Pelorat wrinkled his nose when he and Trevize re-entered the Far Star.
Trevize shrugged.“The human body is a powerful dispenser of odors.Recycling never works instantaneously and artificial scents merely overlay – they do not replace.”
“And I suppose no two ships smell quite alike, once they’ve been occupied for a period of time by different people.”
“That’s right, but did you smell Sayshell Planet after the first hour?”
“No,” admitted Pelorat.
“Well, you won’t smell this after a while, either.
In fact, if you live in the ship long enough, you’ll welcome the odor that greets you on your return as signifying home. And by the way, if you become a Galactic rover after this, Janov, you’ll have to learn that it is impolite to comment on the odor of any ship or, for that matter, any world to those who live on that ship or world. Between us, of course, it is all right.”
“As a matter of fact, Golan, the funny thing is I do consider the Far Star home. At least it’s Foundation-made.” Pelorat smiled. “You know, I never considered myself a patriot. I like to think I recognize only humanity as my nation, but I must say that being away from the Foundation fills my heart with love for it.”
Trevize was making his bed. “You’re not very far from the Foundation, you know. The Sayshell Union is almost surrounded by Federation territory. We have an ambassador and an enormous presence here, from consuls on down. The Sayshellians like to oppose us in words, but they are usually very cautious about doing anything that gives us displeasure. – Janov, do turn in. We got nowhere today and we have to do better tomorrow.”
Still, there was no difficulty in hearing between the two rooms, however, and when the ship was dark, Pelorat, tossing restlessly, finally said in a not very loud voice, “Golan?”
“You’re not sleeping?”
“Not while you’re talking.”
“We did get somewhere today. Your friend, Compor…”
“Ex-friend,” growled Trevize.
“Whatever his status, he talked about Earth and told us something I hadn’t come across in my researches before. Radioactivity!”
Trevize lifted himself to one elbow. “Look, Golan, if Earth is really dead, that doesn’t mean we return home. I still want to find Gaia.”
Pelorat made a puffing noise with his mouth as though he were blowing away feathers. “My dear chap, of course. So do I. Nor do I think Earth is dead. Compor may have been telling what he felt was the truth, but there’s scarcely a sector in the Galaxy that doesn’t have some tale or other that would place the origin of humanity on some local world. And they almost invariably call it Earth or some closely equivalent name.
“We call it ‘globocentrism’ in anthropology. People have a tendency to take it for granted that they are better than their neighbors; that their culture is older and superior to that of other worlds; that what is good in other worlds has been borrowed from them, while what is bad is distorted or perverted in the borrowing or invented elsewhere. And the tendency is to equate superiority in quality with superiority in duration. If they cannot reasonably maintain their own planet to be Earth or its equivalent – and the beginnings of the human species – they almost always do the best they can by placing Earth in their own sector, even when they cannot locate it exactly.”
Trevize said, “And you’re telling me that Compor was just following the common habit when he said Earth existed in the Sirius Sector. – Still, the Sirius Sector does have a long history, so every world in it should be well known and it should be easy to check the matter, even without going there.”
Pelorat chuckled. “Even if you were to show that no world in the Sirius Sector could possibly be Earth, that wouldn’t help. You underestimate the depths to which mysticism can bury rationality, Golan. There are at least half a dozen sectors in the Galaxy where respectable scholars repeat, with every appearance of solemnity and with no trace of a smile, local tales that Earth – or whatever they choose to call it – is located in hyperspace and cannot be reached, except by accident.”
“And do they say anyone has ever reached it by accident?”
“There are always tales and there is always a patriotic refusal to disbelieve, even though the tales are never in the least credible and are never believed by anyone not of the world that produces them.”
“Then, Janov, let’s not believe them ourselves. Let’s enter our own private hyperspace of sleep.”
“But, Golan, it’s this business of Earth’s radioactivity that interests me. To me, that seems to bear the mark of truth – or a kind of truth.”
“What do you mean, a kind of truth?”
“Well, a world that is radioactive would be a world in which hard radiation would be present in higher concentration than is usual. The rate of mutation would be higher on such a world and evolution would proceed more quickly – and more diversely. I told you, if you remember, that among the points on which almost all the tales agree is that life on Earth was incredibly diverse: millions of species of all kinds of life. It is this diversity of life – this explosive development – that might have brought intelligence to the Earth, and then the surge outward into the Galaxy. If Earth were for some reason radioactive – that is, more radioactive than other planets – that might account for everything else about Earth that is – or was unique.”
Trevize was silent for a moment. Then, “In the first place, we have no reason to believe Compor was telling the truth. He may well have been lying freely in order to induce us to leave this place and go chasing madly off to Sirius. I believe that’s exactly what he was doing. And even if he were telling the truth, what he said was that there was so much radioactivity that life became impossible.”
Pelorat made the blowing gesture again. “There wasn’t too much radioactivity to allow life to develop on Earth and it is easier for life to maintain itself – once established – than to develop in the first place. Granted, then, that life was established and maintained on Earth. Therefore the level of radioactivity could not have been incompatible with life to begin with and it could only have fallen off with time. There is nothing that can raise the level.”
“Nuclear explosions?” suggested Trevize.
“What would that have to do with it?”
“I mean, suppose nuclear explosions took place on Earth?”
