rumor or not, we don't know, but that planet down there has only women on it. Is that right?" The man nodded, remaining silent. "Well, then, you only have to look at us to see what attracted us here in the first place. The first place and only place, I might add. We thought we'd see for ourselves."

"What a planet of women was like."

"Yes. It might be a very worthwhile endeavor." And he stressed it in such a way that the man couldn't mistake the underlying intentions of the statement. If he was looking for a bribe, Golan could manage a small one.

"I see." He went back around his desk and sat down. After about a minute of silence, he cleared his throat. "How long do you propose this vacation of yours to last?"

Janov looked to Golan but his eyes waved him off. "Why, we hadn't thought about it very much. Most likely for only a few days. Do we look in the proper condition to last more than that?" That didn't elicit a comment from him. "If I may ask one other trivial thing?"

"Please, go on."

"Have you yourself ever been down there?" He saw that he had indeed struck a nerve. The man frowned and stared even harder at him.

"It is not permitted for one of my…. station."

"Why not?" Golan asked, feigning ignorance.

"It is their decision of who is allowed to visit their world or who is not. It is not my choice."

"Then, why all the questions?"

"You didn't think that you only had to get past me did you, to gain entrance? That it would be that easy?"

"I thought…." He had thought that. Were there more barriers for them to come up against before they were allowed admittance? If so, what kind?

"I see the thought hadn't occurred to you. No, I'll tell you what lies ahead. They themselves will decide whether or not you will be allowed to go down. I'm only here to see if you are even worthy enough for them to bother wasting their time with. From here, you'll see a tribunal of women. It's they who will make the final decision. And their word is final, I can assure you of that."

He looked around the office. "Are they here, on this station?"

"Hardly. They have no wish for contact with any of unworthy station. That is the role I am cast in."

"Then, I take it that we have passed your requirements and are to be allowed to the next step?"

The man pulled out a form, stamped it and handed it over to Golan. "Yes. Here's your authorization form. You'll need it once you set down on Tantalus IV. Don't lose it."

"You can rest assured that I won't let anything happen to it."

The man growled something low and they got the idea that it was his dismissal. They backed out of his office and made their way back through the airlock to the Far Star. Once aboard, Janov looked even more worried.

"What do you suppose this Tribunal will be like?"

Golan made ready to undock from the station. "I don't think it will be painful, if that's what you're worried about. On the whole, I'm rather looking forward to see what a Tribunal made up in it's entirety by women will be like. If only they don't all look like weather-beaten hags."

"Really, Golan. Is that all you can think of at a time like this?"

"What else should I be thinking of? We're only a few miles away from a planet of nothing but beautiful women."

"You hope."

"Well…. at least they'll all be women. Hopefully most of the one's we will be meeting won't be ugly."

"I'm having second thoughts."

"Doubts, Janov? About what?"

He found his cube and held it in his palm. "I've read similar situations from past histories. Predominantly, societies that have been made up of only one sex have had problems surviving. I can't recall ever hearing of one that worked like it was intended."

"Not one, huh? Well, my friend, I think that's all safely in the past. We live in much more modern and enlightened times. I'm not foreseeing any problems from those women down there. That is, if we get to stay as long as we wish."

"I wish I shared your optimism. I just don't know. I just don't know."

Golan pushed Janov's doubts aside and cleared his mind for the maneuvering process planetward. He wanted this landing to be absolutely perfect. Especially if the women there were like the women everywhere else. He wanted to come swaggering in and set them back on their heels with his abilities to pilot a ship and his rugged charms. After what he'd been through recently, he was due to a little good fortune. Luck be with him.

His landing was flawless. He only hoped that there was someone at the spaceport who could appreciate it and that they had been watching. So far, they hadn't acknowledged him. Only a short burst from their computer directing his ship to it's proper landing berth. When they had stopped moving, there still hadn't been any sign of communications activity, so he switched off his panel and opened the outer hatch. As they made their way down to the surface of Tantalus IV, he saw why they hadn't been so anxious to open up a dialogue with them over the radio. There in a line in front of them stood about 12 women, all with serious looks upon their faces. A few held blasters pointed directly at him and Janov. Seeing as how their muzzles never wavered, he knew they meant business. So, he became all business himself and strode carefully toward them. Janov more or less hid behind him.

Golan held out in front of him the authorization form he had been given. "To whom do we need to speak about this?"

One woman, dressed in a modest suit-like outfit of dove-grey and hardly distinguishable in looks from the rest stepped forward and took it out of his hand. Without reading it, she said, "Follow us. And, don't try to go anywhere else."

He knew she meant business. Judging from their expressions, they would probably shoot on sight if either one of them tried to make a run for it. As they emerged from the confines of the spaceport, the sun was high overhead and he saw that they were walking toward a small complex of buildings. The temperature was mild and the wind was blowing lightly and his ears faintly registered the sounds of what were most probably insects, but little else. No other buildings were in sight, but he could discern what appeared to be a big city off near the eastern horizon. At least several miles. So, even if he had wanted to go somewhere else, there was no place to go. He fell into step with the woman in front of him and followed silently. He heard Janov's feet do the same.

They found themselves in a room that very much resembled a court of law. At the front and running the complete width of the room, there was a raised dais about 12 inches higher than the floor. There were 7 high-backed chairs, all made out of wood and uncomfortable looking, and they were arranged consecutively behind a long, thin table. There were pitchers of water and glasses dispersed along it's surface, but nothing else that he could see. There were two doors behind the table, one at each corner of the wall. Presumably, this was where whoever sat in the seven chairs would enter or exit. They were led to a bench directly in front of the table and instructed to sit down. They did so and waited for the trial to begin. At least, that's what it felt like to Golan. He didn't mention this to Janov, who merely sat wide-eyed and clearly worried about the whole procedure. Whatever was about to happen would likely begin soon, so they might as well sit back and relax. He noticed there were no other chairs beside them, so, presumably, they would not be allowed any representation other than themselves.

Although the high-ceilinged room was air-conditioned, it still felt stuffy and close. Which was most probably due to the circumstances rather than the actual temperature. They sat, taking in the intricate woodwork of the walls and furniture until about fifteen minutes had passed and the door at the left of the back of the room began to open. Golan pointed it out to Janov, who suddenly looked more nervous and startled than before. If that were possible.

When the door had swung back all the way, they watched as first one woman all in white walked through it and then, after a short pause, seven more followed. They were dressed in completely white robes also, but around the collars of the seven were intricate embroideries. Golan figured it denoted some kind of rank. Since the designs were all different, who knew which one, or if all of them, had the seniority. They shuffled in quietly, without a word and sat down. The first one that had entered, stood by the left end of the table. She nodded her head and somewhere a tone sounded. It's significance was not lost on either Golan or Janov. They both assumed an erect position in their chairs and tried to look innocent. At this, Janov failed miserably.

The woman who sat at the center position of the table, raised her hand, palm outward toward them. If this was to signify silence, there was no need. Golan looked behind where they sat. Although the room could seat approximately 100 people, none of the seats were taken. Was this, then, to be a closed trial? When the woman lowered her hand, she noted Golan's glance behind. She spoke.

"No, Golan Trevise, you are not on trial here. And neither is your friend, Janov Pelorat." She paused momentarily to fill a glass with water. Golan took this chance to speak on their behalf.

"May I ask for what reason we are here?"

