Prelude to Foundation Chapter 8 Sunmaster
SUNMASTER FOURTEEN-… A leader of the Mycogen Sector of ancient Trantor…
As is true of all the leaders of this ingrown sector, little is known of him. That he plays any role at all in history is due entirely to his interrelationship with Hari Seldon in the course of The Flight…
There were just two seats behind the compact pilot compartment and when Seldon sat down on padding that gave slowly beneath him meshed fabric came forward to encircle his legs, waist, and chest and a hood came down over his forehead and ears. He felt imprisoned and when he turned to his left with difficulty-and only slightly-he could see that Dors was similarly enclosed.
The pilot took his own seat and checked the controls. Then he said, “I’m Endor Levanian, at your service. You’re enmeshed because there will be a considerable acceleration at lift-off. Once we’re in the open and flying, you’ll be released. You needn’t tell me your names. It’s none of my business.” He turned in his seat and smiled at them out of a gnomelike face that wrinkled as his lips spread outward. “Any psychological difficulties, youngsters?”
Dors said lightly, “I’m an Outworlder and I’m used to flying.”
“That is also true for myself,” said Seldon with a bit of hauteur.
“Excellent, youngsters. Of course, this isn’t your ordinary air-jet and you may not have done any night flying, but I’ll count on you to bear up.”
He was enmeshed too, but Seldon could see that his arms were entirely free.
A dull hum sounded inside the jet, growing in intensity and rising in pitch. Without actually becoming unpleasant, it threatened to do so and Seldon made a gesture as though to shake his head and get the sound out of his ears, but the attempt to do so merely seemed to stiffen the hold of the head-mesh. The jet then sprang (it was the only verb Seldon could find to describe the event) into the air and he found himself pushed hard against the back and bottom of his seat.
Through the windshield in front of the pilot, Seldon saw, with a twinge of horror, the flat rise of a wall-and then a round opening appear in that wall. It was similar to the hole into which the air-taxi had plunged the day he and Hummin had left the Imperial Sector, but though this one was large enough for the body of the jet, it certainly did not leave room for the wings. Seldon’s head turned as far to the right as he could manage and did so just in time to see the wing on his side wither and collapse. The jet plunged into the opening and was seized by the electromagnetic field and hurtled along a lighted runnel. The acceleration was constant and there were occasional clicking noises that Seldon imagined might be the passing of individual magnets.
And then, in less than ten minutes, the jet was spewed out into the atmosphere, headlong into the sudden pervasive darkness of night. The jet decelerated as it passed beyond the electromagnetic field and Seldon felt himself flung against the mesh and plastered there for a few breathless moments.
Then the pressure ceased and the mesh disappeared altogether.
“How are you, youngsters?” came the cheerful voice of the pilot.
“I’m not sure,” said Seldon. He turned to Dors. “Are you all right?”
“Certainly,” she answered. “I think Mr. Levanian was putting us through his paces to see if we were really Outworlders. Is that so, Mr. Levanian?”
“Some people like excitement,” said Levanian. “Do you?”
“Within limits,” said Dors.
Then Seldon added approvingly, “As any reasonable person would admit.” Seldon went on. “It might have seemed less humorous to you, sir, if you had ripped the wings off the jet.”
“Impossible, sir. I told you this is not your ordinary air-jet. The wings are thoroughly computerized. They change their length, width, curvature, and overall shape to match the speed of the jet, the speed and direction of the wind, the temperature, and half a dozen other variables. The wings wouldn’t tear off unless the jet itself was subjected to stresses that would splinter it.”
There was a spatter against Seldon’s window. He said, “It’s raining.’
“It often is,” said the pilot.
Seldon peered out the window. On Helicon or on any other world, there would have been lights visible-the illuminated works of man. Only on Trantor would it be dark.
Well, not entirely. At one point he saw the flash of a beacon light. Perhaps the higher reaches of Upperside had warning lights. As usual, Dors took note of Seldon’s uneasiness. Patting his hand, she said, “I’m sure the pilot knows what he’s doing, Hari.”
“I’ll try to be sure of it, too, Dors, but I wish he’d share some of that knowledge with us,” Seldon said in a voice loud enough to be overheard.