“On Earth’s surface? Impossible. There’s no record in the history of the Galaxy of any society being so foolish as to use nuclear explosions as a weapon of war. We would never have survived. During the Trigellian insurrections, when both sides were reduced to starvation and desperation and when Jendippurus Khoratt suggested the initiation of a fusion reaction in…”
“He was hanged by the sailors of his own fleet. I know Galactic history. I was thinking of accident.”
“There’s no record of accidents of that sort that are capable of significantly raising the intensity of radioactivity of a planet, generally.” He sighed. “I suppose that when we get around to it, we’ll have to go to the Sirius Sector and do a little prospecting there.”
“Someday, perhaps, we will. But for now…”
“Yes, yes, I’ll stop talking.”
He did and Trevize lay in the dark for nearly an hour considering whether he had attracted too much attention already and whether it might not be wise to go to the Sirius Sector and then return to Gaia when attention – everyone’s attention – was elsewhere.
He had arrived at no clear decision by the time he fell asleep. His dreams were troubled.
They did not arrive back in the city till midmorning. The tourist center was quite crowded this time, but they managed to obtain the necessary directions to a reference library, where in turn they received instruction in the use of the local models of data-gathering computers.
They went carefully through the museums and universities, beginning with those that were nearest, and checked out whatever information was available on anthropologists, archaeologists, and ancient historians.
Pelorat said, “Ah!”
“Ah?” said Trevize with some asperity. “Ah, what?”
“This name, Quintesetz. It seems familiar.”
“You know him?”
“No, of course not, but I may have read papers of his. Back at the ship, where I have my reference collection…”
“We’re not going back, Janov. If the name is familiar, that’s a starting point. If he can’t help us, he will undoubtedly be able to direct us further.” He rose to his feet. “Let’s find a way of getting to Sayshell University. And since there will be nobody there at lunchtime, let’s eat first.”
It was not till late afternoon that they had made their way out to the university, worked their way through its maze, and found themselves in an anteroom, waiting for a young woman who had gone off in search of information and who might – or might not – lead them to Quintesetz.
“I wonder,” said Pelorat uneasily, “how much longer we’ll have to wait. It must be getting toward the close of the schoolday.”
And, as though that were a cue, the young lady whom they had last seen half an hour before, walked rapidly toward them, her shoes glinting red and violet and striking the ground with a sharp musical tone as she walked. The pitch varied with the speed and force of her steps.
Pelorat winced. He supposed that each world had its own ways of assaulting the senses, just as each had its own smell. He wondered if, now that he no longer noticed the smell, he might also learn not to notice the cacophony of fashionable young women when they walked.
She came to Pelorat and stopped. “May I have your full name, Professor?”
“It’s Janov Pelorat, miss.”
“Your home planet?”
Trevize began to lift one hand as though to enjoin silence, but Pelorat, either not seeing or not regarding, said, “Terminus.”
The young woman smiled broadly, and looked pleased. “When I told Professor Quintesetz that a Professor Pelorat was inquiring for him, he said he would see you if you were Janov Pelorat of Terminus, but not otherwise.”
Pelorat blinked rapidly. “You – you mean, he’s heard of me?”
“It certainly seems so.”
And, almost creakily, Pelorat managed a smile as he turned to Trevize. “He’s heard of me. I honestly didn’t think… I mean, I’ve written very few papers and I didn’t think that anyone…” He shook his head. “They weren’t really important.”
“Well then,” said Trevize, smiling himself, “stop hugging yourself in an ecstasy of self-underestimation and let’s go.” He turned to the woman. “I presume, miss, there’s some sort of transportation to take us to him?”
“It’s within walking distance. We won’t even have to leave the building complex and I’ll be glad to take you there. – Are both of you from Terminus?” And off she went.
The two men followed and Trevize said, with a trace of annoyance, “Yes, we are. Does that make a difference?”
“Oh no, of course not. There are people on Sayshell that don’t like Foundationers, you know, but here at the university, we’re more cosmopolitan than that. Live and let live is what I always say. I mean, Foundationers are people, too. You know what I mean?”
“Yes, I know what you mean. Lots of us say that Sayshellians are people.”
“That’s just the way it should be. I’ve never seen Terminus. It must be a big city.”
“Actually it isn’t,” said Trevize matter-of-factly. “I suspect it’s smaller than Sayshell City.”
“You’re tweaking my finger,” she said. “It’s the capital of the Foundation Federation, isn’t it? I mean, there isn’t another Terminus, is there?”
“No, there’s only one Terminus, as far as I know, and that’s where we’re from – the capital of the Foundation Federation.”
“Well then, it must be an enormous city. – And you’re coming all the way here to see the professor. We’re very proud of him, you know. He’s considered the biggest authority in the whole Galaxy.”
“Really?” said Trevize. “On what?”
Her eyes opened wide again, “You are a teaser. He knows more about ancient history than – than I know about my own family.” And she continued to walk on ahead on her musical feet.
One can only be called a teaser and a finger-tweaker so often without developing an actual impulse in that direction. Trevize smiled and said, “The professor knows all about Earth, I suppose?”
“Earth?” She stopped at an office door and looked at them blankly.
“You know. The world where humanity got its start.”
“Oh, you mean the planet-that-was-first. I guess so. I guess he should know all about it. After all, it’s located in the Sayshell Sector. Everyone knows that! – This is his office. Let me signal him.”
