Janov Pelorat said, with a small trace of petulance in his voice, “Really, Golan, no one seems to care for the fact that this is the first time in a moderately long life – not too long, I assure you, Bliss – in which I have been traveling through the Galaxy.Yet each time I come to a world, I am off it again and back in space before I can really have a chance to study it.It has happened twice now.”
“Yes,” said Bliss, “but if you had not left the other one so quickly, you would not have met me until who knows when.
Surely that justifies the first time.”
“It does. Honestly, my – my dear, it does.”
“And this time, Pel, you may be off the planet, but you have me – and I am Gaia, as much as any particle of it, as much as all of it.”
“You are, and surely I want no other particle of it.”
Trevize, who had been listening to the exchange with a frown, said, “This is disgusting. Why didn’t Dom come with us? – Space, I’ll never get used to this monosyllabization. Two hundred fifty syllables to a name and we use just one of them. – Why didn’t he come, together with all two hundred fifty syllables? If all this is so important – if the very existence of Gaia depends on it – why didn’t he come with us to direct us?”
“I am here, Trev,” said Bliss, “and I am as much Gaia as he is.” Then, with a quick sideways and upward look from her dark eyes, “Does it annoy you, then, to have me call you ‘Trev’?”
“Yes, it does. I have as much right to my ways as you to yours. My name is Trevize. Two syllables. Tre-vize.”
“Gladly. I do not wish to anger you, Trevize.”
“I am not angry. I am annoyed.” He rose suddenly, walked from one end of the room to the other, stepping over the outstretched legs of Pelorat (who drew them in quickly), and then back again. He stopped, turned, and faced Bliss.
He pointed a finger at her. “Look! I am not my own master! I have been maneuvered from Terminus to Gaia – and even when I began to suspect that this was so, there seemed no way to break the grip. And then, when I get to Gaia, I am told that the whole purpose for my arrival was to save Gaia. Why? How? What is Gaia to me – or I to Gaia – that I should save it? Is there no other of the quintillion human beings in the Galaxy who could do the job?”
“Please, Trevize,” said Bliss – and there was a sudden downcast air about her, all of the gamine affectation disappearing. “Do not be angry. You see, I use your name properly and I will be very serious. Dom asked you to be patient.”
“By every planet in the Galaxy, habitable or not, I don’t want to be patient. If I am so important, do I not deserve an explanation? To begin with, I ask again why Dom did not come with us? Is it not sufficiently important for him to be here on the Far Star with us?”
“He is here, Trevize,” said Bliss. “While I am here, he is here, and everyone on Gaia is here, and every living thing, and every speck of the planet.”
“You are satisfied that that is so, but it’s not my way of thinking. I’m not a Gaian. We can’t squeeze the whole planet on to my ship, we can only squeeze one person on to it. We have you, and Dom is part of you. Very well. Why couldn’t we have taken Dom, and let you be part of him?”
“For one thing,” said Bliss, “Pel – I mean, Pel-o-rat – asked that I be on the ship with you. I, not Dom.”
“He was being gallant. Who would take that seriously?”
“Oh, now, my dear fellow,” said Pelorat, rising to his feet with his face reddening, “I was quite serious. I don’t want to be dismissed like that. I accept the fact that it doesn’t matter which component of the Gaian whole is on board, and it is more pleasant for me to have Bliss here than Dom, and it should be for you as well. Come, Golan, you are behaving childishly.”
“Am I? Am I?” said Trevize, frowning darkly. “All right, then, I am. Just the same,” again he pointed at Bliss, “whatever it is I am expected to do, I assure you that I won’t do it if I am not treated like a human being. Two questions to begin with. What am I supposed to do? And why me?”
Bliss was wide-eyed and backing away. She said, “Please, I can’t tell you that now. All of Gaia can’t tell you. You must come to the place without knowing anything to begin with. You must learn it all there. You must then do what you must do – but you must do it calmly and unemotionally. If you remain as you are, nothing will be of use and, one way or another, Gaia will come to an end. You must change this feeling of yours and I do not know how to change it.”