“I don’t mind sharing,” said the pilot. “To begin with, we’re heading up and we’ll be above the cloud deck in a few minutes. Then there won’t be any rain and we’ll even see the stars.”
He had timed the remark beautifully, for a few stars began to glitter through the feathery cloud remnants and then all the rest sprang into brightness as the pilot flicked off the lights inside the cabin. Only the dim illumination of his own instrument panel remained to compete, and outside the window the sky sparkled brightly.
Dors said, “That’s the first time in over two years that I’ve seen the stars. Aren’t they marvelous? They’re so bright-and there are so many of them.”
The pilot said, “Trantor is nearer the center of the Galaxy than most of the Outworlds.”
Since Helicon was in a sparse corner of the Galaxy and its star field was dim and unimpressive, Seldon found himself speechless.
Dors said, “How quiet this flight has become.”
“So it is,” said Seldon. “What powers the jet, Mr. Levanian?”
“A microfusion motor and a thin stream of hot gas.”
“I didn’t know we had working microfusion air-jets. They talk about it, but-“
“There are a few small ones like this. So far they exist only on Trantor and are used entirely by high government officials.”
Seldon said, “The fees for such travel must come high.”
“Very high, sir.”
“How much is Mr. Hummin being charged, then?”
“There’s no charge for this flight. Mr. Hummin is a good friend of the company who owns these jets.”
Seldon grunted. Then he asked, “Why aren’t there more of these microfusion air-jets?”
“Too expensive for one thing, sir. Those that exist fulfill all the demand.”
“You could create more demand with larger jets.”
“Maybe so, but the company has never managed to make microfusion engines strong enough for large air-jets.”
Seldon thought of Hummin’s complaint that technological innovation had declined to a low level. “Decadent,” he murmured.
“What?” said Dors.
“Nothing,” said Seldon. “I was just thinking of something Hummin once said to me.”
He looked out at the stars and said, “Are we moving westward, Mr. Levanian?”
“Yes, we are. How did you know?”
“Because I thought that we would see the dawn by now if we were heading east to meet it.”
But dawn, pursuing the planet, finally caught up with them and sunlight-real sunlight brightened the cabin walls. It didn’t last long, however, for the jet curved downward and into the clouds. Blue and gold vanished and were replaced by dingy gray and both Seldon and Dors emitted disappointed cries at being deprived of even a few more moments of true sunlight.
When they sank beneath the clouds, Upperside was immediately below them and its surface-at least at this spot-was a rolling mixture of wooded grottos and intervening grassland. It was the sort of thing Clowzia had told Seldon existed on Upperside.
Again there was little time for observation, however. An opening appeared below them, rimmed by lettering that spelled MYCOGEN.
They plunged in.
They landed at a jetport that seemed deserted to Seldon’s wondering eyes. The pilot, having completed his task, shook hands with both Hari and Dors and took his jet up into the air with a rush, plunging it into an opening that appeared for his benefit.
There seemed, then, nothing to do but wait. There were benches that could seat perhaps a hundred people, but Seldon and Dors Venabili were the only two people around. The port was rectangular, surrounded by walls in which there must be many tunnels that could open to receive or deliver jets, but there were no jets present after their own had departed and none arrived while they waited. There were no people arriving or any indications of habitation; the very life hum of Trantor was muted.
Seldon felt this aloneness to be oppressive. He turned to Dors and said, “What is it that we must do here? Have you any idea?”
Dors shook her head. “Hummin told me we would be met by Sunmaster Fourteen. I don’t know anything beyond that.”
“Sunmaster Fourteen? What would that be?”
“A human being, I presume. From the name I can’t be certain whether it would be a man or a woman.”
“An odd name.”
“Oddity is in the mind of the receiver. I am sometimes taken to be a man by those who have never met me.”
“What fools they must be,” said Seldon, smiling.
“Not at all. Judging from my name, they are justified. I’m told it is a popular masculine name on various worlds.”
“I’ve never encountered it before.”