“No, don’t,” said Trevize. “Not for just a minute. Tell me about Earth.”
“Actually I never heard anyone call it Earth. I suppose that’s a Foundation word. We call it Gaia, here.”
Trevize cast a swift look at Pelorat. “Oh? And where is it located?”
“Nowhere. It’s in hyperspace and there’s no way anyone can get to it. When I was a little girl, my grandmother said that Gaia was once in real space, but it was so disgusted at the…”
“Crimes and stupidities of human beings,” muttered Pelorat, “that, out of shame, it left space and refused to have anything more to do with the human beings it had sent out into the Galaxy.”
“You know the story, then. See? – A girlfriend of mine says it’s superstition. Well, I’ll tell her. If it’s good enough for professors from the Foundation…”
A glittering section of lettering on the smoky glass of the door read: SOTAYN QUINTESETZ ABT in the hard-to-read Sayshellian calligraphy – and under it was printed, in the same fashion: DEPARTMENT OF ANCIENT HISTORY.
The woman placed her finger on a smooth metal circle. There was no sound, but the smokiness of the glass turned a milky white for a moment and a soft voice said, in an abstracted sort of way, “Identify yourself, please.”
“Janov Pelorat of Terminus,” said Pelorat, “with Golan Trevize of the same world.” The door swung open at once.
The man who stood up, walked around his desk, and advanced to meet them was tall and well into middle age. He was light brown in skin color and his hair, which was set in crisp curls over his head, was iron-gray. He held out his hand in greeting and his voice was soft and low. “I am S. Q. I am delighted to meet you, Professors.”
Trevize said, “I don’t own an academic title. I merely accompany Professor Pelorat. You may call me simply Trevize. I am pleased to meet you, Professor Abt.”
Quintesetz held up one hand in clear embarrassment. “No no. Abt is merely a foolish title of some sort that has no significance outside of Sayshell. Ignore it, please, and call me S. Q. We tend to use initials in ordinary social intercourse on Sayshell. I’m so pleased to meet two of you when I had been expecting but one.”
He seemed to hesitate a moment, then extended his right hand after wiping it unobtrusively on his trousers.
Trevize took it, wondering what the proper Sayshellian manner of greeting was.
Quintesetz said, “Please sit down. I’m afraid you’ll find these chairs to be lifeless ones, but I, for one, don’t want my chairs to hug me. It’s all the fashion for chairs to hug you nowadays, but I prefer a hug to mean something, hey?”
Trevize smiled and said, “Who would not? Your name, SQ., seems to be of the Rim Worlds and not Sayshellian. I apologize if the remark is impertinent.”
“I don’t mind. My family traces back, in part, to Askone. Five generations back, my great-great-grandparents left Askone when Foundation domination grew too heavy.”
Pelorat said, “And we are Foundationers. Our apologies.”
Quintesetz waved his hand genially, “I don’t hold a grudge across a stretch of five generations. Not that such things haven’t been done, more’s the pity. Would you like to have something to eat? To drink? Would you like music in the background?”
“If you don’t mind,” said Pelorat, “I’d be willing to get right to business, if Sayshellian ways would permit.”
“Sayshellian ways are not a barrier to that, I assure you. – You have no idea how remarkable this is, Dr. Pelorat. It was only about two weeks ago that I came across your article on origin myths in the Archaeological Review and it struck me as a remarkable synthesis all too brief.”
Pelorat flushed with pleasure. “How delighted I am that you have read it. I had to condense it, of course, since the Review would not print a full study. I have been planning to do a treatise on the subject.”
“I wish you would. In any case, as soon as I had read it, I had this desire to see you. I even had the notion of visiting Terminus in order to do so, though that would have been hard to arrange…”
“Why so?” asked Trevize.
Quintesetz looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry to say that Sayshell is not eager to join the Foundation Federation and rather discourages any social communication with the Foundation. We’ve a tradition of neutralism, you see. Even the Mule didn’t bother us, except to extort from us a specific statement of neutrality. For that reason, any application for permission to visit Foundation territory generally and particularly Terminus – is viewed with suspicion, although a scholar such as myself, intent on academic business, would probably obtain his passport in the end. – But none of that was necessary; you have come to me. I can scarcely believe it. I ask myself: Why? Have you heard of me, as I have heard of you?”
Pelorat said, “I know your work, S. Q., and in my records I have abstracts of your papers. It is why I have come to you. I am exploring both the matter of Earth, which is the reputed planet of origin of the human species, and the early period of the exploration and settlement of the Galaxy. In particular, I have come here to inquire as to the founding of Sayshell.”
“From your paper,” said Quintesetz, “I presume you are interested in myths and legends.”
“Even more in history – actual facts – if such exist. Myths and legends, otherwise.”
Quintesetz rose and walked rapidly back and forth the length of his office, paused to stare at Pelorat, then walked again.
Trevize said impatiently, “Well, sir.”
Quintesetz said, “Odd! Really odd! It was only yesterday…”
Pelorat said, “What was only yesterday?”
Quintesetz said, “I told you, Dr. Pelorat – may I call you J. P., by the way? I find using a full-length name rather unnatural”
“I told you, J. P., that I had admired your paper and that I had wanted to see you. The reason I wanted to see you was that you clearly had an extensive collection of legends concerning the beginnings of the worlds and yet didn’t have ours. In other words, I wanted to see you in order to tell you precisely what you have come to see me to find out.”
