It took hours for the ship from the space station to reach the vicinity of the Far Star - very long hours for Trevize to endure.
Had the situation been normal, Trevize would have tried to signal and would have expected a response. If there had been no response, he would have taken evasive action.
Since he was unarmed and there had been no response, there was nothing to do but wait. The computer would not respond to any direction he could give it that involved anything outside the ship.
Internally, at least, everything worked well. The life-support systems were in perfect order, so that he and Pelorat were physically comfortable. Somehow, that didn't help. Life dragged on and the uncertainty of what was to come was wearing him down. He noticed with irritation that Pelorat seemed calm. As though to make it worse, while Trevize felt no sense of hunger at all, Pelorat opened a small container of chicken-bits, which on opening had rapidly and automatically warmed itself. Now he was eating it methodically.
Trevize said irritably, "Space, Janov! That stinks!"
Pelorat looked startled and sniffed at the container. "It smells all right to me, Golan."
Trevize shook his head. "Don't mind me. I'm just upset. But do use a fork. Your fingers will smell of chicken all day."
Pelorat looked at his fingers with surprise. "Sorry! I didn't notice. I was thinking of something else."
Trevize said sarcastically, "Would you care to guess at what type of nonhumans the creatures on the approaching ship must be?" He was ashamed that he was less calm than Pelorat was. He was a Navy veteran (though he had never seen battle, of course) and Pelorat was a historian. Yet his companion sat there quietly.
Pelorat said, "It would be impossible to imagine what direction evolution would take under conditions differing from those of Earth. The possibilities may not be infinite, but they would be so vast that they might as well be. However, I can predict that they are not senselessly violent and they will treat us in a civilized fashion. If that wasn't true, we would be dead by now."
"At least you can still reason, Janov, my friend - you can still be tranquil. My nerves seem to be forcing their way through whatever tranquilization they have put us under. I have an extraordinary desire to stand up and pace. Why doesn't that blasted ship arrive?"
Pelorat said, "I am a man of passivity, Golan. I have spent my life doubled over records while waiting for other records to arrive. I do nothing but wait. You are a man of action and you are in deep pain when action is impossible."
Trevize felt some of his tension leave. He muttered, "I underestimate your good sense, Janov."
"No, you don't," said Pelorat placidly, "but even a naive academic can sometimes make sense out of life."
"And even the cleverest politician can sometimes fail to do so."
"I didn't say that, Golan." -
"No, but I did. - So let me become active. I can still observe. The approaching ship is close enough to seem distinctly primitive."
Trevize said, "If it's the product of nonhuman minds and hands, what may seem primitive may, in actual fact, be merely nonhuman."
"Do you think it might be a nonhuman artifact?" asked Pelorat, his face reddening slightly.
"I can't tell. I suspect that artifacts, however much they may vary from culture to culture, are never quite as plastic as products of genetic differences might be."
"That's just a guess on your part. All we know are different cultures. We don't know different intelligent species and therefore have no way of judging how different artifacts might be."
"Fish, dolphins, penguins, squids, even the ambiflexes, which are not of Earthly origin - assuming the others are - all solve the problem of motion through a viscous medium by streamlining, so that their appearances are not as different as their genetic makeup might lead one to believe. It might be so with artifacts."
"The squid's tentacles and the ambiflex's helical vibrators," responded Pelorat, "are enormously different from each other, and from the fins, flippers, and limbs of vertebrates. It might be so with artifacts."
"In any case," said Trevize, "I feel better. Talking nonsense with you, Janov, quiets my nerves. And I suspect we'll know what we're getting into soon, too. The ship is not going to be able to dock with ours and whatever is on it will come across on an old-fashioned tether - or we will somehow be urged to cross to it on one - since the unilock will be useless. - Unless some nonhuman will use some other system altogether."
"How big is the ship?"
"Without being able to use the ship's computer to calculate the distance of the ship by radar, we can't possibly know the size."
A tether snaked out toward the Far Star.
Trevize said, "Either there's a human aboard or nonhumans use the same device. Perhaps nothing but a tether can possibly work."
"They might use a tube," said Pelorat, "or a horizontal ladder."
"Those are inflexible things. It would be far too complicated to try to make contact with those. You need something that combines strength and flexibility."