"I can see that you are concerned. And Janov Pelorat, have no fear. You will neither one come to harm while on our planet." Golan noticed that Janov exhaled forcefully. "To find yourselves in our presence merely means that we have allowed you to visit our planet. Had we not found you harmless, you would not have been allowed to leave our entry station." Golan's attention was suddenly diverted from worrying about Janov to the speaker in front of him. She noticed his alarm. "Which is not to say that you would have been prevented from returning to your ship and flying back from whence you came. We are not barbarians here on Tantalus IV." He relaxed; for the first time since entering the room.

The head speaker took a drink and then dipped her head toward the woman seated on her left. After they conferred in silence for a few seconds, both of them turned and whispered to the woman directly on the other side. After all seven women had had a chance to hear whatever it was the head woman had to say, they began to look out at the two men in front of them. Or rather, Golan got the impression that they were more interested in Janov than himself. Perhaps they were worried about the affects of this trial on his health. He was beginning to look a little peaked. More muted conversations took place between the seven, with several gestures directed in Janov's direction. Were they going to allow him to wait outside until they had decided whatever decision they were going to reach? The talks subsided until the leader filled her glass once more and sat it down in front of her without drinking from it. Golan knew that to be the signal that they had reached a decision and come to a conclusion about them. She looked first at Janov, and then Golan.

"The Tribunal Of Seven have conferred amongst themselves. We have reached a decision." Golan thought all the pomp and secretiveness had been unnecessary, but who was he to tell these women how to run their own affairs? "We find that, due to the nature of your visit, surely one of honorable intentions, you are both to be granted full access to our society." Full access? 'I wonder what that means, exactly?' thought Golan. "I can see that you have questions." Was his face really betraying his thoughts so plainly? "But, all your questions will be answered in time. You will be escorted, with honors, to suitable rooms in the city. There you will be allowed to relax in comfort to see and do anything you desire. You will have only to ask. A guide will be attached to each of you and they, in turn, will be able to answer any questions you might have. I only want to say for myself and this tribunal, that I hope you will find your experiences on Tantalus IV as pleasurable and satisfying as any place you've been." She smiled hugely at Janov. "And might I have the pleasure of dining with you one evening?"

He could tell that Janov was too nervous to respond to her question, so he answered instead. "We would be honored, Miss... Uh, in what manner should I address you?"

"You may use my official title. Ambassador Telane. Janov may use Elzebeh."

He started to reply but before any words could come out of his opened mouth, he saw the look the Ambassador directed toward Janov. Could he be mistaken, or was it one of... awe? He let the thought pass as the phrase 'see or do anything you desire' came back to him. If what the statement implied was true, they were in for the time of their lives. Anyway, he was. Janov was good old Janov and, with Bliss waiting for him back on Gaia, he would probably find the time they spent here boring and too-long-lasting.

Golan was counting on it lasting. At least, for as long as he could get away with, he hoped.

6.

They found themselves in adjoing suites suitable for any king who had ever lived. Both rooms must have taken up all of the top floor of the building they stood in. As Golan looked out one of the windows which took up the entire outside wall, he could see a large metropolis spreading out around them. As far as he could see, it reached upward in a multitude of shapes and sizes and designs. No two buildings seemed alike, but all were fascinating in their own way. He was just getting ready to see if he could locate the spaceport where the Far Star was housed when Janov tapped him on the shoulder.

"Golan, my good fellow. What have we gotten ourselves into?"

"Your guess is as good as mine."

"I can see that you don't share the same concerns as I do."

Golan turned to face him squarely. "Oh, I'm concerned all right. Those two women that are assigned to us. Did you notice them standing outside the door?"

"Yes, I did. Are they to be our guides or guards?"

"They act like guards, if you ask me."

Janov cleared his throat. "Well, it seems to me that maybe we could ask them. Weren't we told something to the effect that they would have to answer our questions?"

"I don't know if that's what they said, exactly. I think what they said was that they would only be too pleased to answer our questions. Perhaps we should give it a try and ask them something."

"First, ask them if we are free to go."

"Sure, Janov. Let me get them to come in."

He walked over to the entrance and passed his hand over the mechanism which opened it. The door wooshed open and slid into the wall and out of sight with all haste. Well, it hadn't been locked. Apparently they weren't to be held prisoners, at least. He saw both of them, one standing erect at each side of the opening, and motioned for them to enter. They did so silently.

"We have some questions of you," intoned Golan when they were all the way inside.

"We will do our best to give you the answers you desire."

"Just enough to be what we want to hear or enough to answer our questions completely?"

"Why, completely, sirs." He noted that whenever either one of them turned in Janov's direction, they averted their gaze to the floor. Was it because they were so young and elders such as Janov were treated more reverently here? He would have to find out about that, too.

Golan cleared his throat. "The first thing we'd like to know is this: Are we being held prisoners here or are we to really be allowed free access to the city out there?" He waved his hand at one of the windows overlooking the skyline.

"Oh, no, sirs! You have only to ask us and we will take you anywhere you wish to go."

"Do you two have to come along or can we go by ourselves?"

"You could go without us, but you would not know where to go, so that is why we have been provided. To be your guides and direct you anywhere you would like to see."

"I see." He thought about that for a moment. "Do you have any kind of taxis around here?"

"Taxis?" they both asked in unison. The woman who was apparently assigned to Janov spoke.

"What is a taxi?"

"Why, it's something, a vehicle of some kind, that can be hired to take us anywhere we want to go. They're quite common on many worlds. Don't you have them?"

"Oh, you mean 'conveyances.' Yes, they are commonplace in our cities, also. But, they are not for hire. It is a free service that is provided for our guests."

"Ah, pleasant," mumbled Janov.

Both women giggled between themselves and looked back to Golan.

"Is there anything else you would enquire about?" asked Golan's guide.

He made up his mind. "Yes. We would like to go and see your city and perhaps get something to eat. How soon can that be arranged?"

"Why, right away! Please excuse our thoughtlessness of your needs and follow us. We will go down and secure a conveyance and direct it to any one of a hundred different places that serve food in the general vicinity. Do you have a preference of what style of food you would like?"

Golan looked to Janov, who shrugged his shoulders. "No, I think... How about you surprise us with something?"

Janov's guide, whose name was apparently Inella, whether first or last name, unknown, giggled. "It would be our extreme pleasure to do that. Please, follow us."

Once they had descended the building's 85 floors to the street level, they walked out of the hotel and stood on the sidewalk in the soft glow of the planet's slowly setting sun. Janov's guide made a universal motion to one of the passing anti-grav vehicles and it slowed and pulled next to the curb. The door opened automatically and Golan noticed that in the back seat, which was a kind of curved affair, there was room for all four of them. As many as 6 or 7 people could have fit inside it comfortably. They took their places, with Janov going first, followed by both guides and Golan choosing the seat by the door. He was still taking no chances, even if there were only women on the planet. The driver of the conveyance was also female, who turned around to ask the guides for directions. She didn't even appear to notice the two men in her vehicle. Perhaps they have more visitors than he was led to believe; for she certainly didn't seem curious about the two men. Whatever the reason, when Janov's guide said what was most probably the name of a popular restaurant, the driver turned back toward the road and eased the vehicle into the generous flow of traffic. Golan wondered if this was normal.

"Is this considered rush hour for your world?" he asked his guide. Her nameplate said Deaha.

"Rush hour? What do you mean?"

"I mean, is this the conventional time when everybody goes home from work? I notice it's later in the afternoon. Surely it will be getting dark soon."

"Oh, yes. People arrive home from where they work by late afternoon. The observance of the adornment of the silken headband is performed by every inhabitant before the sun sets. We will ourselves observe it when we arrive at the restaurant. Most likely, you will be the only two there that will not be busy with the honoring of this age-old custom of ours."

Janov leaned slightly forward in his seat. "If I may ask, what are you observing when you perform this ritual?"

