Forward the Foundation Chapter 18
“Yes,” said Hari Seldon wearily, “it was a great triumph. I had a wonderful time. I can hardly wait until I’m seventy so I can repeat it. But the fact is, I’m exhausted.”
“So get yourself a good night’s sleep, Dad,” said Raych, smiling. “That’s an easy cure.”
“I don’t know how well I can relax when I have to see our great leader in a few days.”
“Not alone, you won’t see him,” said Dors Venabili grimly.
Seldon frowned. “Don’t say that again, Dors. It is important for me to see him alone.”
“It won’t be safe with you alone. Do you remember what happened ten years ago when you refused to let me come with you to greet the gardeners?”
“There is no danger of my forgetting when you remind me of it twice a week, Dors. In this case, though, I intend to go alone. What can he want to do to me if I come in as an old man, utterly harmless, to find out what he wants?”
“What do you imagine he wants?” said Raych, biting at his knuckle.
“I suppose he wants what Cleon always wanted. It will turn out that he has found out that psychohistory can, in some way, predict the future and he will want to use it for his own purposes. I told Cleon the science wasn’t up to it nearly thirty years ago and I kept telling him that all through my tenure as First Minister-and now I’ll have to tell General Tennar the same thing.”
“How do you know he’ll believe you?” said Raych.
“I’ll think of some way of being convincing.”
Dors said, “I do not wish you to go alone.”
“Your wishing, Dors, makes no difference.”
At this point, Tamwile Elar interrupted. He said, “I’m the only nonfamily person here. I don’t know if a comment from me would be welcome.”
“Go ahead,” said Seldon. “Come one, come all.”
“I would like to suggest a compromise. Why don’t a number of us go with the Maestro. Quite a few of us. We can act as his triumphal escort, a kind of finale to the birthday celebration. Now wait, I don’t mean that we will all crowd into the General’s offices. I don’t even mean entering the Imperial Palace grounds. We can just take hotel rooms in the Imperial Sector at the edge of the grounds-the Dome’s Edge Hotel would be just right-and we’ll give ourselves a day of pleasure.”
“That’s just what I need,” snorted Seldon. “A day of pleasure.”
“Not you, Maestro,” said Elar at once. “You’ll be meeting with General Tennar. The rest of us, though, will give the people of the Imperial Sector a notion of your popularity-and perhaps the General will take note also. And if he knows we’re all waiting for your return, it may keep him from being unpleasant.”
There was a considerable silence after that. Finally Raych said, “It sounds too showy to me. It don’t fit in with the image the world has of Dad.”
But Dors said, “I’m not interested in Hari’s image. I’m interested in Hari’s safety. It strikes me that if we cannot invade the General’s presence or the Imperial grounds, then allowing ourselves to accumulate, so to speak, as near the General as we can, might do us well. Thank you, Dr. Elar, for a very good suggestion.”
“I don’t want it done,” said Seldon.
“But I do,” said Dors, “and if that’s as close as I can get to offering you personal protection, then that much I will insist on.”
Manella, who had listened to it all without comment till then, said, “Visiting the Dome’s Edge Hotel could be a lot of fun.”
“It’s not fun I’m thinking of,” said Dors, “but I’ll accept your vote in favor.”
And so it was. The following day some twenty of the higher echelon of the Psychohistory Project descended on the Dome’s Edge Hotel, with rooms overlooking the open spaces of the Imperial Palace grounds.
The following evening Hari Seldon was picked up by the General’s armed guards and taken off to the meeting.
At almost the same time Dors Venabili disappeared, but her absence was not noted for a long time. And when it was noted, no one could guess what had happened to her and the gaily festive mood turned rapidly into apprehension.
Dors Venabili had lived on the Imperial Palace grounds for ten years. As wife of the First Minister, she had entry to the grounds and could pass freely from the dome to the open, with her fingerprints as the pass.
In the confusion that followed Cleon’s assassination, her pass had never been removed and now when, for the first time since that dreadful clay, she wanted to move from the dome into the open spaces of the grounds, she could do so.
She had always known that she could do so easily only once, for, upon discovery, the pass would be canceled-but this was the one time to do it.