“Would Dom know if he were here?” said Trevize remorselessly.
“Dom is here,” said Bliss. “He/I/we do not know how to change you or calm you. We do not understand a human being who cannot sense his place in the scheme of things, who does not feel like part of a greater whole.”
Trevize said, “That is not so. You could seize my ship at a distance of a million kilometers and more – and keep us calm while we were helpless. Well, calm me now. Don’t pretend you are not capable of doing it.”
“But we mustn’t. Not now. If we changed you or adjusted you in any way now, then you would be no more valuable to us than any other person in the Galaxy and we could not use you. We can only use you because you are you – and you must remain you.
If we touch you at this moment in any way, we are lost. Please. You must be calm of your own accord.”
“Not a chance, miss, unless you tell me some of what I want to know.”
Pelorat said, “Bliss, let me try. Please go into the other room.”
Bliss left, backing slowly out. Pelorat closed the door behind her.
Trevize said, “She can hear and see – sense everything. What difference does this make?”
Pelorat said, “It makes a difference to me. I want to be alone with you, even if isolation is an illusion. – Golan, you’re afraid.”
“Don’t be a fool.”
“Of course you are. You don’t know where you’re going, what you’ll be facing, what you’ll be expected to do. You have a right to be afraid.”
“But I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. Perhaps you’re not afraid of physical danger in the way that I am. I’ve been afraid of venturing out into space, afraid of each new world I see, afraid of every new thing I encounter. After all, I’ve lived half a century of a constricted, withdrawn and limited life, while you have been in the Navy and in politics, in the thick and hurly-burly at home and in space. Yet I’ve tried not to be afraid and you’ve helped me. In this time that we’ve been together, you’ve been patient with me, you’ve been kind to me and understanding, and because of you, I’ve managed to master my fears and behave well. Let me, then, return the favor and help you.”
“I’m not afraid, I tell you.”
“Of course you are. If nothing else, you’re afraid of the responsibility you’ll be facing. Apparently there’s a whole world depending on you – and you will therefore have to live with the destruction of a whole world if you fail. Why should you have to face that possibility for a world that means nothing to you? ‘What right have they to place this load upon you? You’re not only afraid of failure, as any person would be in your place, but you’re furious that they should put you in the position where you have to be afraid.”
“You’re all wrong.”
“I don’t think so. Consequently let me take your place. I’ll do it. Whatever it is they expect you to do, I volunteer as substitute. I assume that it’s not something that requires great physical strength or vitality, since a simple mechanical device would outdo you in that respect. I assume it’s not something that requires mentalics, for they have enough of that themselves. It’s something that – well, I don’t know, but if it requires neither brawn nor brain, then I have everything else as well as you – and I am ready to take the responsibility.”
Trevize said sharply, “Why are you so willing to bear the load?”
Pelorat looked down at the floor, as though fearing to meet the other’s eyes. He said, “I have had a wife, Golan. I have known women. Yet they have never been very important to me. Interesting. Pleasant. Never very important. Yet, this one…”
“She’s different, somehow – to me.”
“By Terminus, Janov, she knows every word you’re saying.”
“That makes no difference. She knows anyhow. – I want to please her. I will undertake this task, whatever it is; run any risk, take any responsibility, on the smallest chance that it will make her – think well of me.”
“Janov, she’s a child.”
“She’s not a child – and what you think of her makes no difference to me.”
“Don’t you understand what you must seem to her?”
“An old man? What’s the difference? She’s part of a greater whole and I am not – and that alone builds an insuperable wall between us. Don’t you think I know that? But I don’t ask anything of her but that she…”
“Think well of you?”
“Yes. Or whatever else she can make herself feel for me.”
“And for that you will do my job? – But Janov, haven’t you been listening. They don’t want you; they want me for some space-ridden reason I can’t understand.”