“That’s because you aren’t much of a Galactic traveler. The name ‘Hari’ is common enough everywhere, although I once knew a woman named ‘Hare,’ pronounced like your name but spelled with an ‘e.’ In Mycogen, as I recall, particular names are confined to families-and numbered.”
“But Sunmaster seems so unrestrained a name.”
“What’s a little braggadocio? Back on Cinna, ‘Dors’ is from an Old local expression meaning ‘spring gift.’ “
“Because you were born in the spring?”
“No. I first saw the light of day at the height of Cinna’s summer, but the name struck my people as pleasant regardless of its traditional-and largely forgotten-meaning.”
“In that case, perhaps Sunmaster-“
And a deep, severe voice said, “That is my name, tribesman.”
Seldon, startled, looked to his left. An open ground-car had somehow drawn close. It was boxy and archaic, looking almost like a delivery wagon. In it, at the controls, was a tall old man who looked vigorous despite his age. With stately majesty, he got out of the ground-car. He wore a long white gown with voluminous sleeves, pinched in at the wrists. Beneath the gown were soft sandals from which the big toe protruded, while his head, beautifully shaped, was completely hairless. He regarded the two calmly with his deep blue eyes.
He said, “I greet you, tribesman.”
Seldon said with automatic politeness, “Greetings, sir.” Then, honestly puzzled, he asked, “How did you get in?”
“Through the entrance, which closed behind me. You paid little heed.”
“I suppose we didn’t. But then we didn’t know what to expect. Nor do we now.”
“Tribesman Chetter Hummin informed the Brethren that there would be members from two of the tribes arriving. He asked that you be cared for.”
“Then you know Hummin.”
“We do. He has been of service to us. And because he, a worthy tribesman, has been of service to us, so must we be now to him. There are few who come to Mycogen and few who leave. I am to make you secure, give you houseroom, see that you are undisturbed. You will be safe here.”
Dors bent her head. “We are grateful, Sunmaster Fourteen.”
Sunmaster turned to look at her with an air of dispassionate contempt. “I am not unaware of the customs of the tribes,” he said. “I know that among them a woman may well speak before being spoken to. I am therefore not offended. I would ask her to have a care among others of the Brethren who may be of lesser knowledge in the matter.”
“Oh really?” said Dors, who was clearly offended, even if Sunmaster was not.
“In truth,” agreed Sunmaster. “Nor is it needful to use my numerical identifier when I alone of my cohort am with you. ‘Sunmaster’ will be sufficient.-Now I will ask you to come with me so that we may leave this place which is of too tribal a nature to comfort me.”
“Comfort is for all of us,” said Seldon, perhaps a little more loudly than was necessary, “and we will not budge from this place unless we are assured that we will not be forcibly bent to your liking against our own natures. It is our custom that a woman may speak whenever she has something to say. If you have agreed to keep us secure, that security must be psychological as well as physical.”
Sunmaster gazed at Seldon levelly and said, “You are bold, young tribesman. Your name?”
“I am Hari Seldon of Helicon. My companion is Dors Venabili of Cinna.”
Sunmaster bowed slightly as Seldon pronounced his own name, did not move at the mention of Dors’s name. He said, “I have sworn to Tribesman Hummin that we will keep you safe, so I will do what I can to protect your woman companion in this. If she wishes to exercise her impudence, I will do my best to see that she is held guiltless.-Yet in one respect you must conform.” And he pointed, with infinite scorn, first to Seldon’s head and then to Dors’s.
“What do you mean?” said Seldon.
“Your cephalic hair.”
“What about it?”
“It must not be seen.”
“Do you mean we’re to shave our heads like you? Certainly not.”
“My head is not shaven, Tribesman Seldon. I was depilated when I entered puberty, as are all the Brethren and their women.”
“If we’re talking about depilation, then more than ever the answer is no-never.”
“Tribesman, we ask neither shaving nor depilation. We ask only that your hair be covered when you are among us.”
“I have brought skincaps that will mold themselves to your skulls, together with strips that will hide the superoptical patches the eyebrows. You will wear them while with us. And of course, Tribesman Seldon, you will shave daily-or oftener if that becomes necessary.”
“But why must we do this?”