The tether made a dull clang on the Far Star as the solid hull (and consequently the air within) was set to vibrating. There was the usual slithering as the other ship made the fine adjustments of speed required to bring the two into a common velocity. The tether was motionless relative to both.
A black dot appeared on the hull of the other ship and expanded like the pupil of an eye.
Trevize grunted. "An expanding diaphragm, instead of a sliding panel."
"Not necessarily, I suppose. But interesting."
A figure emerged.
Pelorat's lips tightened for a moment and then he said in a disappointed voice, "Too bad. Human."
"Not necessarily," said Trevize calmly. "All we can make out is that there seem to be five projections. That could be a head, two arms, and two legs - but it might not be. - Wait!"
"It moves more rapidly and smoothly than I expected. - Ah!"
"There's some sort of propulsion. It's not rocketry, as nearly as I can tell, but neither is it hand over hand. Still, not necessarily human."
There seemed an incredibly long wait despite the quick approach of the figure along the tether, but there was finally the noise of contact.
Trevize said, "It's coming in, whatever it is. My impulse is to tackle it the minute it appears." He balled a fist.
"I think we had better relax," said Pelorat. "It may be stronger than we. It can control our minds. There are surely others on the ship. We had better wait till we know more about what we are facing."
"You grow more and more sensible by the minute, Janov," said Trevize, "and I, less and less."
They could hear the airlock moving into action and finally the figure appeared inside the ship.
"About normal size," muttered Pelorat. "The space suit could fit a human being."
"I never saw or heard of such a design, but it doesn't fall outside the limits of human manufacture, it seems to me. - It doesn't say anything."
The space-suited figure stood before them and a forelimb rose to the rounded helmet, which - if it were made of glass - possessed oneway transparency only. Nothing could be seen inside.
The limb touched something with a quick motion that Trevize did not clearly make out and the helmet was at once detached from the rest of the suit. It lifted off.
What was exposed was the face of a young and undeniably pretty woman.
Pelorat's expressionless face did what it could to look stupefied. He said hesitantly, "Are you human?"
The woman's eyebrows shot up and her lips pouted. There was no way of telling from the action whether she was faced with a strange language and did not understand or whether she understood and wondered at the question.
Her hand moved quickly to the left side of her suit, which opened in one piece as though it were on a set of hinges. She stepped out and the suit remained standing without content for a moment. Then, with a soft sigh that seemed almost human, it collapsed.
She looked even younger, now that she had stepped out. Her clothing was loose and translucent, with the skimpy items beneath visible as shadows. The outer robe reached to her knees.
She was small-breasted and narrow-waisted, with hips rounded and full. Her thighs, which were seen in shadow, were generous, but her legs narrowed to graceful ankles. Her hair was dark and shoulderlength, her eyes brown and large, her lips full and slightly asymmetric.
She looked down at herself and then solved the problem of her understanding of the language by saying, "Don't I look human?"
She spoke Galactic Standard with just a trifle of hesitation, as though she were straining a bit to get the pronunciation quite right.
Pelorat nodded and said with a small smile, "I can't deny it. Quite human. Delightfully human."
The young woman spread her arms as though inviting closer examination. "I should hope so, gentleman. Men have died for this body."
"I would rather live for it," said Pelorat, finding a vein of gallantry which faintly surprised him.
"Good choice," said the woman solemnly. "Once this body is attained, all sighs become sighs of ecstasy."
She laughed and Pelorat laughed with her.
Trevize, whose forehead had puckered into a frown through this exchange, rapped out, "How old are you?"
The woman seemed to shrink a little. "Twenty-three, gentleman."
"Why have you come? What is your purpose here?"
"I have come to escort you to Gaia." Her command of Galactic Standard was slipping slightly and her vowels tended to round into diphthongs. She made "come" sound like "comb" and "Gaia" like "Gay-uh."
"A girl to escort us."
The woman drew herself up and suddenly she had the bearing of one in charge. "I," she said, "am Gaia, as well as another. It was my stint on the station."
"Your stint? Were you the only one on board?"
Proudly. "I was all that was needed."
"And is it empty now?"
"I am no longer on it, gentleman, but it is not empty. It is there."
"It? To what do you refer?"
"To the station. It is Gaia. It doesn't need me. It holds your ship."
"Then what are you doing on the station?"