Inella blushed and looked at the floor between Janov's feet. "It signifies the cleansing of our world. Back to a time when men left our planet for other homes."

"Did they go willingly or were they forced off?" Golan watched both of their faces to see the reaction his question would elicit, if any. But, if they were surprised by it, they certainly didn't show it.

Deaha said, "Oh, the decision for the exodus was arrived at mutually by both the females and males of our world. There just came to be a time when all knew that this should be done, so the males left."

"Just like that." Golan snapped his fingers.

"Just like that," replied Deaha, without snapping hers.

"There was no rancor about the decision, no grudges held by the male population?" Janov asked.

Inella placed her hand upon Janov's knee. She left it there for only a brief second before removing it and covering it with her other hand. "The decision was reached by a mutual consensus. Please, let us talk of other things. We are near the restaurant."

"Oh, are we getting close?" Janov looked to the buildings that slid by outside the tinted window of the anti-grav conveyance. Golan noticed him and did the same. All the traffic was moving at a similar pace and it was hard to read the signs that adorned the buildings along this street. He happened to catch one, but could not read the letters. Perhaps they had their own written language which they employed here on the surface of their planet. That they could and did use Galactic Standard in addition to at least one other form of communication made Golan more aware of their inate intelligence than he had been before. He had just assumed they wrote the same as they spoke. Well, apparently not. That would have to be a question for another time, for their conveyance started slowing and they left the three lanes of traffic and moved into an open lot in front of a brightly-lit building made entirely, from what he could discern, of large glass panels. The parking area was mostly empty and their conveyance pulled up close to the entrance and stopped. Deaha nodded to the driver and the door opened. Golan took this as the signal to disembark and did so, with grace. After he stepped out, he held out his hand for his guide. She apparently either didn't see it or ignored his offered gesture, for she emerged on her own to stand beside him. He straightened back up and allowed Inella and Janov to get out on their own. Perhaps since men had been gone from their world for so long, the didn't recognize certain age-old customs. He made a mental note to himself to ask them just how long it had been since the men had made their departure. Maybe it had been so long that they had forgotten what courtesy was. Or, maybe they never recognized this custom to begin with. Whatever the reason, they were soon out of the vehicle and it glided up a short way and stopped again. Apparently they were to have the same conveyance for the rest of the night.

"Well, ladies," said Golan affiably, "shall we go inside?"

"Follow us," replied Inella. She started walking away from the front entrance of the building toward the side. Were they to be allowed entrance only through a lesser opening because of their sex? If so, they would most likely be treated the same way wherever they chose to go. No a very enticing feeling, thought Golan. So much for Tantalusian hospitality.

After they were inside, Golan turned to Deaha and asked her about it.

"Was that the entranceway that male visitors must use who visit your world?"

"Male visitors? What do you mean?"

"I mean simply this," he said, his voice growing slightly edgy. "Why couldn't we come in the front way? Weren't we good enough?"

"Front way? What way would that be?" She looked genuinely perplexed. So, he pointed at what he meant.

"There, where we got out of the conveyance. Why couldn't we have used the entranceway there instead of having to go all the way around to the side of the building?"

Deaha turned to Inella and they both grinned widely. Inella walked over to where Golan pointed and instead of stopping and waiting for the door to open, she kept going. Through it. Or rather... just what had she done? It was still there, but she was on the outside now. Had it moved so fast that he missed it's opening and closing? Inella spoke to them from outside. Her voice was still as low as it had been when she had been inside, but they heard it plainly.

"Is this where you meant?"

"I, uh... yes," stammered Golan. "That's the place."

"Oh, don't be upset. It's not really an entrance or exit. It's merely design."

"What do you mean?"

"Come here and see."

Golan took four or five steps and found himself standing face to face with the door. He looked around to find something with which to activate it, but was unsuccessful. Inella reached through the glass and took his arm. There was neither sound nor motion of breaking glass as her fingers pushed through. They were simply on the outside one moment and then on inside the next.

"How...?" he stammered.

"Simple. This opening doesn't really exist. It's holographic. You only see an opening to enter here because we want you to. Actually, there are no walls at all around this place. They are merely projections of such a frequency to give the allusion of solidness and to keep small insects from coming through. Feel it for yourself. It will not hurt, although you might notice a slight tingling sensation at first."

"You're sure it's perfectly harmless?" asked Golan.

"My hand is through it, isn't it?"

"So it is. All right, here goes nothing."

Golan stood back on the balls of both feet and prepared to thrust his right arm through the make-believe opening. As he did so, he blinked. What his eyes told him was an impossibility turned out to be not only possible, but actually happening. His hand was outside now and he could feel the evening air as it was more humid than the temperature inside. What a strange sensation! He had to concentrate to feel the tingling sensation she'd spoken about, but it was definitely there. Just enough to register on his senses and not do any damage. At least to a human. An insect would be repelled gently, but with enough force as to keep it from entering. What an ingenious method of construction. He said as much.

"I'd imagine that you use this type of arrangement because your world is not abundantly supplied with sufficient building materials for everything you'd like?"

"That is correct." Inella stepped back through and into the restaurant. "And, now, if you are suitably impressed, I suggest we sit down and order. Our cuisine is something we're very proud of."

"Please," urged Janov doubtfully, "lead on."

They were directed to a table in the center of the room by a woman dressed unmistakably like some kind of chef. Her outfit consisted of a sort of dress-like undergarment covered with a knee-length apron. On her head sat a tall, cloth hat that stood a full 12 inches taller than she did. The entire ensemble was of unrelieved white. There was no decoration on any part of her clothing except for a small insignia over her heart. Presumably, it stood for the name of the restaurant they were in. After she seated them, she passed around four menus. Golan glanced over it quickly and confirmed that it was indeed in the mysterious language he couldn't understand. He sat his down and turned to his guide.

"Why don't you suggest something, Deaha? I'm sure that whatever you choose will be delicious." He inclined his head toward her.

"Very well." She opened her menu and scanned both the left, then the right side of it. After coming to some conclusion, she folded it and handed it to the woman who stood waiting to take their order. The chef had returned to the kitchen and this woman had come shortly afterwards. She displayed a small, black device, most probably used to record their choices of food. She pressed somewhere on the front of it and a cover lifted up.

"What will you have, tonight?"

"I think that since this is our visitor's first night on Tantalus IV, they should try some basic staples of our culture. Don't you think so, Inella?"

Inella nodded her head, as did the waitress.

"Oh, yes. By all means," replied Janov's guide, who sat close to him at the table. Much closer than did Deaha to Golan, Golan noted.

"We'll all start out with fresh showura, in the shell, followed by plenty of citron fruit and balkas."

"Good choice," agreed the waitress. "The showura were flown in just yesterday."

"Excellent."

"Would you like to order your after dinner dessert now or wait until later?"

Deaha looked around the table. "I think we'll wait until after we've eaten and take it from there. I'm not so sure our guests will want anything sweet after we fill them with the traditional dish of Tantalus IV."

"Perhaps not." She closed the lid of her device and winked. "I'll have your food in about fifteen minutes. Please enjoy the atmosphere of Momoreux's."

The waitress walked off and through a door which undoubtedly led to where the food was prepared. When she had left, they looked around and noticed that what few patrons there had been, had seemed to have disappeared. Also, there were no other workers to be seen. Golan noticed that Janov had seen it, too.

"Where did everyone go, Golan?"

"I don't know, Janov. Why don't you ask our hosts here?" He indicated Inella and Deaha. Inella answered.

"If you will excuse us? It's time for the observance. That's where the others have all gone."