“Because to us, hair on the head is repulsive and obscene.”
“Surely, you and all your people know that it is customary for others, in all the worlds of the Galaxy, to retain their cephalic hair.”
“We know. And those among us, like myself, who must deal with tribesmen now and then, must witness this hair. We manage, but it is unfair to ask the Brethren generally to suffer the sight.”
Seldon said, “Very well, then, Sunmaster-but tell me. Since you are born with cephalic hair, as all of us are and as you all retain it visibly till puberty, why is it so necessary to remove it? Is it just a matter of custom or is there some rationale behind it?”
And the old Mycogenian said proudly, “By depilation, we demonstrate to the youngster that he or she has become an adult and through depilation adults will always remember who they are and never forget that all others are but tribesmen.”
He waited for no response (and, in truth, Seldon could think of none) but brought out from some hidden compartment in his robe a handful of thin bits of plastic of varying color, stared keenly at the two faces before him, holding first one strip, then another, against each face. “The colors must match reasonably,” he said. “No one will be fooled into thinking you are not wearing a skincap, but it must not be repulsively obvious.”
Finally, Sunmaster gave a particular strip to Seldon and showed him how it could be pulled out into a cap.
“Please put it on, Tribesman Seldon,” he said. “You will find the process clumsy at first, but you will grow accustomed to it.”
Seldon put it on, but the first two times it slipped off when he tried to pull it backward over his hair.
“Begin just above your eyebrows,” said Sunmaster. His fingers seemed to twitch, as though eager to help.
Seldon said, suppressing a smile, “Would you do it for me?”
And Sunmaster drew back, saying, almost in agitation, “I couldn’t. I would be touching your hair.”
Seldon managed to hook it on and followed Sunmaster’s advice, in pulling it here and there until all his hair was covered. The eyebrow patches fitted on easily. Dors, who had watched carefully, put hers on without trouble.
“How does it come off?” asked Seldon.
“You have but to find an end and it will peel off without trouble. You will find it easier both to put on and take off if you cut your hair shorter.”
“I’d rather struggle a bit,” said Seldon. Then, turning to Dors, he said in a low voice, “You’re still pretty, Dors, but it does tend to remove some of the character from your face.”
“The character is there underneath just the same,” she answered. “And I dare say you’ll grow accustomed to the hairless me.”
In a still lower whisper, Seldon said, “I don’t want to stay here long enough to get accustomed to this.”
Sunmaster, who ignored, with visible haughtiness, the mumblings among mere tribesmen, said, “If you will enter my ground-car, I will now take you into Mycogen.”
“Frankly,” whispered Dors, “I can scarcely believe I’m on Trantor.”
“I take it, then, you’ve never seen anything like this before?” said Seldon.
“I’ve only been on Trantor for two years and I’ve spent much of my time at the University, so I’m not exactly a world traveler. Still, I’ve been here and there and I’ve heard of this and that, but I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this. The sameness.”
Sunmaster drove along methodically and without undue haste. There were other wagonlike vehicles in the roadway, all with hairless men at the controls, their bald pates gleaming in the light.
On either side there were three-story structures, unornamented, all lines meeting at right angles, everything gray in color.
“Dreary,” mouthed Dors. “So dreary.”
“Egalitarian,” whispered Seldon. “I suspect no Brother can lay claim to precedence of any obvious kind over any other.”
There were many pedestrians on the walkways as they passed. There were no signs of any moving corridors and no sound of any nearby Expressway.
Dors said, “I’m guessing the grays are women.”
“Its hard to tell,” said Seldon. “The gowns hide everything and one hairless head is like another.”
“The grays are always in pairs or with a white. The whites [also] walk alone and Sunmaster is a white.”
“You may be right.” Seldon raised his voice. “Sunmaster, I am curious.”
“If you are, then ask what you wish, although I am by no means required to answer.”
“We seem to be passing through a residential area. There are no signs of business establishments, industrial areas-“
“We are a farming community entirely. Where are you from that you do not know this?”
“You know I am an Outworlder,” Seldon said stiffly. “I have been on Trantor for only two months.”
“But if you are a farming community, Sunmaster, how is it that we have passed no farms either?”
