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Положение 17 страница

Pelorat said, after an exchange, “It's fourteen years old, if I understand it rightly.”

Trevize said, “It looks more like eleven.”

Bliss said, “The length of the years used on this world may not correspond closely to Standard Galactic Years. Besides, Spacers are supposed to have extended lifetimes and, if the Solarians are like the other Spacers in this, they may also have extended developmental periods. We can't go by years, after all.”

Trevize said, with an impatient click of his tongue, “Enough anthropology. We must get to the surface and since we are dealing with a child, we may be wasting our time uselessly. It may not know the route to the surface. It may not ever have been on the surface.”

Bliss said, “Pel!”

Pelorat knew what she meant and there followed the longest conversation he had yet had with Fallom.

Finally, he said, “The child knows what the sun is. It says it's seen it. I think it's seen trees. It didn't act as though it were sure what the word meant or at least what the word I used meant...”

“Yes, Janov,” said Trevize, “but do get to the point.”

“I told Fallow that if it could get us out to the surface, that might make it possible for us to activate the robot. Actually, I said we would activate the robot. Do you suppose we might?”

Trevize said, “We'll worry about that later. Did it say it would guide us?”

“Yes. I thought the child would be more anxious to do it, you see, if I made that promise. I suppose we're running the risk of disappointing it...”

“Come,” said Trevize, “let's get started. All this will be academic if we are caught underground.”

Pelorat said something to the child, who began to walk, then stopped and looked back at Bliss.

Bliss held out her hand and the two then walked hand in hand.

“I'm the new robot,” she said, smiling slightly.

“It seems reasonably happy over that,” said Trevize.

Fallom skipped along and, briefly, Trevize wondered if it were happy simply because Bliss had labored to make it so, or if, added to that, there was the excitement of visiting the surface and of having three new robots, or whether it was excitement at the thought of having its Jemby foster-parent back. Not that it mattered-as long as the child led them.

There seemed no hesitation in the child's progress. It turned without pause whenever there was a choice of paths. Did it really know where it was going, or was it all simply a matter of a child's indifference? Was it simply playing a game with no clear end in sight?

But Trevize was aware, from the slight burden on his progress, that he was moving uphill, and the child, bouncing self-importantly forward, was pointing ahead and chattering.

Trevize looked at Pelorat, who cleared his throat and said, “I think what it's saying is 'doorway. “'

“I hope your thought is correct,” said Trevize.

The child broke away from Bliss, and was running now. It pointed to a portion of the flooring that seemed darker than the sections immediately neighboring it. The child stepped on it, jumping up and down a few times, and then turned with a clear expression of dismay, and spoke with shrill volubility.

Bliss said, with a grimace, “I'll have to supply the power. This is wearing me out.”

Her face reddened a bit and the lights dimmed, but a door opened just ahead of Fallom, who laughed in soprano delight.

The child ran out the door and the two men followed. Bliss came last, and looked back as the lights just inside darkened and the door closed. She then paused to catch her breath, looking rather worn out.

“Well,” said Pelorat, “we're out. Where's the ship?”

All of them stood bathed in the still luminous twilight.

Trevize muttered, “It seems to me that it was in that direction.”

“It seems so to me, too,” said Bliss. “Let's walk,” and she held out her hand to Fallom.

There was no sound except those produced by the wind and by the motions and calls of living animals. At one point they passed a robot standing motionless near the base of a tree, holding some object of uncertain purpose.

Pelorat took a step toward it out of apparent curiosity, but Trevize said, “Not our business, Janov. Move on.”

They passed another robot, at a greater distance, who had tumbled.

Trevize said, “There are robots littered over many kilometers in all directions, I suppose.” And then, triumphantly, “Ah, there's the ship.”

They hastened their steps now, then stopped suddenly. Fallow raised its voice in an excited squeak.

On the ground near the ship was what appeared to be an air-vessel of primitive design, with a rotor that looked energy-wasteful, and fragile besides. Standing next to the air-vessel, and between the little party of Outworlders and their ship, stood four human figures.

“Too late,” said Trevize. “We wasted too much time. Now what?”

