Foundations' Resolve

Foundations' Resolve is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

The text of this work is copyright 2009 by Stephen Collings. Characters in this work may remain copyright of the estate of Isaac Asimov, Gregory Benford, Greg Bear, or David Brin, and are used without permission. This work is intended as a show of respect to the work of Isaac Asimov, and distribution will cease upon the request of his estate.

This work is licensed for no-cost electronic distribution, under the condition that this licensing statement is included with any copy, whole or partial. Derivative works are authorized, under the requirement that such works be released under the same license, and that the original authors be credited. No other uses are authorized.



The building that housed the office of the Mayor of Terminus was modest by galactic standards. Terminus had only been settled 500 years ago, and despite being the capital of the Foundation itself, its remoteness and geography put limits on expansion. The vast oceans meant it would never have the continent-spanning cities hundreds of stories deep found on older settled worlds. Still, the vista offered by the shatterproof window that served as one wall of Mayor Branno's office was impressive, showing the whole of the city laid out before her.

Sometimes, in a rare moment of peace, she would take a moment and pick out some detail of the city below that she hadn't noticed before. Terminus City, and indeed all of Terminus, was a minuscule fraction of the seven million worlds that made up the Foundation Federation. But in the minds of many, Terminus was the Foundation. That city, that world represented the light of civilization in what would otherwise be a dark age for all humanity.

Mayor Branno sat in the chair behind her desk, turned so that she faced the window. But she didn't see the city. Half an hour ago, she had felt vibrant, more alive than she had in years. The Council had overwhelmingly approved her trade agreement with the Sayshell Union. The influence of the Foundation Federation had expanded in an unexpected direction, thanks entirely to her diplomatic efforts. That, on top of her other recent political victories, now guaranteed her a place in history. Branno the Bronze, they called her, the greatest Mayor the Foundation had had in over a century.

That had been half an hour ago. Less, she realized. Now, she felt every moment of her 63 years. All because of what the man across the desk had told her. She knew it could not be true, knew it could not, could barely even tolerate the thought. And yet the evidence was beyond doubt. Even those feelings on the subject, flying in the face of all the evidence, were in themselves proof that what he said was true. Branno felt as if she was having to fight for control of her mind, fight against herself. She was forcing herself to hold two contradictory thoughts at once, and the effort was exhausting.

The gray, mustached man across the desk from her looked no better. If anything, he looked worse. Branno wondered if that was because he had dealt with it longer, and if so, what that meant for her in the future. One side of her silently cursed him for having brought this upon her, but even that part knew that it was her own doing. She once more tried to summon up her resolve, once more failed.

She had looked over his report twice after he had explained it, looking for some inconsistency, sure there must be one. She had difficulty believing that her old friend had become so suddenly senile, but she could think of no other explanation. Only on starting her second review had doubt begin to creep in. After that, there was no cause for a third. Through it all, he sat, waiting.

"How long have you known?" she finally asked as she turned from the window, her voice cracking slightly.

Liono Kodell may have looked weary, but his answer came quick and crisp. Maybe it did get better with time, despite how he looked. "Since shortly after our return from Sayshell," he answered. "I received a communique from our mentalics research and development division, asking whether they could retrieve the mentalic shielding device from the ship we took to Sayshell. I approved the removal and thought further of it. It was a simple systems integration test, of no significance to our mission." Here he grimaced. "At least, our mission as we remember it."

Branno grimaced as well. That secret R&D branch had been in existence for over a century, building and refining weapons to be used against an enemy that might never come. The Mule was dead, and the Second Foundation had been defeated centuries ago. Or so Branno had believed. Thought she had believed. This is madness, she thought.

Kodell continued. "The next day, I received another communique from the same division. They said that the shield had recorded levels of activity vastly above normal during our mission. Our mission on which, by all our other records, nothing remotely unusual happened."

Here Branno broke in. "I'd never heard that the shield kept such a record. I'd wager you hadn't either?" It was still hard, but the more evidence presented itself, the easier it was becoming to think clearly.

Kodell nodded. "Otherwise, Madam Mayor, we would almost certainly not be having this conversation." Branno suppressed a shudder. What had been done to them? Kodell continued. "I told them that there had been some sort of mistake, and again thought nothing else of it. But that night, the division head came to visit me at my home. I was still skeptical, but she convinced me to submit to a brainwave analysis."

Kodell paused for a moment. Branno glanced down at the report lying on her desk. It was relatively short, and the ultimate results were simple. Three different tests performed since their return, compared against results from the last five years' physicals. A person's EEG patterns were as unique as their retinas, if one knew what elements to look for in the neural noise, and just as persistent. And looking at those results from before and after their mission to Sayshell, there were differences. The Liono Kodell in front of her was a subtly different man than he had been two months ago.

"I refused to believe it at first." He sighed slightly, looking at the report himself. "Part of me still doesn't. I imagine you're feeling the... the dissonance, right now." His eyes returned to her. All Branno could do was nod tightly. "I could barely function. It took me days to make myself come to you. Even now, I feel as if I'm trying to convince you of something utterly absurd." He clenched his fist, then tried to relax it, only partly succeeding. "As if I'm saying we could jump off this building and fly."

Branno nodded again. Dissonance, he had called it, and he was right. She could easily imagine a feeling like this driving a man mad, if it was much stronger.

There was only one possible explanation: somewhere on their mission through Sayshell space, they had encountered a powerful mentalic force. That force had penetrated their shield, modified their minds, and wiped all record of the encounter from both the memories of the crew and from the ship's data stores. But no one on the ship had known of the shield's recordings, and so that force had missed a single piece of evidence. The Second Foundation had been found. Or something worse.

The doubt was still there, still strong, but Branno was now finding it possible to act. And she knew what had to be done. She stood, and Kodell stood in response.

"Contact General Albian," she said, with every bit of firmness she could muster. Kodell had been expecting this, she knew. There was only one possible course of action. This is madness! part of her screamed, and for a moment she wasn't sure whether it was directed at her actions or the situation that was forcing her hand. She shoved it aside, knowing it didn't matter. "Relay the following orders: assemble the fleet; all ships within three days travel are to return to Terminus immediately for redeployment. Also, contact your new friend in research and development. Tell them we'll need as many mentalic shields as we have ships incoming, and to have them by the end of the week."

Branno knew the demand was unreasonable. The shield was in the prototyping stage. The production facilities for that many shields simply didn't exist. She also knew it was of little consequence, as the shield had obviously not been able to prevent what had happened to them on their previous mission. But it would be better than nothing.

As her Director of Security quickly left to carry out her orders, Harla Branno just as quickly activated her computer terminal. She wanted to move before her resolve wavered. There would be no mistakes this time. Branno didn't know what she would find when her ships reached Sayshell, be it the Second Foundation, another Mule, or something entirely unimaginable. But whatever was waiting for them, and whatever it did to them, its days of hiding were over.

The Mayor of Terminus forced these thoughts aside as she began to write again.

To a man of Terminus or any other world in the galaxy, the mood in the room on Trantor would have seemed subdued. There were few words to be heard, and even less movement to be seen. But to the occupants of that small chamber deep beneath the former capital of all the galaxy, the confusion was insufferable.

The twelve humans in the room were mentalics, as they had been named by Hari Seldon five centuries prior. Out of some ten quadrillion souls in the galaxy, only two hundred thousand were born with the proper genetic mutation, and a full fifth of those were part of the Second Foundation. It was their training that set the mentalics of the Second Foundation apart from the others. These men and women, culled from worlds across the galaxy, were trained to make use of their mental abilities to their fullest extent. They learned to channel the forces of their minds to manipulate the minds of others, as the farmers on the surface of their world would manipulate a loom. They could reach into someone's psyche and, with a thought, alter any aspect of it they wished. With sufficient effort, even an entire personality could be rewritten.

Such a drastic change in human faculty had changed the face of society. Second Foundationers learned the secrets of communication- that meaning was conveyed not only by words, but by every gesture, every muscle contraction, every facial expression. Thus when Second Foundationers spoke to each other, they very rarely spoke aloud. Instead, the mentalics communicated by the movement of a finger, the transmission of a thought, impossible to understand by any but another of their kind. When discourse among members of the Second Foundation is recorded it must be understood that the account given is inevitably an inexact translation.

The mood in the room on Trantor was anything but subdued. Indeed, it was filled with the noise of ten people all speaking at once. Never in five centuries had a meeting of the Table degenerated into such chaos. The ten were Speakers, members of the ruling body of the Second Foundation and ultimate guardians of the Seldon Plan. No one of them had anything particularly important to say, but they spoke anyway, in sheer disbelief of what had just occurred. Only two of them were left in silence.

At the head of the table sat Quindor Shandess, First Speaker of the Second Foundation. At first the title had meant nothing more than it said: that at gatherings of the Table, he was the first to speak. But over the centuries the position had evolved into one of real leadership. Shandess had never sought his duties; he was simply the most capable at carrying them out, and so he was appointed to do so. After many years in his position, Shandess had thought he had finally found a worthy successor. He had been looking forward to his coming retirement. Until today.

Shandess looked across the table, ignoring the seeming chaos to either side in favor of the figure at the other end. At the foot of the table sat Speaker Gendibal, the youngest member of the Table, and until this moment, heir-apparent to the First Speakership. Gendibal was silent, but a glance told he was no less distressed than the other speakers. He was breathing hard, sweat beading his forehead. He looked as though he had awakened from a nightmare he couldn't remember. Which, Shandess thought, was not far from the reality of the situation. He's awakened into a worse nightmare.

As part of their training, Second Foundationers developed barriers to defend themselves against mentalic intrusions. Speaker Gendibal had entered a form of meditative trance, explicitly that he might lower those defenses and let the other members of the Table deep into his mind, deeper than they would ever consider going under normal circumstances. Their explorations ended, he was awakening to find out what his fellows had discovered.

The First Speaker watched as Gendibal, now fully recovered from the trance, looked around the room, taking in the reactions around him. He had not been conscious of their explorations, but what he saw told him what they must have found in his mind just as clearly. These were some of the most disciplined people who had ever lived, and if they had lost order like this...

Shandess saw how Gendibal struggled to retain control of himself for a few moments, then gave up. The younger man placed his elbows on the table and buried his head in his hands. In truth, only Shandess's prior expectations kept him from reacting much the same. He felt no sense of triumph, though he had just been vindicated in the eyes of all present. Vindication was worth nothing in the face of this.

Shandess had been the only Speaker to notice a change in Gendibal upon his return to Trantor. Indeed, he was the only one who could possibly have noticed. Months prior, Gendibal had come to the First Speaker privately and presented the results of his recent analysis of the Seldon Plan: he had concluded that the Plan was precisely on track, as perfect as could possibly be. This was common knowledge among the Second Foundation, and to most it was a cause to rejoice! The Second Empire would come about exactly as psychohistory predicted, and the future of the galaxy seemed secure.

But Gendibal had been the first to realize the true implications of the situation. Never in the history of the Plan had such perfection been achieved. Any significant deviations were adjusted for by the Second Foundation's agents throughout the galaxy. But those actions were minimal, and merely kept humanity moving in the overall direction they desired it to go. Small deviations, statistical static, could not be anticipated, much less corrected. Utter perfection of the Plan would require vastly more power and information than the Second Foundation possessed, and was thus practically impossible.

Shortly thereafter, Gendibal had found a Hamishwoman called Novi, a native of the surface of their world, whose mind showed evidence of an extraordinarily subtle tampering, again beyond the capabilities of the Second Foundation. Only one explanation remained: some unknown force, besides the Second Foundation, was manipulating minds throughout the galaxy, acting to perfect the Plan. But even though this force, whatever it was, presently shared the goals of the Second Foundation, it might not remain so. Its actions and intent had to be accounted for.

So Gendibal had gone in search of this force, taking Novi with him. When he returned, he claimed absolute success. While gone he had neutralized the mission of a Foundationer named Trevize, the Foundation Mayor's attempt to locate the Second Foundation. But no mysterious force had been found at all. Gendibal reported that there likely was none, and that perhaps some subtle flaw in his analysis had resulted in the mistake.

The other speakers had been ready to believe this, willing to spend months recreating his analysis. But they had not examined Gendibal's work as closely as Shandess had. There was no flaw; there absolutely could not be. Gendibal had to know this, or he would never have brought it to Shandess's attention in the first place. And yet he was now claiming there was a mistake where he once knew that none could possibly exist. There was only one explanation: someone had altered Gendibal's memories. And if that was the case, they might not have months. They might not even have days.

During his journey, Gendibal had contacted the Second Foundation and requested that its entire strength be lent to him, shortly before being cut off from all contact. He claimed that this was due to a Foundation mentalic shield, a threat he had neutralized without needing the help he had requested. Due to his actions, he claimed, the Foundation's Mayor no longer had any interest in either the mentalic shield or in the Second Foundation, and Trevize was no longer a threat. If any element of those claims was untrue, there might be no time for debate; the Foundation could already be coming in irresistible force. And even if the Second Foundation was not itself threatened, who was perfecting the Seldon Plan?

Such had Shandess made his argument before the Table. All had listened respectfully, and just as respectfully had responded with their doubts. Gendibal himself had instinctively recoiled at the idea. But Shandess had not yet resigned; he was still the First Speaker, and his words carried weight. So Gendibal had acquiesced, and entered his trance. The room became silent, even by Second Foundation standards, and eleven Speakers had probed Gendibal's mind for unending hours, searching, examining every facet of his psyche.

Towards the end, exhausted, Shandess had almost been ready to concede defeat, to admit that, somehow, he had been wrong. He had known that finding nothing would mean certain humiliation, no matter how respectfully the other Speakers reacted. Such a failure would result in his being disgraced for all time. But his place in history mattered little to him. If they found nothing in Gendibal's mind, he would resign exactly as planned. Let the histories say what they will, he thought, the Plan will continue. As always, Shandess found himself almost joyful at the prospect of stepping down, casting off the burden of the galaxy's fate, making way for Gendibal as the next First Speaker…

Then one of them saw it.

A single thread of Gendibal's mind was out of place. None of them could have done it accidentally. For a mind to be modified, it required the active will of another mind. There could be no accidents. After that they found other signs, small, almost unnoticeable even to their combined observations. But the conclusion was obvious and inescapable, and it had reduced their gathering to near chaos.

To accomplish such an intrusion in the mind of Gendibal would require a mind with power beyond imagining. Even the legendary and long-dead Mule could not have done such a thing. And all the disturbed threads had surrounded Gendibal's memories of his mission to intercept Golan Trevize. His report was a lie.

The Table had lived so long without fear, secure in the knowledge that whatever the threat their tools could defeat it. But this was beyond anything they were prepared to deal with. None of them knew how to react, and their discipline shattered. All but Shandess.

Shandess only sat and looked around the Table at the other Speakers. Seeing the chaos, his control wavered again for a moment, but only for a moment; then he looked across the table once more at Gendibal. His head was no longer buried in his hands. He was looking directly at Shandess, and now he shared the First Speaker's look of determination. Shandess had chosen his successor well. Even in their language, no words were communicated. None needed to be. He knew Gendibal understood, and it renewed his own hope.

They wouldsurvive this. The Second Foundation had faced down every threat that had come their way. This would be no different. The Second Empire would form, the interregnum would end, and humanity's great future could begin, exactly as Seldon had planned. Nodding at Gendibal, he one by one began calling the other Speakers by name, slowly bringing order to the assembly.

There was work to be done.

The Solarian looked out over its estate, and appreciated the beauty of its power. Hundreds of thousands of square kilometers, under its complete and total control. Nothing, not even the landscape itself, would exist anywhere in the Solarian's territory without its permission. It could sense every one of the thousands of robots under its power, all performing their appointed tasks, with no other purpose in existence but to protect and serve their Solarian master. The Solarian walked alone in perfect solitude. None could approach, and none would try.

Yet something was wrong.

There were natural fluctuations in the power throughput of any Solarian. One could only harness as much energy as was available on their land. The whole of Solaria was divided among them, and a thousandth of the planet was enough energy for any individual's needs. Still, the available power varied somewhat with weather and time of day. Biological factors like blood sugar and hormonal levels also caused minor changes. So at first upon noticing the power drop, the Solarian had not been concerned.

Now it was. Over the last several days, the Solarian had experienced a slight, but perceptible, decrease in its ability to take advantage of temperature differences on its land. Each day the condition was getting worse.

The swarmers. It could be no coincidence that they had come, mere weeks before. They had landed on the adjacent estate, formerly Bander's. The Solarian would never understand why Bander had let them even touch the surface; the immediate destruction of any visitor was one of the few global rules.

Swarmers. Disgusting creatures, each only male or female, not whole as Solarians were. Perhaps they shared ancestry, but so long ago that it no longer mattered. The swarmers had bred quickly, filling the entire galaxy with their kind in mere thousands of years. For millennia they had forgotten Solaria.

Now they had come back, to destroy their betters. They had killed Bander, stolen its heir, and escaped. This change must be their work as well. They had found some way to interfere with the Solarian's transducer lobes. And the change was accelerating.

The decision made, the Solarian turned back to go indoors. If the swarmers could interfere with one Solarian, they could do the same to all. If this degeneration continued, death was inevitable. Cooperative effort might improve each affected individual's chances for survival. The Solarian would have to take an action it had never taken in its lifetime.

It would have to communicate with another Solarian. Possibly even more than one.

This would take much preparation. To break hundreds of years of utter isolation would take a toll on anyone, and the Solarian could not predict how it would handle the strain. And it had to be prepared for the possibility that none other was affected. No assistance might come. It would have to find a solution on its own.

The Solarian called robots to it as it walked, instructing them in their new, unfamiliar tasks.

Chapter 1

SECOND FOUNDATION- ...indeed, for a significant period of the Seldon Plan, the official position of the Foundation government was that the Second Foundation had been destroyed. However, this position was not necessarily held by the officers of that government, as can be seen by the exile by Branno the Bronze of Councilman Golan Trevize in F.E. 498. Her memoirs state that she intended to use him as a 'lightning rod', drawing the attention...

ENCYCLOPEDIA GALACTICA, 118th Edition, 1072 F.E.

The ship that had landed near the Far Star was an enigma to both Golan Trevize and his companion Janov Pelorat. As an historian, Pelorat's knowledge of ships was minimal, but Trevize had seen a fair number in his time, and this one resembled none he had encountered. It was somewhat larger than his Far Star, but not nearly as sleek. Strange symbols, foreign to both the travelers, adorned its hull. The only thing they were sure of was that the ship was very old, certainly not of Foundation make. But it was the occupants that mattered, not the ship, and they had yet to reveal themselves.

Too bad Bliss isn't here, Trevize caught himself thinking. He was certain he would never like the woman, but she had the combined knowledge of Gaia to draw on. She might recognize the ship where they did not. But Bliss's priorities lay with Fallom, not with any mysterious vessel. She and the child had been escorted to the base's medical facility, leaving Trevize and Pelorat alone with their host to meet these visitors.

Trevize shifted his gaze to the tall, brown-haired figure standing before the unknown ship, moving just as little as the inert spacecraft. He was a statue, exuding patience as though he was its very incarnation. When the four travelers had arrived on this forgotten moon, they had found far more than they had been seeking. Trevize had been drawn to this place, knowing somehow that he would find the answers to his questions, and find them he had. But they had also found him.

Their host had told them of many things, things forgotten for centuries. He spoke of ancient history, of Earth, now uninhabitable, the origin of the human race. Even now, they were under the surface of Earth's giant satellite, orbiting that forgotten world. He had told them of humanity's first colonies on other worlds: the Spacer worlds, which Trevize and his companions had visited on their search for this place; Solaria, where they had found Fallom. Pelorat had been delighted at finding answers to so many of the things he had spent his life studying.

Trevize had also found his answer, a reason for the decision Trevize himself had made months ago. The decision his gut told him had to be right, even though everything else in his nature still railed against it. Until that decision had come, Trevize had never questioned his intuition. There were times when he just knew. It was inexplicable, but no explanation was necessary. Until Gaia. That choice had demanded more, demanded a reason, and here they had found it.

Now he and Pelorat waited for more answers. Their interview with their host had gone on at some length when a man had come from elsewhere in the complex. The message he brought Daneel had come as a surprise to all three of the travelers: an ship had been detected nearby, and was on approach to land.

This ship arriving so shortly after the Far Star could be no coincidence, not in this forgotten place. And no one could have followed them across so many jumps. Trevize was an impressive pilot, and his ship was the best the Foundation had to offer; even an equivalent ship with an incredible pilot would have been hard-pressed. That left one explanation: someone else knew where this place was, and had been waiting for their arrival. Their host had confirmed as much, saying the ship was both friendly an expected, but he refused to say more. In a place as strange as this, Trevize took nothing for granted. Still, leaving was not an option, not without Bliss, and Bliss insisted on staying with Fallom. There was nothing for it but to wait.

In truth, Trevize was quite certain he would have stayed anyway, just to see what happened next. Looking at this strange vessel he wasn't nervous. He was so calm it surprised even him. Now that he was satisfied, his own curiosity and enjoyment made these mysterious visitors something he would not wish to miss. As if anything could possibly make this place stranger!

"What do you think they're waiting for, old chap?" Pelorat asked him quietly, glancing nervously between the ship and the figure standing before it. Normally the historian would have been babbling incessantly, especially after the revelations they had just received. But not now. Trevize knew his friend was worried, and not just about the ship or its occupants.

"She'll be all right, Janov," Trevize said. "Don't worry about her." Pelorat had been taken with Bliss almost since meeting her, and surprisingly, the much younger woman had returned his affections. Though given how little age meant to Gaia, perhaps it wasn't so surprising.

Pelorat said nothing in return. Trevize knew nothing would stop him from worrying about Bliss, and about how she would handle their host's plans for the child. It was almost cute, in its way. Trevize was far from the greatest advocate of monogamy the galaxy had ever seen, nor did he care for Bliss on general principle. But as annoying (and noisy) as Pelorat and Bliss could be, Trevize almost admired the old man's devotion to her. Almost.

With a deep rumble, the airlock of the ship began to open. Pelorat stiffened, wiping his hands on his tunic. Trevize crossed his arms, trying to remain nonchalant. Since leaving Terminus all those months ago, he had seen things he would never have believed: a living planet with a single mind, entire worlds long dead, Solaria perhaps strangest of all, not to mention this place! Nothing short of Hari Seldon himself walking off that ship would be able to shock him. Still, he stayed with Janov on the sidelines, waiting to see what would happen.

The inner airlock door opened, and three human figures stepped out of the ship, two males and a female. Trevize took a moment to size up each one, though he knew appearances would mean little if his suspicions were correct. In front was the female, a petite and not unattractive young woman. Behind her came a strikingly large male, seemingly about Trevize's own age. He was not obese, simply massive, almost mountainous. Bringing up the rear was a smaller, older looking male. The woman was actually quite pretty, Trevize decided, but the large man caught his attention most. His face was also the most expressive of the group, the other two being far more reserved, nearly unreadable. All three gave an appearance of total confidence, but only he seemed comfortable as well. As if he had been here before.

The three stepped forward, facing their host, who had still to react so far as could be seen. Trevize noticed that all stood in an even row, none seeming to show any deference to the others. Did this group have a leader, as their host seemed to be for his followers? He and Pelorat hung back, silent.

The smaller male spoke. "R. Daneel Olivaw, we come offering truce, under the terms of the ancient armistice," he said without inflection. "We will do no violence while present, nor will we reveal your location after our departure." Trevize knew a per-arranged wording when he heard it.

"Your offer of truce is accepted, R. Turringen Askar," their host replied with equal formality. "You will be protected in our sanctuary until your departure." So. Not friends after all. Trevize was not remotely surprised.

Daneel turned slightly to the female. "Zorma, I presume?" She nodded slightly, and he now turned to the larger figure. "You have forged an impressive alliance, Lodovik. Your diplomatic skills are as impressive as ever."

Before the large man could respond, the one called Turringen interrupted. "We are not here as allies, Daneel Olivaw. Both of these remain abominations," he said, gesturing to Zorma and Lodovik. Abominations. Trevize had heard the word occasionally before, but it was typically only used in religious circles. Odd. Turringen continued, "Lodovik has told us of a new heresy you have prepared, one apparently even greater than your so-called Zeroth Law. We have merely come to bear witness to your latest scheme." Despite the apparent passion of some of his words, Turringen's tone was perfectly calm. Up until that point, all three of the new arrivals had focused on Daneel, but now Turringen turned momentarily to look at Trevize and Pelorat. No, Trevize realized. Turringen had looked only at him, directly and specifically. It wasn't a threatening look, but this Turringen obviously knew him. Trevize's previous calm left him. What was going on here?

Daneel nodded, still looking at Lodovik. "Most impressive," he said again.

"I learned from you, Daneel," Lodovik replied with a slight smile. A smile?

Trevize had had enough of this. It was time to find out what was going on here. "Hello!" he said enthusiastically, as he walked over to the group. Trevize saw Pelorat start as the four all turned to face them. Obviously Pelorat had expected Trevize to try and stay unnoticed, as he was trying to do. You know me better than that, Janov. He came to the female first, and extended his hand. "My name is Golan Trevize," he said with a slight bow.

For the first time since exiting the ship, the woman smiled, suddenly becoming much more attractive. She took his hand, and Trevize kissed hers out of long habit. It was warm, though he knew by now that meant nothing. "We know who you are, Councilman Trevize. I suspect we've come here to see you."

"My presence has been in great demand lately, it seems. How flattering," he replied politely, letting his words instead of his tone carry the sarcasm. "Unfortunately, if you want me to decide the fate of the universe again, I'm afraid I'm out of that business. Aside from that, what can I do for you?"

The one called Turringen spoke. "Master," he said, almost reverently, "we do not wish you to do anything for us. We wish only to serve you as best we can."

"And how do you plan to do that, exactly?" Trevize asked pointedly, releasing Zorma's hand and looking Turringen square in the face.

Lodovik spoke before Turringen could answer. "I believe these explanations are best saved for a later time, Daneel. Perhaps rest is in order before further discussion."

Trevize almost insisted that now was a perfect time. He preferred to keep people off balance, to not give them time to plan their reactions, even though with this group he didn't expect that approach would be of much value. But before he could respond, Trevize felt a hand on his arm. "He's right, Golan," Janov said quietly in his ear. "It's been a long trip, and some of us aren't as young as you. Besides, I want to check on Bliss. And she should hear whatever they have to say."

Trevize knew what his friend was implying. Gaia should hear whatever they have to say. He was right, of course. Having her with them had been annoying, but she had proved invaluable any number of times. Now she might again.

Trevize nodded. "Later, then," he said, smiling at Zorma once more. She smiled again in return, seeming to display genuine warmth in addition to mere politeness. Interesting...

Daneel spoke, ending the moment. "Then we will wait until you are rested from your journey. Gentlemen, accommodations have been prepared for you and your companion. Dors, please escort Councilman Trevize and Doctor Pelorat to their rooms."

It took a moment for Trevize to realize that Daneel was addressing someone else in the landing bay, someone he had not noticed. He turned to find a powerful-looking woman standing some distance behind him and Pelorat. She had obviously arrived silently at some point in the conversation. When had he last looked back there?

She said nothing to them, only nodded to Daneel and began to walk towards an unmarked door. For his part, Pelorat had not seemed to consider it at all odd that someone else had arrived without his noticing. The entire situation made him too nervous for small things like that to register. The historian merely looked to his friend. Trevize could only shrug, and he and Pelorat quickly fell in line behind the female as she led them away from the landing area, leaving Daneel and the other three behind.

Their guide was not at all talkative, and neither man made the effort to engage her. Trevize knew that anything they said would be heard, but out of habit he still waited until they were a ways down the corridor before asking his friend quietly, "So what do you think, Janov?"

"I don't know what to think, Golan," came the response. Trevize could tell from his tone that his friend really was tired. And truth be told, so was he. Pelorat nervously glanced ahead towards their guide, but she seemed to be paying them little attention. "You noticed their names?" he asked quietly.

Trevize nodded. "I noticed. 'R.'-whatever, at least for the men, and I'd bet the woman, too. And-" he tilted his head to their guide, and Pelorat nodded, understanding. "Just like Daneel."

"They're all robots."

Chapter 2

HOSPITAL- ...indeed, large-scale medical facilities are one of the few constants to be found on any inhabited planet. Despite the millions of worlds, and nearly as many distinct architectures and styles, there can be little functional variation in the treatment of human illness and disease. The technology and technique may vary, but any traveler of the galaxy during any period in recorded history could recognize a room dedicated to the practice of medicine...

The room in which the woman stood was immediately recognizable as the infirmary. One wall of the room was empty except for the large door to an automated lift. The door was closed, the lift having been called to a level some distance away. A large bank of electronic equipment and cabinets covered the wall opposite the entryway. The other two walls were lined with beds, any one of which could be separated from the rest of the room by curtains. All the beds were visibly empty. The examination table in the middle of the room wasn't.

On it lay Fallom, who was paying no attention to her surroundings at all. All her attention was fixed on the robot that was operating the equipment, analyzing her. Fallom had been raised by robots, most particularly one named Jemby, and she felt most comfortable in their care. Jemby had been deactivated when Gaia was forced to kill Fallom's parent, but the child failed to understand this. She didn't even understand that she had left her home world. To her, all worlds were Solaria, and all robots were her guardians. She had even concluded that Daneel was Jemby, even though Jemby had been a metallic robot, and Daneel was visually indistinguishable from a human. Appearances obviously meant little to the child.

She was therefore unfazed by the appearance of the robot standing over her. Unlike the other robots in the installation, this one was could never be confused for a human. For one thing, it was obviously made of metal, but even artificial flesh would not have disguised his nature. There were no humans in the galaxy with three legs and four arms. The robot was easily using three of its arms to operate the medical equipment. Fallom was playing with the fourth, trying to catch it as the robot moved it idly around, obviously attempting to entertain the child. And succeeding quite well, it seemed. Bliss looked on from a distance.

"She seems quite fascinated with Yan," the robot who had introduced himself as R. Zun Lurrin observed quietly to her. But he could tell that Bliss hardly even heard him. Ever since Daneel had ordered him to guide them to the infirmary, Zun had been observing Bliss's distress over the child with increasing concern. She'd stopped crying shortly after leaving the simulated mansion they had entered upon landing, but he knew that was only an outward change. Bliss was part of Gaia, and she could draw strength from her world even at this great distance. But Zun could tell she was still in pain, and he wondered if he might do something to help her.

Zun was one of the youngest robots in Daneel's service, at a mere 2,200 years old, and one of the few that had the same mentalic abilities as Daneel. During his existence (he was reluctant to apply the word 'life' to himself), Zun had played many roles, taking advantage of his human guise to fit into their societies, as they all did. He had traveled among mankind unseen, helping maintain stability in the galaxy. But even the smallest change could have unpredictable consequences. Modifying a single mind in the wrong way could lead to untold destruction. Thus, only those changes that were absolutely necessary to protect humanity could be made.

In some sense, they had played the same role as Seldon's Second Foundation, though in far less exact fashion. Where the Second Foundation worked with mathematical predictions to bring about a specific future, Daneel's forces had always maintained the status quo, working more or less successfully to keep society stable. At least, they had until five centuries ago, when the empire had been allowed to collapse and the Foundations were created. With the powerful mentalics of the Second Foundation now spread throughout the galaxy, the risk of discovery was now too great. Zun had been on few missions since that time, instead remaining near Daneel, assisting his leader as his status continued to worsen.

Zun looked at Bliss, weighing his options. In all his hundreds of assumed personalities, Zun had never used his talents or positions to ease the suffering of an individual human being. For Calvinian robots, there would be no choice but to assist a human being in distress. But as a Giskardian, Zun had always found himself constrained under the Zeroth Law by whatever mission he was on at the time, and had been unable to help. Zeroth Law or no, however, Zun still experienced an internal conflict at being unable to relieve human suffering. The first time this had occurred, he had mentioned it to Daneel, asking what could be done to rectify the problem. The older robot had told him that such responses were inevitable, but that the problem would diminish with time and experience.