“If they can’t have you and if they must have someone, I will be better than nothing, surely.”
Trevize shook his head. “I can’t believe that this is happening. Old age is overtaking you and you have discovered youth. Janov, you’re trying to be a hero, so that you can die for that body.”
“Don’t say that, Golan. This is not a fit subject for humor.” Trevize tried to laugh, but his eyes met Pelorat’s grave face and he cleared his throat instead. He said, “You’re right. I apologize. Call her in, Janov. Call her in.”
Bliss entered, shrinking a little. She said in a small voice, “I’m sorry, Pel. You cannot substitute. It must be Trevize or no one.”
Trevize said, “Very well. I’ll be calm. Whatever it is, I’ll try to do it. Anything to keep Janov from trying to play the romantic hero at his age.”
“I know my age,” muttered Pelorat.
Bliss approached him slowly, placed her hand on his shoulder. “Pel, I – I think well of you.”
Pelorat looked away. “It’s all right, Bliss. You needn’t be kind.”
“I’m not being kind, Pel. I think – very well of you.”
Dimly, then more strongly, Sura Novi knew that she was Suranoviremblastiran and that when she was a child, she had been known as Su to her parents and Vito her friends.
She had never really forgotten, of course, but the facts were, on occasion, buried deep within her. Never had it been buried as deeply or for as long as in this last month, for never had she been so close for so long to a mind so powerful.
But now it was time. She did not will it herself. She had no need to. The vast remainder of her was pushing her portion of itself to the surface, for the sake of the global need.
Accompanying that was a vague discomfort, a kind of itch that was rapidly overwhelmed by the comfort of selfness unmasked. Not in years had she been so close to the globe of Gaia.
She remembered one of the life-forms she had loved on Gaia as a child. Having understood its feelings then as a dim part of her own, she recognized her own sharper ones now. She was a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.
Stor Gendibal stared sharply and penetratingly at Novi – and with such surprise that he came within a hair of loosening his grip upon Mayor Branno. That he did not do so was, perhaps, the result of a sudden support from without that steadied him and that, for the moment, he ignored.
He said, “What do you Know of Councilman Trevize, Novi?” And then, in cold disturbance at the sudden and growing complexity of her mind, he cried out, “What are you?”
He attempted to seize hold of her mind and found it impenetrable. At that moment, he recognized that his hold on Branno was supported by a grip stronger than his own. He repeated, “What are you?”
There was a hint of the tragic on Novi’s face. “Master,” she said, “Speaker Gendibal. My true name is Suranoviremblastiran and I am Gaia.”
It was all she said in words, but Gendibal, in sudden fury, had intensified his own mental aura and with great skill, now that his blood was up, evaded the strengthening bar and held Branno on his own and more strongly than before, while he gripped Novi’s mind in a tight and silent struggle.
She held him off with equal skill, but she could not keep her mind closed to him – or perhaps she did not wish to.
He spoke to her as he would to another Speaker. “You have played a part, deceived me, lured me here, and you are one of the species from which the Mule was derived.”
“The Mule was an aberration, Speaker. I/we are not Mules. I/we are Gaia.”
The whole essence of Gaia was described in what she complexly communicated, far more than it could have been in any number of words.
“A whole planet alive,” said Gendibal.
“And with a mentalic field greater as a whole than is yours as an individual. Please do not resist with such force. I fear the danger of harming you, something I do not wish to do.”
“Even as a living planet, you are not stronger than the sum of my colleagues on Trantor. We, too, are, in a way, a planet alive.”
“Only some thousands of people in mentalic co-operation, Speaker, and you cannot draw upon their support, for I have blocked it off. Test that and you will see.”
“What is it you plan to do, Gaia?”
“I would hope, Speaker, that you would call me Novi. What I do now I do as Gaia, but I am Novi also – and with reference to you, I am only Novi.”