"Gone where?"

"There is a room in every building that is set aside as the traditional place for this if you find yourself not at your own home when the time arrives for the ceremony. That's where everyone has gone. We will also go there and return after a short while. Please, enjoy the music while you wait for us. But, please, stay at the table. You can understand why this has to be, I hope."

Janov nodded his head vigorously. "Oh, yes. We're quite familiar with rituals of all kinds. Why, we once observed something in our past that..."

Golan silenced him with a gesture. "I'm sure they will want to hear all about it when they get back. It looks like they might be in a hurry." True to his words, they had both stood up.

"Excuse me, ladies. I offer my profusest apologies. I didn't mean to keep you from..."

"Goodbye, ladies." Golan watched as they left and Janov hurried to his feet; ever the gentleman. They went through the same door that the waitress had used and were gone from sight. The restaurant around them became very quiet. Except for the soft strains of what was undoubtedly traditional music for this world, they could hear no sounds at all. There was no traffic passing by outside and even if there was, Golan was not sure he'd be able to hear it. The walls must also filter out sounds, too.

"What do you suppose this showura is? You're the scientist, will it hurt us?"

Janov reflected for a moment. "I would guess that it would be safe for our bodies. Undoubtedly, from the context they used, it most likely will turn out to be a variety of their seafood. I noticed a big ocean nearby when we were floating down to the planet's surface."

"I saw it, too. Perhaps it is teeming with life. If that's the case, our meal should be quite delicious." Janov cleared his throat, peremptorily to saying something else. Since nobody had returned yet, he assumed it would be about their two guides. It was.

"Say, Golan... Have you noticed the way my guide, and to a certain extent, yours, looks at me?"

He didn't want to hurt Janov's feelings, but if it was just custom, he might as well speak what was on his mind and convey his thoughts about the matter. "Well, I had noticed something about that. They seem to..."

"They seem to avoid looking me right in the eyes. Almost as if..."

"Perhaps it's just out of respect for your... maturity, ahem. Perhaps elders here hold a more respected place in this society."

"I've studied several variations of cultures like this, or near enough, anyway. No, I think that since males have been excised absolutely, if you will, from this society, respect is not what I'm receiving. It's more like a type of adulation, I've noticed."

Golan almost laughed out loud, but one glance at Janov's face told him he was being serious. "You sincerely believe that's what it is?"

"I'm almost totally convinced of it. You see, this kind of thing is in my line, just as flying spaceships is in your realm of knowledge. I suppose I could try to confirm my theories when our guides come back."

"Do you think you should? What if it's some kind of taboo with them? I'd hate to be hauled in front of that Tribunal again under penalty of having broken one of their laws."

"Somehow, I don't think that would happen. I... oh, here they come again. Golan, let me broach the subject in my own way."

Golan nodded. "You're the expert."

This time, Golan joined Janov as they both got to their feet as the approaching women reached their table and sat down. After everyone was comfortably seated once again, Janov picked up his napkin and fumbled with it in front of him.

"I have a question I'd like to ask about your culture, but I don't want to risk offending you with the asking of it. I wonder if there are people here who I might consult without fear of reprisals of any kind?" Golan watched them carefully for their reply.

Deaha clumsily rearranged the condiments upon their table and Inella looked intently over Janov's shoulder. It was she who answered. "You may ask us. That is another of the things required of us. To assist visitors with any questions they might have of our culture. There will be no fear of reprisals."

Janov nodded. It was the answer he was hoping for. "My question is this. Why do you not look at me in the same manner as you do for my companion? Is there something wrong that I don't know about? Something about me in particular? Because, if there is, I wish you'd tell me."

They looked at each other and shared an intimate smile. And the color of Deaha's face reddened percepitively. This time, Inella chose Janov's collar to focus on.

"You truly do not know?"

"Truly, I do not."

"We will tell you, for we must. That is our way. But, first, let us enjoy our meal. We will talk of this afterwards."

Their waitress reappeared balancing four plates on her arms. Quickly and efficiently, she placed each one in front of them. When she had done so, she bowed slightly and backed away. The food smelled succulent to Golan, so he put the question and answer period to the back of his mind and concentrated instead on the platter in front of him. He watched their guides for any hints as to the proper method of gaining entrance to the main course, for it was indeed some kind of ether-world crustacean. When Deaha made use of a complicated utensil that had been wrapped up in a napkin, first Golan and then Janov imitated her movements. At first, the slippery creature kept sliding out of the serated jaws of the, whatever the tool was he was trying to use. Soon, however, he got the hang of using it and cracked a larger portion of the shell. Deaha had already opened hers up and was now dipping small portions of it into a saucer of yellowish liquid. Perhaps it was butter. Golan tried it and was pleasantly surprised at the rich, acidic flavor it had.

"May I ask what this liquid is? It compliments the showura well."

"It is called citron. In it's normal form, it is a fruit. But, for this dish, it is squeezed freshly and provided as a natural flavor enhancement for any of our ocean's produce. It is quite popular on our world."

"I can see why it would be," said Janov as he wiped away a stray drop of it rolling down his chin. "It is quite delicious."

Deaha wiped her lips with her napkin. "We will inform the waitress that you find it so. The cook will be pleased to know this."

The meal continued in relative silence for the better part of an hour. When they looked down and found the food had all been consumed, Golan leaned back in his seat.

"I have to say that that was one of the most enjoyable meals I've ever had. I could get to like it here."

"I don't think they would permit us to stay here." Janov was removing the last traces of showura and citron from his chin. He had obviously relished it as much as had Golan.

"Dr. Pelorat is correct. Golan Trevize would not be allowed to habitate our world."

They both noticed the obvious formality their guides had adopted. Golan assumed it was because it was now time to answer the question that had been put to them earlier. He sat up straight and was attentive to them. Inella looked like she would be the one who would speak.

"When we say that Golan Trevize would not be permitted to stay here, what we mean is that no man can come here with the intent of never leaving again. There is one who does not come under this edict. Our forebearers speak of a... a god, if you will... who intervened when our crisis of the sexes was new. There came an image from the heavens and from this, it was decided that all the males of our world were to remove themselves. This was seen by both females and males, so there was no doubt as to it's veracity."

Golan licked his lips. "So, what you're saying is that a vision told you to kick all the men off your world and go it alone?"

"Substantially, that is correct."

"But...?" Janov sensed they were being reserved about something.

"We have never forgotten the visage of this vision that came to us all, or rather our ancestors. You may know in what form he appeared to us if you go into any holy room on our world. His image adorns every north wall."

"Is that so?" Golan looked over to where the women had performed their ritual earlier that night. To the door that led to this building's kitchen and apparently 'Holy Room' as well.

"There is only one way for us to truly answer this question."

"Please, we would be honored," said Janov, who obviously had figured it out also. "Are men permitted there?"

"Normally, males do not enter our holy rooms. But, there is no law which specifically prohibits this, so, it is to be allowed tonight." They got to their feet. "Please, follow us."

They walked slowly to the door that was unmarked in any fashion; the one that had earlier been used by the workers. Janov was hesitant to enter, but Golan had no trepidations whatsoever. He wanted to see what one of these rooms looked like. It would probably be the only chance he'd ever have.

Inella stood in front of it and it opened slowly, almost reverently. When it was no longer showing, Inella stepped through, followed closely by Deaha. They moved in only enough to clear the doorway and then they turned around. Deaha motioned toward the floor.

"Please, make sure you step only on the black tiles. We ask this of you."

"All right," Golan assured them, "we will be careful to do as you say."