“On lower levels,” said Sunmaster briefly.
“Is Mycogen on this level entirely residential, then?”
“And on a few others. We are what you see. Every Brother and his family lives in equivalent quarters; every cohort in its own equivalent community; all have the same ground-car and all Brothers drive their own. There are no servants and none are at ease through the labor of others. None may glory over another.”
Seldon lifted his shielded eyebrows at Dors and said, “But some of the people wear white, while some wear gray.”
“That is because some of the people are Brothers and some are Sisters.”
“You are a tribesman and a guest. You and your”-he paused and then said-“companion will not be bound by all aspects of Mycogenian life. Nevertheless, you will wear a white gown and your companion will wear a gray one and you will live in special guest quarters like our own.”
“Equality for all seems a pleasant ideal, but what happens as your numbers increase? Is the pie, then, cut into smaller pieces?”
“There is no increase in numbers. That would necessitate an increase in area, which the surrounding tribesmen would not allow, or a change for the worse in our way of life.”
“But if-” began Seldon.
Sunmaster cut him off. “It is enough, Tribesman Seldon. As I warned you, I am not compelled to answer. Our task, which we have promised our friend Tribesman Hummin, is to keep you secure as long as you do not violate our way of life. That we will do, but there it ends. Curiosity is permitted, but it wears out our patience quickly if persisted in.”
Something about his tone allowed no more to be said and Seldon chafed.
Hummin, for all his help, had clearly mis-stressed the matter. It was not security that Seldon sought. At least, not security alone. He needed information too and without that he could not-and would not-stay here.
Seldon looked with some distress at their quarters. It had a small but individual kitchen and a small but individual bathroom. There were two narrow beds, two clothes closets, a table, and two chairs. In short there was everything that was necessary for two people who were willing to live under cramped conditions.
“We had an individual kitchen and bathroom at Cinna,” said Dors with an air of resignation.
“Not I,” said Seldon. “Helicon may be a small world, but I lived in a modern city. Community kitchens and bathrooms.-What a waste this is. You might expect it in a hotel, where one is compelled to make a temporary stay, but if the whole sector is like this, imagine the enormous number and duplications of kitchens and bathrooms.”
“Part of the egalitarianism, I suppose,” said Dors. “No fighting for favored stalls or for faster service. The same for everyone.”
“No privacy either. Not that I mind terribly, Dors, but you might and I don’t want to give the appearance of taking advantage. We ought to make it clear to them that we must have separate rooms-adjoining but separate.”
Dors said, “I’m sure it won’t work. Space is at a premium and I think they are amazed by their own generosity in giving us this much. We’ll just make do, Hari. We’re each old enough to manage. I’m not a blushing maiden and you’ll never convince me that you’re a callow youth.”
“You wouldn’t be here, were it not for me.”
“What of it? It’s an adventure.”
“All right, then. Which bed will you take? Why don’t you take the one nearer the bathroom?” He sat down on the other. “There’s something else that bothers me. As long as we’re here, we’re tribespeople, you and I, as is even Hummin. We’re of the other tribes, not their own cohorts, and most things are none of our business.-But most things are my business. That’s what I’ve come here for. I want to know some of the things they know.”
“Or think they know,” said Dors with a historian’s skepticism. “I understand they have legends that are supposed to date back to primordial times, but I can’t believe they can be taken seriously.”
“We can’t know that until we find out what those legends are. Are there no outside records of them?”
“Not that I know of. These people are terribly ingrown. They’re almost psychotic in their inward clinging. That Hummin can break down their barriers somewhat and even get them to take us in is remarkable-really remarkable.”
Seldon brooded. “There has to be an opening somewhere. Sunmaster was surprised-angry, in fact-that I didn’t know Mycogen was an agricultural community. That seems to be something they don’t want kept a secret.”
“The point is, it isn’t a secret. ‘Mycogen’ is supposed to be from archaic words meaning ‘yeast producer.’ At least, that’s what I’ve been told. I’m not a paleolinguist. In any case, they culture all varieties of microfood-yeast, of course, along with algae, bacteria, multicellular fungi, and so on.”