“What is it you plan to do, Gaia?”
There was the trembling mentalic equivalent of a sigh and Novi said, “We will remain in triple stalemate. You will hold Mayor Branno through her shield, and I will help you do so, and we will not tire. You, I suppose, will maintain your grip on me, and I will maintain mine on you, and neither one of us will tire there either. And so it will stay.”
“To what end?”
“As I have told you. – We are waiting for Councilman Trevize of Terminus. It is he who will break the stalemate – as he chooses.”
The computer on board the Far Star located the two ships and Golan Trevize displayed them together on the split screen.
They were both Foundation vessels. One was precisely like the Far Star and was undoubtedly Compor’s ship. The other was larger and far more powerful.
He turned toward Bliss and said, “Well, do you know what’s going on? Is there anything you can now tell me?”
“Yes! Do not be alarmed! They will not harm you.”
“Why is everyone convinced I’m sitting here all a – tremble with panic?” Trevize demanded petulantly.
Pelorat said hastily, “Let her talk, Golan. Don’t snap at her.”
Trevize raised his arms in a gesture of impatient surrender. “I will not snap. Speak, lady.”
Bliss said, “On the large ship is the ruler of your Foundation. With her…”
Trevize said in astonishment, “The ruler? You mean Old Lady Branno?”
“Surely that is not her title,” said Bliss, her lips twitching a little in amusement. “But she is a woman, yes.” She paused a little, as though listening intently to the rest of the general organism of which she was part. “Her name is Harlabranno. It seems odd to have only four syllables when one is so important on her world, but I suppose non-Gaians have their own ways.”
“I suppose,” said Trevize dryly. “You would call her Brann, I think. But what is she doing here? Why isn’t she back on. I see. Gaia has maneuvered her here, too. Why?”
Bliss did not answer that question. She said, “With her is Lionokodell, five syllables, though her underling. It seems a lack of respect. He is an important official of your world. With them are four others who control the ship’s weapons. Do you want their names?”
“No. I take it that on the other ship there is one man, Munn Li Compor, and that he represents the Second Foundation. You’ve brought both Foundations together, obviously. Why?”
“Not exactly, Trev – I mean, Trevize…”
“Oh, go ahead and say Trev. I don’t give a puff of comet gas.”
“Not exactly, Trev. Compor has left that ship and has been replaced by two people. One is Storgendibal, an important official of the Second Foundation. He is called a Speaker.”
“An important official? He’s got mentalic power, I imagine.”
“Oh yes. A great deal.”
“Will you be able to handle that?”
“Certainly. The second person, on the ship with him, is Gaia.”
“One of your people?”
“Yes. Her name is Suranoviremblastiran. It should be much longer, but she has been away from me/us/rest so long.”
“Is she capable of holding a high official of the Second Foundation?”
“It is not she, it is Gaia who holds him. She/I/we/all are capable of crushing him.”
“Is that what she’s going to do? She’s going to crush him and Branno? What is this? Is Gaia going to destroy the Foundations and set up a Galactic Empire of its own? The Mule back again? A greater Mule…”
“No no, Trev. Do not become agitated. You must not. All three are in a stalemate. They are waiting.”
“For your decision.”
“Here we go again. What decision? Why me?”
“Please, Trev,” said Bliss. “It will soon be explained. I/we/she have said as much as I/we/she can for now.”
Branno said wearily, “It is clear I have made a mistake, Liono, perhaps a fatal one.”
“Is this something that ought to be admitted?” muttered Kodell through motionless lips.
“They know what I think. It will do no further harm to say so. Nor do they know less about what you think if you do not move your lips. – I should have waited until the shield was further strengthened.”
Kodell said, “How could you have known, Mayor? If we waited until assurance was doubly and triply and quadruply and endlessly sure, we would have waited forever. – To be sure, I wish we had not gone ourselves. It would have been well to have experimented with someone else – with your lightning rod, Trevize, perhaps.”