There was a sudden darkening of the sky as she moved into the open and she felt a distinct lowering of the temperature. The world under the dome was always kept a little lighter during the night period than natural night would require and was kept a little dimmer during the day period. And, of course, the temperature beneath the dome was always a bit milder than the outdoors.
Most Trantorians were unaware of this, for they spent their entire lives under the dome. To Dors it was expected, but it didn’t really matter.
She took the central roadway, into which the dome opened at the site of the Dome’s Edge Hotel. It was, of course, brightly lit, so that the darkness of the sky didn’t matter at all.
Dors knew that she would not advance a hundred meters along the roadway without being stopped, less perhaps in the present paranoid lays of the junta. Her alien presence would be detected at once.
Nor was she disappointed. A small ground-car skittered up and the guardsman shouted out the window, “What are you doing here? Where are you going?”
Dors ignored the question and continued to walk.
The guardsman called out, “Halt!” Then he slammed on the brakes and stepped out of the car, which was exactly what Dors had wanted him to do.
The guardsman was holding a blaster loosely in his hand-not threatening to use it, merely demonstrating its existence. He said, “Your reference number.”
Dors said, “I want your car.”
“What!” The guardsman sounded outraged. “Your reference number. Immediately!” And now the blaster came up.
Dors said quietly, “You don’t need my reference number,” then she walked toward the guardsman.
The guardsman took a backward step. “If you don’t stop and present your reference number, I’ll blast you.”
“No! Drop your blaster.”
The guardsman’s lips tightened. His finger began to edge toward the contact, but before he could reach it, he was lost.
He could never describe afterward what happened in any accurate way. All he could say was “How was I to know it was The Tiger Woman?” (The time came when he would be proud of the encounter.) “She moved so fast, I didn’t see exactly what she did or what happened. One moment I was going to shoot her down-I was sure she was some sort of madwoman-and the next thing I knew, I was completely overwhelmed.”
Dors held the guardsman in a firm grip, the hand with the blaster forced high. She said, “Either drop the blaster at once or I will break your arm.”
The guardsman felt a kind of death grip around his chest that all but prevented him from breathing. Realizing he had no choice, he dropped the blaster.
Dors Venabili released him, but before the guardsman could make a move to recover, he found himself facing his own blaster in Dors’s hand.
Dors said, “I hope you’ve left your detectors in place. Don’t try to report what’s happened too quickly. You had better wait and decide what it is you plan to tell your superiors. The fact that an unarmed woman took your blaster and your car may well put an end to your usefulness to the junta.”
Dors started the car and began to speed down the central roadway. A ten-year stay on the grounds told her exactly where she was going. The car she was in-an official ground-car-was not an alien intrusion into the grounds and would not be picked up as a matter of course. However, she had to take a chance on speed, for she wanted to reach her destination rapidly. She pushed the car to a speed of two hundred kilometers per hour.
The speed, at least, eventually did attract attention. She ignored radioed cries, demanding to know why she was speeding, and before long the car’s detectors told her that another ground-car was in hot pursuit.
She knew that there would be a warning sent up ahead and that there would be other ground-cars waiting for her to arrive, but there was little any of them could do, short of trying to blast her out of existence-something apparently no one was willing to try, pending further investigation.
When she reached the building she had been heading for, two ground-cars were waiting for her. She climbed serenely out of her own car and walked toward the entrance.
Two men at once stood in her way, obviously astonished that the driver of the speeding car was not a guardsman but a woman dressed in civilian clothes.
“What are you doing here? What was the rush?”
Dors said quietly, “Important message for Colonel Header Linn.”
“Is that so?” said the guardsman harshly. There were now four men between her and the entrance. “Reference number, please.”
Dors said, “Don’t delay me.”
“Reference number, I said.”
“You’re wasting my time.”
One of the guardsmen said suddenly, “You know who she looks like? The old First Minister’s wife. Dr. Venabili. The Tiger Woman.”
There was an odd backward step on the part of all four, but one of them said, “You’re under arrest.”
“Am I?” said Dors. “If I’m The Tiger Woman, you must know that I am considerably stronger than any of you and that my reflexes are considerably faster. Let me suggest that all four of you accompany me quietly inside and we’ll see what Colonel Linn has to say.”