“That’s not uncommon,” said Seldon. “Most worlds have this microculture. We have some even on Helicon.”
“Not like Mycogen. It’s their specialty. They use methods as archaic as the name of their section-secret fertilizing formulas, secret environmental influences. Who knows what? All is secret.”
“With a vengeance. What it amounts to is that they produce protein and subtle flavoring, so that their microfood isn’t like any other in the world. They keep the volume comparatively low and the price is skyhigh. I’ve never tasted any and I’m sure you haven’t, but it sells in great quantities to the Imperial bureaucracy and to the upper classes on other worlds. Mycogen depends on such sales for its economic health, so they want everyone to know that they are the source of this valuable food. That, at least, is no secret.”
“Mycogen must be rich, then.”
“They’re not poor, but I suspect that it’s not wealth they’re after. It’s protection. The Imperial government protects them because, without them, there wouldn’t be these microfoods that add the subtlest flavors, the tangiest spices, to every dish. That means that Mycogen can maintain its odd way of life and be haughty toward its neighbors, who probably find them insupportable.”
Dors looked about. “They live an austere life. There’s no holovision, I notice, and no book-films.”
“I noticed one in the closet up on the shelf.” Seldon reached for it, stared at the label, and then said in clear disgust, “A cookbook.”
Dors held out her hand for it and manipulated the keys. It took a while, for the arrangement was not quite orthodox, but she finally managed to light the screen and inspect the pages. She said, “There are a few recipes, but for the most part this seems to consist of philosophical essays on gastronomy.” She shut it off and turned it round and about. “It seems to be a single unit. I don’t see how one would eject the microcard and insert another. A one-book scanner. Now that’s a waste.”
“Maybe they think this one book-film is all anyone needs.” He reached toward the end table that was between the two beds and picked up another object. “This could be a speaker, except that there’s no screen.”
“Perhaps they consider the voice sufficient.”
“How does it work, I wonder?” Seldon lifted it and looked at it from different sides. “Did you ever see anything like this?”
“In a museum once-if this is the same thing. Mycogen seems to keep itself deliberately archaic. I suppose they consider that another way of separating themselves from the so-called tribesmen that surround them in overwhelming numbers. Their archaism and odd customs make them indigestible, so to speak. There’s a kind of perverse logic to all that.”
Seldon, still playing with the device, said, “Whoops! It went on. Or something went on. But I don’t hear anything.”
Dors frowned and picked up a small felt-lined cylinder that remained behind on the end table. She put it to her ear. “There’s a voice coming out of this,” she said. “Here, try it.” She handed it to him.
Seldon did so and said, “Ouch! It clips on.” He listened and said, “Yes, it hurt my ear. You can hear me, I take it.-Yes, this is our room. No, I don’t know its number. Dors, have you any idea of the number?”
Dors said, “There’s a number on the speaker. Maybe that will do.”
“Maybe,” said Seldon doubtfully. Then he said into the speaker, “The number on this device is 6LT-3648A. Will that do?-Well, where do I find out how to use this device properly and how to use the kitchen, for that matter?-What do you mean, ‘It all works the usual way?’ That doesn’t do me any good. See here, I’m a… a tribesman, an honored guest. I don’t know the usual way.-Yes, I’m sorry about my accent and I’m glad you can recognize a tribesman when you hear one. My name is Hari Seldon.”
There was a pause and Seldon looked up at Dors with a longsuffering expression on his face. “He has to look me up. And I suppose he’ll tell me he can’t find me.-Oh, you have me? Good! In that case, can you give me the information?-Yes. Yes.-Yes.-And how can I call someone outside Mycogen?-Oh, then what about contacting Sunmaster Fourteen, for instance?-Well, his assistant then, his aide, whatever?-Uh-huh.-Thank you.”