Branno sighed. “I wanted to give them no warning, Liono. Still, there you put the finger on the nub of my mistake. I might have waited until the shield was reasonably impenetrable. Not ultimately impenetrable but reasonably so. I knew there was perceptible leakage now, but I could not bear to wait longer. To wipe out the leakage would have meant waiting past my term of office and I wanted it done in my time – and I wanted to be on the spot. So like a fool, I
forced myself to believe the shield was adequate. I would listen to no caution – to your doubts, for instance.”
“We may still win out if we are patient.”
“Can you give the order to fire on the other ship?”
“No, I cannot, Mayor. The thought is, somehow, not something I can endure.”
“Nor I. And if you or I managed to give the order, I am certain that the men on board would not follow it, that they would not be able to.”
“Not under present circumstances, Mayor, but circumstances might change. As a matter of fact, a new actor appears on the scene.”
He pointed to the screen. The ship’s computer had automatically split the screen as a new ship came within its ken. The second ship appeared on the right-hand side.
“Can you magnify the image, Liono?”
“No trouble. The Second Foundationer is skillful. We are free to do anything he is not troubled by.”
“Well,” said Branno, studying the screen, “that’s the Far Star, I’m sure. And I imagine Trevize and Pelorat are on board. Then, bitterly, “Unless they too have been replaced by Second Foundationers. My lightning rod has been very efficient indeed. – If only my shield had been stronger.”
“Patience!” said Kodell.
A voice rang out in the confines of the ship’s control room and Branno could somehow tell it did not consist of sound waves. She heard it in her mind directly and a glance at Kodell was sufficient to tell her that he had heard it, too.
It said, “Can you hear me, Mayor Branno? If you can, don’t bother saying so. It will be enough if you think so.”
Branno said calmly, “What are you?”
“I am Gaia.”
The three ships were each essentially at rest, relative to the other two. All three were turning very slowly about the planet Gaia, as a distant three-part satellite of the planet. All three were accompanying Gaia on its endless journey about its sun.
Trevize sat, watching the screen, tired of guessing what his role might be – what he had been dragged across a thousand parsecs to do.
The sound in his mind did not startle him. It was as though he had been waiting for it.
It said, “Can you hear me, Golan Trevize? If you can, don’t bother saying so. It will be enough if you think it.”
Trevize looked about. Pelorat, clearly startled, was looking in various directions, as though trying to find the source. Bliss sat quietly, her hands held loosely in her lap. Trevize had no doubt, for a moment, that she was aware of the sound.
He ignored the order to use thoughts and spoke with deliberate clarity of enunciation. “If I don’t find out what this is about, I will do nothing I am asked to do.”
And the voice said, “You are about to find out.”
Novi said, “You will all hear me in your mind. You are all free to respond in thought. I will arrange it so that all of you can hear each other. And, as you are all aware, we are all close enough so that at the normal light – speed of the spatial mentalic field, there will be no inconvenient delays. To begin with, we are all here by arrangement.”
“In what manner?” came Branno’s voice.
“Not by mental tampering,” said Novi. “Gaia has interfered with no one’s mind. It is not our way. We merely took advantage of ambition. Mayor Branno wanted to establish a Second Empire at once; Speaker Gendibal wanted to be First Speaker. It was enough to encourage these desires and to ride the wind, selectively and with judgment.”
“I know how I was brought here,” said Gendibal stiffly. And indeed he did. He knew why he had been so anxious to move out into space, so anxious to pursue Trevize, so sure he could handle it all. – It was all Novi. – Oh, Novi!
“You were a particular case, Speaker Gendibal. Your ambition was powerful, but there were softnesses about you that offered a shortcut. You were a person who would be kind to someone whom you had been trained to think of as beneath you in every respect. I took advantage of this in you and turned it against you. I/we am/are deeply ashamed. The excuse is that the future of the Galaxy is in hazard.”
