Foundation and Chaos
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
For Isaac and Janet
Special thanks to Janet Asimov, Gregory Benford, David Brin, Jennifer Brehl, David Barber, and Joe Miller. And also to the millions of fans of Isaac Asimov, who will keep his universes and characters alive for a very long time indeed.
The centuries recede, and the legend of Hari Seldon grows: the brilliant man, wise man, sad man who charted the course of the human future in the old Empire. But revisionist views prosper, and cannot always be easily dismissed. To understand Seldon, we are sometimes tempted to refer to apocrypha, myths, even fairy tales from those distant times. We are frustrated by the contradictions of incomplete documents and what amount to hagiographies.
This we know without reference to the revisionists: that Seldon was brilliant, Seldon was key. But Seldon was neither saint nor divinely inspired prophet, and of course, he did not act alone. The most pervasive myths involve…
Hari Seldon stood in slippered feet and a thick green scholar’s robe on the enclosed parapet of an upperside maintenance tower, looking from an altitude of two hundred meters over the dark aluminum and steel surface of Trantor. The sky was quite clear over this Sector tonight, only a few vague clouds scudding before nacreous billows and sheets of stars like ghostly fire.
Beneath this spectacle, and beyond the ranks of gently curving domes, obscured and softened by night, lay a naked ocean, its floating aluminum covers pulled aside across hundreds of thousands of hectares. The revealed sea glowed faintly, as if in response to the sky. He could not remember the name of this sea: Peace, or Dream, or Sleep. All the hidden oceans of Trantor had such ancient names, nursery names to soothe. The heart of the Empire needed soothing as much as Hari; soothing, not sooth.
Warm sweet air swirled around his head and shoulders from a vent in the wall behind him. Hari had discovered that the air here was the purest of any in Streeling, perhaps because it was drawn directly from outside. The temperature beyond the plastic window registered at two degrees, a chill he would well remember from his one misadventure upperside, decades before.
He had spent so much of his life enclosed, insulated from the chill as well as the freshness, the newness, much as the numbers and equations of psychohistory insulated him from the harsh reality of individual lives. How can the surgeon work efficiently and still feel the pain of the carved flesh ?
In a real sense, the patient was already dead. Trantor, the political center of the Galaxy, had died decades, perhaps centuries before, and was only now obviously falling to rot. While Hari’s brief personal flame of self would flicker out long before the Empire’s embers powdered to ash, through the equations of the Project he could see clearly the rigor of morbidity, the stiffening face of the Empire’s corpse.
This awful vision had made him perversely famous, and his theories known throughout Trantor, and in many parts of the Galaxy. He was called “Raven” Seldon, harbinger of nightmare doom.
The rot would last five more centuries, a simple and rapid deflation on the time-scales of Hari’s broadest equations…Social skin collapsing, then melting away over the steel bones of Trantor’s Sectors and municipalities…
How many human tales would fill that collapse! An empire, unlike a corpse, continues to feel pain after death. On the scale of the most minute and least reliable equations, sparkling within the displays of his powerful Prime Radiant, Hari could almost imagine a million billion faces blurred together in an immense calculus to fill the area beneath the Empire’s declining curve.
Acceleration of decay marked by the loci of every human story, almost as many as the points on a plane…Beyond understanding, without psychohistory.
It was his hope to foster a rebirth of something better and more durable than the Empire, and he was close to success…according to the equations.
Yet still his most frequent emotion these days was cold regret. To live in a bright and youthful period, the Empire at its most glorious, stable and prosperous-that would be worth all his eminence and accomplishment!
To have returned to him the company of his adopted son Raych, and Dors, mysterious and lovely Dors Venabili, who harbored within tailored flesh and secret steel the passion and devotion of any ten heroes…For their return alone he would multiply geometrically the signs of his own decay, aching limbs and balky bowels and blurred eyesight.
This night, however, Hari was close to peace. His bones did not ache much. He did not feel the worms of grief so sharply. He could actually relax and look forward to an end to this labor.
The pressures pushing him were coming to a hard center. His trial would begin within a month. He knew its outcome with reasonable certainty. This was the Cusp Time. All that he had lived and worked for would be realized soon, his plans moving on to their next step-and to his exit. Conclusions within growth, stops within the flow.
He had an appointment soon to meet with young Gaal Dornick, a significant figure in his plans. Mathematically, Dornick was far from being a stranger; yet they had not met before.
And Hari believed he had seen Daneel once again, though he was not sure. Daneel would not have wanted him to be sure; but perhaps Daneel wanted him to suspect.
So much of what passed for history on Trantor now reeked of misery. In statecraft, after all, confusion was misery-and sometimes misery was a necessity. Hari knew that Daneel still had much work to do, in secret; but Hari would never-could never-tell any other human. Daneel had made sure of that. And for that reason Hari could never speak the complete truth about Dors, the true tale of the odd and virtually perfect relationship he had had with a woman who was not a woman, not even human, yet friend and lover.
Hari, in his weariness, resisted but could not suppress a sentimental sadness. Age was tainted and the old were haunted by the loss of lovers and friends. How grand it would be if he could visit with Daneel again! Easy to see, in his mind’s eye, how that visit would go: after the joy of reunion, Hari would vent some of his anger at the restrictions and demands Daneel had placed upon him. The best of friends, the most compelling of taskmasters.
Hari blinked and focused on the view beyond the window. He was far too prone these days to drift off into reverie.
The ocean’s beautiful glow was itself decay; a riot of bioluminescent algae run rampant for almost four years now, killing off the crops of the oxygen farms, making the air slightly stale even in the chill of upperside. No threat of suffocation yet, but for how much longer?
The Emperor’s adjutants and protectors and spokesmen had announced imminent victory over the beautiful plague of algae only a few days before, seeding the ocean with tailored phages to control the bloom. The ocean did seem darker tonight, but perhaps the uncharacteristically clear sky dimmed it by comparison.
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