Inella stepped back onto a patch of six white tiles. Deaha chose an adjoining rectangle of similar size and when she had done so, motioned for Golan and Janov to follow. They walked carefully on a path of black that was four tiles wide. At least it would be easy to comply with their rules. They continued along the line of tiles until Inella commanded them to stop. They did so. Golan began looking around at the decorations in the room. There were very few, but these seemed to have been carefully chosen for a certain effect. One of righteous piety, he presumed. He noticed small shelves in every corner, about eye level to the women. On each of them burned a small, white candle in a frosted white glass votive holder. The scent they made was strangely enticing to Golan's sense of smell. He was about to ask what it was when Janov tapped him on the shoulder.

"Golan, if you will...?"

"Yes, Janov?" He turned to see what it was his companion wanted and when he did, he was amazed to see his outstretched arm pointing straight ahead, quivering slightly.

"Do you see it?" asked Janov, his voice barely above that of a whisper.

"See it? I..." Golan stopped talking in mid-sentence and looked where Janov pointed. After he saw it, for the life of him, he couldn't think of any words to say. His mind became a complete blank. The wall Janov was pointed toward had something the other three didn't. It must be the north wall, he reasoned. Their holiest of holy walls. All these things ran through his mind in a fraction of a second. Then, the object Janov pointed at became the only thing he could think about. It was a large painting in a gilded, golden frame that looked very heavy and quite expensive indeed. But, that wasn't what interested him so much. It was the subject of the painting.

For, there in front of them all was a large, stylized painting of a man who could have passed for Janov Pelorat's twin brother.

7.

Nobody spoke for several seconds, least of all Golan. 'Is this all some kind of joke, or something?' he asked himself at last. One of the women behind him stirred. It was Inella.

"You see for yourselves why we must honor Janov Pelorat. His return has been prophesied by our forebearers. He is the one for which we have been waiting for so long."

Golan turned around to face them, careful to do so from black tiles. "Now, wait a minute. You mean to tell me that Janov, here, is your god?"

"He bears the image of our god."

He pointed at the image in the painting. "What do you call him?"

"His name is irrelevant. That we know him simply as our chosen one will suffice."

"It most certainly will not suffice. I must know what name you call him by."

Inella glanced at Deaha, who only looked back at her silently. They made eye contact and came to an agreement, nodded once at each other and Inella turned toward Golan again.

"He is known as the Great Uniter."

"I meant his name. Not his title."

"That is the only name we have for him. We have no other way of addressing him."

"Well, this is just crazy. Look at that painting and then look at my friend Janov here. Do you mean to tell me that you think they are one and the same?"

Janov stood transfixed, as if looking at himself in a mirror. He could offer nothing in his defense. Their two guides, however, walked over to the painting and stood on either side of it. Although the man in the painting was clearly wearing a religious-looking robe and was made to appear in a idealized manner, there was something about the look on his face that did indeed resemble Janov Pelorat. Both of the women gazed at the painting's countenance for several seconds before turning back to Golan. And Janov.

Inella indicated the painting and then the man beside him. "Do you not see the likeness of your friend to the man in the picture? It is as if Janov Pelorat himself posed for the portrait. What more than the proof of your own eyes do you require?"

"I don't know. Something's not right."

"If I may, Golan?" Janov spoke for only the second time since entering the room. "Even I am confused by this. I must admit, though, that the fellow in that painting does look like me. Extremely like me. So much so that I am forced to defer to the women on whether it cannot be much more than just simple coincidence. Obviously, we came here for a purpose."

"Now, don't tell me you're buying into their sacred brand of claptrap, are you?"

"How would you explain it, my good fellow?"

"I would... well, I'm not sure how I would, but I know that you're not the man in the picture. You've never been here, have you?"

"No, never. I would have remembered something like that."

"Exactly. You've never been anywhere near this system."

"I fail to see how your words," began Inella, "do much more than to confirm our beliefs. This painting is quite old, probably older than the both of you combined. How could it be that Janov himself posed for it during his lifetime?"

"I don't know how it was arranged, but I'm going to get to the bottom of it." He folded his arms in front of him and dared anybody to challenge him.

"My dear fellow, you act as if I had perpetrated this all by myself. I fail to see the harm in their treating me a little more special just because I look like the man in their painting. Why don't we just let both of them show us around their world and tell us about their culture like they were going to do and leave it at that?"

Golan looked down at his feet. The feet that were so carefully arranged so that they didn't touch any part of the white tiles. And then to Janov's feet which did the same thing. No, there was a bigger picture to this. As smart as Janov was, apparently he had failed to take the implications of the situation to their fullest extent.

"Perhaps you don't realize that it goes beyond our two guides." He looked to them for confirmation. They nodded. "See? They agree with me."

"What do you mean?"

"Simply, that I don't think we can just look around their world anymore. I think they have bigger plans for you, Janov."

"Bigger plans, I just wanted to see..." He stopped talking and gazed intently at the painting. Golan watched as, at first, he merely looked at the figure in front of him. After several seconds, however, his eyes became big like saucers and he knew. He understood.

"I take it that it's finally sunk in?" asked Golan, nodding slowly.

"By space, Golan, I don't know if I like the implications of what you're insinuating." Their guides began to look worried. Golan wondered if it were because they couldn't afford to be known as the ones who had let their "god" get away.

"When you think about it, though. It might be pretty nice. I mean, you can have anything you want. And you can make me your vice-god, or something with an equally official-sounding title. Why, we may never have to chart another flight program again."

"That's what worries me, Golan."

He remembered Bliss at last. "Oh, yes. I seem to have overlooked something."

Janov nodded vigorously. "Yes. Through all of this, she is still waiting on my return to Gaia. At least, I hope she is."

"I'm sure she is."

"So, you see why I cannot make you my vice-god or anything like it." He turned to their two guides. "And why I simply cannot accept the offer to be your savior. However flattered I might be to have been chosen... or whatever method you'd call it... I must decline. There is someone whom I am attached to on another world and that's where we must return."

Without speaking, Inella directed that they should exit the room and return to their seats. After they had done so and ordered dessert, they were alone again and could discuss the matter further. Golan, for one, had to put some kind of stop to this whole worshipping bit, if only for Janov's sake.

"I hope it's not much of a setback for all of you women that I have to take Janov back to Gaia with me. But, duty calls. I promised him that I would do that." He looked from Inella to Deaha and then back again. "I couldn't go back on my word, could I?"

Begrudgingly, Deaha nodded slightly. "We can understand your insistence on honoring your vow, but even if there was a whole universe waiting for Janov Pelorat, we would insist that you rethink your position. As you should." She turned to Janov and didn't resort to averting her eyes like she had before he had became a god in their eyes. "Your arrival has been foretold for ages. It was a story I was told as a small babe in arms. And my grandmother's grandmother told it to her daughter when she was young. Doesn't this mean anything at all to you?"

He thought about it momentarily while the waitress returned with their desserts. They had been promised something like pie ala-mode, but the object that was placed in front of them didn't resemble it at all. Janov immediately pushed his away. Golan first tasted his and then tried a second taste, bigger than the first.

"It's all right. If you can get over the looks, and maybe most of the smell, it's really not so bad. Tastes kind of like mint ice cream and sour apple pie. That's about as close as I could describe it. I kind of like it."

Janov snorted. "Really, Golan... must you enjoy your dessert so... so... blatantly?"

"It's not as bad as all that."

He looked down at the dish he had refused. "Really, I don't care to..."