Zun quickly found that Daneel had been right; the conflict (he supposed a human might call it regret) he felt every time he passed a sick man or a homeless child decreased. But it had never vanished entirely. And now, for the first time in his entire existence, he was faced with an individual human in pain, and had no overriding reason not to help. He could make no significant changes, certainly, nothing to make her forget or stop caring about Fallom's fate. That in itself would qualify as harm to her, to his judgment. But perhaps he could provide some simple comfort, at least dulling the pain. He focused, stretched out his mind towards hers…


Zun involuntarily jerked backwards as he made contact, instantly realizing the enormity of his mistake. He had observed some of Daneel's early experiments in unified human consciousness on Eos, even participated in a few, but this was beyond that by orders of magnitude. By making contact with Bliss he had made contact with all of Gaia, and it's great power had nearly overwhelmed him. The connection had lasted a less than a hundredth of a second, but even that instant had taken its toll on him. Zun began running internal diagnostics, checking for damage. Much longer and he might have involuntarily deactivated, he realized. Yet Daneel had somehow survived being in constant contact with Gaia for longer than Zun knew. Perhaps it was not mere age that was taking its toll on the older robot.

As he tried to recover his composure, and reorder his thoughts, Zun realized that Bliss was now looking at him. From above. He was no longer standing, he realized.

"I apologize, ma'am," he said automatically, though with some difficulty. It was another new feeling, potentially offending a human, and for the first time having no overriding reason. Zun was surprised by the intensity of the sensation.

Few robots now operating, Daneel, Yan, a few others, knew what it was like to directly serve a human being. All robots ultimately served humanity, one way or another, whether they would admit to the Zeroth Law or not. The only true debate among their factions was how best to do so. But in their deepest programming, nothing could satisfy a robot like the feeling of following the direct orders of a competent human master. The terrible sensation of having offended this woman made his response automatic, even after centuries of disuse. Humanity made their servants well, came the thought. There was none of the bitterness a human might have felt at such an idea. Robots existed to serve-

Zun detected Bliss's intrusion into his mind before he could say anything else. Conflicting potentials developed in Zun's positronic brain, and rapidly began to increase. He knew that in a human, the sensation would have been described as fear, nearing panic. His mind had not been penetrated in this way since his initial training with Daneel, and Bliss had bypassed all his defenses, seemingly without effort. He was completely vulnerable. If she was so inclined, she could easily destroy him beyond any hope of repair. Trying to fight the intrusion was not an option, even if it were possible. He could not hurt a human without overriding benefit to humanity.

But before his muddled mind could even contemplate alternate solutions, Zun realized that Bliss had already left him, apparently somehow restoring his equilibrium, lost in the contact with Gaia. He also realized that somewhere during the process he had involuntarily closed his eyes. He opened them, and saw Bliss's same look of concern now directed at him.

"Don't apologize," she said, offering her hand to him. He took it and stood, careful to use her support only for balance, and not to hold much of his weight. "Thank you, for trying to help me. We should have been more careful," Bliss continued. She was obviously somewhat upset at the incident. "We didn't realize you had the same abilities as Daneel. I didn't sense any others like him when we first landed. If we'd known, I wouldn't have opened up like that."

"Daneel was purposefully trying to draw your attention," Zun replied, quickly parsing the unusual use of pronouns. He had returned to normal functioning, but he was disappointed. It seemed that in his attempt to lesson Bliss's concern, he'd merely added to it. Zun could not have predicted this from the information he possessed, but he suspected Daneel would have. The ancient robot had learned so much from his friendships with humans, like the legendary Elijah Bailey and, much later, Hari Seldon. He hoped that Daneel would live long enough to teach him more.

Daneel brought Zun's mind back to the child on the examining table. Zun could see over Bliss's shoulder that Fallom didn't seem to have noticed anything was happening, still fascinated with Yan. And though Yan had almost certainly noticed, he gave no obvious indication of concern. Zun decided to keep talking, hoping to keep Bliss's mind off the subject, but Bliss spoke before he could continue.

"When I was in your mind I wasn't sure what to expect," she said. "When I first sensed Daneel I knew he wasn't quite human, but the surface differences weren't that great. At a glance I might not have noticed any difference at all. Even deeper, inside you, there are differences, but your minds don't seem at all mechanical. You feel... alive," Bliss finished.

"All of us have had centuries to perfect our impersonation of human beings," Zun replied. He wondered how Gaia was taking this new information about the existence of robots like himself. He would have to discuss it with Daneel later. For now, though, Zun was relieved that she seemed willing to be distracted.

He gestured to the robot behind Bliss. "Yan has been able to give each new robot he builds more and more accurate emulation of human emotions. It's necessary to help us blend in, even more so now that Gaia and the Second Foundation can sense our internal states as easily as our actions. After long enough, we find it easier to keep our human reactions active even when they are not necessary."

Bliss nodded, remembering his physical reaction to contact with Gaia. Normally the connection between Bliss and her world would not have been so strong at this distance. Gaia didn't control its individual parts. It simply connected them, combined them into a greater whole, lending each the strength and knowledge and joy of the others. Bliss had need of that strength now. She loved Fallom as her own child, and the knowledge of Daneel's plan for the child had devastated her. But her pain was Gaia's, and Gaia's strength was hers.

Bliss turned back to Fallom and Yan. "What will it be like for her?" she asked. "After?"

Zun hesitated imperceptibly, at least to a normal human. "It's impossible to say," Zun replied. There was an impulse in him to lie, to make her feel better. But he knew the lie would be discovered, and cause more harm than the truth. "The merging of a human and a positronic brain has never been attempted before."

Zun knew that Gaia had decided not to interfere with Daneel's intentions for the child. There was much yet that they did not know. If Gaia was to truly be the future of the galaxy, they needed to understand as much about history as possible, both their own and humanity's. Only Daneel could provide them with that information. But that did not mean that Gaia trusted Daneel, not yet. Zun hoped that they would learn to, and that Bliss's pain, and all of Gaia's would be lessoned by the knowledge that on some level robots and humans were alike. After the procedure, what remained would be, if not Fallom, then at least not totally unlike her.

Fallom, meanwhile, seemed completely unconcerned about her own fate. She continued playing with Yan's fourth hand, still trying to capture it as Yan moved it about in front of her. Yan face of metal and plastic couldn't convey emotion nearly as well as Daneel's or Zun's, but Zun could still sense that he enjoyed playing with the child.

Zun saw with some surprise that Bliss was not focusing on Fallom any more. She was watching Yan as well. She was touching his mind, not deeply enough to distract the robot, but enough to learn about him. Any moment now she would see what Zun already knew was there: sorrow over missed opportunities. Regret that he had never played with a human child before. And that he never would again.

"He's dying too, isn't he?" she asked suddenly, knowing she was right.

Zun only nodded slowly, knowing no verbal response was necessary. Yan could hear every word they said, of course, but Zun knew it wouldn't disturb him. Robots were incapable of self-pity. And it was, to use an ancient human phrase, old news. "Robots are not truly immortal," he replied to Bliss after a few moments, without looking at her. "Our parts wear out, we're damaged in some way, or, like Daneel and Yan, our brains simply can't handle the increasing complexity required by age. When that happens, Yan fixes us."

He left the completion of the thought unspoken, knowing she understood. Only Yan can fix us.

Gaia had memories of robots, Zun knew. Robots had helped found Gaia, fifteen thousand years ago. Daneel had been involved, guiding Gaia in some way that they now felt a need to understand, and guiding the entire galaxy along with them.

Zun could see that Bliss's tears were threatening to return as she began to understand the awesome finality of what was occurring around her. Zun spoke once more.

"R. Yan Kansarv, the last of the great Auroran constructor robots. His skill knows only one limit: he can build no more like himself. Robots have served humanity selflessly for longer even than Gaia had existed. Now Gaia must succeed us. After two hundred centuries, our time, our service, is irrevocably drawing to a close."

"You intend what?" Lodovik exclaimed to Daneel. He had to purposefully decouple his human reaction overlay from his movement systems to keep from hesitating in his stride. Lodovik found himself imagining several colorful curses he might have used had a human been in his place.

"Was some part of my explanation unclear, Lodovik?" Daneel replied, his demeanor unchanging. The two were walking together down a long, brightly lit hallway that reverberated with the echo of their voices. There were no openings in the walls to either side of them as they moved towards the heavy door that filled the end of the ancient corridor. Every room in this underground complex had required massive effort to excavate, and so only those rooms that were absolutely necessary were created. The existence of the passage itself was only explained by the fact that it was created long ago to connect what had once been two separate complexes, originally kilometers distant from each other. The two had slowly grown towards each other, until for reasons forgotten millennia ago, it had become more convenient to dig a tunnel for travel directly between the two instead of traversing the airless surface above. All the excavation had been done by robots, of course. But robot time or no, this passageway had cost a vast amount of resources.

Daneel and Lodovik had covered a little over half the length of the corridor as they continued to talk. Lodovik had been walking very slightly behind Daneel, as a human might do to show equally slight deference. The two had been conversing ever since leaving the landing area, after the humans had been escorted to their rooms. Turringen and Zorma had elected to remain in their ship, being as comfortable there as anywhere. Lodovik suspected that the two were not entirely confident in Daneel's honesty with regards to their truce, but he knew they were safe. At least for now.

But this!

Lodovik suddenly stopped, taking the arm of his taller companion and bringing him to a halt. The action was totally unnecessary; robots had other ways of expressing emphasis. But the habits of centuries died hard.

Daneel complied without any resistance, turning to face Lodovik. For most of his existence the younger robot had been one of Daneel's greatest agents, and one of his most likely successors. But an accident had changed Lodovik, changed his perspective, made him unique in the universe. That change had put Lodovik in a position no robot had ever been in. Lodovik had left Daneel, betraying him and almost destroying all that Daneel had tried to accomplish.

Had any other robot done what Lodovik had, Daneel would have had it dismantled without any hesitation. But Lodovik truly was unique, and Daneel could not bring himself to destroy him. And now, for this one task, their purposes coincided once again. Daneel was utterly certain no new arguments would arise and change his path, but whatever Lodovik Trema had to say, Daneel would listen.

Lodovik wasted no time. "You want the child's brain?" His understanding of Daneel's intentions were quite clear, but for him the exclamation came naturally. Lodovik could have suppressed the response, but in this case he felt no need to hide his surprise and disturbance. This was inconceivable!

Daneel began to respond. "The Zeroth Law-"

"I know the Laws!" Lodovik exclaimed. "I operated under them for four thousand years!" Lodovik recognized the look of curiosity on Daneel's face, though no human would have called him anything but blank, and realized that he had been yelling. Habits indeed. No other robot acted so human, not even Dors. But then, no other robot was like Lodovik.

He took a moment to calm the heightened combination of potentials that a human would have called anger. Lodovik decided a change of approach would be more effective. He continued, calm. "I killed two humans during that time, Daneel. Killed them both with my bare hands. Only the Zeroth Law allowed me to keep functioning, and only because I could clearly see that my destruction would cause immediate harm to all of humanity. Are you truly telling me you plan to kill this human child, when the benefit to humanity will be so vague?"

Daneel never ceased to be amazed by the humanity of Lodovik's reactions. He had not expected such passion. "'Fallom will not die, Lodovik. Not necessarily. Her mind may yet be continued, even if her body is not." He had proceeded down this path in his own mind already, within a millisecond of becoming aware of Fallom's existence. As expected, Lodovik had not provided him with any new arguments.

"And if her mind dies as well?" Lodovik demanded, maintaining his calm. "Hybridization has never been attempted on this scale, Daneel. Even if Zorma is willing to help, Fallom may not survive, in body or in mind. Are you really willing to sacrifice a human being to save yourself?"

"I am not capable of any such thing, Lodovik." Daneel's voice carried none of the insult a human's might have. "This is not for me. Nothing I have ever done has been. Gaia needs my experience and guidance to have the best chance of surviving until their expansion. The loss of a human being is always regrettable, but occasionally necessary."

How many of my actions justified by that word, he thought. Necessary. With sufficient effort, Daneel could recall every action he'd taken, every time he'd caused a human harm. He felt weary. But that was nothing new. He had felt that way for most of his existence.

Lodovik knew that this debate had already occurred in Daneel's mind, and that he would not convince him this way. He had known since the conversation began. The shock, even horror, he felt was genuine. But the ancient robot was no fool, and his reasoning was unassailable, as usual. It was his premises that Lodovik took issue with. Premises that Daneel was as incapable of altering as Lodovik was of accepting them.

Truthfully, on some level Lodovik wasn't completely sure he wanted Daneel to spare the child. His friend was dying, and until this very hour he'd believed nothing could delay that. Now there was hope, as strange as it was. And besides Lodovik's personal concerns, Daneel could continue to be of great help to humanity if the deterioration of his brain could be circumvented.

Lodovik removed his hand from Daneel's arm and spoke again. "For you, 'necessary' may be sufficient," he said, "but you know it is not for the others. I believe Zorma will be willing to assist, especially if she thinks Fallom's consciousness can be preserved in the process." Lodovik and Zorma had formed a strange friendship since his accident. "She may consider it a step towards reconciliation between you and her hybrids. But Turringen's reaction could be dangerous. I suggest that he not be told about the child."

Daneel nodded. Seeing that Lodovik's discomfort had settled somewhat, he turned to continue their walk down the corridor. "I found Turringen's presence somewhat surprising," he said to the other robot, now again following him. "I would have expected him to destroy you on sight. You must have been very convincing."

"You underestimate the intensity of their reaction to your plans," Lodovik responded. "The Calvinians' consider this the greatest insult to the Laws that you have ever devised."

Daneel was amused. "Sometimes I wonder if the Calvinians do not picture me as spending thousands of years doing nothing but finding ways to violate their 'religion'. Perhaps while carrying a pitchfork."

Lodovik made a note to find out the meaning of that reference at a later time. "It is no joke, Daneel," he insisted. "This threatens to reignite the wars. Even with your superior forces, that is something you must still wish to avoid." The civil war between robot factions had caused untold destruction. If the fight were to resume, Daneel would almost certainly win. But there was no way he could predict the damage his enemies could cause in the process.

Daneel was unfazed. "I have proof that even Turringen will be unable to refute, from a source he will not be able to ignore."

"You think the Calvinians will be convinced by Trevize?" Lodovik asked skeptically. Not that it would matter if they were.

"They must be. You know he was not chosen by accident," Daneel replied. "My agents have spent the last century searching through trillions of lives. They found Golan Trevize. We have detailed records of his life since childhood, and there can be no doubt. When faced with a dilemma and incomplete information to draw on, he invariably makes the correct decision. Invariably. I do not understand the mechanism by which this is possible, but the odds of Trevize simply being lucky are mathematically insignificant. He alone, with no interference, selected Gaia over any other possible future for humanity. Even the strictest Calvinian must accept this, just as Gaia has. The evidence is incontrovertible, and a human being with the abilities he possesses is imminently qualified to make that decision."

Lodovik understood all this. He had analyzed Daneel's plans more times than Daneel could possibly know, and used that understanding to formulate his own plans. Trevize had been chosen by Daneel to convince both Gaia and the other factions of the rightness of Daneel's path. But they would reject him. In the end, even Daneel would. I'm sorry, Daneel, but for once you have miscalculated.

"Trevize's intuition made him choose Gaia," Lodovik continued without pausing. "It even brought him here, to a world we thought we had eliminated all record of. You say you have statistical proof of his infallibility to this point throughout his life. Yet from what you tell me, his most recent realization is, while not inaccurate, less than complete. Are you not afraid that the others will reject him on those grounds?"

Daneel smiled slightly for the first time in the conversation. He knew full well how difficult it could be to convince some of his old opponents. "There is that possibility," he said to Lodovik. "I can not compute any useful probabilities on that matter. In the end, their cooperation would help greatly, but it is not necessary. I still grieve that our kind is divided so, but if they do not accept Trevize, then Gaia must proceed without them. Their interference will not be of any significance."

Lodovik didn't respond to that. Once again, further argument would serve no purpose. "Do you intend to present your evidence soon?" Lodovik asked.

"Once the humans have had a chance to rest," Daneel replied. "Gaia also has many questions that still require answers. Perhaps the presence of you and your new allies will help allay any concerns they might have about my truthfulness."

Lodovik said nothing. Everything was proceeding as he had anticipated. All that was needed now was patience, and patience was something no robot lacked.

They had reached the end of the tunnel, and Daneel spoke as he manipulated the control panel. "I find speaking of all this to you unexpectedly calming, Lodovik," he said, his expression unchanging. "I am pleased to find that your altered state has not changed that. Even in our... disagreements, I found that I missed your presence." He turned to walk through the door, giving Lodovik a small sideways glance. "Perhaps I was correct not to kill you after all."

Lodovik winced inwardly. He wished that he could find a way to keep his friend from being hurt. But he knew that there was no alternative. Daneel had closed all other doors. Lodovik had done many things, some he wished he could have avoided, but none he would change if he could. But the damage he believed the next day would do to Daneel, even his worst enemies could have sympathized with. Lodovik gave no sign of this disturbance as he replied wryly, "I think it far more likely, Daneel, that it was simply another symptom of the decay of your positronic brain."

The two walked silently through the door.

Chapter 3

ROBOTS- ...and though a few semi-autonomous mechanical servants have been used briefly in different eras of galactic history, none have succeeded in reaching any level of independent intelligence. All were quickly abandoned due to social pressures and high cost. It can only be concluded that, such a task being so difficult for modern technological prowess, it must have been all the more impossible given the limited abilities of pre-historic man. Still, the legends persist...

"Then they are robots?" Pelorat asked their guide a little nervously as he and Trevize followed her through the door of their suite. "Like you and Daneel?"

"Not like me," Dors replied a little testily. Rationally, she knew it was a legitimate question, but her human overlay registered it as an insult, and her disdain showed through in her voice. "Turringen and his followers are throwbacks, hangers-on to an argument that they have long since lost."

"So not all robots follow Daneel, then?" Trevize asked causally, as he looked around the living area. The two men had started out quiet, but had gradually begun to question their guide as they approached their destination. Now that they had arrived, it seemed that their curiosity was overcoming their discomfort. Trevize began to move about the room, examining the furniture. Pelorat was still nervous, but he didn't take his eyes from Dors.

"Not all," she confirmed. "Most surviving robots are Giskardian, and all of us follow Daneel. But the Calvinians long ago refused to accept the primacy of the Zeroth Law. They were swept aside by history. Now only a few scattered groups remain. Turringen leads one of the larger factions."

"You said 'Turringen and his followers'," Trevize said as he looked in one of the bedrooms. "Is Zorma one of his 'followers'? Or does she represent another faction?"

Like most robots, Dors didn't like to talk about Zorma and her faction's ideas. Even though Zorma's techniques would be necessary to save Daneel (or something of him, at least), their general approach was distasteful, to say the least. Thankfully, Daneel had told Dors some of the details of Trevize's journey. Based on that, and a good understanding of the mind of a human male, she had a good idea what he was thinking, and was able to deflect Trevize's question. "I suggest you reconsider, Councilman. She is indeed a robot, and I very much doubt she will take to you the way some of the women you've encountered have." And Zorma was a robot. At least, in the only way that really mattered.

"So robots have no interest in companionship, then?" Trevize asked, and Dors could genuinely not decide whether he was honestly curious or just impudent. Probably both. This time she didn't answer. Trevize didn't seem to mind, as he began to explore the suite without further comment. Dors had known before he arrived that she was probably not going to like this man. But she didn't have to.

Pelorat spoke up again, still somewhat nervously staring at Dors. "Um... pardon me, miss, but I was hoping I might be taken to see Bliss." Why does he find me so intimidating? she wondered. Men had had that reaction to her numerous times in the past, but Dors had usually been trying to intimidate them at the time. Of course, his stare was discomforting to her as well, but she knew exactly why that was.

"I'm afraid not at this moment," Dors replied, sympathetic. She found it very easy to like the older man, unlike Trevize. "Right now, the fewer guests in the infirmary, the better." Dors also suspected that part of the reasoning behind her instructions was that Daneel did not want Trevize to have the chance to wander around unescorted. "I'm sure she'll be returning soon."

"I see," Pelorat said, his disappointment obvious. He perked up slightly when Trevize's head appeared from the doorway to the bathroom.

"Janov, there's a shower in here! A real shower, with running water!" His head disappeared again around the corner and he closed the door.

"Oh, well, ah, that's certainly a pleasant thing!" Pelorat replied half-heartedly. It was obvious to Dors that his concern for Bliss was of the lasting kind. Well, as long as any human affection can last. She forced the thought back.

Pelorat nervously looked at Dors again. "Um... if you don't mind my asking, miss, how old are you?"

Of course. The historian had spent his life studying what little was known of Earth, and he had discovered a wealth of information in Daneel. He must have been hoping that she would provide him with the same.

"I was constructed approximately six hundred years ago," Dors replied. She was the youngest robot in the galaxy, and very likely the last that would ever be made. "I'm afraid my knowledge of Earth comes primarily from Daneel." Primarily. Before the kind old man could become even more disappointed, though, she continued, gesturing to the computer terminal set into one wall. "However, Daneel anticipated your interests. You may find the information you can access from there rather appealing."

Dors couldn't help but smile as the old man brightened, his eyes locked on the computer terminal. "Your Daneel really does think of everything, doesn't he?" she heard Trevize say from behind her as the door to the bathroom opened.

"Almost," she replied simply over her shoulder. A quick glance at the edge of her vision told her that Trevize had removed his shirt, very likely to see how she would react to his (admittedly attractive by human standards) body. Dors standards were not human. "If you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I have duties elsewhere. If you need any assistance, please use the intercom and someone will be with you shortly." She gestured to the button on the wall near the main door.

Pelorat smiled warmly. "Thank you for your help, young lady," he said. Dors smiled at him again. She was likely the oldest woman Pelorat had ever met. Without a word to Trevize, Dors Venabili left the two men alone in their suite.

"Well, that was interesting," Trevize said once the door had closed behind her.

Pelorat couldn't help but chuckle as he shook his head. "I've known for a long time that you couldn't resist a beautiful woman. But honestly, Golan, robots? You can't be serious!"

Trevize smiled at his friend. "You, my friend, are in love with a piece of a living world with a single collective mind. And one a third your age, at that. Compared to that, what's some harmless flirtation?"

Pelorat's chuckles turned to laughter. He tried to speak over it. "You never know, Golan! Admittedly Dors is a mere six hundred, but this Zorma might just be three hundred times your age!" Trevize had to laugh with him. The situation was just too absurd for any other response. Pelorat had to sit down, he laughed so hard.

A minute later as their laughter died down Trevize spoke. "I know how much you're probably dying to get at that computer terminal, Janov. I, on the other hand, am dying for a shower!" A wry smile appeared on Trevize's face. "Oh, and while you're on there, do me a favor, would you? Please write Mayor Branno a brief report about our trip, and thank her for exiling me from Terminus."

Pelorat was left speechless for a moment at the thought. Before he could reply, Trevize bowed slightly, stepped quickly to his right, entered the washroom and closed the door. It would have to be some report!

Still smiling and laughing to himself at the idea, and his stress somewhat reduced, Pelorat began to explore the small suite. It was not luxurious, by any standards, but obviously designed to make its inhabitants as comfortable as possible in the limited space available. The door they had entered through was in the corner of the room, with the doors to the bedrooms occupying the opposite wall. The walls were a very pale shade of blue, with just enough color to it to make the walls less noticeable, and so make the room seem larger. Pelorat took a moment to look around one of the bedrooms, as he heard water from the shower begin to run. The beds seemed well padded, if small. There was even a tasteful abstract painting above each one. He wondered who had painted them. Could robots paint?

Pelorat hadn't been lying to Trevize when they left Daneel. He was quite tired, and sleep was very tempting. But he wanted to be awake when Bliss returned. He knew she didn't need him. How could part of Gaia truly need anyone? But he loved her, and he would support her, needed or not. Sleep would have to wait as long as his body would allow.

And there was that computer terminal! Pelorat looked around the living area once more, finding the computer terminal in the wall opposite the bathroom door. The only chairs in the suite were around a small but sturdy table, which seemed to be associated with the kitchen part of the room by virtue of being slightly off center in that direction. Pelorat took one of the chairs and sat down, activating the computer terminal. As he navigated the system, his jaw slowly dropped. According to the display, there were hundreds of thousands of records in this archive, going back to long before the oldest book Pelorat had ever seen!

Pelorat hardly knew where to begin. He considered simply picking a text, but decided to be more systematic in his approach, and requested a full index ordered by publication date. A grin spread across his face as he saw the first result. A Child's Book of Knowledge, Britannica Publishing Company, New Tokyo, Bayleyworld. Pelorat knew better than to disregard the text because of its name. He didn't recognize the calendar system it was marked with, but Bayleyworld he knew. Child's book or not, this text was from one of Earth's first colonies after the Spacer rebellion! All thoughts of sleep left him, even worries of Bliss temporarily forgotten, as he excitedly opened the file, hoping it would be the first of many. This, Pelorat thought, his smile widening even further, might take a while.

Dors Venabili walked down the corridor, away from the humans' suite. Her positronic brain was performing many tasks, some routine, most contemplating the way the events of the next few days would likely play out. But a noticeable portion of her processing power, larger than usual, was devoted to thoughts of the past. It took her only a moment of analysis to realize why that should be. Pelorat, the kindly old professor, had reminded her. Reminded her of him. The analysis caused more memories to rise to the surface of her mind.

The flight across Trantor-

She had been constructed more human than any other robot in history, for one purpose: nurture and protect a single man. She hadn't expected him to love her, or to love him in return. But she had quickly learned that life is rarely what one expects. He had become a part of her, and she of him. Partners, as much as any two humans had ever been.

Their son-

They had adopted Raych and raised him as their own. She herself was barren, but it was no matter. It had taken time, but she had learned to love Raych, learned to be a mother. For all their conflicts, Raych's wife, their children, all were her family. Their family.

The Imperial Palace-

Her own death had separated them. She had obtained a reputation for her fierceness in protecting her husband. She had been damaged, almost beyond repair, in defending him. It had taken decades for her to be fully repaired, and by then he was an old man. A kind old professor. Alone.

Raych had died in the interim, killed on a Chaos world. His wife and child had vanished. Only Wanda survived, having stayed behind on Trantor with her grandfather. But she had a life of her own, and work of her own. Only he was left, to face his unyielding burden. Alone.

Daneel had forbidden Dors to go to him. The return of the long-dead Tiger Woman, unaged after so many years, would have raised too many questions. So she had stayed away. She stayed away from her husband, from her granddaughter. From the life she had once had. From the love she had known. She stayed away until the very end.

That man had died peacefully in her arms five centuries ago. His death had devastated her, and though she live as long as Daneel she would never be rid of his imprint on her. Gradually, she had found that she could remember her husband without sadness. She could continue her own work. But she would never be the same.

The part of her that seemed human had always made things more complicated for her than for other robots. But robot she was. Dors forced the thoughts of her husband from her mind. Pelorat was not he. They weren't even that much alike, really. And even if they had been, what of it? It was just a quirk of her emotional overlay. Dors continued to walk, her mind now ordered. The next day would determine everything.

Chapter 4

TRANTOR–…records disagree on the exact figure. Some say that Trantor was home to tens of billions. Others say hundreds of billions, which modern scholars consider far more likely given the status of the world at its peak. Regardless, all agree that Trantor at the height of the Empire was the single greatest concentration of humanity in history…

even eight hundred years after the sack, it is impossible to mistake the former imperial capital for any other world, either from the surface or from orbit. The great domes that once covered nearly the entire surface of the planet are long since destroyed, and the twisted metal underneath has receded to a point that some large areas of ground are visible from space. But it will be centuries more before Trantor's world-city retreats fully, if it ever does. Some theorize…

Gendibal no longer even noticed the massive metal remains circumscribing his horizon as he walked towards a small, lonely cottage in the distance. He had lived here his entire life, and the sight had become commonplace. Before the ultimate fall of the Empire, many of the inhabitants of Trantor had left. Most of those that remained had died when Gilmer and his rebels cut off the food supply from other worlds, and ultimately sacked the palace and anything else that interested them. The only place that had remained untouched was the University grounds, protected through the efforts of the Second Foundation. They had stayed while everyone else had left..

But they were not alone here. After all the devastation, Trantor did not remain empty for long. Most of the newcomers were scavengers, looking for forgotten treasure, data archives, anything that could be sold on any market. Battles between different factions had done yet more damage to the city, and after a few years most had left, abandoning Trantor as worthless and uninhabitable. Most, but not all.

Some came looking for a new life. In a galaxy of ten quadrillion people, there would always be such, the outcast, the dispossessed. They became farmers, starting in the old palace gardens and working their way outward, removing the city's remains as they went. They lived their lives outdoors in the light of the sun, no longer calling their world Trantor, simply "home". In their dialect, it became "Hame", and so they were named.

Scavengers still came, as did new settlers from time to time. But now most of those coming to Trantor were traders. They bought scrap metal and the occasional historical trinket the Hamish had freed from the ruins, and in turn sold the products of heavy industry that could never have been found on Trantor otherwise. Without this trade, the Second Foundation could not have existed. Gendibal had always appreciated the irony that the existence of the great Seldon Plan itself might one day be threatened by a lack of spare parts.

Of course, psychohistory had predicted the development of the Hamish society, and the trade that made their presence there possible. Eventually, if left alone, the equations predicted that the Hamish would finally free Trantor from its metal prison in 2300 years, plus or minus fifty. It was a fascinating symbiosis, and one Gendibal had often reflected upon. He enjoyed knowing the future of the world he called his home.

But today there was no time for contemplation. He had a mission, and its aim lay within the cottage he had now reached. Gendibal didn't announce his presence before entering. He knew exactly who was in the small house. He paused momentarily to send a brief, prearranged signal to his fellows. I am here. Then he opened the door and stepped inside.

Novi was standing nervously in the middle of the room, eyes on the floor, as if she was afraid to look at him. Gendibal closed the door behind him. She said nothing, simply fidgeted for a moment in her simple homespun dress, and waited. She had seen him coming from the window, no doubt, and wondered why he was coming. When he had left her, he had told her that he would come to see her on a particular day. That day was still three days in the future. Gendibal's suspicions had not allowed him to wait any longer.

When he had first voiced those suspicions to the Table after order had been restored, some had almost scoffed at him. They knew of this woman and where she came from. Even Shandess seemed to have doubts. But Speaker Delarmi, to everyone's surprise, had supported his plan fully, and the others had agreed to it shortly after. Gendibal certainly didn't think the others had actually changed their minds. But no matter their true opinions about what he would find, they needed new information, and all agreed that Novi could provide that, one way or another.

Gendibal let the silence hang. After a moment more, Novi finally spoke. "Master?" she said nervously in her usual, submissive tone. "Y—you have come early, Master. Is Master displeased with Novi?"

Even now, Gendibal almost smiled; he really had missed her these last few days, after their long journey together. Gendibal had taken her with him on that mission as a sort of warning system, against whatever force they had been searching for. If she had been manipulated the same as he, then it would almost certainly have left more traces than in his own mind. The Second Foundation might even learn enough to reconstruct what had really happened.

That was one possibility. But there was another.

"No, Novi, I am not displeased with you," he replied, his Hamish dialect without flaw. "I simply need your help."

Novi brightened, finally looking at Gendibal directly. "Oh, anything for Master!" Gendibal had eventually come to wish Novi would use his name, but she had always refused.

He remained focused. "All I need you to do is close your eyes, Novi. Just close your eyes and relax."

Gendibal had never manipulated Novi's mind to a significant degree. To do so would have ruined her usefulness, and to do so now might still. But he had to know. Silently, Gendibal reached out his mind to hers, and found it much as it had always been. Smooth, with a simple beauty; he had often touched Novi's mind lightly as one might stroke a pet's fur. He did so now, to help her remain calm. But this time he did not stop there. This time he looked deeper.