“What has this to do with yesterday, S. Q. ?” asked Trevize.
“We have legends. A legend. An important one to our society, for it has become our central mystery…”
“Mystery?” said Trevize.
“I don’t mean a puzzle or anything of that sort. That, I believe, would be the usual meaning of the word in Galactic Standard. There’s a specialized meaning here. It means ‘something secret’; something only certain adepts know the full meaning of; something not to be spoken of to outsiders. – And yesterday was the day.”
“The day of what, S. Q. ?” asked Trevize, slightly exaggerating his air of patience.
“Yesterday was the Day of Flight.”
“Ah,” said Trevize, “a day of meditation and quiet, when everyone is supposed to remain at home.”
“Something like that, in theory, except that in the larger cities, the more sophisticated regions, there is little observance in the older fashion. – But you know about it, I see.”
Pelorat, who had grown uneasy at Trevize’s annoyed tone, put in hastily, “We heard a little of it, having arrived yesterday.”
“Of all days,” said Trevize sarcastically. “See here, S. Q. As I said, I’m not an academic, but I have a question. You said you were speaking of a central mystery, meaning it was not to be spoken of to outsiders. Why, then, are you speaking of it to us? We are outsiders.”
“So you are. But I’m not an observer of the day and the depth of my superstition in this matter is slight at best. J. P. ‘s paper, however, reinforced a feeling I have had for a long time. A myth or legend is simply not made up out of a vacuum. Nothing is – or can be. Somehow there is a kernel of truth behind it, however distorted that might be, and I would like the truth behind our legend of the Day of Flight.”
Trevize said, “Is it safe to talk about it?”
Quintesetz shrugged. “Not entirely, I suppose. The conservative elements among our population would be horrified. However, they don’t control the government and haven’t for a century. The secularists are strong and would be stronger still, if the conservatives didn’t take advantage of our – if you’ll excuse me – anti-Foundation bias. Then, too, since I am discussing the matter out of my scholarly interest in ancient history, the League of Academicians will support me strongly, in case of need.”
“In that case,” said Pelorat, “would you tell us about your central mystery, SQ. ?”
“Yes, but let me make sure we won’t be interrupted or, for that matter, overheard. Even if one must stare the bull in the face, one needn’t slap its muzzle, as the saying goes.”
He flicked a pattern on the work-face of an instrument on his desk and said, “We’re incommunicado now.”
“Are you sure you’re not bugged?” asked Trevize.
“Tapped! Eavesdropped! – Subjected to a device that will have you under observation – visual or auditory or both.”
Quintesetz looked shocked. “Not here on Sayshell!”
Trevize shrugged. “If you say so.”
“Please go on, SQ.,” said Pelorat.
Quintesetz pursed his lips, leaned back in his chair (which gave slightly under the pressure) and put the tips of his fingers together. He seemed to be speculating as to just how to begin.
He said, “Do you know what a robot is?”
“A robot?” said Pelorat. “No.”
Quintesetz looked in the direction of Trevize, who shook his head slowly.
“You know what a computer is, however?”
“Of course,” said Trevize impatiently.
“Well then, a mobile computerized tool…”
“Is a mobile computerized tool.” Trevize was still impatient. “There are endless varieties and I don’t know of any generalized term for it except mobile computerized tool.”
” – that looks exactly like a human being is a robot.” S. Q. completed his definition with equanimity. “The distinction of a robot is that it is humaniform.”
“Why humaniform?” asked Pelorat in honest amazement. “I’m not sure. It’s a remarkably inefficient form for a tool, I grant you, but I’m just repeating the legend. ‘Robot’ is an old word from no recognizable language, though our scholars say it bears the connotation of ‘work.”
“I can’t think of any word,” said Trevize skeptically, “that sounds even vaguely like ‘robot’ and that has any connection with ‘work.”
“Nothing in Galactic, certainly,” said Quintesetz, “but that’s what they say.”
Pelorat said, “It may have been reverse etymology. These objects were used for work, and so the word was said to mean ‘work. ‘ – In any case, why do you tell us this?”
“Because it is a firmly fixed tradition here on Sayshell that when Earth was a single world and the Galaxy lay all uninhabited before it, robots were invented and devised. There were then two sorts of human beings: natural and invented, flesh and metal, biological and mechanical, complex and simple…”
Quintesetz came to a halt and said with a rueful laugh, “I’m sorry. It is impossible to talk about robots without quoting from the Book of Flight. The people of Earth devised robots – and I need say no more. That’s plain enough.”
“And why did they devise robots?” asked Trevize.
Quintesetz shrugged. “Who can tell at this distance in time? Perhaps they were few in numbers and needed help, particularly in the great task of exploring and populating the Galaxy.”
Trevize said, “That’s a reasonable suggestion. Once the Galaxy was colonized, the robots would no longer be needed. Certainly there are no humanoid mobile computerized tools in the Galaxy today.”
“In any case,” said Quintesetz, “the story is as follows – if I may vastly simplify and leave out many poetic ornamentations which, frankly, I don’t accept, though the general population does or pretends to. Around Earth, there grew up colony worlds circling neighboring stars and these colony worlds were far richer in robots than was Earth itself. There was more use for robots on raw, new worlds. Earth, in fact, retreated, wished no more robots, and rebelled against them.”