Pelorat said wonderingly, “Four Solarians7 It can't be. Surely they wouldn't come into physical contact like that. Do you suppose those are holoimages?”

“They are thoroughly material,” said Bliss. “I'm sure of that. They're not Solarians either. There's no mistaking the minds. They're robots.”





“WELL, THEN,” said Trevize wearily, “onward!” He resumed his walk toward the ship at a calm pace and the others followed.

Pelorat said, rather breathlessly, “What do you intend to do?”

“If they're robots, they've got to obey orders.”

The robots were awaiting them, and Trevize watched them narrowly as they came closer.

Yes, they must be robots. Their faces, which looked as though they were made of skin underlain with flesh, were curiously expressionless. They were dressed in uniforms that exposed no square centimeter of skin outside the face. Even the hands were covered by thin, opaque gloves.

Trevize gestured casually, in a fashion that was unquestionably a brusque request that they step aside.

The robots did not move.

In a low voice, Trevize said to Pelorat, “put it into words, Janov. Be firm.”

Pelorat cleared his throat and, putting an unaccustomed baritone into his voice, spoke slowly, gesturing them aside much as Trevize had done. At that, one of the robots, who was perhaps a shade taller than the rest, said something in a cold and incisive voice.

Pelorat turned to Trevize. “I think he said we were Outworlders.”

“Tell him we are human beings and must be obeyed.”

The robot spoke then, in peculiar but understandable Galactic. “I understand you, Outworlder. I speak Galactic. We are Guardian Robots.”

“Then you have heard me say that we are human beings and that you must therefore obey us.”

“We are programmed to obey Rulers only, Outworlder. You are not Rulers and not Solarian. Ruler Bander has not responded to the normal moment of Contact and we have come to investigate at close quarters. It is our duty to do so. We find a spaceship not of Solarian manufacture, several Outworlders present, and all Bander robots inactivated. Where is Ruler Bander?”

Trevize shook his head and said slowly and distinctly, “We know nothing of what you say. Our ship's computer is not working well. We found ourselves near this strange planet against our intentions. We landed to find our location. We found all robots inactivated. We know nothing of what might have happened.”

“That is not a credible account. If all robots on the estate are inactivated and all power is off, Ruler Bander must be dead. It is not logical to suppose that by coincidence it died just as you landed. There must be some sort of causal connection.”

Trevize said, with no set purpose but to confuse the issue and to indicate his own foreigner's lack of understanding and, therefore, his innocence, “But the power is not off. You and the others are active.”

The robot said, “We are Guardian Robots. We do not belong to any Ruler. We belong to all the world. We are not Ruler-controlled but are nuclearpowered. I ask again, where is Ruler Bander?”

Trevize looked about him. Pelorat appeared anxious; Bliss was tight-lipped but calm. Fallom was trembling, but Bliss's hand touched the child's shoulder and it stiffened somewhat and lost facial expression. (Was Bliss sedating it?)

The robot said, “Once again, and for the last time, where is Ruler Bander?”

“I do not know,” said Trevize grimly.

The robot nodded and two of his companions left quickly. The robot said, “My fellow Guardians will search the mansion. Meanwhile, you will be held for questioning. Hand me those objects you wear at your side.”

Trevize took a step backward. “They are harmless.”

“Do not move again. I do not question their nature, whether harmful or harmless. I ask for them.”


The robot took a quick step forward, and his arm flashed out too quickly for Trevize to realize what was happening. The robot's hand was on his shoulder; the grip tightened and pushed downward. Trevize went to his knees.

The robot said, “Those objects.” It held out its other hand.

“No,” gasped Trevize.

Bliss lunged forward, pulled the blaster out of its holster before Trevize, clamped in the robot's grip, could do anything to prevent her, and held it out toward the robot. “Here, Guardian,” she said, “and if you'll give me a moment-here's the other. Now release my companion.”

The robot, holding both weapons, stepped back, and Trevize rose slowly to his feet, rubbing his left shoulder vigorously, face wincing with pain.

(Fallow whimpered softly, and Pelorat picked it up in distraction, and held it tightly.)