“You’re under arrest” came the repetition and four blasters were aimed at Dors.
“Well,” said Dors. “If you insist.”
She moved rapidly and two of the guardsmen were suddenly on the ground, groaning, while Dors was standing with a blaster in each hand.
She said, “I have tried not to hurt them, but it is quite possible that I have broken their wrists. That leaves two of you and I can shoot faster than you can. If either of you makes the slightest move-the slightest-I will have to break the habit of a lifetime and kill you. It will sicken me to do so and I beg you not to force me into it.”
There was absolute silence from the two guardsmen still standing-no motion.
“I would suggest,” said Dors, “that you two escort me into the colonel’s presence and that you then seek medical help for your comrades.”
The suggestion was not necessary. Colonel Linn emerged from his office. “What is going on here? What is-“
Dors turned to him. “Ah! Let me introduce myself. I am Dr. Dors Venabili, the wife of Professor Hari Seldon. I have come to see you on important business. These four tried to stop me and, as a result, two are badly hurt. Send them all about their business and let me talk to you. I mean you no harm.”
Linn stared at the four guardsmen, then at Dors. He said calmly, “You mean me no harm? Though four guardsmen have not succeeded in stopping you, I have four thousand at my instant call.”
“Then call them,” said Dors. “However quickly they come, it will not be in time to save you, should I decide to kill you. Dismiss your guardsmen and let us talk civilly.”
Linn dismissed the guardsmen and said, “Well, come in and we will talk. Let me warn you, though, Dr. Venabili-I have a long memory.”
“And I,” said Dors. They walked into Linn’s quarters together.
Linn said with utmost courtesy, “Tell me exactly why you are here, Dr. Venabili.”
Dors smiled without menace-and yet not exactly pleasantly, either. “To begin with,” she said, “I have come here to show you that I can come here.”
“Yes. My husband was taken to his interview with the General in an official ground-car under armed guard. I myself left the hotel at a the same time he did, on foot and unarmed-and here I am-and I believe I got here before he did. I had to wade through five guardsmen, including the guardsman whose car I appropriated, in order to reach you. I would have waded through fifty.”
Linn nodded his head phlegmatically. “I understand that you are sometimes called The Tiger Woman.”
“I have been called that. Now, having reached you, my task is to make certain that no harm comes to my husband. He is venturing into the General’s lair-if I can be dramatic about it-and I want him to emerge unharmed and unthreatened.”
“As far as I am concerned, I know that no harm will come to your husband as a result of this meeting. But if you are concerned, why do you come to me? Why didn’t you go directly to the General?”
“Because, of the two of you, it is you that has the brains.”
There was a short pause and Linn said, “That would be a most dangerous remark-if overheard.”
“More dangerous for you than for me, so make sure it is not overheard. Now, if it occurs to you that I am to be simply soothed and put off and that, if my husband is imprisoned or marked for execution, that there will really be nothing I can do about it, disabuse yourself.”
She indicated the two blasters that lay on the table before her. “I entered the grounds with nothing. I arrived in your immediate vicinity with two blasters. If I had no blasters, I might have had knives, with which I am an expert. And if I had neither blasters nor knives, I would still be a formidable person. This table we’re sitting at is metal-obviously-and sturdy.”
Dors held up her hands, fingers splayed, as if to show that she held no weapon. Then she dropped them to the table and, palms down, caressed its surface.
Abruptly Dors raised her fist and then brought it down on the table with a loud crash, which sounded almost as if metal were striking metal. She smiled and lifted her hand.
“No bruise,” Dors said. “No pain. But you’ll notice that the table is slightly bent where I struck it. If that same blow had come down with the name force on a person’s head, the skull would have exploded. I have never done such a thing; in fact, I have never killed anyone, though I have injured several. Nevertheless, if Professor Seldon is harmed-“
“You are still threatening.”
“I am promising. I will do nothing if Professor Seldon is unharmed. Otherwise, Colonel Linn, I will be forced to maim or kill you and-I promise you again-I will do the same to General Tennar.”
Linn said, “You cannot withstand an entire army, no matter how tigerish a woman you are. What then?”