“What happened?” asked Pelorat.
“The Outer Worlds were the stronger. With the help of their robots, the children defeated and controlled Earth – the Mother. Pardon me, but I can’t help slipping into quotation. But there were those from Earth who fled their world – with better ships and stronger modes of hyperspatial travel. They fled to far distant stars and worlds, far beyond the closer worlds earlier colonized. New colonies were founded – without robots – in which human beings could live freely. Those were the Times of Flight, so-called, and the day upon which the first Earthmen reached the Sayshell Sector – this very planet, in fact – is the Day of Flight, celebrated annually for many thousands of years.”
Pelorat said, “My dear chap, what you are saying, then, is that Sayshell was founded directly from Earth.”
Quintesetz thought and hesitated for a moment. Then he said, “That is the official belief.”
“Obviously,” said Trevize, “you don’t accept it.”
“It seems to me…” Quintesetz began and then burst out, “Oh, Great Stars and Small Planets, I don’t! It is entirely too unlikely, but it’s official dogma and however secularized the government has become, lip service to that, at least, is essential. – Still, to the point. In your article, J. P., there is no indication that you’re aware of this story – of robots and of two waves of colonization, a lesser one with robots and a greater one without.”
“I certainly was not,” said Pelorat. “I hear it now for the first time and, my dear SQ., I am eternally grateful to you for making this known to me. I am astonished that no hint of this has appeared in any of the writings…”
“It shows,” said Quintesetz, “how effective our social system is. It’s our Sayshellian secret – our great mystery.”
“Perhaps,” said Trevize dryly. “Yet the second wave of colonization – the robotless wave – must have moved out in all directions. Why is it only on Sayshell that this great secret exists?”
Quintesetz said, “It may exist elsewhere and be just as secret. Our own conservatives believe that only Sayshell was settled from Earth and that all the rest of the Galaxy was settled from Sayshell. That, of course, is probably nonsense.”
Pelorat said, “These subsidiary puzzles can be worked out in time. Now that I have the starting point, I can seek out similar information on other worlds. What counts is that I have discovered the question to ask and a good question is, of course, the key by which infinite answers can be educed. How fortunate that I…”
Trevize said, “Yes, Janov, but the good SQ. has not told us the whole story, surely. What happened to the older colonies and their robots? Do your traditions say?”
“Not in detail, but in essence. Human and humanoid cannot live together, apparently. The worlds with robots died. They were not viable.”
“Humans left it and settled here and presumably (though the conservatives would disagree) on other planets as well.”
“Surely not every human being left Earth. The planet was not deserted.”
“Presumably not. I don’t know.”
Trevize said abruptly, “Was it left radioactive?”
Quintesetz looked astonished. “Radioactive?”
“That’s what I’m asking.”
“Not to my knowledge. I never heard of such a thing.”
Trevize put a knuckle to his teeth and considered. Finally he said, “S. Q., it’s getting late and we have trespassed sufficiently on your time, perhaps.” (Pelorat made a motion as though he were about to protest, but Trevize’s hand was on the other’s knee and his grip tightened – so Pelorat, looking disturbed, subsided.)
Quintesetz said, “I was delighted to be of use.”
“You have been and if there’s anything we can do in exchange, name it.”
Quintesetz laughed gently. “If the good J. P. will be so kind as to refrain from mentioning my name in connection with any writing he does on our mystery, that will be sufficient repayment.”
Pelorat said eagerly, “You would be able to get the credit you deserve – and perhaps be more appreciated – if you were allowed to visit Terminus and even, perhaps, remain there as a visiting scholar at our university for an extended period. We might arrange that. Sayshell might not like the Federation, but they might not like refusing a direct request that you be allowed to come to Terminus to attend, let us say, a colloquium on some aspect of ancient history.”
The Sayshellian half-rose. “Are you saying you can pull strings to arrange that?”
Trevize said, “Why, I hadn’t thought of it, but J. P. is perfectly right. That would be feasible – if we tried. And, of course, the more grateful you make us, the harder we will try.”
Quintesetz paused, then frowned. “What do you mean, sir?”
“All you have to do is tell us about Gaia, S. Q.,” said Trevize. And all the light in Quintesetz’s face died.
Quintesetz looked down at his desk. His hand stroked absent-mindedly at his short, tightly curled hair. Then he looked at Trevize and pursed his lips tightly. It was as though he were determined not to speak.
Trevize lifted his eyebrows and waited and finally Quintesetz said in a strangled sort of way, “it is getting indeed late – quite glemmering.”
Until then he had spoken in good Galactic, but now his words took on a strange shape as though the Sayshellian mode of speech were pushing past his classical education.
“Glemmering, S. Q. ?”
“It is nearly full night.”
Trevize nodded. “I am thoughtless. And I am hungry, too. Could you please join us for an evening meal, S. Q., at our expense? We could then, perhaps, continue our discussion – about Gaia.”
Quintesetz rose heavily to his feet. He was taller than either of the two men from Terminus, but he was older and pudgier and his height did not lend him the appearance of strength. He seemed more weary than when they had arrived.