He put the speaker down, unhooked the hearing device from his ear with a little difficulty, turned the whole thing off, and said, “They’ll arrange to have someone show us anything we need to know, but he can’t promise when that might be. You can’t call outside Mycogen-not on this thing anyway-so we couldn’t get Hummin if we needed him. And if I want Sunmaster Fourteen, I’ve got to go through a tremendous rigmarole. This may be an egalitarian society, but there seem to be exceptions that I bet no one will openly admit.” He looked at his watch. “In any case, Dors, I’m not going to view a cookbook and still less am I going to view learned essays. My watch is still telling University time, so I don’t know if it’s officially bedtime and at the moment I don’t care. We’ve been awake most of the night and I would like to sleep.”
“That’s all right with me. I’m tired too.”
“Thanks. And whenever a new day starts after we’ve caught up on our sleep, I’m going to ask for a tour of their microfood plantations.”
Dors looked startled. “Are you interested?”
“Not really, but if that’s the one thing they’re proud of, they should be willing to talk about it and once I get them into a talking mood then, by exerting all my charm, I may get them to talk about their legends too. Personally, I think that’s a clever strategy.”
“I hope so,” said Dors dubiously, “but I think that the Mycogenians will not be so easily trapped.”
“We’ll see,” said Seldon grimly. “I mean to get those legends.”
The next morning found Hari using the calling device again. He was angry because, for one thing, he was hungry.
His attempt to reach Sunmaster Fourteen was deflected by someone who insisted that Sunmaster could not be disturbed.
“Why not?” Seldon had asked waspishly.
“Obviously, there is no need to answer that question,” came back a cold voice.
“We were not brought here to be prisoners,” said Seldon with equal coldness. “Nor to starve.”
“I’m sure you have a kitchen and ample supplies of food.”
“Yes, we do,” said Seldon. “And I do not know how to use the kitchen devices, nor do I know how to prepare the food. Do you eat it raw, fry it, boil it, roast it…?”
“I can’t believe you are ignorant in such matters.”
Dors, who had been pacing up and down during this colloquy, reached for the device and Seldon fended her off, whispering, “He’ll break the connection if a woman tries to speak to him.”
Then, into the device, he said more firmly than ever, “What you believe or don’t believe doesn’t matter to me in the least. You send someone here-someone who can do something about our situation-or when I reach Sunmaster Fourteen, as I will eventually, you will pay for this.”
Nevertheless, it was two hours before someone arrived (by which time Seldon was in a state of savagery and Dors had grown rather desperate in her attempt to soothe him).
The newcomer was a young man whose bald pate was slightly freckled and who probably would have been a redhead otherwise.
He was bearing several pots and he seemed about to explain them when he suddenly looked uneasy and turned his back on Seldon in alarm. “Tribesman,” he said, obviously agitated. “Your skincap is not well adjusted.”
Seldon, whose impatience had reached the breaking point, said, “That doesn’t bother me.”
Dors, however, said, “Let me adjust it, Hari. It’s just a bit too high here on the left side.”
Seldon then growled, “You can turn now, young man. What is your name?”
“I am Graycloud Five,” said the Mycogenian uncertainly as he turned and looked cautiously at Seldon. “I am a novitiate. I have brought a meal for you.” He hesitated. “From my own kitchen, where my woman prepared it, tribesman.” He put the pots down on the table and Seldon raised one lid and sniffed the contents suspiciously. He looked up at Dors in surprise.
“You know, it doesn’t smell bad.”
Dors nodded. “You’re right. I can smell it too.”
Graycloud said, “It’s not as hot as it ought to be. It cooled off in transport. You must have crockery and cutlery in your kitchen.”
Dors got what was needed, and after they had eaten, largely and a bit greedily, Seldon felt civilized once more.
Dors, who realized that the young man would feel unhappy at being alone with a woman and even unhappier if she spoke to him, found that, by default, it fell to her to carry the pots and dishes into the kitchen and wash them-once she deciphered the controls of the washing device.
Meanwhile, Seldon asked the local time and said, somewhat abashed, “You mean it’s the middle of the night?”
“Indeed, tribesman,” said Graycloud. “That’s why it took a while to satisfy your need.”
Seldon understood suddenly why Sunmaster could not be disturbed and thought of Graycloud’s woman having to be awakened to prepare him a meal and felt his conscience gnaw at him. “I’m sorry,” he said. “We are only tribespeople and we didn’t know how to use the kitchen or how to prepare the food. In the morning, could you have someone arrive to instruct us properly?”