Novi paused and her voice (though she was not speaking by way of vocal cords) grew more somber, her face more drawn.
“This was the time. Gaia could wait no longer. For over a century, the people of Terminus had been developing a mentalic shield. Left to themselves another generation, it would have been impervious even to Gaia and they would have been free to use their physical weapons at will. The Galaxy would not have been able to resist them and a Second Galactic Empire, after the fashion of Terminus, would have been established at once, despite the Seldon Plan, despite the people of Trantor, and despite Gaia. Mayor Branno had to be somehow maneuvered into making her move while the shield was still imperfect.
“Then there is Trantor. The Seldon Plan was working perfectly, for Gaia itself labored to keep it on track with precision. And for over a century, there had been quietist First Speakers, so that Trantor vegetated. Now, however, Stor Gendibal was rising quickly. He would certainly become First Speaker and under him Trantor would take on an activist role. It would surely concentrate on physical power and would recognize the danger of Terminus and take action against it. If he could act against Terminus before its shield was perfected, then the Seldon Plan would be worked out to its conclusion in a Second Galactic Empire – after the fashion of Trantor – despite the people of Terminus and despite Gaia. Consequently Gendibal had to be somehow maneuvered into making his move before he became First Speaker.
“Fortunately, because Gaia has been working carefully for decades, we have brought both Foundations to the proper place at the proper time. I repeat all this primarily so that Councilman Golan Trevize of Terminus may understand.”
Trevize cut in at once and again ignored the effort to converse by thought. He spoke words firmly, “I do not understand. What is wrong with either version of the Second Galactic Empire?”
Novi said, “The Second Galactic Empire – worked out after the fashion of Terminus – will be a military Empire, established by strife, maintained by strife, and eventually destroyed by strife. It will be nothing but the First Galactic Empire reborn. That is the view of Gaia.
“The Second Galactic Empire – worked out after the fashion of Trantor – will be a paternalistic Empire, established by calculation, maintained by calculation, and in perpetual living death by calculation. It will be a dead end. That is the view of Gaia.”
Trevize said, “And what does Gaia have to offer as an alternative?”
“Greater Gaia! Galaxia! Every inhabited planet as alive as Gaia. Every living planet combined into a still greater hyperspatial life. Every uninhabited planet participating. Every star. Every scrap of interstellar gas. Perhaps even the great central black hole. A living galaxy and one that can be made favorable for all life in ways that we yet cannot foresee. A way of life fundamentally different from all that has gone before and repeating none of the old mistakes.”
“Originating new ones,” muttered Gendibal sarcastically.
“We have had thousands of years of Gaia to work those out.”
“But not on a Galactic scale.”
Trevize, ignoring the short exchange and driving to his point, said, “And what is my role in all this?”
The voice of Gaia-channeled through Novi’s mind-thundered, “Choose! Which alternative is it to be?”
There was a vast silence that followed and finally, in that silence, Trevize’s voice – mental at last, for he was too taken aback to speak – sounded small and still defiant. “Why me?”
Novi said, “Though we recognized the moment had come when either Terminus or Trantor would become too powerful to stop – or worse yet, when both might become so powerful that a deadly stalemate would develop that would devastate the Galaxy – we still could not move. For our purposes, we needed someone – a particular someone – with the talent for rightness. We found you, Councilman. – No, we cannot take the credit. The people of Trantor found you through the man named Compor, though even they did not know what they had. The act of finding you attracted our attention to you. Golan Trevize, you have the gift of knowing the right thing to do.”
“I deny it,” said Trevize.
“You are, every once in a while, sure. And we want you to be sure this time on behalf of the Galaxy. You do not wish the responsibility, perhaps. You may do your best not to have to choose. Nevertheless, you will realize that it is right to do so. You will be sure! And you will then choose. Once we found you, we knew the search was over and for years we have labored to encourage a course of action that would, without direct mentalic interference, so influence events that all three of you – Mayor Branno, Speaker Gendibal, and Councilman Trevize – would be in the neighborhood of Gaia at the same time. We have done it.”