He blinked at them and said, “I forget my hospitality. You are Outworlders and it would not be fitting that you entertain me. Come to my home. It is on campus and not far and, if you wish to carry on a conversation, I can do so in a more relaxed manner there than here. My only regret” (he seemed a little uneasy) “is that I can offer you only a limited meal. My wife and I are vegetarians and if you are meat-eating, I can Only express my apologies and regrets.”
Trevize said, “J. P. and I will be quite content to forego our carnivorous natures for one meal. Your conversation will more than make up for it – I hope.”
“I can promise you an interesting meal, whatever the conversation,” said Quintesetz, “if your taste should run to our Sayshellian spices. My wife and I have made a rare study of such things.”
“I look forward to any exoticism you choose to supply, S. Q.,” said Trevize coolly, though Pelorat looked a little nervous at the prospect.
Quintesetz led the way. The three left the room and walked down an apparently endless corridor, with the Sayshellian greeting students and colleagues now and then, but making no attempt to introduce his companions. Trevize was uneasily aware that others stared curiously at his sash, which happened to be one of his gray ones. A subdued color was not something that was de rigueur in campus clothing, apparently.
Finally they stepped through the door and out into the open. It was indeed dark and a little cool, with trees bulking in the distance and a rather rank stand of grass on either side of the walkway.
Pelorat came to a halt – with his back to the glimmer of lights that came from the building they had just left and from the glows that lined the walks of the campus. He looked straight upward.
“Beautiful!” he said. “There is a famous phrase in a verse by one of our better poets that speaks of ‘the speckle-shine of Sayshell’s soaring sky.”
Trevize gazed appreciately and said in a low voice, “Vie are from Terminus, S. Q., and my friend, at least, has seen no other skies. On Terminus, we see only the smooth dim fog of the Galaxy and a few barely visible stars. You would appreciate your own sky even more, had you lived with ours.”
Quintesetz said gravely, “We appreciate it to the full, I assure you. It’s not so much that we are in an uncrowded area of the Galaxy, but that the distribution of stars is remarkably even. I don’t think that you will find, anywhere in the Galaxy, first-magnitude stars so generally distributed. – And yet not too many, either. I have seen the skies of worlds that are inside the outer reaches of a globular cluster and there you will see too many bright stars. It spoils the darkness of the night sky and reduces the splendor considerably.”
“I quite agree with that,” said Trevize.
“Now I wonder,” said Quintesetz, “if you see that almost regular pentagon of almost equally bright stars. The Five Sisters, we call them. It’s in that direction, just above the line of trees. Do you see it?”
“I see it,” said Trevize. “Very attractive.”
“Yes,” said Quintesetz. “It’s supposed to symbolize success in love – and there’s no love letter that doesn’t end in a pentagon of dots to indicate a desire to make love. Each of the five stars stands for a different stage in the process and there are famous poems which have vied with each other in making each stage as explicitly erotic as possible. In my younger days, I attempted versifying on the subject myself and I wouldn’t have thought that the time would come when I would grow so indifferent to the Five Sisters, though I suppose it’s the common fate. – Do you see the dim star just about in the center of the Five Sisters.”
“That,” said Quintesetz, “is supposed to represent unrequited love. There is a legend that the star was once as bright as the rest, but faded with grief.” And he walked on rapidly.
The dinner, Trevize had been forced to admit to himself, was delightful. There was endless variety and the spicing and dressing were subtle but effective.
Trevize said, “All these vegetables – which have been a pleasure to eat, by the way – are part of the Galactic dietary, are they not, SQ. ?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I presume, though, that there are indigenous forms of life, too.”
“Of course. Sayshell Planet was an oxygen world when the first settlers arrived, so it had to be life-bearing. And we have preserved some of the indigenous life, you may be sure. We have quite extensive natural parks in which both the flora and the fauna of Old Sayshell survive.”
Pelorat said sadly, “There you are in advance of us, S. Q. There was little land life on Terminus when human beings arrived and I’m afraid that for a long time no concerted effort was made to preserve the sea life, which had produced the oxygen that made Terminus habitable. Terminus has an ecology now that is purely Galactic in nature.”
“Sayshell,” said Quintesetz, with a smile of modest pride, “has a long and steady record of life-valuing.”
And Trevize chose that moment to say, “When we left your office, SQ., I believe it was your intention to feed us dinner and then tell us about Gaia.”
Quintesetz’s wife, a friendly woman – plump and quite dark, who had said little during the meal – looked up in astonishment, rose, and left the room without a word.
“My wife,” said Quintesetz uneasily, “is quite a conservative, I’m afraid, and is a bit uneasy at the mention of – the world. Please excuse her. But why do you ask about it?”
“Because it is important for J. P.’s work, I’m afraid.”
“But why do you ask it of me? We were discussing Earth, robots, the founding of Sayshell. What has all this to do with – what you ask?”
‘Perhaps nothing, and yet there are so many oddnesses about the matter. Why is your wife uneasy at the mention of Gaia? Why are you uneasy? Some talk of it easily enough. We have been told only today that Gaia is Earth itself and that it has disappeared into hyperspace because of the evil done by human beings.”
A look of pain crossed Quintesetz’s face. “Who told you that gibberish?”
“Someone I met here at the university.”
“That’s just superstition.”
“Then it’s not part of the central dogma of your legends concerning the Flight?”
“No, of course not. It’s just a fable that arose among the ordinary, uneducated people.”