"It is my stint."
Pelorat had taken Trevize by the sleeve and had been shaken off. He tried again. "Golan," he said in an urgent half-whisper. "Don't shout at her. She's only a girl. Let me deal with this."
Trevize shook his head angrily, but Pelorat said, "Young woman, what is your name?"
The woman smiled with sudden sunniness, as though responding to the softer tone. She said, "Bliss."
"Bliss?" said Pelorat. "A very nice name. Surely that's not all there is."
"Of course not. A fine thing it would be to have one syllable. It would be duplicated on every section and we wouldn't tell one from another, so that the men would be dying for the wrong body. Bussenobiarella is my name in full."
"Now that's a mouthful." -
"What? Seven syllables? That's not much. I have friends with fifteen syllables in their names and they never get done trying combinations for the friend-name. I've stuck with Bliss now ever since I turned fifteen. My mother called me 'Nobby,' if you can imagine such a thing."
"In Galactic Standard, 'bliss' means 'ecstasy' or 'extreme happiness,'" said Pelorat.
"In Gaian language, too. It's not very different from Standard, and 'ecstasy' is the impression I intend to convey."
"My name is Janov Pelorat."
"I know that. And this other gentleman - the shouter - is Golan Trevize. We received word from Sayshell."
Trevize said at once, his eyes narrow, "How did you receive word?"
Bliss turned to look at him and said calmly, "I didn't. Gaia did."
Pelorat said, "Miss Bliss, may my partner and myself speak Privately for a moment?"
"Yes, certainly, but we have to get on with it, you know."
"I won't take long." He pulled hard at Trevize's elbow and was reluctantly followed into the other room.
Trevize said in a whisper, "What's all this? I'm sure she can hear us in here. She can probably read our minds, blast the creature."
"Whether she can or can't, we need a bit of psychological isolation for just a moment. Look, old chap, leave her alone. There's nothing we can do, and there's no use taking that out on her. There's probably nothing she can do either. She's just a messenger girl. Actually, as long as she's on board, we're probably safe; they wouldn't have put her on board if they intended to destroy the ship. Keep bullying and perhaps they will destroy it - and us - after they take her off."
"I don't like being helpless," said Trevize grumpily.
"Who does? But acting like a bully doesn't make you less helpless. It just makes you a helpless bully. Oh, my dear chap, I don't mean to be bullying you like this and you must forgive me if I'm excessively critical of you, but the girl is not to be blamed."
"Janov, she's young enough to be your youngest daughter."
Pelorat straightened. "All the more reason to treat her gently. Nor do I know what you imply by the statement."
Trevize thought a moment, then his face cleared. "Very well. You're right. I'm wrong. It is irritating, though, to have them send a girl. They might have sent a military officer, for instance, and given us a sense of some value, so to speak. Just a girl? And she keeps placing responsibility on Gaia?"
"She's probably referring to a ruler who takes the name of the planet as an honorific - or else she's referring to the planetary council. We'll find out, but probably not by direct questioning."
"Men have died for her body!" said Trevize. "Huh! - She's bottom-heavy!"
"No one is asking you to die for it, Golan," said Pelorat gently. "Come! Allow her a sense of self-mockery. I consider it amusing and good-natured, myself."
They found Bliss at the computer, bending down and staring at its component parts with her hands behind her back as though she feared touching it.
She looked up as they entered, ducking their heads under the low lintel. "This is an amazing ship," she said. "I don't understand half of what I see, but if you're going to give me a greeting-present, this is it. It's beautiful. It makes my ship look awful."
Her face took on a look of ardent curiosity. "Are you really from the Foundation?"
"How do you know about the Foundation?" asked Pelorat.
"We learn about it in school. Mostly because of the Mule."
"Why because of the Mule, Bliss?"
"He's one of us, gentle... What syllable of your name may I use, gentleman?"
Pelorat said, "Either Jan or Pel. Which do you prefer?"
"He's one of us, Pel," said Bliss with a comradely smile. "He was born on Gaia, but no one seems to know where exactly."
Trevize said, "I imagine he's a Gaian hero, Bliss, eh?" He had become determinedly, almost aggressively, friendly and cast a placating glance in Pelorat's direction. "Call me Trev," he added.