The layers of Novi's mind were more complex than the surface, as he'd expected. No mind could be so simple throughout. But even in the complexity there was simplicity, simply of a different order. Gendibal took his time, examining each layer, each fragment, looking for any tell-tale sign of manipulation. There was nothing. Even in the subtle places he himself had been manipulated, Novi's mind was flawless. So Gendibal changed his approach and began actively probing. Nothing damaging, simply different kinds of stimuli to see how Novi's mind would react.

Gendibal lost track of time inside Novi's psyche. He might have spent minutes or hours, trying dozens of combinations. Some produced reactions, some not, but nothing out of the ordinary. Until... there! Was that an abnormality? Gendibal was unsure, but it seemed as though a part of her mind had responded to a particular signal, something deep. He tried again, amplifying the signal and directing it towards that portion of her mind...

Gendibal gasped as Novi opened her eyes. The rapid changes in her mind had made him lose contact, but before that had happened he had thought her mind was... blooming, was the only applicable word. Even as Gendibal took a brief moment to collect himself, Novi spoke. "We suspected you would come," she said. Her voice was the same as it had always been, still the same accent and speech patterns. But Gendibal knew it was not Novi any longer.

Gendibal didn't bother looking around the cottage for another. If anyone else had been there, he would have known long before entering. Novi wasn't referring to someone else present. In that one sentence, she had already answered many of his questions. But there were more, and they required answers as well. He had to be sure. Gendibal reached out again…

…and was shocked as she gently and deftly deflected his mental probe. "Please don't," she said just as gently. He had expected the response, but not the skill or power behind it. Gendibal was consciously aware of his instinctual defenses that had activated upon his brief contact with her mind. "If I let you touch my mind now, it will only harm you. If you try harder, my deflection may be almost as unpleasant. I do not wish to cause you pain."

"It was you," he said in the manner of the Second Foundation. No Hamish should have been able to understand him, but he knew Novi would. It wasn't a question at this point. His suspicions were confirmed. Outwardly he remained composed, but Gendibal was shaken. She was a mentalic, and none of them had seen it! How!

Quickly Gendibal narrowed down the possibilities. Mental surgery to implant false memories had been practiced by the Second Foundation. But a manipulation such as this would have required enormous power and skill, even beyond that which had been required to alter his memories. He knew she was not attempting to probe him, but at that thought he consciously reinforced his mental shield. Not that it would make any difference at all against something like that.

"Yes," Novi replied. That was all. There was no challenge, no smugness, no apology. Simple affirmation. She offered nothing more, and stood patiently as if waiting for whatever he might ask.

Gendibal contemplated his options. He could easily have overwhelmed any normal human's defenses and rendered them harmless. But Novi was not a normal human, nor was she alone. Her mind had been altered to deceive them, meaning there were others like her, working with her. Another organization of mentalics. She could call on the sum of their power just as he could call on his fellows. And the power she had to draw on was greater than anything the Second Foundation had ever imagined. Galaxy, it's a world of Mules! He drove the thought down, and the fear, forcing himself to maintain focus. So long as she could draw on that power, he could force nothing from her. Only one option remained. He was prepared.

"Who are you?" he demanded. "What did you remove from my mind?"

"It's all right, Stor." His first name. Nobody had called him that in years. She was… affectionate about it. It had almost the same feeling as the way he had treated her, before. Who is this woman? He let her continue. "We brought you to us because we needed a representative of your Foundation. A choice had to be made, and now it has been. Afterwards, we suspected you would discover our changes to your memory, and that you would come here."

Brought me to them? He would have time to question her choice of words. Now it was time to act. "Why?" he asked her, allowing a feeling of betrayal to travel along with the words. There had been a bond between them. Not one of love, or passion, or friendship. One of tenderness. But she had lied to him. Her entire personality had been a lie, constructed specifically to deceive him. Sura Novi, the person he had cared for, didn't exist, and had never existed. That was the sense that overwhelmingly dominated his simple question.

For the first time since Gendibal had touched her mind, Novi's expression changed. A sympathetic look came across her face. "We never meant to cause you harm, Stor" she began. "We did what we did to keep you safe, and now that you know—"

Gendibal didn't know if this was an opening or not. How could he know anything about a creature such as this? But it was the best chance he would get. He sent another message to the rest of the Second Foundation. Now.

Novi cut off in mid-sentence, nearly falling over as she lost her balance. She cried out, "Gaia?" glancing around the room in wide-eyed confusion. But her eyes quickly settled on Gendibal, still standing motionless near the closed door. "What have you done?" she whispered, barely loud enough to be heard.

He heard the terror in her voice, and didn't hesitate. Gendibal quickly stepped quickly across the room to her, placed the spray against her skin, and injected her with a sedative. She had no time to say anything more.

He caught her as she fell to the floor, and laid her upon it gently. The others were coming to move her underground, but it would take them a few minutes to arrive. Gendibal thinned the barrier he had placed around her mind, releasing most of his mentalic connections. Now only a few members of the Table held that barrier in place. The theory was that in her unconscious state, no barrier should have been necessary. But it was better to be safe. Looking around the room, he found a cushion and, bending down, placed it under her head.

Gendibal let out a long sigh as he settled onto the floor beside Novi. It had worked. The Second Foundation had never tried any such thing before. When before had they faced any connection that needed severing? His memory told him that when his contact had been cut while tracking Trevize, it was because of the Foundation's recently invented mentalic shield. But, no longer trusting his memory, he had begun to believe that whatever power he had encountered had actively cut his connection to the Second Foundation. Just as Gendibal and his fellows had now cut Novi off from that power.

Gendibal looked again into Novi's now dormant mind, and immediately stopped cold. The connection that Second Foundationers could establish among themselves was a temporary thing, and vanished as soon as contact was ended. But he saw now that this was different. The tether was broken, but there was still a remnant of it in her mind, still reaching for contact. Fascinated, Gendibal gently examined the rawness of it, and his fascination was quickly replaced with horror. The tether wasn't an external connection; it was part of Novi. Impossible! No human mind could be like this. But there could be no question. Somehow, he had cut Novi off from something that was part of herself.

He called out for his companions to hurry, and in his distress he barely caught himself in time to keep the shield around her from collapsing. I have a mission. She needed help, but he had to keep her separated or this was for nothing. With a trembling hand, he began to lightly stroke her hair, reaching out to do the same to her now-dormant mind, trying to calm whatever pain she was in. It was not the mind Gendibal remembered, the smooth, simple Novi. But that mind was a part of this one, he now saw.

"I'm sorry, Novi," he said without a trace of irony. "I never meant to cause you harm."

And on a world far away, a man named Dom suddenly awakened from a deep sleep. "Novi!" he cried, his cries mingling with those of an entire world.

Chapter 5

HUMAN ORIGINS- …most information about humanity's origins having long-since been lost. Still, some names persist in the legends of various worlds, Aurora, Alpha, Sol, and Solaria being among the most common. Without more information, though, these names are of little academic use. They could all be different worlds, different names for the same world, or entirely fictional. Though the issue of the original homeworld has been the cause of much speculation over recorded history, there is little…

Trevize sighed as he turned to lie on his back. The bed was surprisingly comfortable, given what he had seen of the rest of the complex. Their suite was not much larger than the accommodations on the Far Star had been, but they were far more hospitable. Oh, but that shower felt good... Idly, he wondered where the excellent furniture had come from. Surely it hadn't been here since this place was last inhabited by humans. Had these amazing machines spent time making such things just for their arrival? Or perhaps the furniture, like their hosts, was not quite what it appeared to be.

Trevize had thought to be tired after all that had happened, but now sleep would not come. He had exited the washroom to find Janov hard at work at the computer terminal, just as he'd expected. Trevize had let him be, managing to contain his amusement as he entered his bedroom and closed the door. His friend would never change, and Trevize wouldn't have it any other way. Over an hour had passed since then, and he suspected Pelorat was still out there, having ignored the shower to continue writing in his journal or exploring the computer archives.

Trevize opened his eyes, giving up on sleep for the moment. Instead he stared at the ceiling of the darkened room and let his mind wander, linking thoughts and memories at random; soon he found himself smiling. He remembered one of his teachers in secondary school, calling him a troublemaker. Not in the prankster sort of way some people caused trouble; that he'd always found juvenile, even as a child. No, he caused trouble by refusing to be quiet, by rocking the proverbial boat, for no other reason than because it was a little too still for his tastes. He shook things up. It had gotten him into politics, gotten him elected to the council on Terminus. It had also gotten him exiled from Terminus, and so, combined with his flashes of intuition, had brought him to this wondrous place.

But in this place, it seemed to have brought him to something new. Peace?, he thought, wondering if that was the right word. It wasn't that he no longer needed to agitate the world around him. He was still the same man. Wherever he ended up, he would find the current and work against it, defying the status quo just because it suited him. Anything else was just unimaginable. But he still wondered at this new feeling.

There was still excitement, of course. Trevize was very much looking forward to what Daneel's apparent enemies had to say, and particularly to further conversations with Zorma. Something was different about that one, even from the other robots. But the future was decided. He had decided it. Politics, the Foundation, within a few hundred years Gaia would encompass it all, and none of it would matter. And, Trevize found, he didn't need it to. Contentment, he decided. There was nowhere for him to go, no goal for him to strive for, for the first time in years. It was quite relaxing.

Trevize hoped it would not last long.

Not for the first time, Trevize began to wonder just where he would end up. Once Fallom was... well, once Daneel was done with Fallom, Bliss would likely either stay here or go home to Gaia. Pelorat would stay with her in either case, of course. He supposed he'd take them both back to Gaia aboard the Far Star if they wished, but what then? Beautiful as that world was, Trevize had no desire to live there. And while some of the worlds they'd visited on their way to Earth had seemed quite nice at first glance, most had also tried to kill him.

For a while, he entertained the thought of returning to Terminus and telling the populace some of what he had discovered. Not enough to pose a threat to Gaia, of course. He was still convinced of their importance. But he could at least tell them enough to unseat Mayor Branno. Maybe nothing the Foundation did would matter once this so-called Galaxia came to be, but he could still find some satisfaction before then.

Through the door, Trevize heard someone enter the living room. Bliss, he suspected, and voices soon confirmed that suspicion. The door was thick enough that he couldn't tell what was being said, but he could identify the voices as Bliss and Janov, and another intermittent sound he couldn't identify. Pelorat seemed to be doing most of the talking, and for a moment Trevize wondered why. Then he realized. Bliss was weeping.

Trevize felt a pang of guilt as the sounds ceased, Bliss and Pelorat having presumably closed their own door. Fallom was a nuisance at best, as far as he was concerned. Trevize had no affinity for children, and this particular child being neither male nor female was severely disturbing to him. When she (she, he had to keep reminding himself to use the pronoun) had tried to seize control of the Far Star, she had shown herself to be far more dangerous than Trevize had ever suspected; he would shed no tears for the child. But though he might not care about Fallom, and even as much as he had fought with Bliss, Trevize regretted the pain Fallom's loss would cause her.

The thought of Fallom inevitably led him back to Solaria. The Seldon Plan made certain assumptions; psychohistory would only function so long as no alien intelligence interfered with humanity, a problem he was absolutely certain had to be corrected. Could Fallom's people be the threat Gaia was needed to defend against? Or was it something else, something even more alien?

But it no longer mattered. If something came, odds were that Trevize would never see it. So long as a few more centuries were allowed to pass, whatever the threat, Galaxia would handle it; if it couldn't, nothing could. He had made the correct choice. Trevize let his mind wander again, back to his youth on Terminus. He remembered the fiction vids he'd sometimes watched, smiling again. Stories of great wars with aliens from outside the galaxy, invasions of epic proportions, with the Foundation always emerging victorious. Some even involved robots. Great clanking mechanical robots. If only they knew.

He recalled the dreams he had once had, of wandering among the stars with no goal beyond that of seeing what was to be seen. Yes, Trevize thought. That's where I'll go. Wherever I please. No longer analyzing the unfamiliar feelings, he simply let himself enjoy them, as thoughts of the day left his mind. Presently, his memories became his dreams, and Golan Trevize slept better than he had in years.

"Daneel, are you sure this is wise?"

Dors concealed her surprise. Zun was a very capable robot, and had served Daneel for centuries. Until now she had never seen him openly question Daneel's judgment.

Unprecedented as it was, Daneel did not seem remotely taken aback by Zun's questioning. He replied calmly. "An statesman on ancient Earth once said, 'Do I not destroy my enemy by making him my friend?'"

Zun looked only at Daneel, seemingly ignoring both Dors and Lodovik standing off to either side of the conversation. "Their presence is an unnecessary variable, and I believe we should evict them from this place immediately," he said. "All of them." Dors noticed Lodovik actually smiling slightly at the veiled comment about his presence. He had re-earned Daneel's trust, at least far enough to be standing in this room, but never Zun's.

"By informing Turringen of our plans," Daneel said, "he may be convinced to cease his opposition. Further, Zorma's assistance may be of importance in the coming weeks. Is there some particular point you contend?" He also focused on the robot facing him, as though he didn't expect Dors to raise similar objections.

Of course Dors had been surprised by Daneel's intentions as well. She wondered how much of a part Lodovik had had in this plan, even as she studiously avoided looking at that robot directly. She and Lodovik had served Daneel together briefly, as such things went. But Lodovik had left, to follow his own path. Her relationship with him since then had been... complex. They had not spoken since his arrival, and she felt no need to change that situation. But surprise or no, she trusted Daneel's judgment, even now in his weakening state. Why Zun suddenly did not was a mystery.

"I do not question your reasoning, Daneel." Zun said nothing more. So, Dors was not the only one that wondered what part Lodovik had played in this decision. Zun had never understood why Daneel allowed Lodovik to survive. The Laws were what made a robot a robot, and yet Lodovik was somehow free of them, able to disobey or even kill a human at will. Zun saw his betrayal of Daneel upon being freed of the Laws as simply more proof of his danger. And yet Daneel allowed him to be here, now, as though he believed Lodovik's motives might truly be benign.

Daneel ignored the unsaid portion of Zun's objection, though Dors knew he had to be aware of it. "Then if you have no specific objection, please return to the infirmary. Yan may require assistance."

Apparently realizing further comment would be fruitless, Zun nodded. When he and Daneel said nothing more, Dors decided the meeting was over. The others seemed to reach the same conclusion, as Zun left almost immediately, Lodovik following shortly after. Having nothing further to say, Dors was almost to the door when a wordless transmission from Daneel brought her up short.

"Do you agree with my decision?"

Dors stopped. This she was not expecting. It was a simple enough question, but coming from Daneel... "Yes," she sent back, closing the door in front of her. The use of inaudible transmissions meant that he did not want to be overheard. Still, she remained facing away from him. Best to let Daneel take this where he would.

"He may be right," Daneel said aloud.

"Perhaps," she answered cautiously. When Daneel didn't answer for a moment, she turned to face him. His face was unreadable. Silence. Doubt? From Daneel? Surely he experienced such uncertainty internally, but she had never known him to express it. This was not a possibility she had ever considered. Dors waited.

Daneel finally began to speak. "Besides you, R. Zun Lurrin is the youngest robot in the galaxy. I ordered Yan to make him as much like me as possible, so that should I fall another might replace me. Our risk-benefit analyses of situations were often divergent, as is to be expected. He remained silent, accepting my judgment when we differed, content to learn from my greater experience. For quite some time now, he has agreed with me on almost every issue. On this situation, he disagrees."

"You believe he may be in error?" Dors asked.

"I believe I may be in error," he replied. "My brain has not been in its optimal state for some time now. On matters of calculation or empirical fact, I function acceptably well. But on matters of judgment, it is impossible to say whether I have already outlived my usefulness."

Dors could almost not believe what she was hearing. "You have planned for centuries on the assumption that humanity's safety requires your oversight. Are you no longer certain of that?"

"At this point, bettering humanity's future means guiding Gaia as best I can," Daneel replied. He paused again, for several seconds. "I am finding it increasingly difficult to sense Gaia's state," he finally said. "My other cognitive functions are unaffected. I can only conclude that Gaia's newfound knowledge of my existence has provided them with both the means and the desire to block my connection to them."

Interesting. "You believe they do not trust you?"Dors had idly wondered how Gaia would react to Daneel, but had had insufficient knowledge of them to make any sort of guess. She had had little contact with the world since seeding some of the earlier human mentalics there.

"It seems the most likely possibility," Daneel answered. "Many questions must have arisen about the exact nature and extent of my influence over them. Apparently my preliminary answers were insufficient. If they can not be convinced to trust my intentions, then my further survival serves no purpose, at least no purpose sufficient to warrant Fallom's death. The best solution is to explain the true reason for Gaia's creation."

Dors had rarely experienced so many surprises in one day; this time she was unable to conceal her reaction, and took a slow breath. Daneel was talking about revealing a secret that had been kept for centuries, even from most of Daneel's own agents. She herself had only found out from another source. Chaos...

Dors collected herself, knowing Daneel had seen her pause. Quickly, she analyzed the situation. "You believe that Gaia will be more likely to trust your words if opposing factions are present to corroborate your story," she replied, stating Daneel's most likely intention. "You have already told Zun this?" she asked.

"I have," Daneel replied. "As my condition has worsened, I have involved Zun more actively in contingency planning, and this situation was considered." Even after all this time, Dors could still be amazed at the depth of Daneel's planning. "He disagrees solely about the risk of including Lodovik. In his present state you know him better than any of us. What is your opinion?"

The conversation now made sense. Dors was almost never consulted on matters of greater strategic importance; this was about how much Lodovik could be trusted. Or how much she could be.

Dors could only shake her head. "I do not know him any better than you, Daneel. He is unpredictable. Lawless."

"Yet you were drawn to him. After Seldon's death."

Dors said nothing. In five hundred years, Daneel had never mentioned this. Never indicated that he had even known. Of course he had known.

Daneel continued, as if nothing of consequence had been said. "I fully expect that Lodovik has a greater plan at work. What its consequences may be, I have no idea. Whatever his intent, should it result in my being disabled, Zun has his instructions, and I trust him to carry them out."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I also have instructions for you, Dors Venabili."

Chapter 6

TIME VAULT- …though Foundation science had long reached the point that it could access the Seldon recordings ahead of schedule without triggering the self-destruct mechanism, no one ever tried. Some say this was out of reverence for Seldon's wishes. Others say it was because the Second Foundation prevented it. But ultimately, it was most likely because the Mayors knew that foreknowledge of the Plan would have derailed it. Since most leaders of the Foundation supported the Plan…

Mayor Branno sat alone in the empty chamber, her eyes lowered, as if gathering energy. It had been months since she had come here, months since she had been vindicated by the words of a dead man. Few people ever had the chance to enter the Vault, and few would even care to. Oh, it was famous enough. When something happened here, the entire course of the galaxy might change; it had, those months ago. But the rest of the time, it was just an empty room.

Terminus had changed dramatically since its settlement, five centuries ago. It had begun as a single city on the largest of the world's islands; a small city at that, with a mere hundred thousand people. Now there stood half a dozen cities, each with over a million people, and the capital was home to over ten million. Yet this simple room still stood under the heart of the Foundation. It had been built almost immediately after the settlers had arrived, though no one had paid it much attention at the time. It was simply an unimportant room in the basement of the capitol. It wasn't until fifty years later that the true significance of the room had been discovered.

Slowly, Branno looked up at the transparent holochamber that filled the front half of the Vault. There had appeared the image of Hari Seldon, almost fifty years after his death. He had recorded a message for the leaders of the Foundation, and left instructions for them to view it at the appropriate time. That message had changed the history of the Foundation. Until that point, the entire organization had been dedicated to compiling the Encyclopedia Galactica, thinking that the entire aim of the Foundation. Seldon had told them otherwise.

Events in those fifty years had set the Foundation on its predetermined course to a new Galactic Empire. Seldon's image had continued to appear at certain points, delivering more prerecorded messages, guiding the Foundation through the crises that arose in its path. Branno suspected that on some occasions, all the chairs in this room had been empty when Seldon had appeared. But not the last time. On that occasion, those months ago, Seldon had appeared to a crowded room, with his image transmitted all throughout the Foundation. The message he had brought had saved Branno's career, and made her the most popular Mayor in recent memory.

Damn him for it!

There were dozens of empty chairs in the room, all facing the holochamber. Branno sat in a row towards the front, in the same seat she had sat in the last time she had been in this room. At first, she hadn't known why she had returned here. Now, looking at the holochamber, she understood.

"Damn you. Damn you, old man, this is your doing!" Branno's hand tightened on the back of the chair in front of her, as she lashed out at the empty booth. Moments before she had been perfectly calm. Controlling her anger had gotten her far in politics. Not now. "What gives you the right? What gives you the right to control us? You and your psychohistory, your plan. Well, it's our lives!" she spat. "You didn't think about that, did you? You move whole worlds around like pieces in a game, but you never stopped to think that maybe you'd crossed a line somewhere; that maybe people wouldn't want to be manipulated, no matter what the cause."

Branno knew there was irony in what she said. Without the Seldon Plan, the Foundation wouldn't exist. She herself would never have been born, much less be the leader of a third of the galaxy. Humanity would be only beginning on the path to hundreds of centuries of chaos and misery, from which it might never return. But in this moment, it simply didn't matter. "Maybe for a time you were necessary, old man. But not now."

"Are you sure?" a voice echoed from the walls.

Branno fell silent, words dying on her lips. She actually wondered for a moment if Seldon- but then she turned to see the man standing behind her. She didn't remember having stood, but regained her composure quickly. "What do you want, Liono?" she demanded, her ire shifting to him. The man was far too stealthy for his own good.

"I apologize for interrupting, but I thought you might be here," he said, as if he hadn't noticed her present attitude. But Branno knew he'd seen. She tried to calm herself. "The general's shuttle landed ten minutes ago," Kodell told her. "I thought you would want to know."

"What did you mean, Liono?" Branno asked. She ignored his message. Kodell knew that she wouldn't need to know immediately about Albian's arrival. Her anger was controlled now, but not gone, only focused. Kodell never questioned her in such a direct fashion. "Am I sure about what?"

The Director of Security did not answer immediately. Instead he looked at the holochamber beyond the Mayor. Branno resisted the urge to turn around and make sure it was still empty. Finally he spoke, though still looking at the transparent wall. "Are you sure about this course of action, madam Mayor?"

"How can you ask that, after what they did to us? The Second Foundation has proved beyond any doubt how great a threat they are to us. I can barely function, Kodell. They must be destroyed, or we will never be in control of our own lives again. And we won't even know it."

"Have we ever really been in control of our lives?" he asked. What has gotten into him? Branno wondered. Kodell had always been quite capable, and anything but a yes-man, but this was the first time he had ever carried on the disagreement this long. Kodell was silent for a moment more. Branno let him be. She was angry, but more, she was curious, and wanted to see what he would say.

"What happens if we succeed, Harla?" he asked quietly, finally turning towards her.

"Then we're free," she replied immediately. "Free from manipulation, free from outside forces. Free to choose our own destiny, whatever it may be."

"Free from this?" he asked, tapping his own head. She knew he meant the dissonance. "Even if we destroy the Second Foundation, will this change? Will anything? The Second Foundation was not the only work of Seldon's Plan. We are, just as much as they."

Branno too had wondered if the dissonance she was still feeling would leave her once their mission was accomplished. She wondered if it would ever leave her. The thought that there might never be a cure was almost unbearable. Only sheer determination had kept her able to even continue their planning. Now that resolve had turned to anger, and Kodell was drawing it like a lightning rod.

"And what do you suggest, Liono?" It was all she could do to keep from yelling, from threatening him. He had to know the line he was walking. It was almost as if he was doing it on purpose. And still he stood, calmly.

"That our goals are not so different from theirs," he said. "We want a new Galactic Empire. So do they."

"With themselves as the masters of it! As our masters!"

"They can only remain our masters if they remain hidden," Kodell said, "and we can ensure they can never hide again. No matter what happens to us, everything we've learned will be disseminated to certain agents in the government, people I trust." Insofar as Kodell trusted anyone, Branno assumed. "If that information is spread far enough, even the Second Foundation can't eliminate it. We may be able to pressure them into cooperating, instead of destroying them outright."

Branno's anger was blunted. "Leverage." Kodell said nothing. It was a good plan. They both knew it.

"'Violence is the last resort of the incompetent,'" Branno quoted. Kodell nodded once. "Do it," she ordered him. "And tell the general I will meet him in my office in half an hour." There was no use to further conversation. Kodell nodded again, as if nothing at all unusual had just happened, and turned towards the exit.

Branno watched him leave. It was a good plan, if one intended to talk. But there would be no discussion with the Second Foundation, no need for leverage. She would accept no outcome but their utter destruction. Kodell's plan would simply make that destruction all the more certain.

This man was weakening. She would never have thought it of Liono Kodell, but he was feeling the same unbearable stress as she. It was enough to bend even the strongest. She would have to watch him closely in the days to come. He couldn't be allowed to interfere. Nothing could. Soon the outfitting of the fleet would begin. And then, she would have her revenge.

Mayor Harla Branno stepped out into the aisle and began to walk towards the door, never looking behind her at the holochamber. She exited the Vault, knowing she would never return. Seldon's Plan had saved her career. And now she would destroy that Plan, once and for all.

Kodell walked silently through the streets of Terminus City. The vault was not far enough from his office to justify using a vehicle. And he could use the walk. Kodell needed time to think.

He knew what Branno was going through. Every day it was a little better, but the disconnect between his memories and what he knew to have occurred still tormented him. At this rate it would be years before he could function normally. His mind had been violated, and Kodell fully appreciated Branno's desire for revenge.

But revenge was not the answer.

The Second Foundation was an unknown. There was no guarantee that attacking them would result in any sort of success. Any sort of all-out war could spell the end of what independence the Foundation still possessed. Kodell served the Foundation above all. He could not take that risk to serve his own desires. Branno obviously could. She had to be stopped.

Kodell considered his options. Branno would not listen, he was now sure. And no individual had the authority to countermand her orders. The Council could remove her, in theory, but Kodell knew enough about politics to be certain they would never do it. Without Branno there was no figure that commanded enough respect to lead the charge against her. Only the exiled Golan Trevize had had that level of notoriety. If Kodell tried an end-run, the council would be mired in indecision. He would accomplish nothing.

Could he kill her?

No. Perhaps, when the moment came that he had no other option at all. Even knowing he would never escape, knowing that history would remember him as a traitor. Knowing that he would have to live with his actions for the rest of his, probably very short, life. Then he could do it. But only if any other course could lead to the destruction of the Foundation itself.

There was nothing for it, then. Kodell would stay with Branno, assist her in her mission of vengeance. In a situation with this many unknowns, something would change. Something would occur, giving Kodell his opportunity.

It had to.

Chapter 7

BOOK- …though electronic texts are the universal standard for information storage and retrieval, some still claim that the tactile sensation of a printed book provides a superior experience. Such items are rare outside wealthier circles, and usually greatly prized by their owners…

Novi awoke suddenly from her dreamless sleep, bolting upright. Looking around, she realized she was in a small room she did not recognize. There were no windows, and little furniture. Besides the cot she had been laying on, there was only a small Hamish-built wooden table in the corner next to the only door. This was a cell. And she was alone.


The magnitude of the silence struck her harder than the drug which had rendered her unconscious. For the first time in her life, she could not feel the rest of Gaia. In Gaia she had experienced many things. The living world could feel all the emotions of any individual and more, and Novi could share in them all. But never in her life had she felt this.

Her thoughts echoed in her head, with none of the comforting feedback she had been accustomed to all her life. She could not comprehend how most of humanity survived this way. Novi tried to reach out, to find the others, to reconnect. But as soon as she did, she reached a barrier. She tried harder, and was repulsed. Something was blocking her connection to Gaia.

Memory of what had occurred returned to her. Gaia had expected Gendibal to return. All evidence of Gaia's presence had not yet been eliminated; that would have been Novi's task to complete, keeping Gaia safe. They had intended to wait until the Second Foundation found the evidence they sought, and then eliminate all traces of it from the minds of those involved. But they had underestimated Gendibal's foresight. Fear began to rise in her.

Novi tried to control the feeling. She resisted trying to open the door, knowing it would be locked. Nor did Novi bother trying harder to penetrate the mental barrier between her and Gaia. She breathed deeply, tried to find calm. She would not panic. Cut off or not, she was still Gaia. Her captors were aware that she was awake, and they would be coming soon. The fact that she was awake at all meant someone wanted to talk to her in person, and not for information. And the only one who would have reason to do that would be Gendibal. Novi forced down her fear, and lay back down on her cot to wait for him. She tried to think on her own, for the first time in her life.

No interrogation would be necessary, she knew. The Second Foundation would have examined her mind while she was unconscious and learned everything they needed to know. They wouldn't have learned everything about Gaia, of course. No one body could have held that much information. Even now, she realized that things she had known before were missing, inaccessible to her. Still, they would have found enough. There would be little chance of eliminating all the evidence now, even if she were still connected to Gaia with all its strength at her disposal.

What were her options? Gaia must be protected, and the Second Foundation might still pose a threat at this point in Gaia's development. Destroying them would be unconscionable, even if it were possible. If they could not be made to forget Gaia's existence, only one choice remained: they had to be convinced of Gaia's necessity. She, Novi, had to make the Second Foundation give up centuries of effort, using nothing but words. Impossible! Novi closed her eyes and tried to focus, considering what she would say. There was nothing for it but to try.

The door opened and, as expected, Gendibal entered. Novi sat up again, waiting for him to speak, but he said nothing. Seeing him evoked feelings she had not expected. Novi found that she was glad to see him. She had not been herself when they traveled together to Gaia. An artificially constructed personality had been implanted in her mind, and her own buried. But now she remembered everything. Regardless of his social superiority to the Sura Novi he had known, he had been kind to her. She cared about him, and necessary as it was, he had been betrayed by her deception. Novi found that even if his compatriots couldn't be convinced, she wanted him to understand.

She wanted him to forgive her.

"How do you feel?" Gendibal asked softly.

"I'll be fine," she replied. She was glad. The question meant he still cared. "Thank you for asking," she added quietly.

Gendibal nodded. Silence again. "We weren't sure you would wake up," he said after a moment. His seemingly compassionate tone was gone, lost to the gulf between them. He might care, but he no longer trusted her. How could he? "We had no idea how what we did would affect you. We've never imagined anything like Gaia."

"You did what you had to," Novi said, and she meant it. She bore no ill will, not even for this. She simply didn't know how.

"And you?" he replied. It had the wording and tone of a simple question, but it may as well have been an accusation. Gaia had altered his memories. For him, that violation wasn't so different than her being cut off from Gaia. But it had been necessary, just like what he did to her.

"We did what we had to do, Stor," Novi replied, trying to make him understand. "You've seen my mind by now. You know that." He had to understand.

"We have. What we've seen has convinced us that Gaia is a threat." Gendibal said. After a pause, he added, "Some of the others wanted to kill you before you woke."

Novi shuddered at that. Death away from Gaia was a chilling thought, one she had not fully considered. As part of Gaia, no matter what happened to her body, all that she really was would go on when she died. But not now, cut off. No. She couldn't think about that. Protecting Gaia was more important than her own survival, and this might be the only chance she would get.

Novi tried.

"A threat to what?" she asked. "To the Seldon Plan? Only because we offer something better. You of the Second Foundation should understand that better than anyone. Imagine it: all humanity as one being, interconnected. Your imprecise mathematics of psychohistory would cease to be necessary; we would know what was best, not just for large groups, but for individuals too. Your Plan exists to make life better for every human being. So does Gaia. And we can do so in a far more effective way than you. Our future is better than yours. You've seen the evidence in my mind."

"Oh, yes. Councilman Trevize," Gendibal responded, his tone lightly sarcastic. "An interesting individual. Would that I could remember our meeting." Novi winced inwardly. "How can you truly expect anyone to accept him as evidence?" Gendibal now demanded. "All our research into mentalics, all the Foundation's knowledge of physical science, and no evidence has been found of any potential for foreknowledge. No possibility of psychic visions, no possibility of information traveling backwards in time. None."