“Are you sure?” asked Trevize coldly.
Quintesetz sat back in his chair and stared at the remnant of the meal before him. “Come into the living room,” he said. “My wife will not allow this room to be cleared and set to rights while we are here and discussing – this.”
“Are you sure it is just a fable?” repeated Trevize, once they had seated themselves in another room, before a window that bellied upward and inward to give a clear view of Sayshell’s remarkable night sky. The lights within the room glimmered down to avoid competition and Quintesetz’s dark countenance melted into the shadow.
Quintesetz said, “Aren’t you sure? Do you think that any world can dissolve into hyperspace? You must understand that the average person has only the vaguest notion of what hyperspace is.”
“The truth is,” said Trevize, “that I myself have only the vaguest notion of what hyperspace is and I’ve been through it hundreds of times.”
“Let me speak realities, then. I assure you that Earth – wherever it is – is not located within the borders of the Sayshell Union and that the world you mentioned is not Earth.”
“But even if you don’t know where Earth is, S. Q., you ought to know where the world I mentioned is. It is certainly within the borders of the Sayshell Union. We know that much, eh, Pelorat?”
Pelorat, who had been listening stolidly, started at being suddenly addressed and said, “If it comes to that, Golan, I know where it is.”
Trevize turned to look at him. “Since when, Janov?”
“Since earlier this evening, my dear Golan. You showed us the
Five Sisters, S. Q., on our way from your office to your house. You pointed out a dim star at the center of the pentagon. I’m positive that’s Gaia.”
Quintesetz hesitated – his face, hidden in the dimness, was beyond any chance of interpretation. Finally he said, “Well, that’s what our astronomers tell us – privately. It is a planet that circles that star.”
Trevize gazed contemplatively at Pelorat, but the expression on the professor’s face was unreadable. Trevize turned to Quintesetz, “Then tell us about that star. Do you have its co-ordinates?”
“I? No.” He was almost violent in his denial. “I have no stellar co-ordinates here. You can get it from our astronomy department, though I imagine not without trouble. No travel to that star is permitted.”
“Why not? It’s within your territory, isn’t it?”
“Spaciographically, yes. Politically, no.”
Trevize waited for something more to be said. When that didn’t come, he rose. “Professor Quintesetz,” he said formally, “I am not a policeman, soldier, diplomat, or thug. I am not here to force information out of you. Instead, I shall, against my will, go to our ambassador. Surely, you must understand that it is not I, for my own personal interest, that request this information. This is Foundation business and I don’t want to make an interstellar incident out of this. I don’t think the Sayshell Union would want to, either.”
Quintesetz said uncertainly, “What is this Foundation business?”
“That’s not something I can discuss with you. If Gaia is not something you can discuss with me, then we will transfer it all to the government level and, under the circumstances, it may be the worse for Sayshell. Sayshell has kept its independence of the Federation and I have no objection to that. I have no reason to wish Sayshell ill and I do not wish to approach our ambassador. In fact, I will harm my own career in doing so, for I am under strict instruction to get this information without making a government matter of it. Please tell me, then, if there is some firm reason why you cannot discuss Gaia. Will you be arrested or otherwise punished, if you speak? Will you tell me plainly that I have no choice but to go to the ambassadorial height?”
“No no,” said Quintesetz, who sounded utterly confused. “I know nothing about government matters. We simply don’t speak of that world.”
‘Well, yes! Superstition! – Skies of Sayshell, in what way am I better than that foolish person who told you that Gaia was in hyperspace – or than my wife who won’t even stay in a room where Gaia is mentioned and who may even have left the house for fear it will be smashed by…”
“By some stroke from afar. And I, even I, hesitate to pronounce the name. Gaia! Gaia! The syllables do not hurt! I am unharmed! Yet I hesitate. – But please believe me when I say that I honestly don’t know the co-ordinates for Gaia’s star. I can try to help you get it, if that will help, but let me tell you that we don’t discuss the world here in the Union. We keep hands and minds off it. I can tell you what little is known – really known, rather than supposed – and I doubt that you can learn anything more anywhere in these worlds of the Union.
“We know Gaia is an ancient world and there are some who think it is the oldest world in this sector of the Galaxy, but we are not certain. Patriotism tells us Sayshell Planet is the oldest; fear tells us Gaia Planet is. The only way of combining the two is to suppose that Gaia is Earth, since it is known that Sayshell was settled by Earthpeople.
“Most historians think – among themselves – that Gaia Planet was founded independently. They think it is not a colony of any world of our Union and that the Union was not colonized by Gaia. There is no consensus on comparative age, whether Gaia was settled before or after Sayshell was.”
Trevize said, “So far, what you know is nothing, since every possible alternative is believed by someone or other.”
Quintesetz nodded ruefully. “It would seem so. It was comparatively late in our history that we became conscious of the existence of Gaia. We had been preoccupied at first in forming the Union, then in fighting off the Galactic Empire, then in trying to find our proper role as an Imperial province and in limiting the power of the Viceroys.
“It wasn’t till the days of Imperial weakness were far advanced that one of the later Viceroys, who was under very weak central control by then, came to realize that Gaia existed and seemed to maintain its independence from the Sayshellian province and even from the Empire itself. It simply kept to itself in isolation and secrecy, so that virtually nothing was known about it, anymore than is now known. The Viceroy decided to take it over. We have no details what happened, but his expedition was broken and few ships returned. In those days, of course, the ships were neither very good nor very well led.