Golan sat his eating utensil on the side of his plate. "That's not what I was referring to. Of course I mean this predicament we find ourselves in. I'm sure that with a little reason, these women can be made to see our point. Why, they might even let loose with some parting gifts for you when we depart. But, there's no need to be worried about anything. I'm certain they would never force us to stay against our will." The words he spoke were diametrically opposed to the feelings he had harbored when first setting foot on this world. He almost felt like he wasn't himself. On any of a quintillion other worlds, he wouldn't have admitted to feeling this way in such a situation as this. He was, after all, still a man.

Deaha blinked her eyes and dipped her head ever so slightly in Inella's direction. She, in turn, nodded and then looked back to the two men. Deaha stood up and excused herself.

"Perhaps Janov would be more satisfied with a different dessert. I will return."

Golan had caught the exchange between the two women and took it, rightfully, for what it was. He wasn't for a moment fooled about the explanation his guide had given, for wouldn't have Inella been the one to get a more pleasing dish for Janov? He was certain that whatever it was she went to do wouldn't mean any good for them. He cleared his throat and stood himself.

"Is there a place where one can..." he tried to convey his intent by looking embarrassed. Perhaps Inella would know that he meant the facilities.

"Yes, if you'll follow this path to the door on the opposite side of the room, there you will find a place we provide for the occasional guest to our world. It will be the only door, so do not be confused that it says it is for women only."

"Thank you." He glanced over to Janov. "If you'll please accompany me?" His let his eyes say what he couldn't allow his words to reveal. The scientist place his napkin on the table and got quickly to his feet.

"My apologies, but we will be right back."

Golan almost pulled him along, trying to get him to hurry.

"What is the haste, Golan? I don't really have the need to go, you know, old man."

"Well, whatever you think, it's not that. Apparently, you didn't catch the little signal that was passed between them just before my guide went to the back, but I'm certain it meant no good. That's why we had to get out of here. And fast."

"What do you mean?" Janov saw the door they had been directed to and reached to open it. Golan grabbed his arm and pulled him along forcefully, as he went further into the recesses of the restaurant.

"There must be an unobtrusive exit here somewhere."

Janov looked around, uncomprehendingly. "Why are we trying to leave? We haven't finished our meal."

"I'm afraid that if we stayed any longer, it would be the finish for both of us. I'm certain that Deaha was calling in some reinforcements."

"Whatever for? I would have tried the dessert, eventually."

Golan stopped and faced Janov squarely, placing both his hands on his shoulders.

"Now, we don't have time, but I have to make you realize just how bad of a situation we find ourselves in. They're not going to let you leave from this world. Ever. I could tell that back in their holy room. Is that what you want? To be kept here and never able to see Bliss again? She wouldn't understand. And it wouldn't do you any good. I know you. So, trust me when I say this. We have to get out of here right away and get back to the Far Star. It's imperative that we do it now. We might not have a chance like this again."

Janov's eyes grew big, but he remained silent. Nodding, he began to look around for an exit. At least he had imparted to his friend the absolute gravity of the situation.

It was Golan who found the way out. It was hidden behind an unobtrusive curtain that was covering a solid brick wall. He had first tried it to make sure he couldn't find an egress here, but these walls were indeed like the kind he was accustomed to. Solid and unforgiving. He waved the curtain aside and then motioned for Janov to follow.

"This way."

They both exited into the rapidly approaching darkness that was falling all around them like a glove. Golan made his way to the corner of an adjoining building and looked both ways. Seeing a side street to his right, he snapped his fingers at Janov, who followed quickly behind him. After they had moved quickly down the small alley that divided two buildings behind the restaurant, they found themselves facing a fairly busy thoroughfare. Golan held up his hand in the hope that one of the vehicles moving past them would be an available conveyance. The third one that passed them stopped. The back door opened and Golan fairly shoved Janov in ahead of him.

The driver turned around to ask where they wanted to go to and noticed Janov. Her eyes bulged and she snapped back around to the front. "Offworlders?"

"Yes," replied Golan, hastily. "We've been treated as honored guests during our stay here, but it is now time for us to leave. Could you take us to the Spaceport so that we can find our ship?"

The vehicle started moving quickly. "Which one do you desire?"

He made some rapid mental calculations. "That way," he pointed and the woman looked in her mirror and saw where he was indicating.

"Very well. Sit back and enjoy the ride, please."

The conveyance noticeably gained speed and they were both forced back into their seats from it's haste. Golan glanced back behind them, but did not see anybody that was obviously following them. Perhaps they had made it in time.

After about a fifteen minute ride, one they made in nervous silence, the driver pulled up to the Spaceport that Golan had requested. He recognized it as the one at which they had landed.

They got out of the vehicle and, for a moment, Golan wondered how he would pay for their fare. He had left all his Tantalus currency back at his hotel room. He was certain that Janov had, also. The driver noted their hesitancy and tipped her hat.

"There's your destination. There is never a charge for guests of our world, so please don't worry about paying me. I can see you're in a hurry, so just go." She pushed a button, which caused the back to close on it's own, and then drove off into the night. Golan breathed a sigh of relief and then looked in front of him.

The Spaceport appeared normal, as normal as it could with the small amount traffic that must come this way by design, and there seemed to be no waiting officials to detain them. He took this as a good sign and made his way inside. Janov followed him closely, shaking his head the whole time.

"There's the Far Star. Quick, let's get inside."

They barely had time to close the hatch when they heard alarms start sounding around them. Janov looked at the forward screen, but could see no activity. Perhaps the officials hadn't arrived yet, for he was certain who the alarm was for. Golan went straight to the pilot room and sat in his chair. He dispensed with the usual preliminaries he took to ready himself for contact with the ship's computer. And, there was no time for the feelings of elation that he normally allowed himself before flying. He simply placed his hands in the marks and thought about leaving. The ship acknowledged his command and they began to lift off. Although they didn't feel anything in the way of gravitic forces, they did have a sudden wash of relief come over them.

And as the atmosphere of Tantalus IV whined about them, they both exhaled the breath they had held since entering the ship.

8.

Only after they had passed beyond the affects of Tantalus IV's atmosphere did Golan visibly relax his position at the computer. He removed his hands, flexed the finger joints several times and then stood up. As he strode out of the pilot room, he almost ran into Janov.

"Ah, my good man. I presume we are far enough away to be safe now from their reach?"

Golan adjusted the sash around his waist minutely. "I'd say reasonably distant enough to not have any serious fears of reprisals from them." He smiled broadly. "Besides, what can they charge a god with?"

"That isn't funny, Golan. I... I could have become so entangled in their affairs that I would never have been able to see Bliss again. You know she's important to me."

"Yes, and that's why I took the chance I did, when I did. Women are a favorite pasttime of mine, but even too much of a good thing can be..." he searched for the right word.

"Well... bad," Janov said, clearing his throat.

"Exactly."

Janov looked weary but, managed a wan smile. After what they had been through, and especially the demands that Tantalus IV had placed on him in particular, Goloan thought he deserved a comfortable respite in the paradise world of Gaia with Bliss. It almost sounded tempting to even him. If only he had a Bliss of his own to return home to. Both men sat down in the living area of the Far Star and contemplated their immediate future.

"I say, Golan, but have you given much thought to what you'll do after we get back to Gaia? I have Bliss waiting for me and that will be all I require. But, you... there is nobody waiting for you and you wouldn't dare return to Terminus..."

"No, not on your life, I wouldn't."

"Exactly. So, what will you do, old man?"

Golan stretched his legs out over the arms of the couch he was sitting on. He could almost go to sleep if he concentrated hard enough. But, there would be time enough for sleep once he'd made the jumps back to Gaia. As soon as he had cleared his mind enough to think about the route, he would initiate their return, but for now, all he wished for was a few undemanding moments of relaxation. He placed both arms behind his head and propped it up. His eyelids started to grow heavy.