Bliss said to Trevize, in a furious whisper, “Why are you fighting him? He can kill you with two fingers.”

Trevize groaned and said, between gritted teeth, “Why don't you handle him.

“I'm trying to. It takes time. His mind is tight, intensely programmed, and leaves no handle. I must study it. You play for time.”

“Don't study his mind. Just destroy it,” said Trevize, almost soundlessly.

Bliss looked quickly toward the robot. It was studying the weapons intently, while the one other robot that still remained with it watched the Outworlders. Neither seemed interested in the whispering that was going on between Trevize and Bliss.

Bliss said, “No. no destruction. We killed one dog and hurt another on the first world. You know what happened on this world.” (Another quick glance at the Guardian Robots.) “Gaia does not needlessly butcher life or intelligence. I need time to work it out peacefully.”

She stepped back and stared at the robot fixedly.

The robot said, “These are weapons.”

“No,” said Trevize.

“Yes,” said Bliss, “but they are no longer useful. They are drained of energy.”

“is that indeed so? Why should you carry weapons that are drained of energy? Perhaps they are not drained.” The robot held one of the weapons in its fist and placed its thumb accurately. “Is this the way it is activated?”

“Yes,” said Bliss; “if you tighten the pressure, it would be activated, if it contained energy-but it does not.”

“Is that certain?” The robot pointed the weapon at Trevize. “Do you still say that if I activate it now, it will not work?”

“It will not work,” said Bliss.

Trevize was frozen in place and unable to articulate. He had tested the blaster after Hander had drained it and it was totally dead, but the robot was holding the neuronic whip. Trevize had not tested that.

If the whip contained even a small residue of energy, there would be enough for a stimulation of the pain nerves, and what Trevize would feel would make the grip of the robot's hand seem to have been a pat of affection.

When he had been at the Naval Academy, Trevize had been forced to take a mild neuronic whipblow, as all cadets had had to. That was just to know what it was like. Trevize felt no need to know anything more.

The robot activated the weapon and, for a moment, Trevize stiffened painfully-and then slowly relaxed. The whip, too, was thoroughly drained.

The robot stared at Trevize and then tossed both weapons to one side. “How do these come to be drained of energy?” it demanded. “If they are of no use, why do you carry them?”

Trevize said, “I am accustomed to the weight and carry them even when drained.”

The robot said, “That does not make sense. You are all under custody. You will be held for further questioning, and, if the Rulers so decide, you will then be inactivated. How does one open this ship? We must search it.”

“It will do you no good,” said Trevize. “You won't understand it.”

“If not I, the Rulers will understand.”

“They will not understand, either.”

“Then you will explain so that they will understand.”

“I will not.”

“Then you will be inactivated.”

“My inactivation will give you no explanation, and I think I will be inactivated even if I explain.”

Bliss muttered, “Keep it up. I'm beginning to unravel the workings of its brain.”

The robot ignored Bliss. (Did she see to that? thought Trevize, and hoped savagely that she had.)

Keeping its attention firmly on Trevize, the robot said, “If you make difficulties, then we will partially inactivate you. We will damage you and you will then tell us what we want to know.”

Suddenly, Pelorat called out in a half-strangled cry. “Wait, you cannot do this. Guardian, you cannot do this.”

“I am under detailed instructions,” said the robot quietly. “I can do this. Of course, I shall do as little damage as is consistent with obtaining information.”

“But you cannot. Not at all. I am an Outworlder, and so are these two companions of mine. But this child,” and Pelorat looked at Fallom, whom he was still carrying, “is a Solarian. It will tell you what to do and you must obey it.”

Fallom looked at Pelorat with eyes that were open, but seemed empty.

Bliss shook her head, sharply, but Pelorat looked at her without any sign of understanding.

The robot's eyes rested briefly on Fallom. It said, “The child is of no importance. It does not have transducer-lobes.”

“It does not yet have fully developed transducer-lobes,” said Pelorat, panting, “but it will have them in time. It is a Solarian child.”

“It is a child, but without fully developed transducer-lobes it is not a Solarian. I am not compelled to follow its orders or to keep it from harm.”