"Oh no," she said at once. "He's a criminal. He left Gaia without permission, and no one should do that. No one knows how he did it. But he left, and I guess that's why he came to a bad end. The Foundation beat him in the end."
"The Second Foundation?" said Trevize.
"Is there more than one? I suppose if I thought about it I would know, but I'm not interested in history, really. The way I look at it is, I'm interested in what Gaia thinks best. If history just goes past me, it's because there are enough historians or that I'm not well adapted to it. I'm probably being trained as a space technician myself. I keep being assigned to stints like this and I seem to like it and it stands to reason I wouldn't like it if..."
She was speaking rapidly, almost breathlessly, and Trevize had to make an effort to insert a sentence. "Who's Gaia?"
Bliss looked puzzled at that. "Just Gaia. - Please, Pel and Trev, let's get on with it. We've got to get to the surface."
"We're going there, aren't we?"
"Yes, but slowly. Gaia feels you can move much more rapidly if you use the potential of your ship. Would you do that?"
"We could," said Trevize grimly. "But if I get the control of the ship back, wouldn't I be more likely to zoom off in the opposite direction?"
Bliss laughed. "You're funny. Of course, you can't go in any direction Gaia doesn't want you to go. But you can go faster in the direction Gaia does want you to go. See?"
"We see," said Trevize, "and I'll try to control my sense of humor. Where do I land on the surface?"
"It doesn't matter. You just head downward and you'll land at the right place. Gain will see to that."
Pelorat said, "And will you stay with us, Bliss, and see that we are treated well?"
"I suppose I can do that. Let's see now, the usual fee for my services - I mean that kind of services - can be entered on my balancecard."
"And the other kind of services?"
Bliss giggled. "You're a nice old man." Pelorat winced.
Bliss reacted to the swoop down to Gaia with a naive excitement. She said, "There's no feeling of acceleration."
"It's a gravitic drive," said Pelorat. "Everything accelerates together, ourselves included, so we don't feel anything."
"But how does it work, Pel?"
Pelorat shrugged. "I think Trev knows," he said, "but I don't think he's really in a mood to talk about it."
Trevize had dropped down Gaia's gravity - well almost recklessly. The ship responded to his direction, as Bliss had warned him, in a partial manner. An attempt to cross the lines of gravitic force obliquely was accepted - but only with a certain hesitation. An attempt to rise upward was utterly ignored.
The ship was still not his.
Pelorat said mildly, "Aren't you going downward rather rapidly, Golan?"
Trevize, with a kind of flatness to his voice, attempting to avoid anger (more for Pelorat's sake, than anything else) said, "The young lady says that Gaia will take care of us."
Bliss said, "Surely, Pel. Gaia wouldn't let this ship do anything that wasn't safe. Is there anything to eat on board?"
"Yes indeed," said Pelorat. "What would you like?"
"No meat, Pel," said Bliss in a businesslike way, "but I'll take fish or eggs, along with any vegetables you might have."
"Some of the food we have is Sayshellian, Bliss," said Pelorat. "I'm not sure I know what's in it, but you might like it."
"Well, I'll taste some," said Bliss dubiously.
"Are the people on Gaia vegetarian?" asked Pelorat.
"A lot are." Bliss nodded her head vigorously. "It depends on what nutrients the body needs in particular cases. Lately I haven't been hungry for meat, so I suppose I don't need any. And I haven't been aching for anything sweet. Cheese tastes good, and shrimp. I think I probably need to lose weight." She slapped her right buttock with a resounding noise. "I need to lose five or six pounds right here."
"I don't see why," said Pelorat. "It gives you something comfortable to sit on."
Bliss twisted to look down at her rear as best she might. "Oh well, it doesn't matter. Weight goes up or down as it ought. I shouldn't concern myself."
Trevize was silent because he was struggling with the Far Star. He had hesitated a bit too long for orbit and the lower limits of the planetary exosphere were now screaming past the ship. Little by little, the ship was escaping from his control altogether. It was as though something else had learned to handle the gravitic engines. The Far Star, acting apparently by itself, curved upward into thinner air and slowed rapidly. It then took up a path on its own that brought it into a gentle downward curve.
Bliss had ignored the edgy sound of air resistance and sniffed delicately at the steam rising from the container. She said, "It must be all right, Pd, because if it weren't, it wouldn't smell right and I wouldn't want to eat it." She put a slim finger into it and then licked at the finger. "You guessed correctly, Pd. It's shrimp or something like it. Good!"