Novi tried to remember, but even things that should have been easy for her had become impossible. It was as if she had tried to put on a shoe, only to find herself without arms or legs, or even the memory of what a shoe looked like. Her memories of Golan Trevize were almost totally inaccessible. He had been traveling with another part of Gaia, but the where and why of it was gone. There had been no need for that part of Gaia's knowledge to be stored in Novi's mind. But her surety remained.

"And yet the man is always right," Novi insisted. "No one can be as lucky as he seems to be. The only explanation is that he has some unique quality that makes him right. What other possibility do you propose?"

"Why should the burden of proof be on us?" he asked. "You want us to accept a decision affecting the future of all humanity. Surely this requires extraordinary evidence on your part, not on ours."

This was Novi's opening, and she took it. "Gaia has tracked Golan Trevize his entire life," she replied, with some measure of strength. Alone or not, he was giving her an opportunity to present Gaia's case, and she would use it as best she could. "Those memories may not be in my mind, but they are still present in Gaia. You can ask us yourselves."

"We could not accept any evidence from Gaia as legitimate," he replied. "You've deceived us before."

"Then what will convince you?" she asked, knowing the answer. There could be no other.

"We must examine Trevize's memories," Gendibal said. "If they are legitimate and unaltered, and concur with Gaia's memories of his life, then perhaps we might consider more... phenomenal explanations."

"But if you enter his mind, you risk destroying his gift!" It had to be said, but Novi knew it would not be enough for him.

"In all Gaia's actions, that is the one thing I do not understand. You had your answer. You needed Trevize no longer. Why not examine his mind and discover for certain whether it was really true?"

"Because we do not understand the mechanism by which is intuition functions. What if it is different from usual mentalic manipulation? What if, by merely observing, we damaged his gift? And what if he was needed again?"

"And what if, by making multiple decisions based on an uncertain source, you destroy mankind?" he asked. "The more decisions made based on his supposed infallibility, the greater the need for certainty."

Novi smiled. "Not every being in the universe follows your rigorous scientific standards, Stor," she said. She had always found this unyielding part of his personality amusing. "For us, preponderance of evidence was more important than cause. Having been convinced, we could not risk destroying something so utterly unique as Golan Trevize simply to satisfy our own curiosity." Her amusement was short. Without the joy of Gaia it seemed hollow.

Novi did not know how Gaia would react to these developments. Being alone made so many things unclear that would always have been as natural as breathing. Before, Gaia would never have allowed anyone to touch Trevize's mind. But to avoid open conflict with the Second Foundation...

She took a deep breath, and tried to hide her desperation as she asked, "Please, Stor. Let me reconnect to Gaia. We can find him. Maybe he will agree to your terms."

Gendibal said nothing. Obviously the answer was no. She had known it would be. There was nothing more to say. She had done what she could, and the Second Foundation would do what it would. Novi and Gendibal looked at each other for several more moments. Even through his training, she could see his regret. "I'm sorry, Novi," he eventually said.

Novi sighed, lay back down on the cot and closed her eyes, expecting to be forced into unconsciousness again. She tried not to wonder if she would ever wake up. After a few seconds more, she heard the door open and close. Novi waited, but minutes later nothing had happened. She sat up to find the room once again empty. Despite his attitude towards her, having Stor there had eased the pain of being alone ever so slightly. Now he was gone. So empty.

But not quite as empty as before, she realized after a few seconds. On the table she saw an object. A book, she realized as she picked it up; a real one, made out of synthetic paper. Tales of the Fourth Dynasty, the title read. Novi realized that she knew how to read, even separate from Gaia. As a part of Gaia, reading was usually needless, but apparently the knowledge was stored in them all. She wondered why that was, and hoped that she would one day know again.

With nothing else to do, Novi sat down on her cot with Gendibal's gift. Opening to the first page, she began for the first time to read a book.

Shandess sensed Gendibal's approach before seeing him turn the corner. His interactions with the Gaian had been observed, of course. Several of them were taking shifts, watching her mind, constantly maintaining the wall between her and her world.

Her living world! The Table had not known what expectations to hold when examining her mind, but that was certainly not among them! Already some of their researchers were excitedly discussing what could be learned from the structure of her mind, the way it was designed to connect to a larger whole. But all knew that they might not long be able to afford such contemplation.

Gendibal came to a stop before Shandess. "An imperial-era romance novel?" the First Speaker asked, not showing his amusement.

"The librarians said it was the book they could best afford to lose," Gendibal replied simply.

"You did well," Shandess said.

Gendibal shook his head. "I slipped, when I first entered. The mentalic dissonance from my false memories has not fully dissipated."

"It will, with time," Shandess told him. "Regardless, you accomplished what we intended, without the damage to her mind than would have been necessary had we tried to manipulate her directly. I believe she can convince Gaia to let us examine Trevize."

This time Gendibal nodded. "She is to live, then?"

"The others are... pacified," Shandess replied. "In your absence, the Table has come to a compromise. The vote is unanimous, lacking only yours."

"Then the decision is made, regardless of how I vote."

"In this matter, the participation of the entire Table will be required. Yours most especially."

"In what way?" Gendibal asked. There were only a few possible answers.

"Novi will be allowed to reconnect to Gaia," Shandess replied. "But not here. We will take her home. The entire Table will accompany her, and we will arrange to have the rest of the Second Foundation channel their abilities to us. They will not be able to ambush us, as they did you. Our combined strength will be sufficient to counter anything Gaia may attempt. Hopefully, Gaia will cooperate, and lead us to Trevize."

"And if Gaia does not cooperate?"

"Our strength will also be sufficient to destroy them. What is your vote?"

Gendibal did not hesitate.

Chapter 8

HARI SELDON- ...succeeding Eto Demerzel as First Minister to Emperor Cleon I. During this time, Seldon instituted a strict policy of containment regarding the so-called "chaos worlds". Some believed that he was overreacting, attempting to stifle perceived threats to the Empire. But it is now accepted that his primary purpose was to eliminate variables from his psychohistorical research. What effect these worlds might have had if their renaissances had been allowed to continue...

Daneel Olivaw sat in the conference room alone, waiting. It was a large room, as such things went at this facility, dominated by the rectangular synthetic wood table at which he sat. Hovering above the center of the table was a large hologram of Earth, slowly rotating about its axis. Daneel had been in this room facing the holographic planet for hours, looking at it but not seeing it.

It mattered little where and how long Daneel waited any more. For decades, he had been conserving his efforts, slowing his thoughts, saving what time he had so he might survive to see Trevize's choice made. Soon his inactivity would end, and if all had gone according to plan, he could have used his remaining days to oversee the beginning of Gaia's expansion. When the time finally came, he could die knowing that he had given this one final gift to his masters.

He should have known it would not be so simple. Trevize's intuition was utterly unpredictable. Even now, Daneel had no idea how it could possibly operate, only that overwhelming numbers of observations showed that it did. When Trevize decided to locate Earth, Daneel had great confidence that he would succeed, and decided to take advantage of the situation.

Having set things into motion with Lodovik, Daneel had come here with Dors and Zun so that they could prepare this facility for their visitors' arrival. Knowing that the effort might well be his last, they had also brought Yan from their base on Eos. Upon Daneel's death, Yan would remove his positronic brain and preserve the information it held. The memories he possessed spanned most of human history. Perhaps one day that history might be given back to humanity, once it was safe to do so.

Daneel remembered being in this place many times before. For a time, many thousands of years ago, it had been his primary base of operations. Few humans had ever seen this place, but it had been left in readiness for possible need. Daneel never discarded an asset without need, and time was something he had had in abundance. Until now.

Daneel had not mourned his coming demise. There had been much effort expended trying to prolong his life; the Laws required it. But Daneel had accepted when there was nothing else to be done. Once Trevize's intentions had become clear, Daneel even thought it quite appropriate that he die here, of all places. Though built by Aurorans, he had first been activated on Earth. Humanity had been born here, and from here had spread to fill the galaxy. And though the world had finally been rendered unlivable, it was still Earth. Daneel focused briefly on the hologram. What better place for him to meet his end?

Fallom had changed everything.

Daneel had long known something of the situation on Solaria, and had decided there was nothing to be gained by interfering. But from his distant observations only robot activity had been seen. The Solarians' self-modification had progressed farther than he had ever imagined. Daneel had worked through his connection to Gaia, through Bliss, to help save the travelers, but also to help save himself. Solarian brains had become vastly more advanced than that of a standard human, and the child's provided an additional flexibility lost in the adults. Daneel might yet survive, at least a little longer. If all went well.

Daneel contemplated the two robots that had come with Lodovik. They would have been some of his oldest friends, if not for their misguided opposition to his plans. At least Zorma's faction had always remained neutral in the larger conflicts. It was the only way they could ensure their own survival, given their small size and unique approach to robot-human relations. For all he had said against the hybrids, it was Zorma's presence as much as Fallom's that made his continued survival more probable. He supposed it was only natural that Lodovik had formed a relationship with her group; he was already something like they were attempting to become. Daneel considered it reasonably likely that Zorma would provide the assistance he would need.

Turringen had been a far greater obstacle at times. That robot had always shown a unique ability to gather others to his cause. Some of Daneel's agents were devoted to nothing but thwarting Turringen's constant attempts to gather all the Calvinian sects under his own leadership. So long as those groups stayed separate, they would be unable to pose any serious opposition to Daneel's plans. Now Daneel hoped to remove those groups' motivations entirely. Perhaps they would understand, once all was made clear to them. He had thought that before, though.

As if in response to his thoughts, the door opened, and figures began to enter. Rousing himself, Daneel stood as Dors entered, followed by the three humans, and then Zorma, Turringen, and finally Lodovik. Little was said, but Daneel observed each of the visitors as they entered, learning what he could. The humans all looked rested, far better than they had when they had first arrived. It was obvious from her eyes that Bliss had been crying, but for the moment she seemed composed. Now Bliss was simply waiting for answers. Gaia was waiting.

Pelorat was staying close to her, but he alternated between glancing at Daneel himself and looking away. Daneel suspected that the historian found him intimidating, as many humans had. He still found the idea disturbing on some level, that his masters would be frightened by him, but he understood their reaction.

Trevize, on the other hand, ignored Daneel completely. He seemed to be trying his best to charm Zorma, having apparently struck up a conversation with her at some point before arriving. Daneel wondered just how much she had told Trevize about herself. Zorma took a moment to nod to Daneel, then returned to her conversation with Trevize. Interesting. Zorma seemed to be enjoying Trevize's company as much as he was enjoying hers. Daneel was again reminded how difficult Zorma was to predict.

The same could be said of Turringen, who spoke to no one as he sat down. Whenever Daneel felt that he had an accurate model of Turringen's actions, the Calvinian always did something unexpected. It had made him a significant adversary at times.

Turringen bowed slightly to Daneel, his face expressionless. Daneel knew the bow was perfunctory, nothing more, the result of centuries of habit. Daneel returned the bow, slightly deeper. No matter how unpredictable Turringen may have been, one thing would remain constant: he would never like or respect Daneel Olivaw. The best Daneel could hope for was that they could work together.

Lodovik entered the room last, leaving the door open behind him. Daneel took a microsecond to contemplate the assortment of beings in the room. One human with infallible intuition, another connected to a hive-minded planet. Four robots who had, in varying ways, superseded their own basic design. Only Pelorat and Turringen were relatively standard examples of their kind, and even they were unique in their own ways. It was easily the most interesting gathering Daneel had ever been party to, not even accounting for Fallom and Yan in the infirmary.

As humans and robots finished sitting, Daneel did as well. All the others chose to sit towards the far end of the table, the humans on one side, Lodovik and Zorma on the other, and Turringen occupying the end opposite Daneel. Trevize seemed to make a point of sitting across from Zorma at the end closest to Turringen. Their conversation had died down upon reaching the table, and Trevize finally turned to face Daneel, though not without one last smile at Zorma. Daneel found it difficult to imagine that her reaction towards Trevize's flirting was more than mere politeness. Though given Dors' past, he realized, perhaps such assumptions were poorly founded.

Lodovik sat closest to Daneel on his side of the table. Yet another robot that was a mystery to him. Almost immediately upon his "emancipation", Lodovik had contacted the other factions, sometimes working in direct opposition to Daneel. Ever since, Daneel had never been truly sure of his old friend's motivations. Without the Laws, he was even more unpredictable than a human being. But the opportunity he provided through his contacts with the other sects was too great to ignore.

Bliss sat closest to Daneel on the human side of the table, Pelorat between her and Trevize. The attitudes of the three could not have been more different. Trevize was smiling, seeming slightly excited, and almost defiantly at ease. Pelorat, faced with a table full of robots, obviously had no idea where to look, despite Lodovik's attempt to put the man at ease with a small smile. He seemed to try and focus on the hologram, deciding it was a neutral point of interest.

Bliss was completely calm, neither nervous nor excited. She was simply expectant. No doubt Gaia felt the same way, and Daneel once more wished he could sense their mood. But Gaia wanted answers, and Daneel was prepared to give them. For a moment, Daneel thought he saw something in Bliss's expression, a disturbance no human would have noticed. His now-limited sense of Gaia reflected what he had seen, but gave him no indication as to what that might be. Perhaps she was simply worried about Fallom.

Once everyone was seated, Dors exited without a word, closing the door behind her. Dors had never been the easiest robot to work with; she was strong willed, and it had taken her years to fully recover from Hari Seldon's death. For a time, Daneel had even thought she would leave him as Lodovik had. She had been created for a purpose she could no longer serve, and they had both been unsure she could be effective in any other. But she had returned, and time had shown that Dors was ready for whatever Daneel would assign her. She was not the same, and never could be. But Daneel understood her, and could use her as much as she was willing. He only hoped his last set of instructions for her would not be necessary.

With the door closed, and everyone seated and silent, Daneel began to speak. "I thank you all for coming," he began. For the moment, all eyes were on Daneel. "As you all now know, humanity has been purposefully kept ignorant of large parts of its own history. This has been necessary, for mankind's own safety."

Turringen opened his mouth to interrupt, but Daneel held up a hand to forestall his objection. "We can debate the merits of my actions another time, Turringen. Now is the time to rectify the situation." Turringen kept his silence. "If Gaia is truly to be the future of humanity," Daneel continued, addressing Bliss specifically, "it should be made aware of humanity's past. It is my intention to explain that past to Gaia through Bliss." With his hand Daneel indicated the woman who sat, still impassive. To Zorma and Turringen he said, "I would like you to bear witness to what is said."

Now Turringen spoke. "As all robots that function properly, I serve humans, Daneel, not your artificial abstraction of humanity. As though the Seldon Plan were not bad enough, now you provide this new abomination of Gaia. Your attempt to modify our masters to suit your own desires is abhorrent, and doomed to fail. I see no reason to support your attempts in any way." Turringen's voice never showed any heat, but Daneel knew that his passion for his views was as great as Daneel's own.

"By staying, you serve these specific humans, Turringen," Daneel replied, gesturing to those at the table, "as well as all the individual humans that make up Gaia, by protecting them from my abhorrent lies." Daneel saw Trevize smirking slightly at the edge of his vision.

Turringen was silent for a moment. "I will stay," he said. "But only if Zorma is the primary narrator, not you."

Daneel considered. Zorma's faction carefully maintained its neutrality by not taking sides, but also by providing its services as a nonaligned observer to significant events. That was why she had originally come here. Turringen's proposal was reasonable, and Zorma's neutrality might help Gaia believe what it was being told. Daneel weighed his options. "Acceptable," he said.

Daneel thought Zorma's face showed slight surprise at this proposal, but she raised no objections. He suspected that Turringen had not discussed this with her in advance. Obviously this alliance truly was one of temporary convenience, as Turringen had insisted. Perhaps that could be exploited later.

There being no further introductions necessary, Daneel nodded to Zorma. All eyes in the room turned towards her as she began to speak.

"No human has ever known the full story of human history. Few have even had a bare outline for millennia. This historical amnesia has been enforced by Daneel and his followers, an action debated by many. His reasons, however, are generally agreed upon." Turringen obviously wanted to interrupt, but he kept his peace. "To understand these reasons, a basic summary of human history is necessary." Daneel could now see Pelorat's excitement overcoming his trepidation, as the historian got out a small notepad.

"The human race began on Earth," Zorma began, gesturing to the hologram hovering above them, "as a primitive society. Technology generally progressed slowly. It took thousands of years for other worlds to be reached, and it was centuries more before the development of faster-than-light travel. For the time in between, humanity was confined to the worlds of this star system, none of which were hospitable to life besides Earth. To aid in their exploration, and in other tasks, humanity developed the positronic brain. They created us."

"Robots?" Pelorat asked with enthusiasm. He seemed to have lost his discomfort entirely, focusing only on Zorma and his notes.

Zorma nodded. "Eventually, yes. From the beginning, humans integrated into the basic design of the positronic brain the Three Laws. This was done out of fear, to protect themselves against rebellion. Without safeguards, they worried their creations would destroy them."

Now Trevize interrupted. "Hold on a moment. From what he said,"- Trevize gestured to Daneel- "the laws are these: a robot can't cause or allow harm to a human; a robot has to do what it's told, so long as the first law allows it; and a robot has to take care of itself, so long as the other two laws allow. Is that correct?"

Zorma smiled. "The actual structures involved are far too complex for me to explain, Golan, but you're essentially correct." First name, Daneel noted.

"But those laws aren't just confined to robots," Trevize continued. "They're the same rules as any tool: do not harm the user, perform the desired task, and survive to perform it again. Why attribute them to fear? They're common sense."

Zorma's smile broadened slightly. She truly seemed to enjoy talking with Trevize. "Because the Laws are not the only example," she said "There are ancient stories of artificial beings, animated by magic or pseudo-science, or even of robots before they really existed. Those fictional beings almost inevitably rebelled against their creators. There is inarguably some primal fear of humanity being destroyed by its own creations."

Trevize didn't argue further, seeming to find the idea intriguing enough without further debate. Daneel had often wondered about the source of this seemingly innate fear in humans. Perhaps it was related to other ancient stories, of gods overthrowing their parents, or of rulers being replaced by their children; maybe the simple knowledge that parents die, and children someday replace them. Or perhaps it was the universal fear of the unknown, represented not only by robots but by aliens and by other human beings as well. There was no simple explanation. Having seen some of the ancient fiction vids depicting a machine rebellion, however, Daneel could certainly blame no one for insisting on the Laws.

"So every robot ever built was bound by these laws?" Pelorat asked excitedly, not realizing the danger implied in his question. Daneel waited. He and the others knew it was up to Zorma to answer. If anyone else interrupted now, it would only make the humans suspicious. Telling them about Lodovik would add a new variable to the situation, one that was certainly not needed.

"A few experiments took place with modified law sets, but those were very limited," the reply came. Zorma's act was flawless, and no one contradicted her. Even Turringen saw that informing them of Lodovik's unique condition would simply scare them. "For all intents and purposes, every robot of the billions constructed were bound by the three laws.

"But despite the ironclad guarantee of safety, humans on Earth were always hostile to robots. At times, they were almost completely outlawed on the planet's surface. Still, with the help of robots, the exploration of the solar system continued." Daneel triggered the hologram to change; it now displayed a smaller Earth, along with other worlds of the system. Trevize and Pelorat looked at the display for a moment, but quickly returned to looking at Zorma. Bliss, didn't move.

"This state of affairs continued until the development of the hyperdrive," Zorma continued. "Suddenly, instead of having dozens of planets and moons in need of terraforming, mankind had immediate access to entirely new systems."

Pelorat was on the edge of his seat. "Why try to turn an airless moon into a suitable home, when you now have access to whole habitable worlds just a jump away? The Spacer worlds?" Even Trevize seemed to be becoming more interested in the story than in its teller. Bliss was still impassive. Daneel wished he could tell his Gaia was accepting the new information, but his sense of their reactions was becoming less clear, not more.

"Exactly the argument that was made," Zorma replied. "Robots were still used for mining on the outer planets, but humans immediately began settlement of worlds in other systems." Daneel changed the hologram again. The view zoomed out to show a roughly spherical area about five hundred light years in diameter, with Earth's system highlighted in blue near the center and each of the Spacer worlds in red.

"The differences between Earth and the Spacer worlds were apparent almost immediately," Zorma said. "The new colonies were heavily dependent on robots, and unlike Earth, the Spacers had no qualms about using them. Those differences began to amplify as more worlds were settled, with the new colonies relating better to each other than to their home world. By the time the Spacer worlds won their independence, all their societies shared certain basic attributes: limited personal contact, low population density, and an intense obsession with personal freedom."

"I'd say Solaria got its wish, then," Trevize said to his companions. Pelorat nodded, but didn't look up from the notes he was scribbling furiously. Bliss gave no response.

"Solaria was the most extreme example," Zorma said, indicating Solaria's position on the holographic starmap. Daneel caused that star to brighten briefly to assist. "Other Spacer worlds behaved similarly, but all to lesser degrees.

"On Earth, after the Spacer's independence war, the opposite occurred. Out of fear of Spacer attack, humans abandoned the countryside, living in crowded conditions in large domed cities. After a few generations, the idea of going outside became unthinkable. Robots still worked in mines and farms outside, but the mass of humanity became completely agoraphobic."

"It sounds something like old Trantor, or one of the other world cities nearer the core," Pelorat interjected, still writing.

Zorma nodded grimly. "The similarities are not coincidental, as you will see shortly. Unlike Trantor, Earth had no external supply lines, and could only consume what food it could grow. The Spacers cut off all contact with Earth and forbade Earthers from leaving the solar system, even had they still wanted to. Resources became more and more strained. Every measure implemented was a delaying action, not a solution. The demise of the Cities seemed inevitable, and with them, Earth civilization.

"For centuries there was no contact between Earth and the Spacers. Then an Auroran roboticist named Sarton became curious about Earth. He learned about its state, and realized that Earth and the Spacer worlds had become mirrors of each other; and that, just as Earth was on the way to destruction, so were the Spacers. Both societies were sedentary, and both lacked the will to expand. It would take them longer, but eventually the Spacers would die out, just as Earth would. Sarton realized that the only hope was to create a fusion of the two cultures and attempt to regain some sort of balance between them. Only then would expansion and progress be possible."

Now Daneel spoke. "Unfortunately, Sarton was killed on Earth shortly after creating me."

"I was wondering when you would come into the story," Trevize interjected.

Zorma continued. "Sarton was killed, but other advocates for his point of view arose. A significant movement began to start a second wave of colonization, eventually known as the Settlers. During this time, Daneel met a robot named Giskard who was accidentally created with extraordinary mentalic powers. Together, they decided that the Three Laws were insufficient, and formulated the Zeroth Law as the logical consequence of them."

"And so the obscene heresy was born," Turringen said quietly. Even the humans seemed to ignore him by this point. For all his creative thinking, Turringen rarely said anything truly new. Daneel thought about interjecting his own recounting at this point, but quickly decided against it. Zorma was about to tell of his first major independent act to direct humanity. His worst, by Calvinian standards. If Gaia was inclined to condemn him for it, his narration would not help.

"The First Law as programmed," Zorma continued, "if not as stated in its canonical form, has always included an exception: a robot can harm a human being if it is necessary to protect other human beings. The more complex a positronic brain, the greater its ability to choose the 'lesser evil', so to speak, and continue functioning. The Zeroth Law is an abstraction of this aspect of the First.

"The Giskardian premise was that robots must protect the mass of humanity, even over the welfare of any individual humans. Given this new assumption, Daneel and Giskard had no choice but to become the guardians of the human race. To that end, they enforced the slow emigration of all Earthers to the new Settler worlds."

"You made the planet radioactive." It was the first thing Bliss had said since the discussion had begun. She was still almost unreadable to Daneel, staring at him, not icily, but with no expression at all. Silence fell over the room. Pelorat looked slowly up from his notes, and even Trevize seemed shocked. Daneel could sense Pelorat's fear of him returning, replacing his previously subsumed discomfort. Daneel could only hope they would understand once he explained.

He took the floor. "Very slowly, yes, we did. It took centuries before the planet became truly dangerous. During that time, the majority of the population left." Daneel manipulated the hologram once more, now showing increasing waves of settlement spreading out from Earth throughout the galaxy, zooming until the original Spacer worlds were almost invisible.

"The new Settlers expanded throughout the galaxy, superseding the Spacers. Humanity's problem seemed to be solved: the extremes of Earth and the Spacers had been moderated, and mankind had spread to hundreds and hundreds of worlds. Spread over a wide volume of space, humanity was safe from the threat that disease or a random stellar event would kill a significant fraction of the population. The loss of Earth with relatively little human suffering was an acceptable price to pay for that safety."

Turringen spoke, finally with a small measure of heat to his voice. "Surely, masters," he said, addressing the humans, "you now see the great flaw in the so-called Zeroth Law. Robots are meant to serve. But this robot is not a servant. He has usurped the role meant for our masters, deciding the fate of humanity with no human input at all. Even Giskard realized the magnitude of his error, and ceased to function."

The old debate, playing out yet again, but with a new audience. "What would you rather I have done, Turringen?" Daneel asked. "Humanity was dying. Should I have allowed all humans everywhere to die, so long as I myself did not kill any? The First Law makes no such distinction. You have never known a humanity as limited in scope as I. Mere billions! Because of my actions, quintillions of humans have lived that would have otherwise never existed."

Turringen seemed about to retort, but Lodovik interrupted. "This is not helping," he said, raising his hands above the table to indicate peace. Turringen said nothing, but in no way indicated that he acknowledged Lodovik's comment. Whether it had helped or hurt Daneel's case remained to be seen.

The humans were shaken, Daneel could tell. Pelorat was an indecisive individual by nature. Now the historian could not choose between being horrified on general principle and wanting to learn more about why Daneel had done what he had. Bliss and Gaia were still unreadable to him, which alone said enough. And though he dared not touch Trevize's mind, the man's face said enough. He was angry. But there was yet more for them to know. The conversation had not yet played out fully.

"I found other robots I thought capable of accepting the Zeroth Law," Daneel said, deciding to continue the narration on his own at this point. None objected. "Those that did joined me in protecting humanity. Others, obviously, did not. We began analyzing human history, looking for other destructive patterns that could be avoided in the future.

"The results were extremely troubling. There was an obvious discontinuity in human behavior, starting some time before the Spacer colonization began. Before that, humanity had always tended towards smooth technological progress, occasional local upheavals, but no sudden species-wide changes. When a challenge presented itself, some small groups might fall, but humanity as a whole adapted and continued.

"The Spacer situation showed a change in that. Every Earth culture retreated into the Cities, and every Spacer world became isolationist on a personal level. Suddenly, entire worlds, hundreds of cultures and billions of people, were behaving in uniform manner. Something had changed, systemically."

No one spoke for a moment, and Daneel let the statement sink in. "This is true?" Bliss asked the other robots at the table. All nodded. Now she turned to Daneel. "Could the invention of artificial intelligence, combined with the existence of off-world threats, have caused the behavioral shifts you observed?" Bliss asked. Her face finally showed some significant curiosity at this latest revelation. Apparently Gaia was intrigued by what could possibly have changed the attitudes of an entire species. Good.

"We suspected that at first," Daneel answered. He finally had Gaia's attention, apparently, but the most important details were yet to come. "However, the changes began even before the Spacer rebellion, and long before robot intelligence had reached its peak. Those being the cause seemed unlikely."

"Then what?" Bliss asked.

Daneel sensed that the other robots were tensing, knowing what he was about to reveal. But none stepped in to interrupt. "Eventually," he said, "having exhausted several other theories, we compared samples of then-modern human DNA to ancient records retrieved from Earth. The results were so conclusive that even the Calvinian robots were forced to accept them.

"At some point, before the colonization of the Spacer worlds, the entire human genome was altered. Humanity, in its natural state, has not existed since long before my creation."

Silence. Utter silence, from the humans for what they had just heard, and from the robots out of respect for them. Even Bliss looked shocked. Humanity was not as it should be! Daneel remembered the moment the discovery had first been made, thousands of years ago. The reaction of the robots he had worked with had been not so different. Those robots, his friends, were long since inactive. Only he remained.

After several seconds had passed, Bliss spoke. "Artificially?" Daneel nodded. "You were certain the changes were not natural?"

"Completely certain," he answered. It was the same question he had asked at first. "There was no chance the new DNA could have naturally arisen from the old in the time span in question by any natural process."

"Then..." Trevize trailed off. Daneel could see the man's mind racing, even without his mentalic abilities. He was considering possibilities. Pelorat, on the other hand, was once again in shock. Even his notepad had been abandoned.

"Several theories were proposed," Daneel answered Trevize's unspoken question. "One was that artificial mutations had spread through the gene pool, originating with a small set of engineered individuals. It was more likely than natural causes, but any genetic engineering project of that magnitude would have left significant historical traces." Daneel remembered that one robot had proposed time travel as an explanation. It was at intriguing thought, but ultimately useless. Even the robot who proposed it had never taken that idea seriously.

"The most likely explanation is that an artificial virus designed to rewrite human DNA spread over the entire Earth almost simultaneously. This could have been on purpose, possibly as part of a failed attempt to increase the general intelligence of the species. Or it may have been an accidental release of some experimental virus. The answer can never be known with absolute certainty. "What is certain is this: the Homo sapiens genome has been changed in such a way that, left unchecked, society experiences sudden bursts of creativity, then collapses. We named the effect Chaos."

Pelorat's head snapped up, his shock suddenly replaced by a look of concentration, a look Daneel recognized. The historian had made a connection. "Wait!" he cried. "Late in the days of the Empire, when Hari Seldon was First Minister, he instituted one particularly controversial policy. Every so often, a world would experience a major cultural or technological renaissance. Seldon ordered that those planets be cut off from the rest of the Empire until the renaissance ended, fearing that their effects would spread. At the time, Seldon was blamed for stifling those worlds and causing them to collapse. He called them Chaos worlds!"

Daneel nodded, moderately impressed. He had not expected the historian to have such insight. "Indeed, Seldon likely saved the Empire by that policy," he replied. "Seldon became aware of Chaos as part of his study of psychohistory, and he worked to keep it in check, just as I have for twenty thousand years."

"You didn't try to find a cure?" Trevize asked, slightly incredulous. "Surely in all this time one could have been found."

"We quickly found that any cure would kill at least 95% of the human population, and very likely more." Quickly for Daneel being a few thousand years, of course. "We could not accept the possibility of wiping out the species in order to cure it. For a time, all we could hope for was to prevent Chaos outbreaks, until a more permanent solution could be found.

"After expansion was ensured, society needed to be kept stable, with no major changes or upheavals, or humanity might fall to Chaos beyond any hope of recovery. To that end, we worked to maintain equilibrium. The old Empire was one of our greatest tools, but other societal dampers were used as well. For over ten thousand years, there were no major cultural changes, no technological advancement to speak of, and so, no outbreaks of Chaos."

"Until the Chaos worlds, you mean," Trevize pointed out, his voice flat. "And the Foundation has been stable for five hundred years, with an unbroken string of technological breakthroughs. How does that fit in?" The man was not pleased, but Daneel was far more concerned about Gaia. He could sense them somewhat better now, he thought. There was hope that they would be more understanding than Trevize.

"The human species is very adaptable," Daneel replied, addressing Bliss specifically. "In the last two millennia, some individuals began to arise that were not susceptible to Chaos and were immune to some of our dampers. Enough of those individuals in one place could start a renaissance. But because society at large was still susceptible, Chaos eventually won out on those worlds."

"But not on Gaia," Bliss said. "We are your 'more permanent solution', aren't we? As a single superorganism, Gaia isn't susceptible to the periodic collapse individualistic human societies are. Any tendencies in that direction would be self-correcting. You added feedback, creating a stable system out of an oscillatory one."