“Stories spread,” said Dors, “and are exaggerated. I have not really done much in the way of tigerishness, but many more stories are told of me than are true. Your guardsmen fell back when they recognized me and they themselves will spread the story, with advantage, of how I made my way to you. Even an army might hesitate to attack me, Colonel Linn, but even if they did and even if they destroyed me, beware the indignation of the people. The junta is maintaining order, but it is doing so only barely and you don’t want anything to upset matters. Think, then, of how easy the alternative is. Simply do not harm Professor Hari Seldon.”
“We have no intention of harming him.”
“Why the interview, then?”
“What’s the mystery? The General is curious about psychohistory. The government records are open to us. The old Emperor Cleon was interested. Demerzel, when he was First Minister, was interested. Why should we not be in our turn? In fact, more so.”
“Why more so?”
“Because time has passed. As I understand it, psychohistory began as a thought in Professor Seldon’s mind. He has been working on it, with increasing vigor and with larger and larger groups of people, for nearly thirty years. He has done so almost entirely with government support, so that, in a way, his discoveries and techniques belong to the government. We intend to ask him about psychohistory, which, by now, must be far advanced beyond what existed in the times of Demerzel and Cleon, and we expect him to tell us what we want to know. We want something more practical than the vision of equations curling their way through air. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” said Dors, frowning.
“And one more thing. Do not suppose that the danger to your husband comes from the government only and that any harm that reaches him will mean that you must attack us at once. I would suggest that Professor Seldon may have purely private enemies. I have no knowledge of such things, but surely it is possible.”
“I shall keep that in mind. Right now, I want to have you arrange that I join my husband during his interview with the General. I want to know, beyond doubt, that he is safe.”
“That will be hard to arrange and will take some time. It would be impossible to interrupt the conversation, but if you wait till it is ended-“
“Take the time and arrange it. Do not count on double-crossing me and remaining alive.”
General Tennar stared at Hari Seldon in a rather pop-eyed manner and his fingers tapped lightly at the desk where he sat.
“Thirty years,” he said. “Thirty years and you are telling me you still have nothing to show for it?”
“Actually, General, twenty-eight years.”
Tennar ignored that. “And all at government expense. Do you know how many billions of credits have been invested in your Project, Professor?”
“I haven’t kept up, General, but we have records that could give me the answer to your question in seconds.”
“And so have we. The government, Professor, is not an endless source of funds. These are not the old times. We don’t have Cleon’s old free-and-easy attitude toward finances. Raising taxes is hard and we need credits for many things. I have called you here, hoping that you can benefit us in some way with your psychohistory. If you cannot, then I must tell you, quite frankly, that we will have to shut off the faucet. If you can continue your research without government funding, do so, for unless you show me something that would make the expense worth it, you will have to do just that.”
“General, you make a demand I cannot meet, but, if in response, you and government support, you will be throwing away the future. Give me wile** and eventually-“
“Various governments have heard that ‘eventually’ from you for decades. Isn’t it true, Professor, that you say your psychohistory predicts that the junta is unstable, that my rule is unstable, that in a short time it will collapse?”
Seldon frowned. “The technique is not yet firm enough for me to say that this is something that psychohistory states.”
“I put it to you that psychohistory does state it and that this is common knowledge within your Project.”
“No,” said Seldon warmly. “No such thing. It is possible that some among us have interpreted some relationships to indicate that the junta may be an unstable form of government, but there are other relationships that may easily be interpreted to show it is stable. That is the reason why we must continue our work. At the present moment it is all too easy to use incomplete data and imperfect reasoning to reach any conclusion we wish.”
“But if you decide to present the conclusion that the government is unstable and say that psychohistory warrants it-even if it does not actually do so-will it not add to the instability?”
“It may very well do that, General. And if we announced that the government is stable, it may well add to the stability. I have had this very same discussion with Emperor Cleon on a number of occasions. It is possible to use psychohistory as a tool to manipulate the emotions of the people and achieve short-term effects. In the long run, however, the predictions are quite likely to prove incomplete or downright erroneous and psychohistory will lose all its credibility and it will be as though it had never existed.”