Trevize said, “At this point in space, under present circumstances, is it not true, Gaia – if that is what you want me to call you – that you can overpower both the Mayor and the Speaker? Is it not true that you can establish this living Galaxy you speak of without my doing anything? Why, then, do you not?”
Novi said, “I do not know if I can explain this to your satisfaction. Gaia was formed thousands of years ago with the help of robots that once, for a brief time, served the human species and now serve them no more. They made it quite clear to us that we could survive only by a strict application of the Three Laws of Robotics as applied to life generally. The First Law, in those terms, is: ‘Gaia may not harm life or, through inaction, allow life to come to harm. ‘ We have followed this rule through all of our history and we can do no other.
“The result is that we are now helpless. We cannot force our vision of the living Galaxy upon a quintillion human beings and countless other forms of life and perhaps do harm to vast numbers. Nor can we do nothing and watch the Galaxy half-destroy itself in a struggle that we might have prevented. We do not know whether action or inaction will cost the Galaxy less; nor, if we choose action, do we know whether supporting Terminus or Trantor will cost the Galaxy less. Let Councilman Trevize decide then – and whatever that decision is, Gaia will follow it.”
Trevize said, “How do you expect me to make a decision? What do I do?”
Novi said, “You have your computer. The people of Terminus did not know that when they made it, they made it better than they knew. The computer on board your ship incorporates some of Gaia. Place your hands on the terminals and think. You may think Mayor Branno’s shield impervious, for instance. If you do, it is possible that she will at once use her weapons to disable or destroy the other two ships, establish physical rule over Gaia and, later on, Trantor.”
“And you will do nothing to stop that?” said Trevize with astonishment.
“Not a thing. If you are sure that domination by Terminus will do the Galaxy less harm than any other alternative, we will gladly help that domination along – even at the cost of our own destruction.
“On the other hand, you may find Speaker Gendibal’s mentalic field and you may then join your computer-magnified push to his. He will, in that case, surely break free of me and push me back. He may then adjust the Mayor’s mind and, in combination with her ships, establish physical domination over Gaia and assure the continued supremacy of the Seldon Plan. Gaia will not move to stop that.
“Or you may find my mentalic field and join that – and then the living Galaxy will be set in motion to reach its fulfillment, not in this generation or the next, but after centuries of labor during which the Seldon Plan will continue. The choice is yours.”
Mayor Branno said, “Wait! Do not make a decision just yet. May I speak?”
Novi said, “You may speak freely. So may Speaker Gendibal.”
Branno said, “Councilman Trevize. The last time we met on Terminus, you said, ‘The time may come, Madam Mayor, when you will ask me for an effort, and I will then do as I choose, and I will remember the past two days. ‘ I don’t know whether you foresaw this, or intuitively felt it would happen, or simply had what this woman who speaks of a living Galaxy calls a talent for rightness. In any case, you were right. I am asking you for an effort on behalf of the Federation.
“You may, I suppose, feel that you would like to even the score with me for having arrested and exiled you. I ask you to remember that I did it for what I considered the good of the Foundation Federation. Even if I were wrong or even if I acted out of callous self-interest, remember that it was I who did it – and not the Federation. Do not now destroy the entire Federation out of a desire to balance what I alone have done to you. Remember that you are a Foundationer and a human being, that you do not want to be a cipher in the plans of the bloodless mathematicians of Trantor or less than a cipher in a Galactic mish-mash of life and nonlife. You want yourself, your descendants, your fellow-people to be independent organisms, possessing free will. Nothing else matters.
