As for me...I am finished."

Those words resonated in his mind. They clung, like the relentless blanket that Hari's nurse kept straightening across his legs, though it was a warm day in the imperial gardens.

I am finished.

The relentless phrase was his constant companion.

...finished.

In front of Hari Seldon lay the rugged slopes of Shoufeen Woods, a wild portion of the Imperial Palace grounds where plants and small animals from across the galaxy mingled in rank disorder, clumping and spreading unhindered. Tall trees even blocked from view the ever-present skyline of metal towers. The mighty world-city surrounding this little island forest.

Trantor.

Squinting through failing eyes, one could almost pretend to be sitting on a different planet--one that had not been flattened and subdued in service to the Galactic Empire of Humanity.

The forest teased Hari. Its total absence of straight lines seemed perverse, a riot of greenery that defied any effort to decipher or decode. The geometries seemed unpredictable, even chaotic.

Mentally, he reached out to the chaos, so vibrant and undisciplined. He spoke to it as an equal. His great enemy.

All my life I fought against you, using mathematics to overcome nature's vast complexity. With tools of psychohistory, I probed the matrices of human society, wresting order from that murky tangle. And when my victories still felt incomplete, I used politics and guile to combat uncertainty, driving you like an enemy before me.

So why now, at my time of supposed triumph, do I hear you calling out to me? Chaos, my old foe? Hari's answer came in the same phrase that kept threading his thoughts.

Because I am finished.

Finished as a mathematician.

It was more than a year since Stettin Palver or Gaal Dornick or any other member of the Fifty had consulted Hari with a serious permutation or revision to the "Seldon Plan." Their awe and reverence for him was unchanged. But urgent tasks kept them busy. Besides, anyone could tell that his mind no longer had the suppleness to juggle a myriad abstractions at the same time. It took a youngster's mental agility, concentration, and arrogance to challenge the hyperdimensional algorithms of psychohistory. His successors, culled from among the best minds on twenty-five million worlds, had all these traits in superabundance.

But Hari could no longer afford conceit. There remained too little time.

Finished as a politician.

How he used to hate that word! Pretending, even to himself, that he wanted only to be a meek academic. Of course, that had just been a marvelous pose. No one could rise to become First Minister of the entire human universe without the talent and audacity of a master manipulator. Oh, he had been a genius in that field, too, wielding power with flair, defeating enemies, altering the lives of trillions--while complaining the whole time that he hated the job.

Some might look back on that youthful record with ironic pride. But not Hari Seldon.

Finished as a conspirator.

He had won each battle, prevailed in every contest. A year ago, Hari subtly maneuvered today's imperial rulers into creating ideal circumstances for his secret psychohistorical design to flourish. Soon a hundred thousand exiles would be stranded on a stark planet, faraway Terminus, charged with producing a great Encyclopedia Galactica. But that superficial goal would peel away in half a century, revealing the true aim of that Foundation at the galaxy's rim--to be the embryo of a more vigorous empire as the old one fell. For years that had been the focus of his daily ambitions, and his nightly dreams. Dreams that reached ahead, across a thousand years of social collapse--past an age of suffering and violence--to a new human fruition. A better destiny for humankind.

Only now his role in that great enterprise was ended. Hari had just finished taping messages for the Time Vault on Terminus--a series of subtle bulletins that would occasionally nudge or encourage members of the Foundation as they plunged toward a bright morrow preordained by psychohistory. When the final message was safely stored, Hari felt a shift in the attitudes of those around him. He was still esteemed, even venerated. But he wasn't necessary anymore.

One sure sign had been the departure of his bodyguards--a trio of humaniform robots that Daneel Olivaw had assigned to protect Hari, until the transcriptions were finished. It happened right there, at the recording studio. One robot--artfully disguised as a burly young medical technician--had bowed low to speak in Hari's ear.