“Sayshell itself rejoiced at the defeat of the Viceroy, who was considered an Imperial oppressor, and the debacle led almost directly to the re-establishment of our independence. The Sayshell Union snapped its ties with the Empire and we still celebrate the anniversary of that event as Union Day. Almost out of gratitude we left Gaia alone for nearly a century, but the time came when we were strong enough to begin to think of a little imperialistic expansion of our own. Why not take over Gaia? Why not at least establish a Customs Union? We sent out a fleet and it was broken, too.
“Thereafter, we confined ourselves to an occasional attempt at trade – attempts that were invariably unsuccessful. Gaia remained in firm isolation and never – to anyone’s knowledge – made the slightest attempt to trade or communicate with any other world. It certainly never made the slightest hostile move against anyone in any direction. And then…”
Quintesetz turned up the light by touching a control in the arm of his chair. In the light, Quintesetz’s face took on a clearly sardonic expression. He went on, “Since you are citizens of the Foundation, you perhaps remember the Mule.”
Trevize flushed. In five centuries of existence, the Foundation had been conquered only once. The conquest had been only temporary and had not seriously interfered with its climb toward Second Empire, but surely no one who resented the Foundation and wished to puncture its self-satisfaction would fail to mention the Mule, its one conqueror. And it was likely (thought Trevize) that Quintesetz had raised the level of light in order that he might see Foundational self-satisfaction punctured.
He said, “Yes, we of the Foundation remember the Mule.”
“The Mule,” said Quintesetz, “ruled an Empire for a while, one that was as large as the Federation now controlled by the Foundation. He did not, however, rule us. He left us in peace. He passed through Sayshell at one time, however. We signed a declaration of neutrality and a statement of friendship. He asked nothing more. We were the only ones of whom he asked nothing more in the days before illness called a halt to his expansion and forced him to wait for death. He was not an unreasonable man, you know. He did not use unreasonable force, he was not bloody, and he ruled humanely.”
“It was just that he was a conqueror,” said Trevize sarcastically.
“Like the Foundation,” said Quintesetz.
Trevize, with no ready answer, said irritably, “Do you have more to say about Gaia?”
“Just a statement that the Mule made. According to the account of the historic meeting between the Mule and President Kallo of the Union, the Mule is described as having put his signature to the document with a flourish and to have said, “You are neutral even toward Gaia by this document, which is fortunate for you. Even I will not approach Gaia.”
Trevize shook his head. “Why should he? Sayshell was eager to pledge neutrality and Gaia had no record of ever troubling anyone. The Mule was planning the conquest of the entire Galaxy at the time, so why delay for trifles? Time enough to turn on Sayshell and Gaia, when that was done.”
“Perhaps, perhaps,” said Quintesetz, “but according to one witness at the time, a person we tend to believe, the Mule put down his pen as he said, ‘Even I will not approach Gaia. ‘ His voice then dropped and, in a whisper not meant to be heard, he added ‘again.”
“Not meant to be heard, you say. Then how was it he was heard?”
“Because his pen rolled off the table when he put it down and a Sayshellian automatically approached and bent to pick it up. His ear was close to the Mule’s mouth when the word ‘again’ was spoken and he heard it. He said nothing until after the Mule’s death.”
“How can you prove it was not an invention.”
“The man’s life is not the kind that makes it probable he would invent something of this kind. His report is accepted.”
“And if it is?”
“The Mule was never in – or anywhere near – the Sayshell Union except on this one occasion, at least after he appeared on the Galactic scene. If he had ever been on Gaia, it had to be before he appeared on the Galactic scene.”
“Well, where was the Mule born?”
“I don’t think anyone knows,” said Trevize.
“In the Sayshell Union, there is a strong feeling he was born on Gaia.”
“Because of that one word?”
“Only partly. The Mule could not be defeated because he had strange mental powers. Gaia cannot be defeated either.”
“Gaia has not been defeated as yet. That does not necessarily prove it cannot be.”
“Even the Mule would not approach. Search the records of his Overlordship. See if any region other than the Sayshell Union was so gingerly treated. And do you know that no one who has ever gone to Gaia for the purpose of peaceful trade has ever returned? Why do you suppose we know so little about it?”
Trevize said, “Your attitude seems much like superstition.”
“Call it what you will. Since the time of the Mule, we have wiped Gaia out of our thinking. We don’t want it to think of us. We only feel safe if we pretend it isn’t there. It may be that the government has itself secretly initiated and encouraged the legend that Gaia has disappeared into hyperspace in the hope that people will forget that there is a real Star of that name.”
“You think that Gaia is a world of Mules, then?”
“It may be. I advise you, for your good, not to go there. If you do, you will never return. If the Foundation interferes with Gaia, it will show less intelligence than the Mule did. You might tell your ambassador that.”
Trevize said, “Get me the co-ordinates and I will be off your world at once. I will reach Gaia and I will return.”
Quintesetz said, “I will get you the co-ordinates. The astronomy department works nights, of course, and I will get it for you now, if I can. – But let me suggest once more that you make no attempt to reach Gaia.”
Trevize said, “I intend to make that attempt.”
And Quintesetz said heavily, “Then you intend suicide.”