With a gesture of dissatisfaction, Trevize abandoned the computer.
"Young woman," he said, as though seeing her for the first time.
"My name is Bliss," said Bliss firmly.
"Bliss, then! You knew our names."
"How did you know them?"
"It was important that I know them, in order for me to do my job. So I knew them."
"Do you know who Munn Li Compor is?"
"I would - if it were important for me to know who he is. Since I do not know who he is, Mr. Compor is not coming here. For that matter," she paused a moment, "no one is coming here but you two."
He was looking down. It was a cloudy planet. There wasn't a solid layer of cloud, but it was a broken layer that was remarkably evenly scattered and offered no clear view of any part of the planetary surface.
He switched to microwave and the radarscope glittered. The surface was almost an image of the sky. It seemed a world of islands rather like Terminus, but more so. None of the islands was very large and none was very isolated. It was something of an approach to a planetary archipelago. The ship's orbit was well inclined to the equatorial plane, but he saw no sign of ice caps.
Neither were there the unmistakable marks of uneven population distribution, as would be expected, for instance, in the illumination of the night side.
"Will I be coming down near the capital city, Bliss?" asked Trevize.
Bliss said indifferently, "Gaia will put you down somewhere convenient."
"I'd prefer a big city."
"Do you mean a large people-grouping?"
"It's up to Gaia."
The ship continued its downward path and Trevize tried to find amusement in guessing on which island it would land.
Whichever it might be, it appeared they would be landing within the hour.
The ship landed in a quiet, almost feathery manner, without a moment of jarring, without one anomalous gravitational effect. They stepped out, one by one: first Bliss, then Pelorat, and finally Trevize.
The weather was comparable to early summer at Terminus City. There was a mild breeze and with what seemed to be a late-morning sun shining brightly down from a mottled sky. The ground was green underfoot and in one direction there were the serried rows of trees that bespoke an orchard, while in the other there was the distant line of seashore.
There was the low hum of what might have been insect life, a flash of bird - or some small flying creature - above and to one side, and the clack-clack of what might have been some farm instrument.
Pelorat was the first to speak and he mentioned nothing he either saw or heard. Instead, he drew in his breath raspingly and said, "Ah, it smells good, like fresh-made applesauce."
Trevize said, "That's probably an apple orchard we're looking at and, for all we know, they're making applesauce."
"On your ship, on the other hand," said Bliss, "it smelled like... Well, it smelled terrible."
"You didn't complain when you were on it," growled Trevize.
"I had to be polite. I was a guest on your ship."
"What's wrong with staying polite?"
"I'm on my own world now. You're the guest. You be polite."
Pelorat said, "She's probably right about the smell, Golan. Is there any way of airing out the ship?"
"Yes," said Trevize with a snap. "It can be done - if this little creature can assure us that the ship will not be disturbed. She has already shown us she can exert unusual power over the ship."
Bliss drew herself up to her full height. "I'm not exactly little and if leaving your ship alone is what it takes to get it cleaned up, I assure you leaving it alone will be a pleasure."
"And then can we be taken to whoever it is that you speak of as Gaia?" said Trevize.
Bliss looked amused. "I don't know if you're going to believe this, Trev. I'm Gaia."
Trevize stared. He had often heard the phrase "collect one's thoughts" used metaphorically. For the first time in his life, he felt as though he were engaged in the process literally. Finally he said, "You?"
"Yes. And the ground. And those trees. And that rabbit over there in the grass. And the man you can see through the trees. The whole planet and everything on it is Gaia. We're all individuals - we're all separate organisms - but we all share an overall consciousness. The inanimate planet does so least of all, the various forms of life to a varying degree, and human beings most of all - but we all share."
Pelorat said, "I think, Trevize, that she means Gaia is some sort of group consciousness."
Trevize nodded. "I gathered that. - In that case, Bliss, who runs this world?"
Bliss said, "It runs itself. Those trees grow in rank and file of their own accord. They multiply only to the extent that is needed to replace those that for any reason die. Human beings harvest the apples that are needed; other animals, including insects, eat their share and only their share."
"The insects know what their share is, do they?" said Trevize.