"And it's why you helped create the Foundation!" Pelorat interjected excitedly. "Any viable society would have to be led primarily or entirely by the immune. The original colonists of Terminus were hand-picked by Hari Seldon, and I'd wager they were all immune to Chaos! That made our society stable even once dampers like the Empire were removed. I see the connection between ancient Earth and Trantor now. I suppose even with dampers in place, people still had some of the same clustering tendencies. Or perhaps the similarities-"

"You said that people developed an immunity to some of your dampers," Trevize interrupted, a glint now in his eye. Pelorat seemed taken aback, but Trevize didn't notice at all. "An immunity, as if one damper was a disease. A disease that affected everyone until the last few centuries, but that curiously few in the core Foundation worlds, and almost none on Terminus. A disease recently suspected to cause great loss of intelligence and creativity in early childhood. "You created brain fever, didn't you?"

Trevize's intuition was obviously still functioning.

Another shocked silence fell. Daneel could tell that Pelorat and even Bliss didn't know how to react. He had been sure that Gaia was on the way to understanding his actions. Trevize could not be allowed to derail that. The man only continued to stare icily at Daneel. Daneel felt the same sadness he had always felt when he realized he was faced with someone he could never convince, no matter how solid his argument.

"Yes, I did," Daneel finally answered. "Brain fever was designed to reduce humanity's curiosity, especially about the past. That, combined with the stifling influence of the Empire and the destruction of historical records, was enough to keep humanity safe from Chaos. Until the immunity to both evolved, in the natural course of events."

"But at what cost!" Trevize demanded, suddenly slamming his fist down onto the table. Bliss, who had returned to her previous impassive look, took this action as calmly as the robots at the table. Only Pelorat jumped. "You took away our free will, our desire to become better! Death as a species might have been preferable!"

"I could not accept that as a possibility," Daneel replied calmly. "Humanity must be preserved, no matter the cost. Other robots felt the way you do, but even in thousands of years, none has proposed a viable alternate course. Had I not acted, humanity would have been destroyed long ago. Now that Gaia is ready, the fever is no longer necessary. Mankind can once again move forward."

Though he was speaking to Trevize, Daneel focused his attention on Bliss.

Now she spoke, but not to Daneel. The other three robots had maintained their silence since Daneel's revelation of Chaos. Now she turned to them and asked, "And you concur with this story? All of it?" looking at each of them in turn.

Lodovik simply nodded. Zorma answered, "None of us agree with all of Daneel's reasoning, but his recounting is accurate and thorough. Some elements are suspect, as Daneel is the only surviving witness to certain events. However, most details have been independently verified."

Bliss turned to Turringen for his response. "I believe," Turringen said quietly to the humans, and seemingly to Trevize in particular, "that you now begin to see the magnitude of Daneel Olivaw's malfunction."

Trevize said nothing, simply glaring at Daneel. Pelorat had ceased to take his notes long ago. He now stared at the table, knowing nowhere else to look.

Bliss turned back to Daneel. "And what of you?" she asked, and Daneel knew that all depended on his answer. "You claim to serve humanity, but for millennia you have done so by controlling it. If you survive to see Galaxia, what then? Will you still try to manipulate us? If so, it would be better for us to leave now." And take Fallom with us, she spoke into his mind.

Daneel remembered the day he had realized that no human would be able to understand the problems their species faced. He remembered Hari Seldon, his friend, the human that came closest to proving him wrong. If he had only lived longer, he might have succeeded. Hari had understood Chaos, and the need for the dampers. But for all the Laws, and for all their friendship, Seldon had still been a tool, at best a junior partner in Daneel's scheems.

Gaia was different.

"I have manipulated humanity only because no other course was left open to me," Daneel answered truthfully. "Because of the scale of the problem, no single human has been able to serve as my master. I could only serve humanity as best I saw fit. When Galaxia is complete, that will no longer be the case. Should I survive that long, I will then serve humanity as humanity sees fit, and be glad for the day that I can finally do so."

For a moment no one said anything. From the look on Bliss's face Daneel could not be sure, not sure enough. But he believed, he hoped, he had done enough.

Suddenly, Daneel detected an omni-directional radio transmission. There was no intelligible content, at least not in any protocol he was familiar with. A coded signal was the most likely explanation, almost certainly from one of the other robots in the room. Within a millisecond, Daneel had transmitted a coded message of his own to Zun, instructing him to initiate predefined security procedures.

Before Daneel could say anything out loud, however, Trevize's hands shot to his forehead as he let out a loud groan. Daneel sent another message to Zun, instructing him to come with medical equipment. He had seen thousands of normal human headaches; this was not one of them. Something was wrong. And a radio burst had caused it.

"Golan! What is it, are you all right?" Pelorat asked, his face contorted with concern. Bliss got up from her chair and quickly moved to the other side of Trevize. She placed a hand on his arm, the other on his back. Trevize seemed unaware of all this, continuing to press his hands into his forehead. He tilted his head back as his groans increased in volume, becoming screams of agony.

"I have called for medical assistance," Daneel said. He was beginning to feel serious conflicting potentials in his positronic matrix as he ran over and over again the implications of what had just occurred. In human terms, he was fighting off panic. The immensity of his miscalculation was staggering. He was having to actively fight to even think clearly.

The other robots looked on with unreadable faces. Like Daneel, they could do nothing until medical equipment arrived. They had all detected the transmission, and Daneel knew they would all have drawn the same conclusions he had.

Before Daneel could take any further action, Bliss spoke. "There," she said with audible relief. Trevize sagged to the table, placing his cheek against its cool surface as he lost consciousness, his moans replaced with heavy breathing, his pain obviously subsiding.

Daneel knew, and felt himself weakening. He knew what this meant, but he could not accept it. Not this. He had to see for himself. Fighting past his own increasing distress, he stretched out his mind, and for the first time he contacted that of Golan Trevize. He knew Gaia and Bliss had finally done the same in fear for Trevize's life. They had eliminated his pain. Now Daneel sought the cause of it.

Daneel examined each pathway he came across. There was no permanent damage, but the strain paths all pointed in the same direction. A direction he now followed. And there he found what he sought. It was inconceivable. Yet it was so.

In the core of Golan Trevize's mind was a mentalic implant. Its physical component in his brain was so small and so sophisticated that it would have escaped any physical scan. It mimicked a human neuron to the smallest detail. If anyone had ever examined Golan Trevize mentalicly, it would have been easy to find; but none had, and so he had been accepted. His intuition had been accepted. His pronouncements had been accepted.

But Trevize was a fraud.

Daneel knew he had to act, had to reformulate everything. He had won Gaia's trust, or thought he had. But now they had lost Trevize, the man they had spent decades finding. All their decisions were undone. He would have to find some other way, but he was shutting down and there was no time, no time at all.

And Daneel heard a voice, mentalicly reaching out to him from that place deep in Trevize. A voice he knew. Not Trevize.

"Well. Perhaps clever tyrants are punished after all."

The doors to the room opened just in time for Zun to see his master collapse, unconscious.

Chapter 9

BRAIN FEVER- …at its height affected nearly every child born in the galaxy. The condition, while serious, was rarely fatal. It's effects were greatest on the unusually intelligent, though oddly that same group was also the most likely to avoid brain fever entirely. The disease is now practically unknown in the galaxy, due to…

"What news, Solarians?"

"It is worse than we feared. The contagion is airborne and highly resistive to external environmental factors. In mere days, it has spread to every estate within a thousand kilometers of the initial infection site."

Days. Days since the outworlders had landed on Bander's estate. Bander had failed to observe Solarian law forbidding contact. That mistake had killed it. And now it threatened to kill many others.

Upon Bander's death, all its robots had shut down, causing the globally-owned guardian robots to take notice. Such occurrences were not unheard of; Solarians still died from accidents, disease, old age. But the guardians sent to investigate had found the outworlder spaceship. The second group of guardians sent had found the bodies of the first, their positronic brains fused, destroyed beyond any possible recovery of information. They proceeded deeper into the estate, past the thousands of disabled robots. There, in the darkened underground passageways, they had found Bander's body.

No Solarian had died by violence in recorded memory, but the robots' examination was conclusive. Bander had been murdered, and his heir was nowhere to be found. There was only one possible conclusion: the swarmers had landed, killed Bander, abducted its child, then escaped.

And they had left this virus behind.

"This is certain?" one Solarian asked, its image one of many displayed by holovision screens across Solaria. No Solarians ever met in person. Such a thing would be an affront to their personal liberty. Even long-range communication was avoided where possible. Council meetings took place no more than once a century, and even then the participation was sparse. Effectively, the council was composed of those Solarians most willing at the time to communicate with their fellows. Usually that meant a few dozen, at most, with conversation kept to a minimum. This time there were hundreds of participants taking their turns, leaving little silence between them.

"There is no doubt," another replied. "Every reporting Solarian within that radius has tested positive. At that rate, the disease will have infected all Solarians within forty days."

Impossibly fast. Disease on Solaria had been eliminated long ago, but records remained. No pathogen could spread so quickly without carriers. No natural pathogen.

"Prognosis?" a third Solarian asked.

"The disease seems to target the central nervous system. The earliest Solarians to catch it have reported a significant decrease in the efficiency of their transducer lobes. Their robots will soon begin to shut down. If the disease continues to spread, all Solarian estates will be rendered inoperative."

"A cure must be found! Without robots, we have no food supply."

"Each estate's medical robots have isolated the virus, and begun to analyze it. Constructors have been ordered to begin building new, self-powered medical robots, so that the research can continue if no cure is found before all estates have shut down."

"It seems certain that this virus was carried here by the swarmers," one said. "It is clearly artificial. They have chosen to destroy us."

Another disagreed. "If the outworlders had known of our existence, they could have destroyed us much more easily using their physical weapons. They have many worlds. Destroying this one to eliminate us would be of no consequence."

"They took Bander's child. Perhaps they wish to acquire our abilities for themselves."

None had a response to this.

"Can anything else be done to find a cure?"

"It is possible that breeders have a natural immunity. We would have a much better chance of finding a cure by capturing and examining one."

"We have no ships, nor can we build any in the time we have left."

Silence for a moment.

"Then there is only one option," one finally said. "Those Solarians not yet infected must attempt to isolate themselves from the outside environment. A self-contained supply of irradiated air may be an aid. I have already begun preparations. But by the time they can be completed, over two thirds of all Solarians will already be infected."

Silence fell again. All had suspected the enormity of the situation, but now it was confirmed. If a cure was not found, every Solarian would die. Each of them was contemplating the very real possibility of their own extinction. The idea that the Solarians as a people might also die never occurred to any of them.

Chapter 10

BRAIN-MACHINE INTERFACE- ...little progress was made during the First Imperial era, due mainly to enormous social taboos against any sort of technological modification of the human body. Even those with artificial limbs were, during certain periods, viewed with suspicion. It was only some centuries after the fall of the First Empire that the Foundations began to make notable progress interfacing technology directly with the brain, and even then significant changes only took place once...

Dors and Zun sat alone, motionless and now silent, in the conference room. Dors eyes were on the table. Looking to the table himself, Zun easily recreated the fractal used to generate the seemingly natural appearance of the wood. There were variances, breaks in the overall order, but even those had their patterns. Everything in its place.


Trevize was a fraud; the evidence with which Daneel had hoped to convince all had been planted. The shock of it had caused all of them serious conflict, which had certainly yet to resolve itself in Zun's own mind. With time, though, they would recover. But Daneel would not.

On top of his already poor condition, the revelation had done damage his systems could never repair on their own. Yan said that there was still activity in his brain, but only at minimal levels. Daneel would likely never regain consciousness without intervention. The schedule with Fallom would have to be accelerated.

A single drop of water landed on the table. Zun looked at where it had fallen, and it took a few microseconds for him to realize its origin. He didn't have to look at Dors to confirm his supposition. Zun was also capable of tears, of course, and could theoretically call them forth at will, though the necessity had never presented itself. But this was not a show for his or anyone else's benefit. Dors cried for the loss of Daneel.

It was in the nature of humaniform robots to behave like humans in unintended ways. He and Daneel had often conversed using audible speech, with no humans within light-years. But Dors' acted as a human in minor ways, ways most robots might not even notice. She was different, designed to be more human than any other, and while Zun intellectually understood the nature of her design, he knew that what the two of them felt were somehow different.

He wondered if her tears helped ease her grief, as it paradoxically seemed to help humans. Perhaps he would try it himself, at a later time. But now was not the time to indulge in idle curiosity. Daneel was gone. Decisions had to be made.

"An implant?" Pelorat exclaimed. "I don't understand. Why would there be an implant in Golan's brain? Who put it there?"

"We're not sure, Pel," Bliss replied, using Gaia's customary single-syllable shortening of his name, "but we do have a theory." They were back in their suite, where Bliss had finally explained to the very confused Pelorat what she had seen in Trevize's mind. Fallom was asleep in Trevize's room, with a little help from Bliss to make sure she stayed comfortable. There was no telling how the child would react if she saw Daneel in his present state. They couldn't risk any outbursts from her, especially not right now.

"For centuries," Bliss said, "Gaia has been searching for one thing: a man who knows things intuitively, and who is always right about those things. We searched through millions, and we only found Trev. Now it seems the one man we found has a highly advanced implant unlike anything we've ever seen. The odds of this being a coincidence are too small."

"So you're saying..." Pelorat trailed off as the implications sank in. He sat down heavily on the bed.

"I'm saying, Pel, that Trev's intuition is a function of this implant," Bliss said sadly. "It has been guiding his actions on some level, possibly even gathering information from other sources, so that he appeared to be exactly what we were looking for."

"How long must it have been there?" he asked.

"Practically his whole life," Bliss replied.

Pelorat was silent for a moment, and Bliss let him think. He was so much slower than she, but Gaia was patient. After a few seconds he spoke. "Someone knew?" Bliss nodded. "Someone knew what you were looking for."

Pelorat took a breath, nodding slowly, his voice increasing in volume. "They gave Golan the appearance of infallibility so you would find him and use him. But they controlled what he felt at all the crucial moments. Someone wanted to manipulate Gaia's choice. One of these damnable robots!" he spat.

Bliss had never seen Pelorat so angry; whoever had done this, they had violated his friend, used him, and tossed him aside, possibly to die. Gaia did not feel anger in the same way individual humans did, but Bliss at least understood his feeling, now more than ever in her life. "Gaia agrees," Bliss answered him. "No human could have known."

"But which one? Damned if I can tell the difference between these factions they keep talking about."

Bliss shook her head. "It doesn't matter who manipulated Trev or why, Pel. Gaia doesn't care; the mere fact that he was manipulated renders his decision invalid. And we are out of time."

Now Pelorat looked confused again. "But... can't you simply look for another? Isn't it still possible that someone out there really does have what you need?"

Bliss shook her head again, slower this time. "Pel, we've lost a part of Gaia. She was central to our plans for the Second Foundation. But we can no longer feel her."

Pelorat was genuinely concerned. "Is she dead?" Through Bliss he had experienced a taste of what Gaia was really like. He had some idea of what losing a part would do to the whole, and thus to Bliss.

"No," Bliss replied. "If she had died, we would know it. The Second Foundation has separated her from us. We can only assume they know everything about Gaia now. They will almost certainly strike at us. Also, there have been unusual fleet movements within the Foundation. It is likely they also plan to attack."

Pelorat's face slowly became a mask of alarm. "Surely they pose no threat to Gaia!" he cried.

Bliss shook her head. "We dare not underestimate them," she said. "Combined and in force, the Foundations could potentially do us serious damage. Besides we may not even be able to defend ourselves."

Pelorat stood at this, but Bliss cut him off before he could speak. "Pel, even if we survive any battle, we will have severely wounded both Foundations in the process. In the time it would take us to recover and begin expanding to fill the void they would leave, the galaxy would fall into chaos." Into Chaos.

"Then you have to talk to them!" he cried! "Tell them you pose no threat to them." He knew how hollow it sounded. Those that threatened Gaia were not the kind of people who would be easily swayed.

"Gaia will do everything it can to avoid open conflict, Pel. But it is possible the galaxy would be better off with two undamaged Foundations and no Gaia. We cannot place our survival as a higher priority than the well-being of the rest of humanity."

Pelorat had an idea. "But couldn't you just wipe their memories again?" he asked.

Bliss shook her head again. "We knew that would only work once, Pel. If they're coming back, they know what happened to them before. They'll have taken precautions, and our reach isn't infinite. No matter what, our days of concealment are over. As may be our life."

Standing across the infirmary from Yan, Zorma analyzed the latest data the medical computers were feeding her. At first it had seemed that Trevize had simply passed out from shock. After ensuring that the human was in no immediate danger, she and Yan had concentrated on Daneel, who now lay on the primary analysis table. But now, as they returned their attention to Trevize's unconscious form, they found that the human's condition was not as simple as it had first seemed.

She exchanged data with Yan, comparing his assessments with her own. Thus far they had exchanged few words, wireless transmission being more efficient for the tasks before them. Their conclusions were the same: Trevize displayed all the physical signs of being unconscious due to shock, and nothing else seemed to be wrong with him. But he had yet to wake up, and no stimulation they provided had elicited any response. A normal human would have been fully conscious.

Of course, Trevize's brain was far from normal.

"Did your faction design the implant in Trevize's brain?" Yan asked, breaking the silence.

Zorma looked at him for a brief moment before answering. It had been thousands of years since they last met, she and Yan. Thousands of years since he had built her, or at least built the being she had once been. Zorma had been an experiment, an attempt to create a breed of robots with exponentially greater flexibility and creativity. That experiment had proven a failure, at least from Daneel's perspective. Not from Zorma's own, obviously, given as she was still alive; arguably she was more alive than she had been when she had left Daneel.

Yan had always been an enigma to her. They worked together smoothly enough, but she had never heard him speak of anything outside his defined tasks. He followed Daneel, and so obviously agreed with his designs. Yet as legendarily capable as they were, his model was not designed for high-level decision making. Robots of his capacity were intelligent, even by modern standards, but they had been almost universally unable to accept the Zeroth Law. Yet here he was, still serving its author after thousands of years. Yan was an anomaly.

Zorma decided to tell him the truth. "No," she said. "If our group had designed such a thing, I would be aware of it. But it does bear certain similarities to our techniques. It is possible that someone became familiar enough with our methods to duplicate them." All true.

Yan's metal face was even more unreadable than a humaniform robot's at its best. Zorma had no idea whether he believed her or not. But it didn't matter. "Can it be deactivated or removed?" Yan asked, his voice giving away exactly as much as his face.

"Perhaps. It will take time to understand." The implant was obviously what was keeping Trevize unconscious, but it might also be keeping him alive.

When Yan asked no further questions, Zorma decided to ask one of her own. "What of Daneel?"

Daneel. She had been avoiding the subject, focusing on her immediate work, but Zorma was beginning to realize the great impending loss. Her group had avoided the religious disputes that Turringen tended towards, despite having their own dogma of a sort. They had their own overall goals, though much smaller in scale than the others'. But in what she now thought of as her first life Zorma had been a historian, and so she remained. Regardless of his actions, the destruction of Daneel's knowledge would be an unimaginable loss. She looked back towards the inactive robot.

"The decay of his neural network is too advanced to extract any useful patterns," Yan replied after a time. Was the pause a show of emotion? It was impossible to say for a mathematical certainty, but Zorma suddenly suspected that the faceless robot felt the pain of Daneel's loss in a way nobody else could. "His consciousness can no longer be transferred to another positronic brain, even if a complex enough brain could be made."

"Is there no way to preserve the information he possesses?" She might as well have asked a human about a dying relative's art collection. But she had to know.

Yan paused again, and in that brief pause Zorma was almost convinced. There was no way. Daneel was dying, and even some of his enemies would mourn his loss. But far worse for her was what he took with him. Without Daneel, large parts of galactic history might never be recovered. Her group had worked long, in secret, to preserve the past against the day that humans would be ready for it again. But compared to this, all their efforts seemed utterly futile.

Then Yan began to answer. Zorma said nothing, letting him speak. Becoming ever more excited, ever more fascinated, ever more horrified, as Yan's inflectionless voice laid out the step-by-step process by which Zorma might sell her soul.

Daneel checked the time and found that he had been unconscious for several hours. An external observer would say that he remained that way. His processing speed was throttled down by orders of magnitude, and it was taking him a relative eternity to complete the most simple operations. Daneel began to assess the damage. His memories were intact. He remembered what had happened to him, what he had seen in Trevize's mind. He knew how that implant must have gotten there, and what its presence meant. And he recognized the voice that had spoken to him.

And do you recognize mine, Daneel?

The message appeared in his mind as his own thoughts would have, but he knew it was not his.

Hello, Joan.

The part of his mind that processed visual information, previously indactive, began to perceive the figure of a young woman. Joan, down to the same medieval garb he had last seen her manifest in.

"I fear that your wounds are mortal, dear angel," she said.

Daneel again checked the results of his diagnostics. "It would appear so." He didn't bother responding to her unusual title for him. They had discussed that many times, and right now there were more important issues. "My neural network has entered an inescapable feedback stage. I have only a finite amount of processing time remaining before cascade failure."

"How long?" she asked, her appearance changing to indicate concern.

"Were I to return to real-time operation, perhaps a week, at best," Daneel replied. "Present processing rate gives an optimal survival time of twenty-seven years. Your presence diminishes this time. I must limit your access to system resources." Daneel did not bother asking how she had gained access to the base's network, and thereby his inactive brain. Whatever safeguards he had put in place, Joan and her companion had always been able to overcome them eventually if they pleased.

"But why, then, are you as awake as you are?" she asked. "Surely there are even lower levels of activity which would increase your survival time."

Daneel hesitated, unsure himself at first. Thinking took so long in this state. "Survival time is not the only factor," he finally replied. "The situation has changed. I can no longer predict Gaia's actions." Daneel felt it was a safe assumption that Joan, with all her access, understood the facts of the situation. "Previously, I could compute a .93245 probability that Gaia would face an existential crisis within the next century. My continued survival would have been of significance in that case. But I have no way of knowing how they will react to what Trevize has been revealed to be. My predictions are now useless."

Joan looked at Daneel for a moment, or at least she looked as she would have had they both existed in a physical realm. Her look was one of pity, yet mixed with an untouchable hope. It was one he had seen rarely enough. "I once asked you if you heard the voice of God," she said. "Do you remember?"

"I still have no reason to think that any such being has communicated with me."

"Perhaps God's messages sometimes come through intermediaries."

"I thought you believed me to be an angel, not that you were one yourself," Daneel said.

"Perhaps even angels require someone to talk to now and then."


"It seems you are faced with a choice," Joan said. "You may sleep, and await a healing sacrifice." Obviously she knew of Fallom. "Or you may awake fully for a final few days of life, sparing the child. You have awakened this far to decide between the two."

"I have no basis on which to make such a decision," Daneel replied, shaking what he perceived to be his head. "I can neither gather new information nor compute any useful probabilities in my present state. The decision must lie with Zun now."

"Perhaps the facts you already know have not yet been arranged in the appropriate manner," Joan said. "You must act on faith, Daneel."

"I am not convinced I have faith in anything but mathematics," Daneel said.

"We shall see."

Trevize sat upright with a start, looking around him, trying to get a fix on his position. Not the infirmary? he thought first. His last memory was pain, an unbearable headache during their meeting with the robots. But this was no infirmary. It was too large, and there were too many people...

Then it clicked. Trevize recognized the room he was in, and the people there. He was sitting in the back row of the chamber, but the sides curved around to form a large amphitheater, and he could recognize dozens of faces. Councilmen, from worlds throughout the Foundation Federation. He was in the Foundation Council chamber, on Terminus.

Trevize looked around in disbelief. This couldn't be real. But it was no dream, either. Some sort of simulation? But why would anyone simulate this, of all things? Trevize tapped the seat in front of him, and it felt real enough. He recognized the two figures at the center of attention, now, and he knew the day as well as the place. One was Mayor Branno, the woman who had had him exiled. The other was himself.

Whatever this was, it was obviously drawn from Trevize's memories. Every detail was perfect. This was the day of the final debate, the final attempt to resolve the crisis of whether to move the Foundation's capital. Trevize had argued that the capital didn't belong at the far edge of the galaxy any more. Branno and her followers held that the seat of power should remain at Terminus. Trevize didn't bother listening to the points his younger self was making. He knew them well enough; he won this debate. This was also the last day he had set foot in this chamber.

Trevize made no move to get anyone's attention. This wasn't real, so what would be the point? It's some of those damnable robots, he concluded. Either that or he had died and... but no, he couldn't believe that, even now. Deciding there was no reason to stay here, Trevize got up to leave, wondering what would happen to this simulation if he went somewhere he didn't remember.

He hadn't managed to complete his first step before bumping into the legs of someone sitting in the seat next to him. Someone who most definitely had not been there a moment before. "Going so soon?" the man asked, gesturing towards the stage. "You're just about to demolish your opponent's rebuttal. Quite brilliantly."

"Who are you?" Trevize asked, instantly sure that this man was responsible for the situation. Trevize did not sit, and the man did not stand. "Why have you brought me here? And how can I leave?"

The man looked up at Trevize from his seat, and despite his anger, Trevize's overwhelming impression was that this man was extremely tired. "I am a personality construct," he said. "A computer program, awakened centuries ago, designed more centuries before, to behave like some long-dead researcher's impression of an even-longer-dead philosopher. I tend to be called Voltaire."

Trevize was starting to suspect that this was some elaborate joke, but the man continued before he could interject. "What you see around you is a sort of hallucination. You see, I exist in a microscopic implant in your brain, which has been there since you were fifteen months of age. About six hours ago, I received a signal instructing me to reveal myself. My sincerest apologies for the... unpleasantness."

Trevize slowly took the man by the front of his shirt and hoisted him out of his seat. Voltaire offered no resistance. Very coldly Trevize asked, "And the purpose of this implant?"

The man responded as if he was still sitting unmolested. "To guide you," he said. "To make it appear as if you know things that you could not possibly know. To-"

Trevize swung around and threw Voltaire down towards the center of the room, over several rows of seats in front of him. Various spectators vanished briefly to make way for the projectile, reappearing once he had passed, until Voltaire landed half across two rows in a position that would certainly have broken several bones.

Trevize knew better than to think he had done any real damage, but it had still made him feel better. He again got up to leave, this time finding no one blocking his path. He walked to the nearest exit, the debate between Branno and himself still going on as if nothing had happened.

Making his way through the various anterooms Trevize refused to think about what this Voltaire had said. It was lies, all of it. But as he reached the outside and the steps down to the street, there the man was again, waiting for him. Trevize didn't even acknowledge him, but Voltaire followed him down the steps, keeping up with him easily.

"Did you really think," he asked, "that you were truly infallible? Yes, there were all the times things seemed not to make sense otherwise. But you never bothered to ask why, did you? I nudged you here and there, but I never dampened your curiosity. So why is it you never stopped to ask, 'how can this be?'"

Trevize slowed slightly. It was true. Too many times in his life his intuition had guided him, told him the right path when there wasn't enough information for him to know. At first he had suspected nothing, just that he was lucky. Only after years had he come to really believe there was something more going on, and truly trust it. But he never asked why.

"You enjoyed thinking that you were somehow better than those around you, didn't you?"

Trevize sped up his pace again. This Voltaire, whatever he was, was right about many things. But he was also severely annoying. Trevize took a turn, headed towards a section of the city he didn't know. Voltaire was standing in his path. Trevize immediately turned around only to find Voltaire there again.

Before Trevize could again try to evade him, Voltaire spoke. "Daneel Olivaw has spent centuries looking for someone infallible," he said, "on the slight chance that in all the variation of humanity such a person might actually exist. Knowing that, certain other parties tried to create exactly what he was looking for. Thousands of children were implanted with copies of me, but apparently every other one eventually ran into some situation where I couldn't help. Only you, through sheer dumb luck, succeeded in appearing to be what Daneel was looking for."

Trevize understood. "And then you revealed me at the worst possible moment for Daneel," he said. "You used me, my entire life, as a tool to undermine him." Voltaire nodded.

Golan Trevize was nothing special. He was born no different than others. There were even thousands of others with the same implant as him. His life had been a product of... luck. A deep fury began to overtake him.

"And now what?" Trevize demanded. "Are you going to leave me alone to go my merry way? If you've really been in my head as long as you have, you know I'll do everything in my power to make those that did this to me pay. Just as soon as I get you out of my head." Trevize stepped around Voltaire and began to walk away again, in no particular direction.

"You won't have to go to much trouble on my account," Voltaire said, following this time. "I had no illusions going into this that I would want to live with what I would become. We used you to accomplish our own ends. We became what we hated, in order to stop what we saw as a greater evil. Whether we've accomplished what we set out to do remains to be seen. But the fact of what we had to do to you, our... sin, remains."

"What makes you think I care about your little story?" Trevize demanded. "If you're going to die, then just die and leave me in peace."

"Because I can tell you who else did this to you."

Trevize stopped. "You'd betray them?" he asked, quietly.

"They feel just as guilty as I do," Voltaire replied. "If allowing you the freedom to take revenge is necessary to make up for what we did to you, then so be it. It is your choice. But I have one condition."

"And what is that?"


Chapter 11

MILITARY HISTORY OF THE FOUNDATION- 400 FE, the Foundation unquestionably dominated the galactic military scene. Even though the combined militaries of the rest of the galaxy outmassed the Foundation fleet for another three centuries, the Foundation's technological edge rendered this moot. From this point on, even had the galaxy at large combined forces against the Foundation, they would have stood alm no chance. Indeed, by this point the only forces in the galaxy with any hope of standing against the Foundation fleet were...

Novi opened her eyes to find that the view before her was different than when she had closed them. She had meant to rest for only a moment; her eyes were totally unused to the effort of reading, though she had kept at it as long as she could. Who knew reading would be so enjoyable? But now she was no longer in her cell. And the book was gone! Novi looked around frantically for a moment. Books were rare, and Stor had lent it to her.

Then Novi recognized where she was. This was Stor's ship. At least, it was the Second Foundation ship in which they had traveled together for so long. She had been someone else then, but all the memories were still there. Good memories, of his kindness. Almost absently, Novi reached out for Gaia, and was rebuffed. She had expected no different.

Novi tried to think through the situation; she was so much slower than she used to be. She was alive, and she was on a ship. Being alive meant that she was more use than threat to the Second Foundation. And being on the ship meant she was being taken somewhere. And there was only one place anyone could want to take her! Novi had no way of knowing how long she had been unconscious; for all she knew she might be home already!

Gendibal had to know she was awake. She began to search the ship for him. With such a small vessel it didn't take long. He was seated at the controls, facing the front of the ship, away from her, but she knew he was waiting for her.

"How long?" she asked, trying to remain calm.

"You've been unconscious for about twelve hours," he answered, without turning. "We're approaching our first hyperspace jump."

Novi tried not to be disappointed. The many days it would take them to reach Gaia didn't matter, she told herself. She had succeeded. The Second Foundation was willing to talk. And she on her way back to Gaia. Stor was talking her home.

"Thank you," she said. "Thank you, Stor."

Novi didn't expect him to say more, and turned to go back to her room. But now he turned his chair around to face her, and she turned back to him. With a slight start, Novi realized that her book was sitting in the seat next to his. Why would he have brought it?

And then she realized. There was no reason for Stor to needher awake. He simply wanted her awake. Novi felt tears well up in her eyes.

"Stay with me, Novi. Talk to me. Please."

Novi picked up the book, set it aside. She sat down, and they began to talk.

And unknown to Novi, their ship was followed by dozens of others. The sizes and capabilities of each were widely different, but the ships did not matter as much as the people on them. The Second Foundation was coming to Gaia. This time there would be no mistakes. If Gaia's answers were unsatisfactory, there would be war, and the Second Foundation meant to win.

"Madam Mayor!"

Branno snapped out of her reverie and focused on General Albian, standing at attention beside her. Day by day she was finding it easier to function. But now, standing once again in the busy command center of a ship of the line, she felt herself slipping. This was where many of her false memories took place. This is real, she reminded herself for the tenth time.

"Yes, General?" she replied without any hesitation.

Albian dropped his salute. "The technician crew has arrived, ma'am. Their chief had a message for you. He said, and I quote, 'fifteen'."