“These others may tell you that our Empire will lead to bloodshed and misery – but it need not. It is our free-will choice whether this should be so or not. We may choose otherwise. And, in any case, it is better to go to defeat with free will than to live in meaningless security as a cog in a machine. Observe that you are now being asked to make a decision as a free-will human being. These things of Gaia are unable to make a decision because their machinery will not allow them to, so that they depend on you. And they will destroy themselves if you bid them to. Is this what you want for all the Galaxy?”
Trevize said, “I do not know that I have free will, Mayor. My mind may have been subtly dealt with, so that I will give the answer that is desired.”
Novi said, “Your mind is totally untouched. If we could bring ourselves to adjust you to suit our purposes, this whole meeting would be unnecessary. Were we that unprincipled, we could have proceeded with what we would find most pleasing to ourselves with no concern for the greater needs and good of humanity as a whole.”
Gendibal said, “I believe it is my turn to speak. Councilman Trevize, do not be guided by narrow parochialism. The fact that you are Terminus-born should not lead you to believe that Terminus comes before the Galaxy. For five centuries now, the Galaxy has been operating in accordance with the Seldon Plan. In and out of the Foundation Federation, that operation has been proceeding.
“You are, and have been, part of the Seldon Plan above and beyond your lesser role as Foundationer. Do not do anything to disrupt the Plan, either on behalf of a narrow concept of patriotism or out of a romantic longing for the new and untried. The Second Foundationers will in no way hamper the free will of humanity. We are guides, not despots.
“And we offer a Second Galactic Empire fundamentally different from the First. Throughout human history, no decade in all the tens of thousands of years during which hyperspatial travel has existed has been completely free of bloodshed and violent death throughout the Galaxy, even in those periods when the Foundation itself was at peace. Choose Mayor Branno and that will continue endlessly into the future. The same dreary, deadly round. The Seldon Plan offers release from that at last – and not at the price of becoming one more atom in a Galaxy of atoms, being reduced to equality with grass, bacteria, and dust.”
Novi said, “What Speaker Gendibal says of the First Foundation’s Second Empire, I agree with. What he says of his own, I do not. The Speakers of Trantor are, after all, independent free-will human beings and are the same as they have always been. Are they free of destructive competition, of politics, of clawing upward at all costs? Are there no quarrels and even hatreds at the Speaker’s Table – and will they always be guides you dare follow? Put Speaker Gendibal on his honor and ask him this.”
“No need to put me on my honor,” said Gendibal. “I freely admit we have our hatreds, competitions, and betrayals at the Table. But once a decision is reached, it is obeyed by all. There has never been an exception to this.”
Trevize said, “What if I will not make a choice?”
“You must,” said Novi. “You will know that it is right to do so and you will therefore make a choice.”
“What if I try to make a choice and cannot?”
Trevize said, “How much time do I have?”
Novi said, “Until you are sure, however much time that takes.”
Trevize sat silently.
Though the others were silent too, it seemed to Trevize that he could hear the pulsing of his bloodstream.
He could hear Mayor Branno’s voice say firmly, “Free will!” Speaker Gendibal’s voice said peremptorily, “Guidance and peace!”
Novi’s voice said wistfully, “Life.”
Trevize turned and found Pelorat looking at him intently. He said, “Janov. Have you heard all this?”
“Yes, I have, Golan.”
“What do you think?”
“The decision is not mine.”
“I know that. But what do you think.”
“I don’t know. I am frightened by all three alternatives. And yet a peculiar thought comes to me…”
“When we first went out into space, you showed me the Galaxy. Do you remember?”
“You speeded time and the Galaxy rotated visibly. And I said, as though anticipating this very time, ‘The Galaxy looks like a living thing, crawling through space. ‘ Do you think that, in a way, it is alive already?”
And Trevize, remembering that moment, was suddenly sure. He remembered suddenly his feeling that Pelorat, too, would have a vital role to play. He turned in haste, anxious not to have time to think, to doubt, to grow uncertain.
He placed his hands on the terminals and thought with an intensity he had never known before.
He had made his decision – the decision on which the fate of the Galaxy hung.