“The best I can do, tribesmen,” said Graycloud placatingly, “is to have two Sisters sent in. I ask your pardon for inconveniencing you with feminine presence, but it is they who know these things.”
Dors, who had emerged from the kitchen, said (before remembering her place in the masculine Mycogenian society), “That’s fine, Graycloud. We’d love to meet the Sisters.”
Graycloud looked at her uneasily and fleetingly, but said nothing.
Seldon, convinced that the young Mycogenian would, on principle, refuse to have heard what a woman said to him, repeated the remark. “That’s fine, Graycloud. We’d love to meet the Sisters.”
His expression cleared at once. “I will have them here as soon as it is day.”
When Graycloud had left, Seldon said with some satisfaction, “The Sisters are likely to be exactly what we need.”
“Indeed? And in what way, Hari?” asked Dors.
“Well, surely if we treat them as though they are human beings, they will be grateful enough to speak of their legends.”
“If they know them,” said Dors skeptically. “Somehow I have no faith that the Mycogenians bother to educate their women very well.”
The Sisters arrived some six hours later after Seldon and Dors had slept some more, hoping to readjust their biological clocks. The Sisters entered the apartment shyly, almost on tiptoe. Their gowns (which, it turned out, were termed “kirtles” in the Mycogenian dialect) were soft velvety gray, each uniquely decorated by a subtle pattern of fine, darker gray webbing. The kirtles were not entirely unattractive, but they were certainly most efficient at covering up any human feature. And, of course, their heads were bald and their faces were devoid of any ornamentation. They darted speculative glances at the touch of blue at the corners of Dors’s eyes and at the slight red stain at the corners of her lips. For a few moments, Seldon wondered how one could be certain that the Sisters were truly Sisters.
The answer came at once with the Sisters’ politely formal greetings. Both twittered and chirped. Seldon, remembering the grave tones of Sunmaster and the nervous baritone of Graycloud, suspected that women, in default of obvious sexual identification, were forced to cultivate distinctive voices and social mannerisms.
I’m Raindrop Forty-Three,” twittered one, “and this is my younger sister.”
“Raindrop Forty-Five,” chirped the other. “We’re very strong on ‘Raindrops’ in our cohort.” She giggled.
“I am pleased to meet you both,” said Dors gravely, “but now I must know how to address you. I can’t just say ‘Raindrop,’ can I?”
“No,” said Raindrop Forty-Three. “You must use the full name if we are both here.”
Seldon said, “How about just Forty-Three and Forty-Five, ladies?”
They both stole a quick glance at him, but said not a word.
Dors said softly, “I’ll deal with them, Hari.”
Seldon stepped back. Presumably, they were single young women and, very likely, they were not supposed to speak to men. The older one seemed the graver of the two and was perhaps the more puritanical. It was hard to tell from a few words and a quick glance, but he had the feeling and was willing to go by that.
Dors said, “The thing is, Sisters, that we tribespeople don’t know how to use the kitchen.”
“You mean you can’t cook?” Raindrop Forty-Three looked shocked and censorious. Raindrop Forty-Five smothered a laugh. (Seldon decided that his initial estimate of the two was correct.)
Dors said, “I once had a kitchen of my own, but it wasn’t like this one and I don’t know what the foods are or how to prepare them.”
“It’s really quite simple,” said Raindrop Forty-Five. “We can show you.”
“We’ll make you a good nourishing lunch,” said Raindrop Forty-Three. “We’ll make it for… both of you.” She hesitated before adding the final words. It clearly took an effort to acknowledge the existence of a man.
“If you don’t mind,” said Dors, “I would like to be in the kitchen with you and I would appreciate it if you’d explain everything exactly. After all, Sisters, I can’t expect you to come here three times a day to cook for us.”
“We will show you everything,” said Raindrop Forty-Three, nodding her head stiffly. “It may be difficult for a tribeswoman to learn, however. You wouldn’t have the… feeling for it.”
“I shall try,” said Dors with a pleasant smile. They disappeared into the kitchen.
Seldon stared after them and tried to work out the strategy he intended to use.