“But it is the offspring of Ruler Bander.”

“Is it? How do you come to know that?”

Pelorat stuttered, as he sometimes did when overearnest. “Wh what other child would be on this estate?”

“How do you know there aren't a dozen?”

“Have you seen any others?”

“It is I who will ask the questions.”

At this moment, the robot's attention shifted as the second robot touched its arm. The two robots who had been sent to the mansion were returning at a rapid run that, nevertheless, had a certain irregularity to it.

There was silence till they arrived and then one of them spoke in the Solarian language-at which all four of the robots seemed to lose their elasticity. For a moment, they appeared to wither, almost to deflate.

Pelorat said, “They've found Bander,” before Trevize could wave him silent.

The robot turned slowly and said, in a voice that slurred the syllables, “Ruler Bander is dead. By the remark you have just made, you show us you were aware of the fact. How did that come to be?”

“How can I know?” said Trevize defiantly.

“You knew it was dead. You knew it was there to be found. How could you know that, unless you had been there-unless it was you that had ended the life?” The robot's enunciation was already improving. It had endured and was absorbing the shock.

Then Trevize said, “How could we have killed Bander? With its transducer-lobes it could have destroyed us in a moment.”

“How do you know what, or what not, transducer-lobes could do?”

“You mentioned the transducer-lobes just now.”

“I did no more than mention them. I did not describe their properties or abilities.”

“The knowledge came to us in a dream.”

“That is not a credible answer.”

Trevize said, “To suppose that we have caused the death of Bander is not credible, either.”

Pelorat added, “And in any case, if Ruler Bander is dead, then Ruler Fallom now controls this estate. Here the Ruler is, and it is it whom you must obey.”

“I have already explained,” said the robot, “that an offspring with undeveloped transducer-lobes is not a Solarian. It cannot be a Successor, therefore, Another Successor, of the appropriate age, will be flown in as soon as we report this sad news.”

“What of Ruler Fallom?”

“There is no Ruler Fallom. There is only a child and we have an excess of children. It will be destroyed.”

Bliss said forcefully, “You dare not. It is a child!”

“It is not I,” said the robot, “who will necessarily do the act and it is certainly not I who will make the decision. That is for the consensus of the Rulers. In times of child-excess, however, I know well what the decision will in.”

“No. I say no.”

“It will be painless. But another ship is coming. It is important that we go into what was the Bander mansion and set up a holovision Council that will supply a Successor and decide on what to do with you. Give me the child.”

Bliss snatched the semicomatose figure of Fallom from Pelorat. Holding it tightly and trying to balance its weight on her shoulder, she said, “Do not touch this child.”

Once again, the robot's arm shot out swiftly and it stepped forward, reaching for Fallom. Bliss moved quickly to one side, beginning her motion well before the robot had begun its own. The robot continued to move forward, however, as though Bliss were still standing before it. Curving stiffly downward, with the forward tips of its feet as the pivot, it went down on its face. The other three stood motionless, eyes unfocused.

Bliss was sobbing, partly with rage. “I almost had the proper method of control, and it wouldn't give me the time. I had no choice but to strike and now all four are inactivated. Let's get on the ship before the other ship lands. I am too ill to face additional robots, now.”





Chapter 13

Away from Solaria



THE LEAVING was a blur. Trevize had gathered up his futile weapons, had opened the airlock, and they had tumbled in. Trevize didn't notice until they were off the surface that Fallom had been brought in as well.

They probably would not have made it in time if the Solarian use of airflight had not been so comparatively unsophisticated. It took the approaching Solarian vessel an unconscionable time to descend and land. On the other hand, it took virtually no time for the computer of the Far Star to take the gravitic ship vertically upward.

And although the cut-off of the gravitational interaction and, therefore, of inertia wiped out the otherwise unbearable effects of acceleration that would have accompanied so speedy a takeoff, it did not wipe out the effects of air resistance. The outer hull temperature rose at a distinctly more rapid rate than navy regulations (or ship specifications, for that matter) would have considered suitable.

As they rose, they could see the second Solarian ship land and several more approaching. Trevize wondered how many robots Bliss could have handled, and decided they would have been overwhelmed if they had remained on the surface fifteen minutes longer.