"I haven't decided that, yet. However tempting Gaia sounds to me, I still have an uneasiness for that kind of thing."

"But, you assured us that Galaxia was the right choice. Will you ever be really sure?"

"I don't know. I just have this feeling, like I did before we found Earth and Daneel Olivaw, that something is missing from the equation. Having no idea what it could possibly be, I can't really commit myself a hundred percent to anything. How can one ever know all he needs to?"

"That's just it, one can't. One can only gather together all the facts he has about the subject and make an enlightened guess. Once everything is weighed carefully, one should just make the decision and let it ride."

"But, what if I'm wrong for some reason? It will be me who has doomed to galaxy to whatever path I may have inadverdantly placed them upon. I don't want that on my conscience."

"Who would need know that it was you who made that decision?"

"I would know, Janov. I would know." He shook his head slowly.

"Perhaps. I can see how it would be. I was almost a god back there, you know. I had doubts as to whether or not I'd be able to rule a world correctly. Much less benevolently. What if I had been a wrathful god? What then?"

"You, Janov? A wrathful god? You don't have it in you. Of all the people I've ever known, I can only say that you would be the single person I wouldn't mind to rule over me. You would always have the best interests of your subjects on the forefront of every thought you had. No, you would have been a good and kind god."

"I thank you for that, Golan, but can one ever really be sure?"

He looked up suddenly at Janov. "You see what I mean? I just don't... know. And, I feel I have to be sure before I do it."

"Perhaps you'll get another of your feelings and then you will be certain you've made the right choice."

"Yes, maybe. But, for some reason, I'm not counting on another hunch to do that. I feel something else will be the deciding factor."

"Well, isn't that close enough to a hunch? I certainly don't have that kind of feeling about anything."

"No, you've got Bliss to return to and I'm sure that is influencing your thinking to a great degree."

Janov leaned forward in his seat. "But, Gaia said it wouldn't control minds if it didn't have to."

Golan shook his head and laughed softly. "No, my friend, what holds power over you is much, much older than even Gaia itself. I speak of that which a woman can do to a man." He placed his hand over his heart. "The thing the poets and singers have, for millenia, all sworn by. That thing is known as love. Forever and truly amazing."

"That seems reasonable enough. I'd gladly consent to it's hold over any other kind."

"How many men have gladly done the same and were, in their turn, led to their doom?" asked Golan.

"I hardly think that I'm going to my final rewards just yet." Janov gazed at the wall, as if trying to see Bliss through it and all the parsecs that still separated them from Gaia. "And, I don't think they are capable of doing anything untoward to humanity. They've always assured us..."

"Yes, they have. But, we've witnessed several instances where Bliss was totally wrong in what she and Gaia thought. How can you or I know they will or won't do anything, depending on whatever input they're getting at the moment? I don't think that even they realize everything that could develop once the galaxy became a single living, breathing entity. Do you know, Janov? Because, I certainly don't have the slightest idea."

"Well, I'm sure it will all work out for the best." He nodded vigorously. "Yes, all for the best."

Golan scratched distractedly at the area beneath his sash. "I hope you're right. Yes... I certainly hope you're right."

The two men sat contemplating life as the Far Star drifted along slowly on it's path ever onward towards Gaia.

Bliss

9.

Dom tried to push his mind back. Farther than he/it/Gaia had ever been. Back to a time before Gaia was first being laid out and incorporated into a collectiveness. To a time when robots still walked among them and had purpose on Gaia. To an epoch when Gaia the planet itself had not been settled. Farther and farther he reached. Wisps of very ancient and near-forgotten knowledge glided past him. Some of those tendrils of thought he could grasp and hold in his consciousness, but others were mingled with the mists of long ages now past and unknowable. He called on the combined power of Gaia all around him for the strength to probe even farther back. Surely the memories he sought existed somewhere. Could a conscious thought ever be truly lost? He/they/Gaia thought not and it was this he was counting on, for memories of what used to be were all about them. In the trees and skies. Deep within the very core of the planet and the heart of the stone crust. Concealed in the miniscule thought receptors of every animal and insect that flitted past his window. Somewhere what he was looking for would be found. Somewhere. If only he/they/Gaia looked hard enough. There must be a way to find it.

His mind was suddenly strengthened and he realized it was because there was another Gaian nearby. One whose mind was distressed about something. He saw an image of the man named Janov Pelorat briefly before it disappeared and became something else entirely. He walked over to his door and opened it to let Bliss inside.

"His return is eminent. Surely you can see this all too well." He said, then stood back as Bliss slowly entered. There was concern clouding her features. He/they/Gaia knew only too well what it was about, but would wait for her to tell him in her own way.

She sat down heavily on his couch. Dom pulled a chair close to her and, with his eyes, encouraged her to speak.

"Yes, I can feel his mental emanations growing ever stronger. And for that matter, Trev's, too. They will most likely arrive tomorrow morning."

"All is in readiness for their return."

Bliss glanced over at the elderly member of Gaia that sat near her. For as long as she could remember, his guiding mind had been there for Gaia to draw upon. How much it's presence had formed her thought processes, she couldn't say. And, now, it must rise to the occasion once more. For Gaia. For all of humanity.

She spoke softly. "I'm not certain I'm ready for them. For Pel, specifically."

"In what way?" He had prepared a pitcher of lemonade for her arrival. It sat on the table beside them, along with two glasses. As the first drop of condensation slid down it's glass exterior, with a wave of his hand, he enquired whether she would care for some. She declined. He poured himself a glass three-quarters full and sipped it; waiting for her answer.

"I can feel that something is not right." At his look of concern, she held up her hand. "Oh, I don't mean between Pel and I. We are perfect together and will be quite compatible. No, it is something else." She looked up at him again. Straight into his eyes. "I see that you have been thinking about this as well. But, what can it mean?"

"The child," he said, finishing his drink and placing the glass back on the table.

"Fallom." It was one word. Two syllables. Since Solaria and throughout the entire time they had been together, she/they/Gaia had never thought of her in the same sense as they did each other. Or for that matter, other humans they came in contact with, such as Pel or Trev.

"She's not like us," he said, shaking his head.

"And she never will be." Her voice was tinged with sadness.

"Is that what troubles you most?"

She shook her head. Her voice became more firm, solid, purposeful. "No, it isn't that... and yet..."

"And yet... there is something else. I have been wondering about it myself."

"So, I'm not wrong in thinking it?"

"No, your concern over the matter is justified. I think it is, anyway. Gaia has been searching back for something with which to confirm it."

"There doesn't seem to be anything still remembered."

"It is a long way back. It will take time."

"I only hope that there will be enough time for us to do so."

Dom tilted his head sideways and gave her a curious sideways glance. "From where does that particular feeling originate? I am aware that it has not been in Gaia's consciousness until this very moment."

"I... I can't help thinking that the answer lies with Fallom and Daneel Olivaw. The key is buried deep on the moon with them."

"Is it to be found in the robots residing there?"

"I'm certain that it does not."

"Your feeling that it is buried deep does not mean you think of distances below the surface. Am I correct?"

"You are. What I mean, there is something deep within that mind that we were not allowed to see. Who knows how long it has been hidden from us."

"From just us or the robots that guided us millenia ago?"

"Oh, yes... us. I don't think the robots fit into the equation at all."

"I find this line of thought fascinating. I also feel pride that such a strong mind as yours is part of Gaia."

She waved the compliment aside as if it were a gentle breeze. "But, do you not also find it disturbing?"