"We must go now. Daneel has urgent assignments for us. But he bade me to give you his promise. Daneel will visit soon. The two of you will meet again, before the end. "

Perhaps that wasn't the most tactful way to put it. But Hari always preferred blunt openness from friends and family.

Unbidden, a clear image from the past swept into mind--of his wife, Dors Venabili, playing with Raych, their son. He sighed. Both Dors and Raych were long gone--along with nearly every link that ever bound him closely to another private soul.

This brought a final coda to the phrase that kept spinning through his mind

Finished as a person.

The doctors despaired over extending his life, even though eighty was rather young to die of decrepit age nowadays. But Hari saw no point in mere existence for its own sake. Especially if he could no longer analyze or affect the universe.

Is that why I drift here, to this grove? He pondered the wild, unpredictable forest--a mere pocket in the Imperial Park, which measured a hundred miles on a side--the only expanse of greenery on Trantor's metal-encased crust. Most visitors preferred the hectares of prim gardens open to the public, filled with extravagant and well-ordered blooms.

But Shoufeen Woods seemed to beckon him. Here, unmasked by Trantor's opaque walls, I can see chaos in the foliage by day, and in brittle stars by night. I can hear chaos taunting me...telling me I haven't won.

That wry thought provoked a smile, cracking the pursed lines of his face.

Who would have imagined, at this late phase of life, that I'd acquire a taste for justice?

Kers Kantun straightened the lap blanket again, asking solicitously, "Are you o'right, Dr. Seldon? Should we be headin' back now?"

Han's servant had the rolling accent--and greenish skin pallor--of a Valmoril, a subspecies of humanity that had spread through the isolated Conthi Cluster, living secluded there for so long that by now they could only interbreed with other races by pretreating sperm and eggs with enzymes. Kers had been chosen as Han's nurse and final guardian after the robots departed. He performed both roles with quiet determination.

"This wild place makes me o'comfortable, Doc. Surely you don' like the breeze gustin' like this?"

Hari had been told that Kantun's parents arrived on Trantor as young Greys--members of the bureaucratic caste--expecting to spend a few years' service on the capital planet, training in monkish dormitories, then heading back out to the galaxy as administrators in the vast civil service. But flukes of talent and promotion intervened to keep them here, raising a son amid the steel caverns they hated. Kers inherited his parents' famed Valmoril sense of duty--or else Daneel Olivaw would never have chosen the fellow to tend Hari in these final days.

I may no longer be useful, but some people still think I'm worth looking after.

In Hari's mind, the word "person" applied to R. Daneel Olivaw, perhaps more than most of the humans he ever knew.

For decades, Hari had carefully kept secret the existence of "eternals"--robots who had shepherded human destiny for twenty thousand years--immortal machines that helped create the first Galactic Empire, then encouraged Hari to plan a successor. Indeed, Hari spent the happiest part of his life married to one of them. Without the affection of Dors Venabili--or the aid and protection of Daneel Olivaw--he could never have created psychohistory, setting in motion the Seldon Plan.

Or discovered how useless it would all turn out to be, in the long run.

Wind in the surrounding trees seemed to mock Hari. In that sound, he heard hollow echoes of his own doubts.

The Foundation cannot achieve the task set before it. Somewhere, sometime during the next thousand years, a perturbation will nudge the psychohistorical parameters, rocking the statistical momentum, knocking your Plan off course.

True enough, he wanted to shout back at the zephyr. But that had been allowed for! There would be a Second Foundation, a secret one, led by his successors, who would adjust the Plan as years passed, providing counternudges to keep it on course!

Yet, the nagging voice came back.

A tiny hidden colony of mathematicians and psychologists will do all that, in a galaxy fast tumbling to violence and ruin?