"Yes, they do - in a way. It rains when it is necessary and occasionally it rains rather hard when that is necessary - and occasionally there's a siege of dry weather when that is necessary."
"And the rain knows what to do, does it?"
"Yes, it does," said Bliss very seriously. "In your own body, don't all the different cells know what to do? When to grow and when to stop growing? When to form certain substances and when not to, and when they form them, just how much to form, neither more nor less? Each cell is, to a certain extent, an independent chemical factory, but all draw from a common fund of raw materials brought to it by a common transportation system, all deliver wastes into common channels, and all contribute to an overall group consciousness."
Pelorat said with a certain enthusiasm, "But that's remarkable. You are saying that the planet is a superorganism and that you are a cell of that superorganism."
"I'm making an analogy, not an identity. We are the analog of cells, but we are not identical with cells - do you understand?"
"In what way," said Trevize, "are you not cells?"
"We are ourselves made up of cells and have a group consciousness, as far as cells are concerned. This group consciousness, this consciousness of an individual organism - a human being, in my case..."
"With a body men die for."
"Exactly. My consciousness is far advanced beyond that of any individual cell - incredibly far advanced. The fact that we, in turn, are part of a still greater group consciousness on a higher level does not reduce us to the level of cells. I remain a human being - but above us is a group consciousness as far beyond my grasp as my consciousness is beyond that of one of the muscle cells of my biceps."
Trevize said, "Surely someone ordered our ship to be taken."
"No, not someone! Gaia ordered it. All of us ordered it."
"The trees and the ground, too, Bliss?"
"They contributed very little, but they contributed. Look, if a musician writes a symphony, do you ask which particular cell in his body ordered the symphony written and supervised its construction?"
Pelorat said, "And, I . take it, the group mind, so to speak, of the group consciousness is much stronger than an individual mind, just as a muscle is much stronger than an individual muscle cell. Consequently Gaia can capture our ship at a distance by controlling our computer, even though no individual mind on the planet could have done so."
"You understand perfectly, Pel," said Bliss.
"And I understand it, too," said Trevize. "It is not that hard to understand. But what do you want of us? We have not come to attack you. We have come seeking information. Why have you seized us?"
"To talk to you."
"You might have talked to us on the ship."
Bliss shook her head gravely, "I am not the one to do it."
"Aren't you part of the group mind?"
"Yes, but I cannot fly like a bird, buzz like an insect, or grow as tall as a tree. I do what it is best for me to do and it is not best that I give you the information - though the knowledge could easily be assigned to me."
"Who decided not to assign it to you?"
"We all did."
"Who will give us the information?"
"And who is Dom?"
"Well," said Bliss. "His full name is Endomandiovizamarondeyaso - and so on. Different people call him different syllables at different times, but I know him as Dom and I think you two will use that syllable as well. He probably has a larger share of Gaia than anyone on the planet and he lives on this island. He asked to see you and it was allowed."
"Who allowed it?" asked Trevize - and answered himself at once, "Yes, I know; you all did."
Pelorat said, "When will we be seeing Dom, Bliss?"
"Right away. If you follow me, I'll take you to him now, Pel. And you, too, of course, Trev."
"And will you leave, then?" asked Pelorat.
"You don't want me to, Pel?"
"There you are," said Bliss as they followed her along a smoothly paved road that skirted the orchard. "Men grow addicted to me on short order. Even dignified elderly men are overcome with boyish ardor."
Pelorat laughed. "I wouldn't count on much boyish ardor, Bliss, but if I had it I could do worse than have it on your account, I think."
Bliss said, "Oh, don't discount your boyish ardor. I work wonders."
Trevize said impatiently, "Once we get to where we're going, how long will we have to wait for this Dom?"
"He will be waiting for you. After all, Dom - through - Gaia has worked for years to bring you here."
Trevize stopped in midstep and looked quickly at Pelorat, who quietly mouthed: You were right.
Bliss, who was looking straight ahead, said calmly, "I know, Trev, that you have suspected that I/we/Gaia was interested in you."
"'I/we/Gaia'?" said Pelorat softly.
She turned to smile at him. "We have a whole complex of different pronouns to express the shades of individuality that exist on Gaia. I could explain them to you, but till then 'I/we/Gaia' gets across what I mean in a groping sort of way. - Please move on, Trev. Dom is waiting and I don't wish to force your legs to move against your will. It is an uncomfortable feeling if you're not used to it."