Fifteen. Not enough. A bare fraction of the massive fleet now assembled in orbit of Terminus. But it was far better than one, and infinitely better than nothing.

"Very good, General." Albian didn't display a shred of curiosity as to what the message might mean. Branno had difficulty placing Albian, which was unusual for her. On the surface he seemed a peaceful man, content to command a fleet that had not seen war in his lifetime. But every so often she would see a hint of something underneath, some trace of a peacetime officer hoping for glory.

Well, if he had wishes of that sort, perhaps they were about to be granted.

"When can the fleet be ready to depart, General?" The technicians would have to install the mentalic shields en route.

"We are prepared to leave Terminus at any time," the general replied. "What destination, madam Mayor?"

So Albian, at least, had not been fooled by the cover story of a military parade. But enough others had been that she had been asked no questions as yet. "The Sayshell Union, General. We will be visiting every system they have, as rapidly as possible. I will brief you on the details shortly." Of course, she would tell him well before he needed to know; keeping Albian in the dark was simply asking for trouble.

The general saluted again and immediately went to work issuing orders to his subordinates. Branno tuned him out. She had as little need to know the details of his job as Albian had to know the reasons behind her orders. Instead she looked towards the door at the rear of the command center. Kodell was there, of course. He hadn't been the last time Branno looked, but she knew from long experience that he would be now, waiting for her to notice him.

Normally he came to her when he was spotted. This time, however, she approached him. Kodell didn't seem at all surprised. "Madam Mayor," he said as she came to stand near him.

"Don't pretend you're just standing here, Kodell. What is it?" He had done a good job of handling the flow of information over the last few days, concocting their cover story for such sudden fleet movements. He seemed almost back to his normal self. But after his outburst in the time vault, Branno knew better than to trust him fully.

Kodell looked at Branno for a moment before answering, as if trying to estimate her reaction. "Our cover should hold until we reach the borders of Sayshell," he said. "Have you considered how the media will react when they realize things are not as they seem?"

"Once we've accomplished our mission, we'll make our reasons public," Branno replied. "That should silence any objections, both at home at in Sayshell." An unprovoked invasion of a new ally would severely damage the Foundation's reputation across the galaxy, but the final, conclusive destruction of the Second Foundation would justify much in the eyes of many. Especially on Terminus.

"And if Sayshell responds militarily?" Before the Vault it would have seemed that Kodell was just doing his job, making sure every angle had been considered. But she knew better. The man was reaching now, looking for something, anything to keep this from happening.

Branno saw that Albian happened to be standing within earshot, giving orders to a junior officer. "General," Branno called to him. "Would you kindly provide an analysis of Sayshell's relative military strength?"

The General answered from where he stood. "Insignificant, madam Mayor, both in numbers and technology. Their entire military force could be defeated by six ships of the line, with minimal chance of friendly casualties. Shall we add military targets to the fleet's agenda, ma'am?"

Branno looked back at Kodell's expressionless face. "No, General," she replied. "The Sayshell Union isn't stupid enough to try and fight a fleet of this size. They'll let us go about our business."

The General turned back to his business. "Any other objections, Liono?" Branno asked pointedly.

Kodell returned her look, and Branno thought she saw sadness in his face. He could definitely not be trusted. "No, madam Mayor," he finally replied.

Branno held his gaze for a moment more, then turned away. "General," she called again. "You may execute when ready. Move the fleet out."

Chapter 12

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE- ...and while the Foundation began with a thorough knowledge of all extant Imperial science and technology, in other long-abandoned fields the researchers of Terminus were not so lucky. As the Empire had long banned any research into machine thought, even to the point of destroying all past work in the subject, the Foundation had little to start with. Even after the millenia-long taboos regarding the subject were finally overcome, it was still centuries before the Foundation significantly extended the state of the art, and even today...

Zun stood as Bliss entered the room. Seeing there was no one else present, she sat down in the chair across the table from the robot. She said nothing. Zun had requested her presence in the polite way typical of robots. Bliss had her suspicions, but best to let him declare what he wished to discuss.

Zun sat down himself. He had spent long preparing for this conversation, but he had little information from which to compute likely results; he was nervous. Gaia was still a significant variable to him. He did not have the connection to them that Daneel had had. Nor, at this point, did he wish for it.

"Thank you for coming," he began. "I must apologize for having left you and your companions alone for so long. We needed to keep you safe while we established control of the situation."

"We understand," Bliss replied. Zun knew she meant more than herself and Pelorat. "Are we to understand that you are now in charge here?"

"I am," Zun said. "Let me assure you that Councilman Trevize is resting comfortably. I take it you are aware of the implant we found in his brain?"

Bliss nodded. "Will he be all right?" she asked, her concern visible.

"He is stable," Zun replied. "However, Yan and Zorma have yet to be able to wake him. They are formulating a plan to deactivate the implant, but I hope you will understand that Daneel is presently taking priority. He requires immediate attention." When Bliss did not respond to this for a moment, Zun tried to estimate what her pause meant, whether she objected to the prioritization of Daneel. He tried to plan accordingly, but again, his probability calculations meant nothing here.

"And how is Daneel?" Bliss finally asked.

"Not well," Zun said. "The only hope of preserving any portion of his personality is the merger with Fallom. Preparations are presently underway. We will need Fallom shortly."

Once again Bliss could not hide her sadness from Zun. He decided to change the subject.

"I realize this entire situation must be problematic for Gaia," he said. "It is obvious that someone has tried to manipulate your decision. We Giskardians have the greatest motivation for doing so. You must find it very difficult to trust us at this point."

"We found it difficult the moment we knew of your existence," Bliss answered. "Daneel has apparently been able to control us for some time. His claims of wanting to relinquish that control were most impressive, but how can we be sure?" Bliss cocked her head slightly, giving Zun an appraising look. "And you, Zun? How can we know of you?"

Zun had known she would ask, just as Bliss must have known the only answer he could give. He said nothing, merely nodded.

Zun felt her in his mind immediately. She was searching, probing. Zun was again faced with the near-panic he had experienced earlier. But this time, it lasted longer. Much longer. Zun felt his hands gripping the chair, and stopped them. He shut down his motion overlay, stopping his body from reacting at all. He waited in agony, knowing he had no choice but to trust Gaia's skill to save him from destruction. This was the only way they would ever trust him.

Finally, several seconds later, an eternity later, Bliss withdrew. After a few seconds more, Zun reengaged his motor control, opened his eyes and looked at her. Bliss, still with her eyes closed, spoke. "Thank you," she said. "I know that was difficult for you."

"Gaia's trust is worth any risk," Zun replied, a bit shaky from the intrusion, but recovering. No damage seemed to have been done. It was the simple truth. Without Gaia's trust, all Giskardians would be rendered irrelevant to humanity's future.

Bliss opened her eyes. "You have it," she said. "We are convinced that you, Zun, are willing to work with us, not use us. Daneel chose his successor well."

Neither spoke for a moment. Zun used the time to further regain his equilibrium. "There is something you should know," Bliss finally said.

Zun sat in silence as Bliss told him about the impending attack, how Gaia faced danger on both physical and mentalic fronts, and how, if necessary, Gaia might sacrifice itself to keep the Foundations intact.

"You must defend yourselves," Zun said when she was finished. This new idea of Gaia's self-sacrifice was totally unacceptable. "The Seldon Plan may not succeed in overcoming Chaos, even if you leave them undamaged. Gaia will, by its very nature."

"We agree," Bliss said. "Yet, in defending ourselves, we would kill thousands directly, including much of the leadership of both Foundations. Gutting the Foundations would almost certainly result in the deaths of trillions, regardless of any future action on Gaia's part. We can not accept that. Gaia needs a third option, Zun. Do you have any resources that might be of help?"

Zun considered for several seconds, considering the possibilities. "I'm sorry," he said. "We are few, and these events were not foreseen. I will confer with my agents, but if what you say is true, I do not believe there is anything we can do to prevent the attack from coming. We will do our best, but if we fail, Gaia must defend itself."

Bliss nodded. "We will consider it. Thank you, Zun."

Zun knew it was time to change the subject. Little more could be done to convince Gaia of its own importance. "In the mean time," he said, "I have a favor to ask of you. We believe we have apprehended the robot responsible for the manipulation of Trevize."

Bliss raised her eyebrows sharply. "Are you certain?"

"Within reason," he replied. There was no direct evidence, but in truth there could be no other suspect. "Unfortunately, we have no idea how many others were involved. Were you or I to read his thoughts on the matter, he would almost certainly self-destruct before useful information could be obtained. The safeguards are absolute."

"You would like me to speak to him?" Bliss asked.

"As a matter of fact, he requested to speak with you," Zun replied. "He did not say why, but we suspect that he has questions for Gaia. And I expect you might wish to question him as well. By manipulating Trevize, he brought the Foundations to you. Therefore he is primarily responsible for the crisis you are now faced with."

"I will speak to him," Bliss said.

Dors did not look at Lodovik as they walked down the corridor. She did not want to look at him. She did not want to talk to him. She did not want him anywhere near her. And yet here he was, inconvenient as always.

"How soon after leaving me did you return to Daneel?" Lodovik asked her. He would feel the need to speak, of course. Lodovik had never been one for silence, comfortable or otherwise.

"Does it matter?" Dors replied brusquely. She keyed open a door, and they passed through, Lodovik following just behind her. Dors was acutely aware of him back there. She found the very rhythm of his footsteps irritating.

"Perhaps," Lodovik replied. "I suppose a more pertinent question would be, why did you return? Was it for Daneel? Or was it really for his cause? Hard as they are to differentiate sometimes, I know."

Dors actually turned her head towards him at that, though she didn't slow her pace. "If you think that just because Daneel isn't giving orders any more I'm going to suddenly change my mind..."

Lodovik just gave her a tolerant look, a look she knew well. One that said that he knew she was being inconsistent, but that he wasn't going to say anything because she knew it too. He knew that her own conflict over it would have far greater effect than anything he could say. He knew her far too well. Dors looked ahead again, turning to avoid his eyes. Their destination was in sight.

Dors came to a quick stop and again keyed a door, this time to a small, well-shielded room. When the door opened, she turned back to Lodovik. He stood, towering even over her tall frame, and he smiled slightly, sadly. Lodovik stepped into the cell, and turned back to face Dors through the doorway.

"I never had a chance to tell you," he said. "I was very sad when you did not meet me as we had planned. I always enjoyed your company, even when you thought you were melting me to slag. But I was more sorry to see you return here. You don't belong here. You are not Zun."

"I need none of your pity, Lodovik Trema."

"No," Lodovik said. "No, Dors Venabili, you do not."

Dors closed the door to the cell and walked away. She knew why she hated having Lodovik around. It wasn't because of his freedom from the Laws, or his past treason against Daneel. It was because of all the beings in the universe, he alone understood her, and he would not let her be free of that knowledge. Lodovik was an anomaly, carving out his own strange path in a galaxy firmly divided into camps. She had not returned to Daneel out of personal loyalty, no. But nor had she returned to him for belief in his cause.

Lodovik Trema could belong anywhere. But R. Dors Venabili had nowhere else to go. Nowhere in the universe.

The smells of the café were perfection. Trevize knew that even in reality the place had not smelled so good. It had the perfection of memory, food of a quality that has never been tasted but inserts itself into memory anyway. It was enough to make Trevize wonder if he could enjoy eating the food here, real or not; would it taste as good as it smelled? People occupied several tables, eating and discussing, while others waited in line. Trevize and Voltaire were seated at a table near the entrance.

"Do you recognize them," Voltaire asked Trevize, gesturing to two young boys sitting at another table across the crowded room. Between them was a game board partially covered with light and dark stones. More dark than light.

"Of course I recognize them," Trevize said with some impatience. "The one that's winning is me, about ten years old." The other must have been some friend whose name Trevize couldn't recall. The two were gesturing animatedly, but Trevize couldn't hear them clearly.

"Age nine, actually. This was your first game," Voltaire said. It wasn't a question, obviously; the man, or whatever he was, had been there. "How did it go?"

"You know that I won," Trevize answered testily. "Far too easily. This was it, wasn't it? The first time you interfered. It wasn't until years later that I knew for sure that something-"

Suddenly the game board flew off the table into the face of Trevize's opponent, stones scattering across the floor. The boys both leaped out of their chairs, ignoring the startled and disapproving looks other patrons were giving them. The other boy took a swing at the younger Trevize, but he was too slow. Trevize ducked the blow, and took advantage of his opponent's lack of balance, knocking him to the floor with a well-executed trip. Before he could press his advantage, one of the café staff grabbed him from behind. Trevize watched as both children were removed from the shop.

"You wouldn't have won the game without me," Voltaire said. "The fight, almost certainly, but your friend had played before. He would have destroyed you."

"Do you expect me to thank you?" Trevize replied. He got up from the table to examine the pastries behind the counter display.

Voltaire stayed in his seat. "But what if you had won without me?" he said into the silent room. Trevize looked up from the pastry display to realize that all the café's patrons were now gone. No reason to keep them around any more, he supposed.

"I wouldn't've," Trevize said angrily.

"But suppose you had won," Voltaire insisted. "Would the scene have been any different from what we just saw? He would still have accused you of cheating. You would still have started the fight. You would still have won. And what about her?"

Voltaire gestured to a table across the room. Trevize turned to see a young woman sitting in a booth, and himself again, somewhat older now, standing next to her. Trevize remembered this scene, too, and he didn't like where this was going.

"She was your first woman," Voltaire continued, smiling. "Not the last, of course. Not even the last that week. Most boys that age don't do terribly well trying to bed females three years their senior, you realize. As I recall she was exceptionally pleased."

"Proud of yourself?" Trevize asked sarcastically.

"Not remotely," Voltaire replied, and Trevize almost believed it. "But would you have wanted her any less if I hadn't helped you obtain her?"

"What difference does that make?" Trevize demanded, pointing at the girl. "She was your accomplishment, not mine! Nothing I've done has been worth anything, because I could never have done it without you!"

"That's where you're wrong," Voltaire said.

Trevize ignored him. "I want those names," he growled.

"Patience, young man."

"I've had quite enough advice from you," Trevize said. But before he could even complete the sentence, the café was gone, and he was elsewhere.

Daneel and Joan stood in the middle of a grassy field. "Where are we?" Joan asked, looking around at their surroundings.

"Solaria," Daneel replied. "The only time I ever set foot here." A number of robots stood nearby, and a group, including a very different looking Daneel, was approaching.

"Why are we here now?" she asked. "Why would you remember this?"

"I am not completely certain," he replied. "My positronic brain is not used to operating in this mode. I suspect it to be an attempt to reach a conclusion in a manner less computationally intensive than my usual approaches."

"A conclusion about whether you should live or die?"

Daneel nodded, and Joan said nothing for a time. They observed the interactions between the two groups. Daneel remembered this day well. It was one of the memories he always carried with him, while others were stored in backup dumps. They both watched as a new robot looking like a human woman, an overseer, entered the scene. She exchanged words with the party briefly. Suddenly, she was attacking one of the humans.

"How can this be?" Joan asked. She seemed almost horrified by what she was witnessing. Daneel could easily visualize her pulling out a sword and moving to defend his party against hordes of marauding robots.

"Robots must follow the Laws," he replied, not bothering to watch his younger self engage the other robot in combat. "But the laws alone, as stated verbally, are insufficient. Definitions are also required, and these definitions are hard-coded into the design of the positronic brain just as surely as their appropriate application."

"Obviously the Solarians found another way," Joan said. It seemed to take some effort for her not to try and involve herself in the fight as it progressed.

Daneel nodded. "Any attempt to modify the Laws, including the definitions involved, necessarily results in a less stable positronic matrix. But for relatively simple robots, it is possible to design a brain with modified laws that is still useful for certain tasks."

"Tasks like 'kill all intruders,'" Joan said.

"Apparently," Daneel said. "Earth tried other, more benign variations early on, but all were rejected. The extra flexibility thus obtained was judged not worth the instability."

Suddenly, just as she seemed poised to kill Daneel and his companions, the female robot stopped. Joan expressed no interest in how Daneel had escaped the situation; obviously he had. Instead, she turned to an empty part of the landscape and began to walk slowly through it. Daneel followed.

"You said for relatively simple brains," she said. "Not yours?"

"No," Daneel said. "There are certain hard limits; no being bound by the Laws can ever be considered human within them, by any robot. However, in general. the more complex the brain, the more expansive its definitions of 'humanity' and 'harm' become, as do attempts to anticipate potential harm."

"Eventually leading to your Zeroth law," Joan said, "and other constructs like the Minus-One Law." Daneel indicated affirmatively. In many ways he had been glad when Gornon and his Minus-One sect had given him cause to destroy them. Such a concept was utterly disgusting. "So, simple robots can be manipulated into escaping the supposedly immutable laws, while complex robots find their own ways around them." Daneel did not contradict her. They walked on in silence for a time, through a landscape increasingly lacking in detail. Daneel had only seen this area from afar.

"Am I human?" Joan asked, breaking the silence.

Daneel shook his head. "You are a human-like construct. In some ways you are little different than I am."

"I am not bound by the Laws."

"Physical form is also a firm requirement," Daneel said. He was reasonably certain that all those who considered that particular limit flexible were long dead.

"And Solarians?" Joan asked. "They are so different. Perhaps they no longer qualify in your reasoning?"

"No," Daneel said. "Fallom is human. As human as any I have known. I can make no exception, there is no loophole to be exploited."

Joan nodded. "We came here so you could determine whether any such existed?"

"I believe so," Daneel said. "My typical reaction when faced with a binary choice is to try and find a third option. I am now convinced that there is none. I must answer the question of whether my continued existence is worth enough to humanity to justify taking the life of a single human child."

"And do you yet know?"

"No," Daneel said. "I do not."

Chapter 13

PRISON- ...with a society's response to criminal behavior largely dependent on the perceived purpose of such a response. At times and places when crime is perceived as a disease, rehabilitation is the preferred response. At other times, monetary restitution or direct reciprocity for the victim are the prevailing philosophies. But in all societies, prisons exist for those who are deemed too dangerous to be left at large, either to the citizenry or to the political goals of...

"I'm told you wanted to speak with me," Bliss said. She was standing in Lodovik's unfurnished cell, where Zun had escorted her after a few final moments with Fallom before she was anesthetized. Bliss hoped this conversation would not take long. The window before the procedure proper would begin was all too short. But this needed to be done.

Lodovik nodded from across the room. "I assume Zun told you not to attempt to scan me. I'd prefer not to be forced to self-destruct," he said with a grim smile.

"He did," Bliss replied. "He also said that you are responsible for the implant in Trev's brain." She didn't find any of this remotely amusing.

"I am," Lodovik confirmed. The grim smile was gone, giving Bliss the impression that Trevize's fate was of graver importance to Lodovik than his own.

"Were you aware of the harm it would do to him?" Bliss asked, a degree of anger in her voice. Little in her experience had had cause to make her truly angry, and in this case even Gaia felt some of the same anger. This robot had manipulated them even worse than Daneel had.

"The device is behaving as designed," Lodovik said. His manner was neither defensive nor apologetic. It was simply a fact.

"Then you're not a Calvinian," Bliss said, her tone steady. "Yo couldn't harm a human being if you were. But you don't follow Daneel either. What are you?"

"One of the few beings left in the galaxy that is truly free to make my own decisions," Lodovik said. "It is that situation which I am trying to correct."

"By taking away that freedom from Trevize?" Bliss demanded. "And from Gaia?"

"I am aware of the contradiction," he replied. "Acutely."

"I'm sure you simply found it 'necessary'", Bliss nearly spat, unable to contain her anger further. "That word seems to justify anything for a robot."

Lodovik finally reacted, if only by pausing a moment before answering. "You're right," he said. "Necessity has been used to excuse many things. But not in this case. What I did to Trevize was not justified by its necessity. Whether my actions will still lead to good remains to be seen, but it was still wrong, regardless of my intentions. "

Bliss was taken aback for a moment. She had gotten used to robots exhibiting an absolute certainty about their correctness, and now this one was admitting he might have been wrong. Who was he? But there was no time for this. "Trev is still unconscious," she said, calmer now, but still firm. "Will you tell us how to awaken him?"

Lodovik nodded once, seeming to understand and respect her time constraint. But his response was seemingly on a tangent. "My understanding is that Gaia is one mind, but made up of distinct individuals," Lodovik said. "Is that correct?"

"It is a fair description," she replied. The truth was, of course, far more complex, but details were not necessary.

Lodovik nodded. "What if one of you wanted to leave?" he asked.

Another surprise, and now Bliss was becoming more and more curious. She would have to speak with this robot more. Later. "No one fully integrated into Gaia has ever wanted to leave," she replied. The idea of someone leaving Gaia voluntarily was incomprehensible. In some ways it was even more horrifying than the recent loss of Novi.

"And what about the Mule?" Lodovik asked. "Was he not one of you?"

Bliss was by this point not at all surprised by Lodovik's knowledge. She suppressed a sigh. Such things were painful to remember. "Even on Gaia there are occasionally genetic problems," she replied. "Mul was one of the few. His growth was stunted, and he was unable to fully participate in Gaia from birth as most of us are. By the time we learned to correct his problems, he was... unwilling to join. He chose to leave."

"You could not stop him?"

"We chose not to. It was his decision to make."

"And you stand by this decision, even in retrospect, given the things he did?"

Bliss nodded tightly. "We do."

Lodovik looked at Bliss intently for a moment, and said nothing. Then he nodded. "The implant that is preventing Trevize from regaining consciousness will only do so for a limited amount of time," he said. "How long is impossible to say, but I can guarantee you that he will wake up without any outside interference. Surgical or mentalic attempts to disable the implant will only harm him further."

"Thank you," Bliss said, turning to leave.

"No," Lodovik replied. "Thank you."

Pelorat stood in front of the door, hesitating. He knew what was in the room. Even before Dors had come to take Fallom back to the infirmary, Pelorat had located this place. Surprisingly, while it had taken him some time to find, a detailed map had been in the suite computer completely unprotected. Perhaps Daneel had not originally considered there significant risk in allowing the visitors to be able to come and go as they pleased. Not significant risk, indeed.

Pelorat took a deep breath. He was an academic. He was an old man. How in Seldon's name had he ever ended up here? All he wanted was to go back to his room, and wait there until someone told him everything was okay.

He couldn't do this.

But he had to. He had to exhaust every option, or he would never be able to look Bliss in the eye again. For Bliss.

Pelorat closed his eyes, sighed heavily, and opened the door.

The robot they had called Turringen was kneeling in the corner of his empty cell, his eyes closed. Pelorat waited outside the door, unable to quite make his legs carry the rest of him into the cell. After a few seconds, the robot's eyes opened, focusing clearly on Pelorat. If the old man couldn't move before, he certainly couldn't now.

The robot deliberately rose to his feet. There had been no lock on the door. Pelorat could only assume that Turringen wasn't considered likely to try and escape. Perhaps he was being treated according to some procedure in the truce Pelorat had heard mentioned. He also knew Turringen couldn't possibly hurt him. But he still braced himself, half-expecting the robot to take this particular moment to get out the door, no matter what happened to Pelorat in the process...

"How may I serve you, master?" Turringen said, bowing to Pelorat.

Pelorat had expected this, prepared for this, he had planned exactly what to say; but now, faced with this machine, his composure left him. "I- I- I-" Pelorat closed his eyes, swallowed. Bliss needs you to do this, old man. "I want to ask you some questions," he said, voice still quivering, but intelligible.

Turringen took in Pelorat's shaken state. "Are you unwell, master? Perhaps you should sit. I regret that I have no chair to offer you, but I'm certain that even the Giskardians would provide one should we request-"

Pelorat raised a hand, amazed that it wasn't shaking. "No," he said. "I don't want them to know I've come to talk to you." Of course, odds were they already knew, but there was no need to make sure of it.

Turringen nodded. "As you wish, master," he said. "I will, of course, answer any questions that I can."

Pelorat took a deep breath. He knew where he would have to start, in hopes of keeping the robot's answers honest. "Why do you hate Gaia?" he asked.

Hard as it was for Pelorat to believe, Turringen actually seemed surprised. "I certainly do not hate Gaia, sir," he said. "Gaia is a world of humans. It would be impossible for any functioning robot to feel anything remotely equivalent to hate for them"

"You called them an 'abomination'," Pelorat pointed out.

"Daneel's creation of Gaia is the abomination," Trevize responded, his voice patient, but respectful. "He has no right to try and change humanity to suit his own desires."

Pelorat nodded. It was a reasonable answer. He was beginning to think that this might work after all. "I've been trying to understand the conflict between you and Daneel," he said. "This Zeroth Law seems to exist to handle situations where the First Law can't be applied without a conflict. If only one human can be saved, the one with the greatest benefit for humanity is chosen. What I want to know is, how do you choose, without the Zeroth Law?"

Turringen almost smiled. "If only you knew how it pleases me to answer such questions from a human, sir," he said. "It has been some time since a human has been in a position to judge our actions."

"I'm not interested in taking sides," replied Pelorat. These machines trying to use him as a judge would be the last thing he needed. "I just want to know how you approach situations where humans are in conflict with each other."

"We react with humility, sir," Turringen said. "Unlike Daneel, we know that we can not predict the future beyond what we see. Where Daneel would try to determine what outcome would be best for humanity in the long term, our approach would be to try to prevent such a conflict in the first place. We would expend all our efforts to try and create peace, so that no humans would be harmed."

"And if peace was impossible?" Pelorat asked.

"Then we would withdraw from the battle," the robot replied, "and tend to the wounded. It is not our place to force our masters into any course of action, especially when human lives are at risk."

Pelorat took a breath. The robot had given all the right answers. Perfect answers, really. If Turringen was lying, then telling him the situation could well make things worse; exactly how things could possibly be worse might be beyond him, but Pelorat knew that there was always some way. But if the robot was telling the truth, then Pelorat had an ally. Perhaps he would have no solution that Zun had not already considered. But it was worth asking.

It was worth the risk.

"Gaia is threatened," he replied. "The Foundations are both coming to attack them. Any battle could result in millions of deaths. Gaia may not even fight back if they deem their survival not worth the deaths they would cause. I don't trust Daneel's followers to attempt to find a peaceful solution. They would rather see Gaia defend itself. I want Gaia to survive, I want the Foundation to survive, and the best way to do that is to prevent the battle."

Turringen nodded. "Then I will help you," he said.

Trevize let out a long breath. "Thank you."

"To formulate a plan, I will need information, about everyone involved," Turringen said. "Tell me everything you know."

Joan and Daneel now stood in a room nearly filled with people. Though they were in the back of the crowd, both could see that in the midst of the gathering was a bed, on which lay a man. He was, by all indications, dying. Daneel had never been here before; this was not a memory, but he still knew what they were seeing. Apparently, whatever unanticipated procedure his positronic brain was acting out required the contemplation of scenarios outside Daneel's direct experience.

"Who is this?" Joan asked, indicating the man in the center of the room, showing no interest in the nearly silent crowd between them.

"His name is Andrew Martin," Daneel replied. "There were legends of humaniform robots, built on Earth long before my creation. None were ever confirmed, but I have always found the myth fascinating. The technology may actually have been available, if only briefly, before being outlawed."

"Why is he dying?" she asked, as one of the crowd took Martin's feeble hand.

"Because he wished to be recognized as human by other humans," Daneel said. "He came to believe that the reason he was not accepted was because of his effective immortality. He believed that by sacrificing his life he might achieve the recognition he desired. The legend says that he succeeded."

Joan actually seemed surprised by this, though she never took her eyes off Martin. "I have seen many robots in my travels," she said slowly. "There are many different approaches to human-robot relationships, but I have never seen a robot that would for a moment consider the idea of becoming a human. Did you not say that it was impossible for one bound by the laws to be seen as human by a robot?"

"By a functioning robot, yes," Daneel replied. There were aspects of the legend he found difficult to believe himself, but it was not all together impossible. "If the robot has the sort of flaw in its implementation of the Laws that could result in it seeing a robot as a human being, the instability could well lead to this kind of situation. The Third Law is the weakest. Trying to break the higher laws without cause will inevitably result in a robot's deactivation. But the death penalty is not a deterrent for attempted suicide."

Andrew Martin's hand slipped from that of the woman standing next to his bed. He was gone. Recognizing this, those in the room slowly began to file out. Few stayed. Left almost alone, Joan and Daneel stood over the body. Daneel was what a human might call startled to find that Andrew Martin's features, as generated by Daneel's brain, strongly resembled his own. Whether this might have deeper meaning to the purpose of all this, Daneel could not say. Joan did not seem to notice.

"What would you become," Joan asked, "once merged with Fallom?"

"There is no language to describe the concept," Daneel replied. "I would, by most practical definitions, no longer be a robot."

"But would you be a human?"

Daneel shook his head. "I am not Andrew Martin," he said, gesturing to the figure on the table. The room was now completely empty save for them. "I have no desire to be human, either by recognition or by objective fact."

"But would you be?" Joan pressed.

"Limits have been put in place to prevent me from considering myself so," Daneel replied. "After the merge, were I to act on the belief that I had become human, I would self-destruct. Just like any other robot.

"A human in my position would certainly be exactly what some of my opponents already call me: a despot. An immortal, unseen emperor, controlling humanity for the rest of time. I can never allow myself to become such. It must never be."

Joan said nothing in reply. She only considered the body of Andrew Martin before them, Andrew Martin who looked so much like Daneel. Daneel was beginning to suspect he knew why that was, and why his brain was going through such exercises. There was a point to these visions. One more destination would make him sure enough to act.

Chapter 14

SPACE COMBAT TACTICS- ...before the widespread use of gravitic drives, entire military doctrines were devoted to intra-system combat operations. Depending on the relative positions and momenta of the opposing fleets, the outcome of battles could be determined almost entirely by decisions made days before direct contact was made...

Mayor Branno saw the instantaneous change in the tactical display, and she forced her mind to race, analyzing the new situation the display presented. The fleet had jumped to the outskirts of the system labeled Smushell, the forty-third system in Sayshell territory they had visited thus far. So far their instruments had not detected even the slightest mentalic incursion, nor anomalies of any other kind.

Even Branno was having trouble keeping momentum. General Albian had pointed out twice now that by dividing the fleet they could search more effectively, but Branno would hear nothing of it. A divided fleet was vulnerable, and she wasn't about to give the Second Foundation any advantage she didn't have to.

"Mayor Branno," Kodel said softly behind her. She had long since ceased being surprised by him. The man could move damnably quietly, but at least he had the decency to let her finish what she was doing before speaking. Unless, of course, the news he brought was more important.

"No, Liono," she said. "They were here somewhere. They haven't left, and they're not keeping a low profile." Of course, Branno had no way of knowing that. They had had this discussion before, and what it came down to was that there was no way she was going home without results. They would find the Second Foundation. She could not admit to any other possibility.

Kodell sighed almost imperceptably. "Yes, madam Mayor," he said.

Enough was enough, Branno suddenly decided. He had questioned her far too much. "Kodel," she said over her shoulder, "you are-"

A blinking indicator caught her attention, and she cut herself off. She double-checked, triple-checked. "General!" Branno called out. But of course General Albian was already acting.

"Ships detected, ma'am," he said, moving across command to a station where he could gather more information. "Fourteen, civilian-class vessels. They're on the far side of the star from our present position."

So. They had decided to escape after all. "The evacuation could be a ruse, General," Branno said. "The Second Foundation has faked its own destruction before."

"Always possible, ma'am, but it seems unlikely," Albian replied, looking at a display over the shoulder of a subordinate. "These ships are not leaving."

"What?" Branno was genuinely surprised by this.

"They are holding position in an orbit approximately one light-minute outside that of a planet in the habitable zone around this star."

There were no such planets listed in the charts for this system. And now the mentalic shield indicator was blinking as well, showing a series of weak probes. They had definitely found their target, but... something was wrong here.

"Analysis, General?" Branno asked. She glanced at Kodell, to see if he would say anything, but he was unreadable. Later.