Once out in space (or space enough, with only tenuous wisps of the planetary exosphere around them), Trevize made for the nightside of the planet. It was a hop away, since they had left the surface as sunset was approaching. In the dark, the Far Star would have a chance to cool more rapidly, and there the ship could continue to recede from the surface in a slow spiral.

Pelorat came out of the room he shared with Bliss. He said, “The child is sleeping normally now. We've showed it how to use the toilet and it had no trouble understanding.”

“That's not surprising. It must have had similar facilities in the mansion.”

“I didn't see any there and I was looking,” said Pelorat feelingly. “We didn't get back on the ship a moment too soon for me.”

“Or any of us. But why did we bring that child on board?”

Pelorat shrugged apologetically. “Bliss wouldn't let go. It was like saving a life in return for the one she took. She can't bear...”

“I know,” said Trevize.

Pelorat said, “It's a very oddly shaped child.”

“Being hermaphroditic, it would have to be,” said Trevize.

“It has testicles, you know.”

“It could scarcely do without them.”

“And what I can only describe as a very small vagina.”

Trevize made a face. “Disgusting.”

“Not really, Golan,” said Pelorat, protesting. “It's adapted to its needs. It only delivers a fertilized egg-cell, or a very tiny embryo, which is then developed under laboratory conditions, tended, I dare say, by robots.”

“And what happens if their robot-system breaks down? If that happens, they would no longer be able to produce viable young.”

“Any world would be in serious trouble if its social structure broke down completely.”

“Not that I would weep uncontrollably over the Solarians.”

“Well,” said Pelorat, “I admit it doesn't seem a very attractive world-to us, I mean. But that's only the people and the social structure, which are not our type at all, dear chap. But subtract the people and the robots, and you have a world which otherwise...”

“Might fall apart as Aurora is beginning to do,” said Trevize. “How's Bliss, Janov?”

“Worn out, I'm afraid. She's sleeping now. She had a very bad time, Golan.”

“I didn't exactly enjoy myself either.”

Trevize closed his eyes, and decided he could use some sleep himself and would indulge in that relief as soon as he was reasonably certain the Solarians had no space capability-and so far the computer had reported nothing of artifactitious nature in space.

He thought bitterly of the two Spacer planets they had visited-hostile wild dogs on one-hostile hermaphroditic loners on the other-and in neither place the tiniest hint as to the location of Earth. All they had to show for the double visit was Fallom.

He opened his eyes. Pelorat was still sitting in place at the other side of the computer, watching him solemnly.

Trevize said, with sudden conviction, “We should have left that Solarian child behind.”

Pelorat said, “The poor thing. They would have killed it.”

“Even so,” said Trevize, “it belonged there. It's part of that society. Being put to death because of being superfluous is the sort of thing it's born to.”

“Oh, my dear fellow, that's a hardhearted way to look at it.”

“It's a rational way. We don't know how to care for it, and it may suffer more lingeringly with us and die anyway. What does it eat?”

“Whatever we do, I suppose, old man. Actually, the problem is what do we eat? How much do we have in the way of supplies?”

“Plenty. Plenty. Even allowing for our new passenger.”

Pelorat didn't look overwhelmed with happiness at this remark. He said, “It's become a pretty monotonous diet. We should have taken some items on board on Comporellon-not that their cooking was excellent.”

“We couldn't. We left, if you remember, rather hurriedly, as we left Aurora, and as we left, in particular, Solaria. But what's a little monotony? It spoils one's pleasure, but it keeps one alive.”

“Would it be possible to pick up fresh supplies if we need to?”

“Anytime, Janov. With a gravitic ship and hyperspatial engines, the Galaxy is a small place. In days, we can be anywhere. It's just that half the worlds in the Galaxy are alerted to watch for our ship and I would rather stay out of the way for a time.”

“: suppose that's so. Bander didn't seem interested in the ship.”

“It probably wasn't even consciously aware of it. I suspect that the Solarians long ago gave up space flight. Their prime desire is to be left completely alone and they can scarcely enjoy the security of isolation if they are forever moving about in space and advertising their presence.”

