Bel Riose interrupted his annoyed stridings to look up hopefully when his aide entered.“Any word of the Starlet?”
“None.The scouting party has quartered space, but the instruments have detected nothing.
Commander Yume has reported that the Fleet is ready for an immediate attack in retaliation.”
The general shook his head. “No, not for a patrol ship. Not yet. Tell him to double – Wait! I’ll write out the message. Have it coded and transmitted by tight beam.”
He wrote as he talked and thrust the paper at the waiting officer. “Has the Siwennian arrived yet?”
“Well, see to it that he is brought in here as soon as he does arrive.”
The aide saluted crisply and left. Riose resumed his caged stride.
When the door opened a second time, it was Ducem Barr that stood on the threshold. Slowly, in the footsteps of the ushering aide, he stepped into the garish room whose ceiling was an ornamented holographic model of the Galaxy, and in the center of which Bel Riose stood in field uniform.
“Patrician, good day!” The general pushed forward a chair with his foot and gestured the aide away with a “That door is to stay closed till I open it.”
He stood before the Siwennian, legs apart, hand grasping wrist behind his back, balancing himself slowly, thoughtfully, on the balls of his feet.
Then, harshly, “Patrician, are you a loyal subject of the Emperor?”
Barr, who had maintained an indifferent silence till then, wrinkled a noncommittal brow. “I have no cause to love Imperial rule.”
“Which is a long way from saying that you would be a traitor.”
“True. But the mere act of not being a traitor is also a long way from agreeing to be an active helper.”
“Ordinarily also true. But to refuse your help at this point,” said Riose, deliberately, “will be considered treason and treated as such.”
Barr’s eyebrows drew together. “Save your verbal cudgels for your subordinates. A simple statement of your needs and wants will suffice me here.”
Riose sat down and crossed his legs. “Barr, we had an earlier discussion half a year ago.”
“About your magicians?”
“Yes. You remember what I said I would do.”
Barr nodded. His arms rested limply in his lap. “You were going to visit them in their haunts, and you’ve been away these four months. Did you find them?”
“Find them? That I did,” cried Riose. His lips were stiff as he spoke. It seemed to require effort to refrain from grinding molars. “Patrician, they are not magicians; they are devils. It is as far from belief as the outer galaxies from here. Conceive it! It is a world the size of a handkerchief, of a fingernail; with resources so petty, power so minute, a population so microscopic as would never suffice the most backward worlds of the dusty prefects of the Dark Stars. Yet with that, a people so proud and ambitious as to dream quietly and methodically of Galactic rule.
“Why, they are so sure of themselves that they do not even hurry. They move slowly, phlegmatically; they speak of necessary centuries. They swallow worlds at leisure; creep through systems with dawdling complacence.
“And they succeed. There is no one to stop them. They have built up a filthy trading community that curls its tentacles about the systems further than their toy ships dare reach. For parsecs, their Traders – which is what their agents call themselves – penetrate.”
Ducem Barr interrupted the angry flow. “How much of this information is definite; and how much is simply fury?”
The soldier caught his breath and grew calmer. “My fury does not blind me. I tell you I was in worlds nearer to Siwenna than to the Foundation, where the Empire was a myth of the distance, and where Traders were living truths. We ourselves were mistaken for Traders.”
“The Foundation itself told you they aimed at Galactic dominion?”
“Told me!” Riose was violent again. “It was not a matter of telling me. The officials said nothing. They spoke business exclusively. But I spoke to ordinary men. I absorbed the ideas of the common folk; their ‘manifest destiny,’ their calm acceptance of a great future. It is a thing that can’t be hidden; a universal optimism they don’t even try to hide.”
The Siwennian openly displayed a certain quiet satisfaction. “You will notice that so far it would seem to bear out quite accurately my reconstruction of events from the paltry data on the subject that I have gathered.”
“It is no doubt,” replied Riose with vexed sarcasm, “a tribute to your analytical powers. It is also a hearty and bumptious commentary on the growing danger to the domains of His Imperial Majesty.”
Barr shrugged his unconcern, and Riose leaned forward suddenly, to seize the old man’s shoulders and stare with curious gentleness into his eyes.
He said, “Now, patrician, none of that. I have no desire to be barbaric. For my part, the legacy of Siwennian hostility to the Imperium is an odious burden, and one which I would do everything in my power to wipe out. But my province is the military and interference in civil affairs is impossible. It would bring about my recall and ruin my usefulness at once. You see that? I know you see that. Between yourself and myself then, let the atrocity of forty years ago be repaid by your vengeance upon its author and so forgotten. I need your help. I frankly admit it.”