“Enough! Tell me straight out! What do you think psychohistory shows about my government?”
“It shows, we think, that there are elements of instability in it, but we are not certain-and cannot be certain-exactly in what way this can be made worse or made better.”
“In other words, psychohistory simply tells you what you would know without psychohistory and it is that in which government has invested uncounted piles of credits.”
“The time will come when psychohistory will tell us what we could not know without it and then the investment will pay itself back many, many times over.”
“And how long will it be before that time comes?”
“Not too long, I hope. We have been making rather gratifying progress in the last few years.”
Tennar was tapping his fingernail on his desk again. “Not enough. Tell me something helpful now. Something useful.”
Seldon pondered, then said, “I can prepare a detailed report for you, but it will take time.”
“Of course it will. Days, months, years-and somehow it will never be written. Do you take me for a fool?”
“No, of course not, General. However, I don’t want to be taken for a fool, either. I can tell you something that I will take sole responsibility for. I have seen it in my psychohistorical research, but I may have misinterpreted what I saw. However, since you insist-“
“You mentioned taxes a little while ago. You said raising taxes was difficult. Certainly. It is always difficult. Every government must do its work by collecting wealth in one form or another. The only two ways in which such credits can be obtained are, first, by robbing a neighbor, or second, persuading a government’s own citizens to grant the credits willingly and peaceably.
“Since we have established a Galactic Empire that has been conducting its business in reasonable fashion for thousands of years, there is no possibility of robbing a neighbor, except as the result of an occasional rebellion and its repression. This does not happen often enough to support a government-and, if it did, the government would be too unstable to last long, in any case.”
Seldon drew a deep breath and went on. “Therefore, credits must be raised by asking the citizens to hand over part of their wealth for government use. Presumably, since the government will then work efficiently, the citizens can better spend their credits in this way than to hoard it-each man to himself-while living in a dangerous and chaotic anarchy.
“However, though the request is reasonable and the citizenry is better off paying taxes as their price for maintaining a stable and efficient government, they are nevertheless reluctant to do so. In order to overcome this reluctance, governments must make it appear that they are not taking too many credits, and that they are considering each citizen’s rights and benefits. In other words, they must lower the percentage taken out of low incomes; they must allow deductions of various kinds to be made before the tax is assessed, and so on.
“As time goes on, the tax situation inevitably grows more and more complex as different worlds, different sectors within each world, and different economic divisions all demand and require special treatment. Me result is that the tax-collecting branch of the government grows in size and complexity and tends to become uncontrollable. The average citizen cannot understand why or how much he is being taxed; what he can get away with and what he can’t. The government and the tax agency itself are often in the dark as well.
“What’s more, an ever-larger fraction of the funds collected must be put into running the overelaborate tax agency-maintaining records, pursuing tax delinquents-so the amount of credits available for good, and useful purposes declines despite anything we can do.**
“In the end, the tax situation becomes overwhelming. It inspires discontent and rebellion. The history books tend to ascribe these things to greedy businessmen, to corrupt politicians, to brutal warriors, to ambitious viceroys-but these are just the individuals who take advantage of the tax overgrowth.”
The General said harshly, “Are you telling me that our tax system is overcomplicated?”
Seldon said, “If it were not, it would be the only one in history that wasn’t, as far as I know. If there is one thing that psychohistory tells me is inevitable, it is tax overgrowth.”
“And what do we do about it?”
“That I cannot tell you. It is that for which I would like to prepare a report that-as you say-may take a while to get ready.”
“Never mind the report. The tax system is overcomplicated, isn’t it? Isn’t that what you are saying?”
“It is possible that it is,” said Seldon cautiously.
“And to correct that, one must make the tax system simpler-as simple as possible, in fact.”
“I would have to study-“
“Nonsense. The opposite of great complication is great simplicity. I don’t need a report to tell me that.”
“As you say, General,” said Seldon.
At this point the General looked up suddenly, as though he had been called-as, indeed, he had been. His fists clenched and holovision images of Colonel Linn and Dors Venabili suddenly appeared in the room.
Thunderstruck, Seldon exclaimed, “Dors! What are you doing here?”
The General said nothing, but his brow furrowed into a frown.