"I do, but only as your feelings impinge upon Gaia do I find it significant. What do you think it means?"

"I am not sure, but I must go back there. I know I do. If only to get closer to that mind. I must focus the entire strength of Gaia from close at hand so that we can get to the portion of thought that is being kept from us. And kept from us intentionally."

"Will it be safe to do so? If what you sense is more serious than we have imagined it to be at this moment in time, I/we/Gaia might not be able to protect you from such a distance as that. Especially if there are powers that reside there that we know nothing about and which are stronger in a way we can't even begin to comprehend."

"I am aware of all this."

"But, still..."

She nodded. "Still, I must go. It will be easy enough to convince Trev for a return trip. With that ship of his, we can travel the distance in less than a day. And he likes to show it off so."

Dom smiled at the memory of the isolate's feelings of pride. "Yes, that is so." He laughed suddenly. "He is a very special isolate to know and be associated with. Gaia has admitted as much several times."

"He may have come to the end of his usefulness to Gaia."

A silent look of agreement passed between them. Bliss stood up to leave.

"Will you be on hand to greet their return to Gaia, Dom?"

"Yes, I/we/Gaia will be there. That is something which will not be missed." He laid a subtle emphasis on the word that.

Bliss couldn't help but notice that emphasis, but she failed to understand the significance of it.

She looked nervously to the floor. "I meant, will you personally be there?"

He hadn't interpreted that feeling from her question exactly right. Was he getting too old?

"Yes, for your sake, Bliss, I will be there. By your side when their ship lands."

"It will be bright and warm then."

"Yes," replied Dom, knowingly. "The weather will be clear for them."

She reached for the door but did not open it. When she spoke, she did so without turning around.

"And will Gaia also see to it that I am strong enough to leave once again?"

Dom cleared his thoughts so that this one would be clear and easy for her to both feel and understand.

'Gaia will not fail. It cannot. It must not.'

10.

There was a larger crowd on hand to witness the return of the Far Star than there had been to see it go. Images of the event were being recorded from every conceiveable vantage point about the clearing that had been designated as their landing zone. Bliss, along with Dom and a few other members of Gaia waited at the forefront of the multitude; she with fresh flowers for Pel and the others with food and drink for the travellers. They would perhaps be hungry on their arrival, but if not, the food would not go to waste. It would be assimilated back into Gaia quite readily enough by those nearby. The skies above held only the occasional cloud that skittered past and into the distance, throwing quick shadows that danced along underfoot. They held no promise of rain and only served to keep the temperature agreeable. Butterflies fluttered about in the light breeze, landing upon flowers that had bloomed overnight in apparent greeting for the two Isolates. All was in readiness and Gaia was aware of the ship as it reached the outer edges of the stratosphere and slowly spiralled down in a purposeful gait.

Bliss kept looking up, hoping to catch the first sight of the ship. Because of this, Dom made sure that his eyes saw only Gaia below. It was such a minor thing to do, but still, it meant a great deal to her, he could tell. He noticed that other members of Gaia were doing the same. There were small conversations going on everywhere, but nothing of any importance. This thing that Bliss sensed was not in their thoughts at this moment, but he knew it's presence was felt, just the same. The outer edges of it trembled quietly, nevertheless, in a small corner of Gaia's consciousness and was carefully set aside for the present moment.

Soon, a small cloud materialized overhead and began to grow in size, so that Dom knew it was no product of Gaia's atmosphere. After a while, he felt the nearness of the ship, rather than heard it. And then the grass was dark with shadow and people moved slowly back to allow it space with which to land. Dom knew it was not caution that pulled them back, but an unspeakable, unknown feeling of despair that settled over the whole of Gaia; those present for the ocassion and those not in the immediate area. He himself fought to shrug off the feeling so that the event could take precedence. He was only partially successful.

The Far Star settled onto it's four pads and was still. The only sound to be heard was the airlock slowly opening. After steps had anchored themselves firmly on the ground, Dom looked into the opening on the side of the ship. The mind of Gaia, and especially the one to his left in Bliss, swelled with anticipation. She grasped his hand tightly and when the shadow of the first figure could be seen moving inside the ship, he felt the pressure from her fingers increase. It turned out to be Trev and her grip lessened somewhat.

When Pel emerged, her hold on him stopped and she rushed over to the side of the ship, both her arms open as wide as they could go. All of Gaia was experiencing her emotions of renewal and Dom hoped she could convey this to Pel. He would appreciate it much more than Trev could ever admit to.

"Bliss! You were waiting for my return!" Janov smiled his thanks over to his friend. Golan beamed nothing but goodwill back and to the immense crowd that had gathered there for them. For him, he thought with a little self-importance. But, for all that, he knew he didn't belong here. And would never do so. He looked up and found Dom gazing intently in his direction, so he walked toward him.

"We return once again, as you have probably guessed by now, Dom." He reached his hand out and grasped the Gaian's offered welcome. They held it for a few seconds longer than normal. For Golan, it signified that he had gone into the belly of the whale and found a way to return from it. For Dom and Gaia, it was hardly the confirmation they had waited for for so long. It was something else. Something uncertain still.

"And do you still justify your choice of Gaia for the galaxy?" Dom knew the answer but still he had to ask.

Golan looked around, taking in the people around him. And the planet. And the sky and the weather. And the grass and the insects. Everything he could so as to delay his answer for the longest possible moment. Finally, he stopped and knew he must speak. He cleared his throat preemptorily to speaking.

"The Earth was radioactive, just like everyone said it would be."

Dom nodded grimly. "Gaia thought as much."

"But, you didn't know for sure, any more than I did, did you?" He spoke to Dom, but his meaning was quite clearly directed to all of Gaia.

"No, we did not know. That knowledge is not with us any longer."

Golan glanced up at him sharply. "Are you certain of this?"

"Yes."

"Hmmm... I wonder why?"

"I/we/Gaia have not stopped searching. If the answer remains, it will be found."

He straightened out his sash and tugged idly at his right ear. Although there was a huge crowd around them, nobody came close to where he and Dom stood talking to one side. Perhaps it was because they had no need to. Perhaps. Whatever the reason, it was a disappointment to him.

"The answer wasn't on Earth, but it was very near to it. In fact, on a satellite of Earth."

"With a robot of immense age named Daneel Olivaw."

"So, then you know all about it?"

"We could not help but know of it, because it has meant so much to us for so long. We have labored for this moment for centuries, and finally it is here."

"You're the one who sounds more disappointed."

"That is not quite the word for what we feel. Let us say that we have, as yet, not quite fulfilled our objective. When it has been completed, then we can begin to work on Galaxia."

"Not finished, eh? What else could there be to do?" Spoke Janov, who had wandered over, with his arm firmly around the waist of Bliss. Dom gave away no surprise at this sudden and absolutely insightful revelation from Pel.

Golan turned to him and then back to Dom. "What do you mean? We found Earth."

"That's what I thought," replied Janov. "Even though it was not habitable, it was there, nonetheless."

"Let us not get too deep into that at the present moment," spoke Dom. "Instead, let Gaia welcome you back with all the honors we can bestow upon you. Come, have you eaten? We have prepared a dinner of congratulation for you."

Golan patted his stomach. "I don't know about you, Janov, but some good, fresh food would be a very gratifying change. Let us go and feast."

Bliss smiled and said, "It is good to have you back, too, Trev... Trevise."

"That's all right. I don't mind you calling me that on this day. I don't think I'd mind much at all except being kept away from the food. Shall we all go together and eat?"

"Yes, capital idea, old man."

Bliss nodded and snuggled closer to Pel. "I'm with you."

69