There was a world of urgency in the young man’s voice, but Ducem Barr’s head shook gently and deliberately in a negative gesture.
Riose said pleadingly, “You don’t understand, patrician, and I doubt my ability to make you. I can’t argue on your ground. You’re the scholar, not I. But this I can tell you. Whatever you think of the Empire, you will admit its great services. Its armed forces have committed isolated crimes, but in the main they have been a force for peace and civilization. It was the Imperial navy that created the Pax Imperium that ruled over all the Galaxy for thousands of years. Contrast the millennia of peace under the Sun-and-Spaceship of the Empire with the millennia of interstellar anarchy that preceded it. Consider the wars and devastations of those old days and tell me if, with all its faults, the Empire is not worth preserving.
“Consider,” he drove on forcefully, “to what the outer fringe of the Galaxy is reduced in these days of their breakaway and independence, and ask yourself if for the sake of a petty revenge you would reduce Siwenna from its position as a province under the protection of a mighty Navy to a barbarian world in a barbarian Galaxy, all immersed in its fragmentary independence and its common degradation and misery.”
“Is it so bad – so soon?” murmured the Siwennian.
“No,” admitted Riose. “We would be safe ourselves no doubt, were our lifetimes quadrupled. But it is for the Empire I fight; that, and a military tradition which is something for myself alone, and which I can not transfer to you. It is a military tradition built on the Imperial institution which I serve.”
“You are getting mystical, and I always find it difficult to penetrate another person’s mysticism.”
“No matter. You understand the danger of this Foundation.”
“It was I who pointed out what you call the danger before ever you headed outward from Siwenna.”
“Then you realize that it must be stopped in embryo or perhaps not at all. You have known of this Foundation before anyone had heard of it. You know more about it than anyone else in the Empire. You probably know how it might best be attacked; and you can probably forewarn me of its countermeasures. Come, let us be friends.”
Ducem Barr rose. He said flatly, “Such help as I could give you means nothing. So I will make you free of it in the face of your strenuous demand.”
“I will be the judge of its meaning.”
“No, I am serious. Not all the might of the Empire could avail to crush this pygmy world.”
“Why not?” Bel Riose’s eyes glistened fiercely. “No, stay where you are. I’ll tell you when you may leave. Why not? If you think I underestimate this enemy I have discovered, you are wrong. Patrician,” he spoke reluctantly, “I lost a ship on my return. I have no proof that it fell into the hands of the Foundation; but it has not been located since and were it merely an accident, its dead hulk should, certainly have been found along the route we took. It is not an important loss – less than the tenth part of a fleabite, but it may mean that the Foundation has already opened hostilities. Such eagerness and such disregard for consequences might mean secret forces of which I know nothing. Can you help me then by answering a specific question? What is their military power?”
“I haven’t any notion.”
“Then explain yourself on your own terms. Why do you say the Empire can not defeat this small enemy?”
The Siwennian seated himself once more and looked away from Riose’s fixed glare. He spoke heavily, “Because I have faith in the principles of psychohistory. It is a strange science. It reached mathematical maturity with one man, Hari Seldon, and died with him, for no man since has been capable of manipulating its intricacies. But in that short period, it proved itself the most powerful instrument ever invented for the study of humanity. Without pretending to predict the actions of individual humans, it formulated definite laws capable of mathematical analysis and extrapolation to govern and predict the mass action of human groups.”
“It was that psychohistory which Seldon and the group he worked with applied in full force to the establishment of the Foundation. The place, time, and conditions all conspire mathematically and so, inevitably, to the development of a Second Galactic Empire.”
Riose’s voice trembled with indignation. “You mean that this art of his predicts that I would attack the Foundation and lose such and such a battle for such and such a reason? You are trying to say that I am a silly robot following a predetermined course into destruction.”
“No,” replied the old patrician, sharply. “I have already said that the science had nothing to do with individual actions. It is the vaster background that has been foreseen.”
“Then we stand clasped tightly in the forcing hand of the Goddess of Historical Necessity.”
“Of Psychohistorical Necessity,” prompted Barr, softly.
“And if I exercise my prerogative of freewill? If I choose to attack next year, or not to attack at all? How pliable is the Goddess? How resourceful?”
Barr shrugged. “Attack now or never; with a single ship, or all the force in the Empire; by military force or economic pressure; by candid declaration of war or by treacherous ambush. Do whatever you wish in your fullest exercise of freewill. You will still lose.”
“Because of Hari Seldon’s dead hand?”
“Because of the dead hand of the mathematics of human behavior that can neither be stopped, swerved, nor delayed.”
The two faced each other in deadlock, until the general stepped back.
He said simply, “I’ll take that challenge. It’s a dead hand against a living will.”