“What are we going to do next, Golan?”

Trevize said, “We have a third world to visit.”

Pelorat shook his head. “Judging from the first two, I don't expect much from that.”

“Nor do I at the moment, but just as soon as I get a little sleep, I'm going to get the computer to plot our course to that third world.”





TREVIZE slept considerably longer than he had expected to, but that scarcely mattered. There was neither day nor night, in any natural sense, on board ship, and the circadian rhythm never worked absolutely perfectly. The hours were what they were made to be, and it wasn't uncommon for Trevize and Pelorat (and particularly Bliss) to be somewhat out-of-sync as far as the natural rhythms of eating and sleeping were concerned.

Trevize even speculated, in the course of his scrapedown (the importance of conserving water made it advisable to scrape off the suds rather than rinse them off), about sleeping another hour or two, when he turned and found himself staring at Fallom, who was as undressed as he was.

He could not help jumping back, which, in the restricted area of the Personal, was bound to bring part of his body against something hard. He grunted—

Fallom was staring curiously at him and was pointing at Trevize's penis. What it said was incomprehensible but the whole bearing of the child seemed to bespeak a sense of disbelief. For his own peace of mind, Trevize had no choice but to put his hands over his penis.

Then Fallom said, in its high-pitched voice, “Greetings.”

Trevize started slightly at the child's unexpected use of Galactic, but the word had the sound of having been memorized.

Fallom continued, a painstaking word at a time, “Bliss—say-you-wash me.

“Yes?” said Trevize. He put his hands on Fallom's shoulders. “You-stay here.”

He pointed downward at the floor and Fallom, of course, looked instantly at the place to which the finger pointed. It showed no comprehension of the phrase at all.

“Don't move,” said Trevize, holding the child tightly by both arms, pressing them toward the body as though to symbolize immobility. He hastily dried himself and put on his shorts, and over them his trousers.

He stepped out and roared, “Bliss!”

It was difficult for anyone to be more than four meters from any one else on the ship and Bliss came to the door of her room at once. She said, smiling, “Are you calling me, Trevize; or was that the soft breeze sighing through the waving grass?”

“Let's not be funny, Bliss. What is that?” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

Bliss looked past him and said, “Well, it looks like the young Solarian we brought on board yesterday.”

“You brought on board. Why do you want me to wash it?”

“I should think you'd want to. It's a very bright creature. It's picking up Galactic words quickly. It never forgets once I explain something. Of course, I'm helping it do so.”


“Yes. I keep it calm. I kept it in a daze during most of the disturbing events on the planet. I saw to it that it slept on board ship and I'm trying to divert its mind just a little bit from its lost robot, Jemby, that, apparently, it loved very much.”

“So that it ends up liking it here, I suppose.”

“I hope so. It's adaptable because it's young, and I encourage that by as much as I dare influence its mind. I'm going to teach it to speak Galactic.”

“Then you wash it. Understood?”

Bliss shrugged. “I will, if you insist, but I would want it to feel friendly with each of us. It would be useful to have each of us perform functions. Surely you can co-operate in that.”

“Not to this extent. And when you finish washing it, get rid of it. I want to talk to you.”

Bliss said, with a sudden edge of hostility, “How do you mean, get rid of it?”

“I don't mean dump it through the airlock. I mean, put it in your room. Sit it down in a corner. I want to talk at you.”

“I'll be at your service,” she said coldly.

He stared after her, nursing his wrath for the moment, then moved into the pilot-room, and activated the viewscreen.

Solaria was a dark circle with a curving crescent of light at the left. Trevize placed his hands on the desk to make contact with the computer and found his anger cooling at once. One had to be calm to link mind and computer effectively and, eventually, conditioned reflex linked handhold and serenity.

There were no artifactitious objects about the ship in any direction, out as far as the planet itself. The Solarians (or their robots, most likely) could not, or would not, follow.

Good enough. He might as well get out of the night-shadow, then. If he continued to recede, it would, in any case, vanish as Solaria's disc grew smaller than that of the more distant, but much larger, sun that it circled.

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