Trevize moved on. His glance at Bliss was compounded of the deepest suspicion.
Dom was an elderly man. He recited the two hundred and fiftythree syllables of his name in a musical flowing of tone and emphasis.
"In a way," he said, "it is a brief biography of myself. It tells the hearer - or reader, or senser - who I am, what part I have played in the whole, what I have accomplished. For fifty years and more, however, I have been satisfied to be referred to as Dom. When there are other Doms at issue, I can be called Domandio - and in my various professional relationships other variants are used. Once a Gaian year - on my birthday - my full name is recited-in-mind, as I have just recited it for you in voice. It is very effective, but it is personally embarrassing."
He was tall and thin - almost to the point of emaciation. His deep-set eyes sparkled with anomalous youth, though he moved rather slowly. His jutting nose was thin and long and flared at the nostrils. His hands, prominently veined though they were, showed no signs of arthritic disability. He wore a long robe that was as gray as his hair. It descended to his ankles and his sandals left his toes bare.
Trevize said, "How old are you, sir?"
"Please address me as Dom, Trev. To use other modes of address induces formality and inhibits the free exchange of ideas between you and me. In Galactic Standard Years, I am just past ninety-three, but the real celebration will come not very many months from now, when I reach the ninetieth anniversary of my birth in Gaian years."
"I would not have guessed you at more than seventy-five, s-Dom," said Trevize.
"By Gaian standards I am not remarkable, either in years or in appearance of years, Trev. - But come, have we eaten?"
Pelorat looked down at his plate, on which perceptible remnants of a most unremarkable and indifferently prepared meal remained, and said in a diffident manner, "Dom, may I attempt to ask an embarrassing question? Of course, if it's offensive, you will please say so, and I will withdraw it."
"Go ahead," said Dom, smiling. "I am anxious to explain to you anything about Gaia which arouses your curiosity."
"Why?" said Trevize at once.
"Because you are honored guests. May I have Pel's question?"
Pelorat said, "Since all things on Gaia share in the group consciousness, how is it that you - one element of the group - can eat this, which was clearly another element?"
"True! But all things recycle. We must eat and everything we can eat, plant as well as animal - even the inanimate seasonings - are part of Gaia. But, then, you see, nothing is killed for pleasure or sport nothing is killed with unnecessary pain. And I'm afraid we make no attempt to glorify our meal preparations, for no Gaian would eat except that one must. You did not enjoy this meal, Pel? Trev? Well, meals are not to enjoy.
"Then, too, what is eaten remains, after all, part of the planetary consciousness. Insofar as portions of it are incorporated into my body, it will participate in a larger share of the total consciousness. When I die, I, too, will be eaten - even if only by decay bacteria and I will then participate in a far smaller share of the total. But someday, parts of me will be parts of other human beings, parts of many."
Pelorat said, "A sort of transmigration of souls."
"Of what, Pel?"
"I speak of an old myth that is current on some worlds."
"Ah, I don't know of it. You must tell me on some occasion."
Trevize said, "But your individual consciousness - whatever it is about you that is Dom - will never fully reassemble."
"No, of course not. But does that matter? I will still be part of Gaia and that is what counts. There are mystics among us who wonder if we should take measures to develop group memories of past existences, but the sense-of-Gaia is that this cannot be done in any practical way and would serve no useful purpose. It would merely blur present consciousness. - Of course, as conditions change, the sense-of-Gaia may change, too, but I find no chance of that in the foreseeable future."
"Why must you die, Dom?" asked Trevize. "Look at you in your nineties. Could not the group consciousness..."
For the first time, Dom frowned. "Never," he said. "I can contribute only so much. Each new individual is a reshuffling of molecules and genes into something new. New talents, new abilities, new contributions to Gaia. We must have them - and the only way we can is to make room. I have done more than most, but even I have my limit and it is approaching. There is no more desire to live past one's time than to die before it."
And then, as if realizing he had lent a suddenly somber note to the evening, he rose and stretched his arms out to the two. "Come, Trev - Pel - let us move into my studio where I can show you some of my personal art objects. You won't blame an old man for his little vanities, I hope."