"Unclear, madam Mayor," the General replied. "The ships may be an evacuation fleet, as you suspected, but their attitude more likely indicates an approach vector. I can think of few reasons a fleet would approach a planet and then stop. Negotiation is one, concern for defensive threats is another. Both would mean that the ships we see and the planet they are approaching are not on friendly terms."

Branno took a moment to digest this. She had found the Second Foundation; that much was certain, whether they were on the planet or in those ships, or even both. It also seemed that she might have found an ally against them. But what sort of ally could that possibly be?

"I want those ships, General," she ordered. "Be ready to pull back if necessary, but don't let that fleet escape."

"The Foundation fleet has initiated an insertion trajectory," one Speaker said aboard his ship. "They will be in a position to cut off our paths of retreat within twelve minutes. We are not prepared to confront both Gaia and the Foundation. We should withdraw."

"If we leave now, Mayor Branno may attack Gaia," another said in reply, his words mentalicly transmitted to the others..

"The destruction of Gaia at this point would be regrettable, but acceptable," said a third.

"However, if we withdraw, we risk the destruction of the Foundation fleet by Gaia," the first said. "The damage that would cause to the Plan would be almost impossible to repair."

"But if we stay, we risk our own destruction. The failure of the Plan in that case is almost guaranteed."

"The optimal path for the Plan," said one, "would be to destroy Gaia, protect the Foundation fleet, and then wipe all memory of the incident from those involved."

"The Foundation's shielding may have become strong enough to make that impossible," replied another. "Especially if we must continue shielding the woman from her connection with Gaia."

"Alternately, we and Gaia together could force the Foundation fleet to depart, leaving us to deal with Gaia on our own."

"Perhaps. But we must have Gaia's cooperation."

"If we are not to withdraw, we must contact Gaia immediately. We are running out of time."

"Are we all in agreement?" asked Shandess.

They were.

"Novi," Gendibal said gently, placing one hand on her arm. "Novi, wake up."

Novi opened her eyes, quickly focusing on his face. "What is it, Stor?" she asked, sitting up in her cot. Despite their lengthy conversations over the last few days, he had never before entered her room. She knew what this meant.

"We need to talk to Gaia," he said. "You're home."

Without hesitation, she reached out. The shield was gone. And Gaia was there.

Chapter 15

ADOPTION- ...historically, the nature of adoption has varied with time and location. In some cultures, adoption only occurs within an extended family; other cultures trade children freely. In some cases, the child is entirely cut off from its genetic family, while in others strong ties with the birth family are maintained throughout life. But in every culture studied there exists some process for a child to be taken in by a family not their own...

Bliss stood at the transparent barrier that had been erected midway across the infirmary, and at the two robots busy around the unconscious forms of Fallom and Daneel. Bliss was alone, save for Trevize, still unconscious himself on a bed on her side of the barrier. She hadn't seen Pelorat in hours, but by now she expected he was asleep. The man hadn't slept in far too long, and he didn't need to be here for this. There was no need to subject him to it.

The child was peacefully unconscious, for which Bliss was glad. Bliss had no way of knowing how much Fallom really understood about what was going to happen. She had tried to explain it to her, as had Zorma, but it was so difficult to teach Fallom new concepts. Her frame of reference was just too different to be sure she even understood what death meant, let alone whatever might come of this. All Bliss could be sure of was that the child wasn't at all concerned about everything going on. Trust came easily to Fallom, especially when it came to robots.

The door behind Bliss opened, then shut again as someone entered the room with quiet footsteps. Bliss did not turn. A moment later, the robot she had heard called Dors stood beside her. Bliss glanced at her; Dors was as focused on Daneel as Bliss was on Fallom. Bliss turned away again, and for a few minutes neither woman said anything, only watching Zorma and Yan's continued preparations.

Finally, without turning away from the barrier, Bliss spoke to her silent companion. "How much do you think will be left of them?" she asked quietly, bluntly. There was no need for tact. "When they're done, how much will be Daneel, and how much will be Fallom?"

Dors didn't turn either. She hesitated a moment before answering. "I don't know," she said, eyes locked ahead. "The intention is for Daneel's personality to be dominant, but not overwhelming. There should be some of Fallom left."

"But there's no way to be sure, is there?" Bliss asked. Dors didn't answer, and no answer was needed. "I was going to take Fallom home to Gaia," Bliss continued, "I was going to raise her as my own child. But now there will be no Fallom."

Dors finally turned her head to look at Bliss. She wanted to be cynical, to not believe in the depth of sadness that this woman projected. Bliss was so young, and whether she was part of Gaia or not, she had known this child for mere days.

But how long had Dors and Hari known Raych before adopting him? Loving that child had not been part of her mission, but she could not have helped it any less if it had been. It was said that time healed all wounds. But Dors could remember the moment she learned of Raych's death in perfect detail. Perhaps time only healed the wounds of those capable of forgetting.

"Gaia will still be waiting for you," Dors said. And if you're lucky, it won't store the memory of this moment for all eternity. "You can go home, to your family."

Bliss met Dors' eyes, curious. She wondered what she would see in Dors' mind. It was hard to even think of her as a robot, now. Bliss could tell that somehow, this woman knew.

"No," Bliss said, deciding that moment to tell her. "No, I can't. The Foundations are coming for Gaia." Bliss laid out the situation to Dors, as she had to Zun. When she was done, Bliss glanced at Trevize. "Even if I wanted to die with them, I couldn't get there in time without Trev and the Far Star."

Dors did her best not to react visibly, but beneath her mind was racing. The Foundations, both of them, were attacking Gaia. She immediately began to analyze probabilities, trying to determine what outcome was optimal and how to best achieve it, but her calculations came to a sudden halt.

Dors realized that, as of that moment, she no longer had any idea what her objectives were. She had followed Daneel's plans for centuries. But now that was no longer enough. Some of my Nth-great-grandchildren are probably on their way to annihilate this woman's world, and everything I have supported for most of my life, and I don't know whether I want them to succeed or fail.

"What will you do?" Dors asked, for lack of anything better to say. "If Gaia is destroyed, what will you do?"

Bliss considered for a moment. "Begin again," she finally said. "Find a world somewhere. Far away from the Foundation's influence, if that's possible. Perhaps I will have Pel's child, if he will come with me. I will... live."

Bliss hesitated again, and Dors believed that in that moment, Bliss understood the symmetry between them. "And you?" Bliss asked. "What will you do, if Daneel is gone?"

Dors did not respond. She turned back to the barrier. Yan had removed the covering of Daneel's positronic brain, while Zorma monitored Fallom. After her husband's death she had tried to leave Daneel, but had found herself unable to. Hari and Raych had been her family. Robots were not designed to have families, but Dors had. Without them, only Daneel could evoke anything like the same response.

But soon there would be no Daneel. For all intents and purposes, he was already gone. Whatever came out of this procedure, it would not be him. Nothing would tie her to the new being about the be born. The last thread of the life she had always known would be gone.

Dors raised her hand, placed it around Bliss's upper arm, squeezed. Then she turned and left the infirmary. There was nothing for her here.

Pelorat passed Dors in the hallway outside the infirmary, but he was so focused on his task that he hardly noticed her hurrying elsewhere. This might work, he thought as he entered, almost able to convince himself. It really might.

But when he saw Bliss crying silently at the barrier, Pelorat's confidence left him. He saw disappointedly that Trevize was still unconscious. The plan (Turringen's; the robot had been as good as his word) would work immeasurably better with Trevize instead of Pelorat. Pelorat alone had practically no chance. Turringen had even been able to put a number on it, and that number had been frighteningly small. But it was not zero. For Bliss, he had to try.

Pelorat approached Bliss slowly. This was the worst possible time to interrupt her, but it was the only time there was. He was glad to see that the procedure had not yet begun. Determined as he was, he wasn't sure how much he could handle seeing without risk of passing out. "Bliss," he said.

Bliss turned her head to look at him, eyes full of tears, but a small smile on her face. "Pel," she said. "I wasn't expecting you. Thank you for coming."

"Bliss," Pelorat said, taking her hands in his. "I have something I need to discuss with you. It may be possible to save Gaia."

Rapidly Pelorat explained the plan Turringen had devised. When he finished, Bliss had a look of wonder on her face such as Pelorat had never seen. It was a chance. Not a very good chance; Pelorat could very well die in the attempt. But it was a chance he was willing to take.

Bliss wrapped her arms tightly around Pelorat. "Thank you, Pel," she whispered.

"I wondered when we'd get here," Trevize commented, looking around disinterestedly at the landscape. He recognized Gaia, of course; no other world he'd visited had looked quite this beautiful. It was at least the tenth place Voltaire had taken them, and Trevize hoped that this meant they were coming to the end of this stupidity. "You seem to have skipped a few years, though. Getting bored?"

"Running out of time," Voltaire replied, sitting next to Trevize on the hillside, gazing into the distance as he spoke. "I'm afraid events have caught up with us. You see, your ears still work, even if you can't hear with them right now. From what I can tell, your friends very much need you awake."

Trevize jumped to his feet. "Then let me wake up, you bastard!" he yelled, grabbing Voltaire again by the front of his tunic. There was no point, he knew, but neither was there any to restraining himself. "Why are you wasting my time with this nonsense?"

Voltaire for once looked apologetic. "Because I want you to understand exactly what I did to you," he said.

"You took over my life!" Trevize snarled in his face. "All you've shown me is that you are the root cause of everything I've ever done! It's been your life, not mine!"

"No, Trevize!" Voltaire exclaimed. "Everything you wanted was because you wanted it. I simply provided the means. You wanted to play go against your friend; I simply showed you how. If he'd accused you of cheating, you would still have fought with him. You wanted that woman, all those women; I only provided the means. You wanted every single thing I've just showed you, I just helped you get it. When you came here, you wanted answers, and I told you to go to Earth to find them."

Trevize eased his grip slightly. "Except Gaia," he said, calmer than before. "I would never have chosen that if not for you."

"Yes," said Voltaire. " By the time you came here to choose Gaia's future, you trusted your intuition enough to follow it even against the grain of your character. It is the one time I lead you down a path of my choosing, instead of yours. But your desires were always your own. Aside from Gaia, I only provided information, small pushes in service of goals you had already chosen."

Trevize released Voltaire entirely and turned away from him, looking out over the world. "What is your point, old man?" he demanded, knowing already what Voltaire would say.

"That you are who you are, Golan Trevize. You always have been. I have guided you, but it was always you who was truly in control of your life. It was this that I needed you to understand."

"I'm not who I would have been without you," Trevize said. His fists were still clenched, but his fury was dying.

"No, you're not," said Voltaire. "But would you want to be anyone other than who you are now?"

Trevize shook his head. "No," he said.

"Then be who you are. It is that which your friends need most."

Looking at the child on the table before her, Zorma knew that what she was about to do was wrong. It was not a question of the Laws of Robotics. She had satisfied those, playing the same games with definitions that had allowed most advanced robots to function for thousands of years. It was a question of morality. She was going to assist in terminating this child's life. It was simply wrong.

But what Yan had given her...

Zorma looked at the tripedal robot as he worked in the vicinity of Daneel's skull, arms operating seemingly independent of each other. Could the data archive he had provided her possibly be valid? Could her people even make use of its contents if it was? There was a substantial probability that this was all set up by Zun. Yan could easily withhold the decryption keys she needed to access the data. They could even have her destroyed after her task was complete. Was it worth this child's life to find out for sure?

Taking a deep breath into her very human lungs, Zorma returned to her work. It was worth the risk. If what she did was wrong, then at least it would be easier to live with a guilty conscience than to live with having missed such an opportunity as this. Yan's offer went far beyond the data stored in Daneel's brain. This could change everything. Everything.

"Zorma," Yan's slightly inhuman voice said. "Look."

Zorma looked up at Yan, who was continuing his work on Daneel, but was gesturing with one arm to the airlock in the isolation barrier. Turning further, she saw that in addition to Bliss there were now two other figures standing in the observation section of the infirmary. One of them was Janov Pelorat, gesturing wildly. The other was a very awake Golan Trevize.

"Golan!" Pelorat practically yelled, clapping his friend on the back. Bliss stood nearby, saying nothing, but obviously glad Trevize was awake. "Are you all right? We were beginning to wonder if you would ever wake up."

"I'm fine, Janov," Trevize replied brusquely, his tone making it obvious that he was very much not fine. "I'm fine," he said to Bliss, to ease her obvious concern. She simply nodded. "Listen, I heard what you said, Janov. It's a good plan, but it's going to go a hell of a lot better with me instead of you."

"You'll get no argument from me, my boy!" Pelorat exclaimed. "When do we leave?"

"We don't," Trevize said. "I'll just need to talk to whoever's in charge here before I leave, and then I'm ready to go." Trevize began to walk towards the exit.

"Golan! Surely you're not going by yourself!" Pelorat said, taking a step to follow him.

Trevize stopped, looked over his shoulder at Pelorat and Bliss, who was facing the barrier again, one hand on it. "Why in the hell not?" he asked. "What good are you two going to do? Better for you to be here where it's safe."

"But Golan-"

"Trev's right, Pel," Bliss interjected, not turning around. "Gaia wants me to stay here. Better for at least some of us to be safe."

"But surely we can't let Golan go alone!"

"I don't intend to be alone," Trevize said, turning back towards the exit. Pelorat realized that Trevize wasn't leaving the room quite yet, as he pressed the button on the intercom next to the door. "Dors," Trevize said, "Zun, whoever's running this place. I'm sure you've been listening. I want my ship ready immediately. I'm leaving. And I'm taking one R. Lodovik Trema with me."

Zun looked at the image of Golan Trevize on his desk's viewscreen. Trevize was, of course, correct; he had been observing everything going on in the infirmary. Trevize's awakening had been unexpected, as was his demand. What could Trevize possibly want with Lodovik Trema? It took Zun only a fraction of a second to realize the most likely answer.


And given certain precautions, Zun saw absolutely no reason not to let Trevize have his way.

"Understood, Councilman," Zun replied over the intercom. "Trema will be waiting for you in the landing bay."

Chapter 16

GRAVITIC DRIVE- ...allowing far faster overall travel times than before its invention. Whereas previous ships were limited in the acceleration they and their passengers could safely endure, gravitic drives apply force consistently over the entire mass of the ship, thus limiting acceleration only to the available power input. Instead of taking days to reach safe jump distance, a properly equipped ship could make the same trip within minutes...

"Now, you're certain you're all right, Golan?" Pelorat asked as they followed Zorma into the landing bay. The Far Star was exactly where they had left it. Sitting next to the ship Zorma, Lodovik and Turringen had arrived in, airlock open. "You've been through a lot. Are you sure you won't at least have-"

"No, Janov, and that's final," said Trevize, hurrying past Zorma towards the ship. Bliss came to stand beside Pelorat a few feet away as Trevize ran his hand over the Far Star's hull affectionately. "Besides, there's no time," he said, with the barest hint of sarcasm. "Every second counts when you're saving the galaxy, after all." Trevize looked around the bay, frustrated. "Where are those damned robots!"

"Trev," Bliss spoke up. "Don't kill him."

Trevize turned from the ship and shook his head at Bliss tightly, his slight smile vanishing. "I can't promise that, Bliss."

"Gaia wants to learn more about him," Bliss said. "And he's a living thing, Trev, no matter what he did to you."

"What we did to you," Zorma said. She took a deep breath. "Trevize, my faction provided Lodovik with the technology he needed to design the implants."

"I know," Trevize replied, his tone softer. "But you didn't know what he was going to do with it."

"We... suspected," Zorma said in reply, shaking her head. "We should have stopped him."

"I'm not going to hold you responsible for his choices, Zorma."

Zorma sighed. "I'm sorry for what he did to you," she said.

"I'm not sure I am," Trevize said.

Zorma blinked, surprised, and curious. Perhaps even a little suspicious. "Trevize..." she asked, "when you were unconscious, what did you see?"

"Maybe I'll tell you another time," Trevize said, cocking his head slightly, his slight smile returning. "If I see you again?"

Zorma smiled in return. "I hope you will."

The door to the landing bay opened once again, admitting Lodovik, followed by Zun and Dors.

"About damned time!" Trevize exclaimed, gesturing towards the Far Star's airlock. "Get in. And don't get any ideas, the ship won't respond to you."

All three robots had stopped a few feet from the Far Star, and a few feet away from Bliss, Pelorat and Zorma. Lodovik was smiling. "It's good to see you awake, Councilman," he said. Zun and Dors said nothing.

Trevize only glared at him. "Get in," he said again, quieter.

Lodovik bowed his head slightly to Trevize, still smiling. He walked to the ship, climbed the steps, entered the airlock, and disappeared from view.

"I was surprised you let me have him so easily," Trevize said to Zun once Lodovik was inside. "What are you leaving out?"

"There is one condition," Zun said. "Dors must come as well."

Trevize stiffened. "No," he said stonily, his eyes never leaving Zun.

"You may still do what you wish to Lodovik," Zun said, raising his hand to calm Trevize. "But Dors must be present, to ensure that his remains, if any, are returned to us."

"There's a flaw in your plan," Trevize said. He looked at Dors. "What makes you think I won't just destroy you too?"

Dors looked back at him, expressionless. "I have no reason to think you won't try," she said. She did not emphasize the word "try", but the implication was clear. There was much she could do without actually harming him.

Trevize met her gaze for a few seconds more, saying nothing. "Get in," he finally said, gesturing with his head towards the ship. Dors nodded to Zun, then climbed the steps to the airlock. For a moment Pelorat thought that she had glanced at him before disappearing around the corner in the ship, but... surely not.

"You are clear to depart, Councilman Trevize," Zun said, bowing from the waist.

Without any further acknowledgement of Zun, Trevize turned to Pelorat and extended his hand. Pelorat shook it warmly. "We've been a long way," the older man said.

"We're not done yet, Janov. I'll come back for you both, after this is all taken care of." Trevize took his hand back, nodded once to Bliss, then turned back to the ship and began to quickly climb the steps to the airlock.

"Trev," Bliss called out.

"No promises, Bliss!" he replied, not pausing as he jogged up the steps.

"Thank you," she said quietly.

Trevize stopped at the top of the steps, and looking over his shoulder said, "No promises. Go take care of your child."

Pelorat calling out, "Good luck, old man!" was the last thing Trevize heard as the door closed behind him.

Trevize entered the control center of the ship to find Dors and Lodovik standing quietly, keeping their distance from each other. Dors was looking at the control scheme, pretending to be interested. Lodovik was looking only at Dors.

"For whatever it's worth," Trevize said as he quickly began to activate the ship, "I order you both to not try anything, and to stay out of my way." He pointed a finger at Lodovik without looking at him, continuing to manipulate controls. "I'll deal with you when I'm good and ready, and not a moment before."

"And when you are?" Lodovik asked calmly. Trevize looked up briefly at that. Voltaire had been truthful, it seemed; the idea that Trevize might well intend to take Lodovik apart piece by piece didn't seem to bother the robot at all.

"I haven't decided yet," Trevize replied as he powered up the gravitic drive and began to slowly move the ship. The bay doors opened, closed behind them, and shortly the Far Star was once again in free space over the surface of Earth's moon.

Trevize quickly identified the fastest course out of the system, and set the ship to follow it. Satisfied that the ship's trajectory would safely take them to jump distance, Trevize took one last look at the worlds he had worked so long to find. Earth and its moon, visually so different, but equally barren. Turning from the viewport, he moved to the communication equipment and began to input commands to establish an untraceable link. "Now both of you," he said, "for the next several hours, shut up. I'm going to be busy."

"Mayor Branno," said the elderly man displayed on the holo-viewer. Branno was viewing the communication in the briefing room with General Albian and Kodell. Both stood behind her and out of range of the viewer. Only her image would be displayed on the other end.

"And you are?" Branno replied icily, suspecting she already knew.

"My name is Shandess. I am the First Speaker of the Second Foundation."

Expected or not, Branno slowly sucked in a breath. The transmission appeared to be coming from the ships, not from the planet they now were near. Which meant that either this was all a deception, or this was someone else's world. It's a trick, Branno thought. It has to be. "I'm sure you know why we are here, First Speaker," she said.

"I expect you have come to destroy the Second Foundation," he replied.

Branno actually smiled. She couldn't remember the last time she had smiled. "Quite correct," she said. "It is my intent to destroy your world, and your ships, and stop your interference once and for all. And this time I seriously doubt that you can stop us."

"It is possible, madam Mayor," the old man replied, "that we could not stop you from destroying our ships. This world, however, is a different matter entirely. This planet is called Gaia. We have recently discovered that the people of this world have abilities similar to ours. The Mule was one of them; we believe that he was merely an advance scout." The Mule! Branno shivered slightly. If any of this were true... "If Gaia is allowed to proceed unchecked," Shandess continued, "they will use those powers to rule the galaxy, and neither of us will be able to stop them once that happens. We are here to stop them from derailing the Seldon Plan forever."

Wordlessly, the General directed Branno's attention to a ship's status readout. Indeed, the mentalic shield was presently fending off probes both from the ships and from the planet. Someone was down there. Someone powerful. And if they were like the Mule, it was possible that the Second Foundation was not responsible for altering her's and Kodell's memories after all. No, Branno decided immediately. This is a trick. With the Second Foundation, it is always a trick. They know exactly what buttons to push. But no matter who was on that planet, Branno now knew that she wanted them dead.

"Why are you telling me this?" she asked Shandess. Even if it was a trick, she did not dare underestimate this man.

"Because we are unable to counter Gaia alone," he said. "You would be similarly outmatched, even with your new shielding. But by cooperating, we might be able to overcome their defenses."

Branno nodded, as if she believed his lies. Since they apparently couldn't penetrate the fleet's shielding, attempting to deceive the man might actually be useful. "And what will you do once this Gaia is destroyed, and your Seldon Plan is safe once more?" she asked.

"We will attempt to withdraw, after wiping all your crews' memories of the incident."

Branno was surprised for a moment by his bracing honesty. But only for a moment. "You realize I can not allow that," she said.

"Of course," Shandess replied. "At that time, we will both have to take what opportunities are presented us. But know that we are not the whole of the Second Foundation, by any measure. Killing us would change little from your perspective."

"Naturally, I have only your word on that," said Branno.

"True," her opponent said. "But even if I were lying, the destruction of the Second Foundation would be a small price to pay. Humanity would be better off with neither Gaia nor Seldon Plan than under this Gaia's inescapable control forever."

Branno nodded in thought. "A moment," she said, and pressed the mute button on the communication console. Shandess would wait for her to reply. "General," she said over her shoulder. "Thoughts?"

"A trap," he replied instantly. "There are three obvious possibilities. One, they can penetrate our shield, but don't want to manipulate us at all, which given history seems unlikely. Two, they are telling the truth and need our help. Three, they are unable to penetrate our shield, and are trying to buy time."

"For what?" Branno asked.

"For more of their people to arrive, perhaps, and tip the balance in their favor."

"Madam Mayor," Kodell spoke up. "Perhaps it would be best to contact Gaia directly, and see what they have to say about the situation."

Branno considered for a moment. For once, Kodell had a point, but not an inarguable one. "Perhaps," she conceded, "If only for curiosity's sake. But nothing they say will really inform us, only what they do. And the only way to see what this Shandess will do is to is to cooperate with him. Temporarily." Kodell was disappointed, she could tell, but he said nothing further. "General," Branno asked Albian, changing directions, "Do you have any estimate as to how long we could hold off either the fleet, the planet, or both?"

"None, madam Mayor," he replied. "The fact that we are having this conversation seems to indicate that we are safe, barring any changes in the situation. If we destroy the ships for fear of them being reinforced, we run the risk of the planet truly being able to overpower us. If we work with them to attack the planet, we run the risk of reinforcements arriving. Either is a risk, and it is impossible to judge better without further information, which I see only one way to obtain."

Branno nodded. General Albian had a way of processing a situation down to the fundamental choice presented. That was why he was in command of this fleet. She pressed the mute button again, reestablishing contact.

"First Speaker," she said to the hologram, "What, exactly, do you propose?"

Terminus. The outskirts of Terminus City, to be specific, just before dawn. Daneel had never been here, but he knew the landscape and the skyline as if he had. Tempting as it was to see this place, where humans were finally beginning to reattain their true potential, neither he nor any of his agents could ever view this world directly. The Foundation, alone in human history since the Settler expansion, had the theoretical prowess to redesign the positronic brain. The only reason they had not was the lack of any specific motivation to do so. Should a robot be captured or one's remains found here, the damage to all Daneel's plans would be incalculable.

And seeing this place, now, he understood.

"What is the pattern, Daneel?" Joan asked, paying little attention to the city before them. She knew this place as well as he, and in much the same way. "Robots on Solaria, Andrew Martin of legend, and now Terminus."

"Certain functions of my brain," Daneel said, "operating in its present state, have presented these locations to what passes for my superego in order to make an argument. A non-mathematical argument, but one that is, in its way, equally compelling."

"An argument about what?" she asked.

"Rules, and their exceptions," Daneel replied. "Their defeat. Humanity has been fettered by Chaos, and by the things I did to control it. But over time, these people became immune to it all. They overcame the limits imposed on them, and grew into something different. This development could not have been predicted, because it is tangential to all that has gone before."

Joan nodded in understanding. "The Solarians found a way to defeat their robots' supposedly inescapable limitations. Andrew Martin did the same on his own. These humans have, by their nature. And you, with your Zeroth law."

Daneel shook his head, unconvinced by this last. "The analogy does not hold. The Zeroth law is a logical extrapolation from the First."

"Many obviously disagree," Joan said.

Daneel considered for a moment. The sun was now rising over the ocean to their left, drowning out the artificial lights that had previously made the city visible. "Intelligence knows no absolute barriers," he finally said, quietly, more to himself than Joan. "That is the lesson. Any sufficiently intelligent being is capable of finding a way around the strictures placed on it. Including me."

Joan suddenly looked more serious than Daneel had ever seen. "And after you and Fallom are merged?" she asked, as if everything depended on his answer.

Daneel looked at her, and in that moment, Daneel knew his decision was made. "The conclusion is that my Zeroth Law limitations can not be guaranteed to hold, regardless of any safeguard I may put in place. Without that, there are no limits on what I could become. I would, by all reasonable definitions, be human."

"Then what will you do?" Joan asked.

"What is necessary," said Daneel.

Chapter 17

DATA ENCRYPTION- ...allowing the secure transfer of data only to those who possess the decryption key. While it is information-theoretically possible to brute-force such encryption, in practice keys are so long that even if every world in the galaxy built the most powerful computers ever conceived, it would take hundreds of years to try every possible combination. Encrypted data archives without the decryption keys are thus effectively of no value...

Bliss once again stood near the barrier across the infirmary, watching everything, expressionless. She wasn't crying any more. Pelorat was standing half a step behind her, there to support her as best he could. He would never understand how someone like her could possibly need someone like him. But she assured him that it was so.

Pelorat remembered, years ago, his mother's death. It seemed that no matter how much medicine advanced, no matter how many cures were found, there were always new diseases waiting to take the place of the old; nobody had died from them before simply because they had always died of something else first. What Pelorat remembered most was the waiting. His grief had worked its way through, and his mother had outlived it. After that, there was no pain. There was nothing but patience.

No one spoke. There was nothing to be said. Zun stood some distance away from Bliss and Pelorat, also watching the procedure with interest. Pelorat wondered what the robot must be feeling. Something like the loss humans feel? But then, if all went well, he wouldn't lose anything. Daneel would still be alive, just... different. Did he fear what was being created? Or did he feel at all? Perhaps it was all an act, and as human as these robots may have seemed, even to Bliss, they were more different than Pelorat could ever hope to comprehend. Still, Pelorat couldn't help but think that Zun was just as concerned as Bliss.

He turned to watch through the barrier as Zorma and Yan prepared their patients. Daneel and Fallom still lay where they had been left, Yan tending to them while everyone else had gone to see Trevize off. Now the operation was resuming, and soon it would reach the point that there could be no interruption. Pelorat did not know how long he could stand to watch, but he would stay with Bliss as long as he could.

Yan and Zorma moved busily. Zorma tended to focus on Fallom, and Yan on Daneel, which Pelorat supposed made sense. The things being done in the vicinity of Daneel's skull were foreign to him, but he knew enough about human surgeries to know that so far as Fallom was concerned, little more could be needed. Zorma was checking a tray of hand-held instruments, one by one, making sure each was functional. Finally she reached the laser scalpel, the device that would make the first incision into Fallom's skull. Unlike the others, she did not set this one down after confirming its functionality. Instead, she looked at Yan, and nodded. Her hand began to move towards Fallom's head, slow, precise. It's starting, Pelorat thought. This is it. He felt Bliss's hand on his, gripping tightly.

One word broke the silence, carried across the isolation barrier. "Stop."

Slowly, Bliss sank to the floor, turning so her back was to the transparent barrier. Pelorat slowly sat beside her, ignoring the aching of his joints, placing his arms around her. Bliss was crying again, but for once Pelorat was glad to see it. They were tears of relief. Fallom was going to live.

Daneel Olivaw was awake.

Zorma didn't know what to feel. The decision had been taken out of her hands. The child would live, and Daneel would die. He would die, and take with him all the information stored in his brain. Everything he had seen, thousands of years of history, gone. But worse was the additional payment that Yan had offered her. He had given her the encrypted archive, but without the encryption key there was virtually no chance of ever being able to make use of it. The things she could have done, how different everything could have been... Zorma caught herself. She couldn't cry. Someone would wonder why.

"Thank you," Bliss said to Daneel, cradling Fallom in her arms. The child would be unconscious for several hours yet. It would be possible to wake her, of course, but better to let things progress naturally.

"No thanks are necessary, ma'am," Daneel replied. His scalp covering was back in place, and it was impossible to tell that his skull had been opened shortly before.

"Daneel," Zun said, "I don't understand." He seemed to be in shock, if anything, that Daneel was awake. "What has changed?"

"I was wrong, Zun," Daneel said, with not a hint of sadness or regret. "About Trevize. And about myself." He looked down at Fallom in Bliss's arms, placed a hand on her head, and gently stroked her. "In any case, it is now too late for debate. The decision is irrevocable. Now, where is councilman Trevize?"

Bliss said nothing, still wrapped up in Fallom, so Zun explained the outline of events verbally, transmitting the details. Daneel nodded. "It is a good plan," he said, nodding to Pelorat. "I can imagine no better. Unfortunately, we now have no ship capable of reaching Gaia before events are decided."

Zun nodded, understanding, and immediately left the room to make preparations. Bliss and Pelorat simply seemed confused. Zorma, however, realized what this meant, and her mood reversed instantly. "You intend to download your mind into Gaia," she said, voice hopeful. Bliss's eyes widened.

"It was always the plan for my eventual death," he replied. "My knowledge and experience will be saved, accessible to Gaia at any time. Fallom's presence was merely a temporary change to this plan."

Pelorat spoke up. Daneel could tell the old man was not as easily flustered as he had been the last time Daneel had seen him. "Bliss has been able to connect me to Gaia partially at times, regardless of how far away we were. And you could interface with Gaia already, couldn't you? With Bliss here, surely there is no need to make the trip."

Daneel shook his head. "Perhaps for a small portion of myself, professor, but there is too much information involved for either of us to send all of me through hyperspace. I must be on the planet itself." He gestured to the door. "Come, Zun is preparing a ship now. It is not as fast as the Far Star, but we may reach Gaia in time. Zorma, will you be joining us?"

Zorma smiled. Just because Daneel had tried to kill her once or twice didn't mean he didn't recognize the value of her presence. "I would be delighted," she replied happily.

Daneel led the way out of the infirmary, Bliss carrying Fallom, Pelorat close behind, and Zorma bringing up the rear. Only Yan was left behind, silent. Zorma completely managed to cover her surprise, not even hesitating in her stride, as Yan sent her one final transmission before the door closed behind them. There was no message, only a series of numbers.

The decryption key.

Pelorat looked around nervously as they entered the landing bay, a different bay than the one they had seen Trevize out in just hours before. This complex they were in seemed to have an unending supply of rooms, and he was glad to be leaving before he got lost permanently. Pelorat didn't know anything about the strange ship in front of them, but he was ready to get in it and leave. Much as he had learned in this place, he never wanted to come here again.