For years this had seemed a flaw...until fortuitous fate provided an answer. Mentalics, a mutant strain of humans with uncanny ability to sense and alter the emotions and memories of others. These powers were still weak, but heritable. Hari's own adopted son, Raych, passed the talent to a daughter, Wanda, now a leader in the Seldon Project. Every mentalic they could find had been recruited, to intermarry with the descendants of the psychohistorians. After a few generations of genetic mingling, the clandestine Second Foundation should have potent tools to protect his Plan against deviations during the coming centuries.

And so?

The forest sneered once more.

What will you have then? Will the Second Empire be ruled by a shadowy elite? A secret cabal of human psychics? An aristocracy of mentalic demigods?

Even if kindness motivated this new elite, the prospect left him feeling cold.

The shadow of Kers Kantun bent closer, peering at him with concern. Hari tore his attention away from the singing breeze and finally answered his servant

"Ah...sorry. Of course you're right. Let's go back. I'm fatigued."

But as Kers guided the wheelchair toward a hidden transit station, Hari could still hear the forest, jeering at his life's work.

The mentalic elite is just one layer though, isn't it? The Second Foundation conceals yet another truth, then another.

Beyond your own Plan, a different one has been crafted by a greater mind than yours. By someone stronger, more dedicated, and more patient by far. A plan that uses yours, for a while...but which will eventually make psychohistory meaningless.

With his right hand, Hari fumbled under his robe until he found a smooth cube of gemlike stone, a parting gift from his friend and lifetime guide, R. Daneel Olivaw. Palming the archive's ancient surface, he murmured, too low for Kers to hear.

"Daneel, you promised you'd come to answer all my questions. I have so many, before I die."

From space it seemed a gentle world, barely touched by civilization. A rich belt of verdant rain forest girdled the tropics, leaping narrow oceans to sweep all the way around three continents.

Dors Venabili watched green Panucopia swell below, during her descent toward the old Imperial Research Station. Nearly forty years had passed since she last came here, accompanying her human husband as they fled dangerous enemies back on Trantor. But those troubles had followed them here, with nearly tragic consequences.

The ensuing adventure had been the strangest of her life--though admittedly Dors was still quite young for a robot. For more than a month, she and Hari had left their bodies in suspensor tanks while their minds were projected into the bodies of pans--(or "chimpanzees" in some dialects)--roaming the forest preserves of this world. Hari claimed he needed data about primitive response patterns for his psychohistorical research, but Dors suspected at the time that something deep within the august Professor Seldon relished "going ape" for a while.

She well recalled the sensations of inhabiting a female pan, feeling powerful organic drives propel that vivid, living body. Unlike the simulated emotions she had been programmed with, these surged and fluxed with natural, unrestrained passion--especially during several hazard-filled days when someone tried to assassinate the two of them, hunting them like beasts while their minds were still trapped in pan bodies.

After barely foiling that scheme, they had swiftly returned to Trantor, where Hari soon took up reluctant duties as First Minister of the Empire. And yet, that month left her changed, with a much deeper understanding of organic life. Looking back on it, she treasured the experience, which helped her better care for Hari.

Still, Dors had never expected to see Panucopia again. Until receiving the summons for a rendezvous.

I have a gift for you, the message said. Something you'll find useful.

It was signed with a unique identifier code that Dors recognized at once.

Lodovic Trema.

Lodovic the mutant.

Lodovic the renegade.

The robot who is no longer a robot.

It wasn't easy to decide, at first. Dors had duties on planet Smushell--an easy assignment, setting up a young Trantorian couple in comfortable marriage, disguised as minor gentry on a pleasant little world, then encouraging them to have as many babies as possible. Daneel considered this important, though his reasons were, as usual, somewhat obscure. Dors only knew that Klia Asgar and her husband, Brann, were exceptionally powerful mentalics--humans with potent psychic powers, of the sort that only a few robots like Daneel heretofore possessed. Their sudden appearance had caused many plans to change...and change again several times in the last year. It was essential that the existence of mentalic humans be kept from the galaxy's masses, just as the presence of robots in their midst had been kept secret for a thousand generations.