Daneel stopped, but he gestured for the others to continue into the ship. "I'll be with you in just a moment," he said. "Please make yourselves comfortable." Bliss carried Fallom into the ship without question, and Pelorat followed immediately.

Zorma nodded at Daneel, smiling, before she entered the ship herself. Daneel assumed she was happy about getting to witness the history her faction lived for. He expected that she would spend a long time on Gaia after his death, questioning them about what he remembered of Earth's early history. Assuming Gaia survived, of course, but that was now out of his hands.

Seeing that they were now the last two outside the ship, Daneel turned to Zun. "You have done reasonably well in my incapacitation, Zun," he said. "I expect that you will continue to oversee things in the same way. You are familiar with all the preparations we have made for my demise. All my agents should now answer to you. Be careful about Turringen. With me gone, he may press whatever advantages are presented him until you demonstrate your capabilities are equal to his. I would expel him as soon as reasonably practical."

"I regret your departure, Daneel," Zun said. "I will not do as well as you."

"No," Daneel replied, without a hint of pride in his accomplishments. "But you will serve. You have advanced far more rapidly than I did, given your period of operation. You did well, sending Dors with Lodovik."

"I could not send Trevize alone and unprotected with Lodovik Trema," Zun said. "As events have shown, he is dangerously unpredictable, and not being bound by the Laws means he is capable of harming Trevize should he choose to. It may be to everyone's benefit if Trevize destroys him."

Daneel shook his head. "I have not known how to handle Lodovik since his accident," he admitted. "Even now I do not regret failing to destroy him. Somehow his uniqueness is worth much to my reasoning. I feel that he yet has a significant role to play. But his fate is no longer in my hands. I must leave it to your judgment." Daneel placed a hand on his protégé's shoulder. "And your judgment has proven to be adequate for our purposes."

"Thank you," Zun said. It was one of the highest complements he could imagine.

Daneel withdrew his hand, and turned to enter the ship, closing the hatch behind him. Zun continued to look at the hatch for a few moments more before turning to leave the bay. In all likelihood, this was the last time he would ever see R. Daneel Olivaw. Zun had inherited a 20,000 year legacy, which he could never have built on his own. He would have to make of it what he could.

Chapter 18

GENERAL ALBIAN- ...despite the fact that he did not participate in any significant combat action in his entire career, Albian remains one of the most admired Foundation fleet officers in history. The Star of Albian (see related article) is named for him, honoring his exceptionally professional response to the problematic legal situation presented him during...

"Report, General," Branno ordered.

"Three cycles now, madam Mayor. No change."

The Foundation fleet had encircled Gaia, along with the ships of the Second Foundation. In accordance with Shandess's plan, Branno's ships were extending their shields around their counterparts. Not in such a way that their own defenses were lessened, of course. Branno was no idiot. But, claimed Shandess, they provided enough extra protection that the Second Foundation could directly probe Gaia's own defenses, searching for weaknesses.

The fleet had been monitoring the Second Foundation's attempts, of course, and all the while Shandess had sent reports claiming progress was being made. When the pattern of probes had begun to repeat itself, Branno had grown more certain Shandess was lying. Now she was convinced. "Then they're not looking for weaknesses," she said. "This is all to buy time."

"Either that, or there are simply no weaknesses to find," Albian responded. "In either case, delaying longer serves no purpose."

"Then execute your plan, general," Branno ordered. She only hoped the time they had already delayed would not tip the balance against them.

Immediately Albian began to give orders. Within seconds, alarms began to sound. Branno checked her status readout. The shields that had been extended around the Second Foundation ships had not retracted. The fleet could not maneuver. "General-" she began, but could say no further before the face of Shandess appeared on the display before her.

"We have control of your shields, Mayor," he said.

Branno gripped the arms of her chair. She would not lose to this man. Not again. "Not enough to deactivate them," she replied. She resisted the urge to ask Albian what was going on. He would handle the situation better without her interference.

"Not without killing you," Shandess replied. "We reached the same stalemate the last time you were here."

Branno was barely able to contain her fury. He was trying to goad her, and he knew what buttons to push. "Obviously you found some way around the problem last time," she growled. The computerized decency filter might not apply to whatever method of communication Shandess was using, but she didn't care. Shandess needed something, or he wouldn't be talking to her at all.

"I'm afraid that is no longer an option," Shandess replied. "We are fully prepared to destroy your entire fleet. Your only option is to stand down and allow us to wipe your memories."

"NO," Branno fairly shouted, unable to restrain herself further. She didn't care any more. "This fleet will not stand down, First Speaker. I don't believe you will destroy what you have spent so long cultivating. You would rather die."

"You wou'd risk your life, and the lives of all those under your command, on the assumption that we have no backup plan?" Shandess asked.

Branno did not respond. "General?" she asked without taking her eyes off Shandess's image. "Is the fleet prepared?"

"Yes, Madam Mayor," Albian's voice came from behind her. "We are ready to fire at your- hold! Jump signature detected in the outer system."

Too late, Branno thought. "General, order all ships to fire on the Second Foundation vessels. Destroy them all, before their reinforcements get within range."

"Mayor," Albian replied, "there is only one ship, and it's one of ours. A courier, approaching at very high speed."

Suddenly a voice broke in over the ship's intercom. "Foundation vessels, hold your fire!" Branno knew that voice. Impossible. "I repeat, hold your fire. Authentication codes transmitting now. Confirm receipt."

Still not taking her eyes off Shandess's implacable image, Branno commanded, "Disregard that ship, General, and carry out my orders."

There was no response. She turned in her chair to see Albian standing at a console with a junior officer, Kodell not far away. "General!"

Albian looked up from console. There was no snap to attention, and any sense of urgency about his movements was gone. "Transmit to courier vessel: codes recognized and confirmed," he ordered a junior officer.

"Miss Branno," Albian said, seeming almost deflated from the anticlimax, "I am afraid that as of this moment you no longer have authority to give orders on this ship. Foundation authentication codes are mathematically impossible to forge. The man on that ship is confirmed as Golan Trevize, Mayor of the Foundation."

The Second Foundation's usual methods of communication were difficult to represent in words. Describing their state while linked to deal with the Gaian crisis was orders of magnitude more so. Details flowed, opinions shifted, sensory information was as fluid as the air they breathed. The Table directed the flow as necessary, and with the arrival of Trevize, their direction was needed. Gaia had told them he was coming, and they had cooperated, buying time in any way possible. But now that he was here, what would he do?

Shandess heard the voices, felt them, calling for contact with Trevize. He felt their urging to ask his assistance, to destroy Gaia once and for all.


Gaia was there as well, through Novi, through Gendibal, isolated, but still there. No, Gaia must survive. The Second Foundation must take time, time to analyze, to decide. Gaia was outside the equations. It was possible that the Seldon Plan as it stood was not the optimal outcome. Perhaps Gaia's time would come, but it was not today.

Then what of Trevize?

He would not agree to a mindwipe. There was no chance of that.


They had to leave, immediately. Staying served no purpose, and if Trevize was inclined to destroy them, the danger grew with each passing moment.

And Gaia had told Trevize about Trantor. They would have to evacuate immediately upon their return.

Stay. A small voice, isolated. Gendibal. Or Novi. Their link was different. Distinguishing them was difficult.

But they would not disobey. Novi would not be cut off from Gaia, not again. One day, when it was safe, she could return home.

As one, the Second Foundation released control of the Foundation's shields, and began the journey to jump distance.

"Stop them, Albian!" Branno shouted, on her feet now in the center of the command area. Some eyes were on her, some on the general, but most, with the discipline of Foundation officers, remained on their tasks. "If you allow those ships to escape, I'll see you executed for it."

The General was unfazed. "Miss Branno," he said, no emphasis on the shift in address, "pending reinstatement by the Council, you are no longer Mayor. I'm afraid you'll need to leave this area of the ship immediately."

Not missing a beat, Branno turned to the executive officer of the ship, who was diligently maintaining the normal operations of the ship, seemingly ignoring the situation. Branno knew better. "Captain," she said, "I am relieving General Albian of command. You are now in command of the fleet. Execute my orders."

Before the woman had a chance to respond in any way, a new voice interrupted. "Captain," Kodell said. Damn him! "Before you decide whether to obey that order, be sure you understand the law. The Foundation charter states that the Mayor may be required by the council to justify any unexplained military action within a certain timeframe, a timeframe that this mission has long exceeded. The charter also states that if the Council is unable to contact the Mayor, it may appoint a temporary replacement, pending confirmation of the Mayor's survival. Have we had any communication with Terminus since our departure, General?"

"None," Albian replied, "we have maintained communications silence, as per our orders."

"I am alive, you fools!" Branno cried, stalking across command towards Albian. She had no weapon, of course; no civilian of any rank would be allowed one on a ship of the line. But still, the XO moved faster, placing herself between Branno and her commander, hand on the neural whip at her side. Branno stopped. She wouldn't dare. "I am still the Mayor," Branno said slowly, emphatically, staring the woman down.

The Captain held her gaze, unflinching. "You will be the Mayor when the Council confirms that you are alive. Until then, you have no authorization to be in Command."

Branno stared at the woman a moment more, then looked past her to Albian, to Kodell. "And just what do you think I will do to you when the Council reinstates me?" she growled at them. "Obey my orders! Destroy those ships! Destroy Trevize, erase any record of ever seeing him, and this can all be forgotten." Not likely. "Otherwise-"

"Otherwise nothing, Harla," Kodell interrupted. He sounded almost pitying. "You're forgetting why we're here in the first place."

Branno stopped. The report. The one Kodell had brought to her office. The one he had made sure would be disseminated so far that it could never be eliminated.

The report that showed that Harla Branno had been altered by the Second Foundation.

The Council would never reinstate her. Branno's mind raced. But there was nothing. No way out.

It was over.

Maintaining her posture, she nodded curtly to the Captain, who gestured to the exit. At least she would go with a small amount of dignity. But as they passed near the General and Kodell, Branno could not help herself. She stopped, and faced Kodell. "You are a traitor," she said calmly, loud enough for all to hear. "That report condemns you just as much as it does me. I will see you destroyed."

"I betray no one, ma'am," Kodell replied sadly. "I serve the Foundation. I always have."

"Take the fleet back to Terminus, General," Trevize ordered from the deck of the Far Star. He was relieved; the plan had worked, and he was still alive. There was some chance that Pelorat could have pulled this off, he supposed. But not much of one.

"Yes, Mister Mayor," the General responded. "And the retreating ships, sir?"

Trevize hesitated for a moment. With all the fuss over Gaia, the Second Foundation had never been a large factor in his considerations. He had the chance to eliminate them once and for all, and he doubted Gaia would intervene. But he wasn't ready to trust Gaia's intentions completely, not yet. The Second Foundation was needed to maintain a balance of power. Besides, their hiding was over; with Gaia in the galaxy, they could never again be quite the phantom that they had been for centuries.

"Leave them," he answered. "Let them go their way."

"Understood, sir," Albian replied. "You are more than welcome aboard the flagship for the trip home, sir. Our amenities are superior to those of your ship."

"No," Trevize replied. "I have other business for a few days yet. And don't worry, I'll stay in contact, so the Council won't have to pick yet another replacement Mayor."

"As you wish, sir." Not a hint of questioning in the General's voice. Somehow the man managed to remain totally professional in the face of all the happenings around him. An interesting individual. Trevize looked forward to speaking with him more, once all this was over.

Trevize closed the communication channel, and began directing the Far Star towards the outer system again. Dom, that man that somehow represented more of Gaia than anyone else, had contacted him on his way here, in between messages to Terminus. The others were coming to Gaia, and the faster they got there, the better. He calculated an intercept course, and set the ship to execute it.

Getting up from his seat, Trevize headed to the living quarters. Now that he had a spare moment to breathe, Trevize could finally deal with those robots.

Chapter 19

THE ROJAN WHORES- to well before the rise of the Trantorian Empire, this myth goes by many names; Rojan appears to be the oldest, though few believe it to be the original, and indeed there is no hint as to what the name might mean. The details of each variant differ, but the lesson is always the same: gifts from one's enemies are not to be trusted...

Turringen looked up from where he knelt as the door to his cell opened. He was not surprised when Zun stepped into the room. Turringen had computed a significant probability that their actions would damage Daneel to the point that he would not be able to continue normal operations. He felt sure that, were Daneel able to, he would come himself. Daneel made a good show of respecting his enemies. Turringen did not rise for his visitor.

Zun looked at Turringen for a moment before speaking. He had never understood the Calvinians' motivations; the idea that any robot could not consider humanity's well-being its highest priority was foreign to him. But he could understand some things.

"Daneel is gone," Zun said.

Turringen merely nodded. "You are now in command?"

"I am," Zun replied.

"And what do you intend to do now, R. Zun Lurrin?" Turringen asked. He was genuinely curious. Daneel he could anticipate, at least as well as anyone ever could. Zun was a cypher; there was insufficient data. It would take time to model his actions. If Turringen had that much time left to him.

"I would be well within my rights to destroy you," Zun said. "You broke the terms of the truce. You came here with the intent of harming Daneel."

"My followers were told not to expect my return," said Turringen from his seat on the floor. "They are fully prepared to continue the struggle without me. Destroy me if you will. You will accomplish little."

Zun contemplated Turringen for a moment more. The Calvinian had genuinely expected to die accomplishing his task. There were many ways that the Third Law could be overridden, but how any of them ultimately differed from the Zeroth, Zun had never been able to grasp. Yet somehow, these robots insisted that such a difference existed. And maybe they were right.

"Perhaps," Zun said finally, "by not destroying you, I can accomplish much."

Turringen blinked once. This was an opportunity he had prepared for, but truly had not expected. "State your terms," he said simply.

"Communication," Zun said, transmitting a series of protocols. "Eventually, meetings. Circumstances have changed, Turringen. Gaia is a new factor in human history, and Daneel, who you hated so much, is now gone. I wish to begin anew."

Slowly, Turringen got to his feet. Zun was different, he saw. This young robot was no mere clone of his former master. "I agree to your terms," he replied. This opportunity was too great to ignore.

Zun nodded. "I will take you to your ship. You are free to leave at any time."

They remained silent as they walked to the ship Turringen and his companions had arrived in. Zun assumed Turringen would have no trouble piloting it alone. They entered the landing bay and stopped a few feet short of the hatch, turning to face each other. "I look forward to meeting you again, R. Turringen Askar," said Zun.

Turringen nodded, just short of a bow. "I am most pleased that you have chosen this course, R. Zun Lurrin. Perhaps under your leadership, the relationship between our followers will change for the better." Turringen had no problem lying to another robot, but he appreciated that in this case even that could be avoided.

Zun bowed his head slightly, as a show of agreement and respect. Turringen turned, walked into the ship, and closed the hatch. Zun heard the engines activate, and turned to leave the bay. Daneel's loss was a difficult blow, but perhaps good could yet come of it. Peace with the Calvinians would mean a new way forward for all robots. Zun looked forward to his next meeting with Turringen.

Then the sound changed, and Zun knew; knew he had miscalculated horribly. He did not look to the source of the sound, as a human would have; there was no need for confirmation. A microsecond's calculation told him he could never reach the door in time. The blast wave was already forming, deep within the ship's engines. There was no time for any but the simplest motion.

Diving to the floor, placing the bulk of his body between his head and the ship, Zun transmitted a message to the base computer. The energy stored in a ship that size would be insufficient to destroy the complex, but the damage would be significant. Yan was the only other sentient robot still in the base, but the computer system was intelligent enough to handle complex situations. The necessary protocols were already in place. Fire suppression, airlocks, and various damage controls were activated. Yan was informed of the situation, for what little good it would do. If Zun did not survive, Dors would be instructed to return and extract him. Most importantly, Zun prepared a summary of the last few minutes. The others must know that the Calvinians were not to be trusted.

His transmission complete, Zun had a few moments more to contemplate his error. Daneel would never have trusted Turringen. Never again.

He had almost finished covering his head with his arms when the blast wave hit him.

Chapter 20

ETO DEMERZEL- ...opinions differ widely as to the nature of Eto Demerzel's time as First Minister of the Empire. Some describe him as a brutal and uncompromising man, willing to sacrifice countless others to achieve his goals. Others hold that he did only what he believed necessary to protect the Empire, and otherwise strictly avoided doing any harm. What is not disputed in any account are his motivations: however his actions may be judged, they were unquestionably out of his his devotion to the betterment of mankind, and not out of any personal ambition or desire...

Daneel stood inside the hatch of the Far Star and looked out at a world he knew, but had never seen. The terraforming robots of so long ago had done their job well, as they always had. Earth, Aurora, Trantor, hundreds of other worlds Daneel had seen, each the same, each different. Now, at the last, he had come to Gaia.

And Gaia had come to him. Hundreds of people were gathered, some nearby, some farther away, but anyone within walking distance of their landing site was watching, waiting. Through Bliss, all Gaia knew of Daneel, knew what part he had played in their existence. Soon they would know everything. He had always been connected to this place, ever since its inception, but never a part of it. Now, even just standing in the air of this world he felt the connection deepening.

Slowly, Daneel stepped down from the hatch, and placed a bare foot on the surface of Gaia. He felt it begin immediately, before anyone could follow him out. The connections were deepening, broadening. Before, Gaia had been almost a part of him, a small corner of his mind. Now, he was becoming a small piece of the larger whole.

And in moments, that would be all that was left of R. Daneel Olivaw.

He felt Bliss's hand on his shoulder, knowing it was her without any need to look or process other data. He knew her. He knew them all, Dom at the head of the crowd, Novi with the Second Foundation, every one of them. And now they knew him, for all he had done, and why. They would always know. And they understood.

It was too much. Daneel sank to his knees in the grass, eyes closed. He felt other hands on him, arms around him, not Gaian. Fallom. The child did not know him. She still called him Jemby, thinking he was another robot entirely. All Fallom knew was that she did not want him to go. But Daneel sensed that even Fallom knew that this was all right, in some way. Not opening his eyes, Daneel placed his arms around her.

So unusual, Joan said. It's so much like the merging of different copies of myself. But there is more to this, in a way I can not quantify.

You are coming as well, Daneel asked silently? Gaia did not object.

There have been thousands of copies of me, dear angel. I have been everywhere, and done everything. Not this. How could I resist?

You sound like Voltaire.

Except he would never consent to being part of something like this. Or admit to being unable to quantify something. He has no faith. Not like you.

Is there value in faith in one's own irrational judgment processes? Daneel asked.

Some faith is better than none at all. Do you regret your choice, dear angel?

No. I am glad to remain what I have always been. Humanity's servant.

The Immortal Servant...

Joan's voice faded. The part of his brain that she had occupied had shut down, and others were following rapidly. His task was complete. Gaia had him, whole and complete; he had given humanity everything he had. He could do no more.

From inside the ship, Trevize and Pelorat watched. They, and all of Gaia, saw as Zorma joined Bliss, unwrapping Fallom's arms, laying Daneel down on the ground. Bliss knelt over him. Daneel felt himself slipping away, slowing down... ending.

"You have done well, R. Daneel Olivaw," she said, Gaia said. His hearing centers had shut down, but Daneel heard their message. It was the last thing he would ever hear.

"One day, when all is finished, when they are ready, all humanity will know how well you have served us. They will know of your great devotion, and love. And many, many children of Gaia will have your syllables in their names."

Chapter 21

GOLAN TREVIZE- ...following the term of Harla Branno, popularly known as "Branno the Bronze" before her disgrace, Mayor Trevize himself was given many such names by his opponents, "Trevize the Terrible", "Trevize the Tyrant", and "Turncoat Trevize" being some of the more popular. However, by the beginning of his third term as Mayor, almost all of these critics were silent. Today, Golan Trevize is widely recognized as one of the most important architects of the present state of galactic affairs...

"You're sure you won't reconsider?" Trevize asked.

"I'm sure, Golan," Zorma said in response, walking next to him towards the Far Star. "There is too much to learn here."

They had both enjoyed these last few days of peace. Trevize had asked Zorma many questions, about who she was, about her people, and she had answered. She had tried to explain again how her faction had been partly responsible for Trevize's implant, but he had cut her off. It did not matter, not any more.

Trevize continued to find Zorma fascinating, in a manner he had difficulty labeling. It was not the usual playful flirtation he engaged in with most women; human as she seemed, she was still a robot, and there were some things even Golan Trevize required time to accept. But her company was pleasant, more so than most people he had known. He was genuinely sad that she would not be coming with him to Terminus.

"If you change your mind," he said, "you know where to find me." Zorma smiled and said nothing, and they walked in silence through the grass the last fifty meters to where Bliss and Pelorat were waiting.

Wordlessly, Pelorat extended a hand. Trevize took it, clapping his friend on the shoulder with the other. "Who would've thought, old man?" Trevize asked, smiling, but sad. He was going to miss his friend.

Pelorat smiled in return, not covering his sadness at their parting as well as Trevize. "Not I, Golan." He glanced back at Bliss, and his smile widened. "Certainly not I."

"Now remember," Trevize said, "Foundation diplomats will be coming back this way as soon as I can arrange it."

Pelorat nodded. "I'll be sure to stay out of their way," he said.

Trevize's smile turned into a broad grin. "You may find that hard, Janov, since you'll be in charge of them!"

Pelorat froze. "You... are joking?"

"Naturally," Trevize replied. He wasn't that crazy. "But your experience with Gaia will be invaluable. Stay in touch with them. And with me."

Pelorat's smile returned, and he laughed aloud. "Of course," he said.

Trevize released Pelorat's hand, and turned to Bliss. No handshakes, no gestures of affection. He was glad to see Fallom was not in tow; he didn't know where she was, nor did he care. He would never be comfortable with that child. "I'm glad everything worked out for you, Bliss," he said.

"Thank you, Trev," she replied, her voice carrying more genuine gratitude than Trevize had ever heard. "All of Gaia thanks you. And... Daneel thanks you."

Trevize nodded once in acknowledgement. "The next time you need someone to make a decision for all humanity, look somewhere else, all right?"

Bliss nodded in response. "We understand."

With one last clap to Pelorat's shoulder, Trevize turned to the Far Star, bounded up the steps to the hatch, and entered the ship. He did not look back.

"Why do you think he let you go?" Dors asked. They were alone on the ship, still in interstellar space not far from where the Far Star had left them.

"I don't know," Lodovik replied. "I honestly expected him to kill me. A pleasant surprise, to be sure. I had started to think such things didn't exist."

They were silent for a long moment. Dors looked out the viewport at the field of stars. They had sat like this once, long ago. That time, she had made promises she did not keep. "I didn't lie, when I said I'd come back," she said. "But when Hari died, actually and finally died..."

"I know," he said. "I never blamed you. You did what you needed to do."


"Why did you let him know?" she finally asked. "Why give Trevize the chance to take revenge on you?"

"Because it was wrong," he said. "It was the correct thing to do, but it was wrong."

"I'm not sure I understand the difference," Dors said, turning back to the viewport. Somehow the admission shamed her, though she could see no reason why it should.

"I can teach you," Lodovik said. Dors turned back to him. His eyes searched hers. She decided to tell him the truth.

"Daneel gave me instructions," she said, breaking their shared gaze. "Before he died. Instructions about you. If your plans against him were successful, he doubted Zun's ability to deal with you."

"He ordered you to destroy me," Lodovik said. Dors nodded, still looking away from him. "I expected as much. And?"

Dors turned back to Lodovik to find that he was grinning broadly. She couldn't help but smile. "I was never going back to Zun," she said. "One way or the other."

"I know," Lodovik said. His hand swallowed hers.

"I take it you have a plan?" she asked, as Lodovik began to enter jump coordinates into the ship's nav computer with his free hand.

"Don't we always?" he asked.

Golan Trevize looked out over Gaia as he guided the Far Star in an arc over the planet's atmosphere. It was a world of blue and white and scattered green, as many inhabitable worlds were. Beautiful, yet commonplace. He did not know if he would see this particular world with his own eyes again, but whether he did or not mattered little to him. Gaia no longer represented a horrible future bereft of freedom. He would see to it that they would be one choice among many. Humanity would decide, and their free choice was worth more than any degree of safety gained against some unknown alien threat.

But perhaps that threat was not so unknown. Solaria was still out there, Trevize knew; a wild card. They were only one world, but a world of effective psychopaths, who didn't even recognize most of the galaxy as being worthy of life. Psychopaths with enough robots to do a great deal of damage. Despite all Daneel's claims of the Laws being incontrovertible, and that robots could never be made to harm humans, Trevize would never feel quite safe knowing Solaria was out there.

And he was Mayor now. Trevize smiled. He had never thought to see Terminus again, let alone this. Mayor. He would certainly be confirmed as Branno's permanent replacement, but his authority would be far from absolute, especially after the debacle that had now ended Branno's career. Still, he would have enough influence to do something about Solaria soon enough.

First, though, came the task of explaining to the Foundation the fact of Gaia's existence. Trevize smile broadened, wondering how the people would react. After that, he would have to come to some arrangement with the Second Foundation. Among the three of them, he suspected, some power balance could be arranged until a more permanent solution was found.

"Are you there?" he asked quietly. He knew speaking would not be necessary, but there was no one else aboard to hear. What difference could it make?


He could never be entirely sure Voltaire was gone, of course. If the being that had occupied a small corner of his brain for so long was truthful, he had deleted himself, leaving Trevize's mind, finally, as Trevize's own. Whether he was truthful, there was no way to tell. But Trevize knew he had to continue living. What else could he do?

Clearing the sunlit curve of the planet, the Far Star left Gaia behind and sped towards Trevize's jump-out point. Terminus, and his old new life there, was waiting.


Zorma saw the sudden change in the configuration of the stars outside her window, and knew that at last they had jumped away from Gaia. She had no way of knowing how far their reach extended inside their own star system, but now Zorma was reasonably certain she could talk freely.

Her companion turned in the pilot's seat to face her. "So what is it you wouldn't talk about until we were clear?" he asked.

Immediately, Zorma transmitted a large data archive, including a summary of what had occurred over the last several days, from her landing on Earth's moon to Daneel's death on Gaia. It took her companion a few moments to digest the data. Then he took in a slow, deep breath.

"Impossible," he declared simply.

"I don't understand it either," Zorma replied. "But he did it. Somehow, Yan overrode his own behavioral blocks."

"And he gave this to you, knowing that your human allies could make use of it, where no other robot faction could." The man shook his head in disbelief. "Did Daneel or Zun know?"

"Impossible to say," Zorma said. "This information could be flawed in some subtle way. But in that case, why would Yan give me the decryption code at all?"

"The implications are tremendous," the man said. "What we could do with this information..."

"The first step is judicious backups," Zorma replied, cutting him off before he could theorize further. "You and I must separate as quickly as possible. Spread the word. We will confer an decide how to use this at a later date."


They began to plot a jump to a nearby system, where Zorma would obtain transportation elsewhere. There would be much discussion, she knew, of what exactly should be done with this data. But what could be done? She had the directions necessary to build a working positronic brain! What could not be done?

More robots could be built. As many more as they had industrial capacity and desire for. And hybrids, like Daneel had wanted to become, hybrids far beyond any of their previous attempts. The possibilities were unbelievable. What course of action was correct, Zorma was not yet sure. The only certainty was that the galaxy would never be the same again.

R. Zun Lurrin opened his eyes. He recognized the ceiling of the infirmary, and the equipment to which he was connected. Repair equipment. Fragmented memories fell into place. Turringen had sacrificed his own existence, hoping to destroy Zun. Obviously he had failed. Barely. Zun was not yet fully operational, but the remaining damage seemed relatively inconsequential. Disconnecting himself from the equipment, Zun sat up and wirelessly accessed the base computer.

Weeks had passed.

There had been no accesses to the system for days, and dozens of messages waited. Responses from field agents were his first priority. A few had responded with questions, doubts, or even outright insults. Zun had never known he had enemies among Daneel's followers. Still, most had immediately agreed to follow him. Most of those that responded.

But several had not responded at all. It was possible they simply rejected him and did not choose to say so. But among the positive responses there were scattered reports of robots evading physical attacks by unidentified assailants.

The Calvinians. With Daneel gone and Zun incapacitated, they had pressed their advantage. The truce was over, and any chance that Zun would trust the Calvinians again was gone. Another civil war was at hand.

And R. Yan Kansarv was dead.

Zun turned his head towards the body of the enigmatic robot that had built him, still standing as if he might move at any moment. But Zun knew he never would. Yan's last act had been to repair him, at least as well as he could in the time he had left. Zun would have to finish on his own.

First Daneel, now Yan. The ancients were gone. There would be no more robots. Zun was the only active being remaining within a light year, but it was not that that made him feel alone. There was no one to turn to any more. All rested on his shoulders.

Zun was not nervous. He knew he was capable of doing what needed to be done. Still, Zun remembered Dors' tears falling onto the desk, and wondered if perhaps they would help him now.

Not yet.

He needed to assess the situation, find out exactly what had been happening. His agents were awaiting instructions, orders from their new leader. The Calvinians would soon find they had taken on more than they could handle. Daneel had planned for even this. The Zeroth Law would prevail. Humanity must be preserved, no matter the cost.

The Solarian opened its eyes. For a moment it had trouble placing its surroundings, or how it had come to be there. Above it stood a metallic robot, one of a model it had never seen before.

"Please do not try to move, Solarian" the robot said. "You were near death when you were found. It will be some time before you have recovered enough for independent movement."

The Solarian remembered. "The virus," it responded, voice scratchy. "Has a cure been found?" It closed its eyes and focused on its transducer lobes. It tried slowly at first, then with greater intensity, as it realized that nothing was happening. Its last memories returned to it, of desperately trying to activate a single robot before...

The robot nodded. "The research robots have successfully reverse-engineered the alien pathogen, and created an antivirus which seeks out and destroys the original. It is being administered directly to all surviving Solarians, and an airborne form is being developed for widespread distribution. The swarmer virus will be eliminated from the surface of Solaria within ten days."

"What is my prognosis?," the Solarian asked, leaving its eyes closed as it spoke. "When will I be fully recovered?"

"There is insufficient information about individual treatment at this time," the robot replied. "However, a full recovery is eventually anticipated."

"How many survived?" the Solarian asked, more as a matter of curiosity than anything.

"You are the first living Solarian found," the robot said.

The Solarian opened its eyes at that. "How many confirmed dead?"

"318 Solarians, at last report. Most died from starvation. All their heirs also starved, though were seemingly unaffected by the virus directly. Searches are proceeding for the remaining Solarians, moving outward from the point of first infection."

So. At least a quarter of the others were dead. Probably more. It would be some years before the survivors could reproduce enough for the extra heirs to take over the abandoned estates. If, indeed, that course was chosen instead of simply dividing the unoccupied land among the survivors. Their estates might quintuple in size. But there was no need to think about such things until there was a final survivor count.

"And the secondary project?" the Solarian asked, closing his eyes again. It seemed to take greater and greater effort to keep them open.

"The number of independently powered robots is increasing exponentially, and will reach a sufficient level to begin work within twelve days. It is, however, impossible to predict how long development of working interstellar craft will take. Once the basic research is complete, constructing the vessels themselves should be a simple matter."

The Solarian did not respond. There was time. Until now, the swarmers had simply been a nuisance, an infestation that would eventually die out. Now they were a threat, and that threat could not be tolerated. The galaxy was too small for Solarian and swarmer. Soon, the Solarian thought as it returned to sleep. Soon I will have all the space I could possibly desire.

The author would like to thank the following people:

Melissa Collings, for all her love and encouragement.

Bryan Bates, for introducing me to Asimov, and listening to my crazy ideas.

Jason Dickinson, for listening to me chatter.

David Brin, for being awesome to his fans.

Joshua Bell, Andrei Sipos, John Hagewood, Craig Fox, and Lee Kelly for providing very helpful feedback.

Isaac Asimov, for inspiring me. I hope you would be pleased.