He led the way into another room where, on a small circular table, there were a group of smoky lenses connected in pairs.
"These," said Dom, "are Participations I have designed. I am not one of the masters, but I specialize in inanimates, which few of the masters bother with."
Pelorat said, "May I pick one up? Are they fragile?"
"No no. Bounce them on the floor if you like. - Or perhaps you had better not. Concussion could dull the sharpness of the vision."
"How are they used, Dom?"
"You put them over your eyes. They'll cling. They do not transmit light. Quite the contrary. They obscure light that might otherwise distract you - though the sensations do reach your brain by way of the optic nerve. Essentially your consciousness is sharpened and is allowed to participate in other facets of Gaia. In other words, if you look at that wall, you will experience that wall as it appears to itself."
"Fascinating," muttered Pelorat. "may I try that?"
"Certainly, Pel. You may take one at random. Each is a different construct that shows the wall - or any other inanimate object you look at - in a different aspect of the object's consciousness."
Pelorat placed one pair over his eyes and they clung there at once. He started at the touch and then remained motionless for a long time.
Dom said, "When you are through, place your hands on either side of the Participation and press them toward each other. It will come right off."
Pelorat did so, blinked his eyes rapidly, then rubbed them.
Dom said, "What did you experience?"
Pelorat said, "It's hard to describe. The wall seemed to twinkle and glisten and, at times, it seemed to turn fluid. It seemed to have ribs and changing symmetries. I - I'm sorry, Dom, but I did not find it attractive."
Dom sighed. "You do not participate in Gaia, so you would not see what we see. I had rather feared that. Too bad! I assure you that although these Participations are enjoyed primarily for their aesthetic value, they have their practical uses, too. A happy wall is a long-lived wall, a practical wall, a useful wall."
"A happy wall?" said Trevize, smiling slightly.
Dom said, "There is a dim sensation that a wall experiences that is analogous to what 'happy' means to us. A wall is happy when it is well designed, when it rests firmly on its foundation, when its symmetry balances its parts and produces no unpleasant stresses. Good design can be worked out on the mathematical principles of mechanics, but the use of a proper Participation can fine tune it down to virtually atomic dimensions. No sculptor can possibly produce a first-class work of art here on Gaia without a well-crafted Participation and the ones I produce of this particular type are considered excellent - if I do say so myself.
"Animate Participations, which are not my field," and Dom was going on with the kind of excitement one expects in someone riding his hobby, "give us, by analogy, a direct experience of ecological balance. The ecological balance on Gaia is rather simple, as it is on all worlds, but here, at least, we have the hope of making it more complex and thus enriching the total consciousness enormously."
Trevize held up his hand in order to forestall Pelorat and wave him into silence. He said, "How do you know that a planet can bear a more complex ecological balance if they all have simple ones?"
"Ah," said Dom, his eyes twinkling shrewdly, "you are testing the old man. You know as well as I do that the original home of humanity, Earth, had an enormously complex ecological balance. It is only the secondary worlds - the derived worlds - that are simple."
Pelorat would not be kept silent. "But that is the problem I have set myself in life. Why was it only Earth that bore a complex ecology? What distinguished it from other worlds? Why did millions upon millions of other worlds in the Galaxy - worlds that were capable of bearing life - develop only an undistinguished vegetation, together with small and unintelligent animal life-forms?"
Dom said, "We have a tale about that - a fable, perhaps. I cannot vouch for its authenticity. In fact, on the face of it, it sounds like fiction."
It was at this point that Bliss - who had not participated in the meal - entered, smiling at Pelorat. She was wearing a silvery blouse, very sheer.
Pelorat rose at once. "I thought you had left us."
"Not at all. I had reports to make out, work to do. May I join you now, Dom?"
Dom had also risen (though Trevize remained seated). "You are entirely welcome and you ravish these aged eyes."
"It is for your ravishment that I put on this blouse. Pel is above such things and Trev dislikes them."
Pelorat said, "If you think I am above such things, Bliss, I may surprise you someday."
"What a delightful surprise that would be," Bliss said, and sat down. The two men did as well. "Please don't let me interrupt you."
Dom said, "I was about to tell our guests the story of Eternity. - To understand it, you must first understand that there are many different Universes that can exist - virtually an infinite number. Every single event that takes place can take place or not take place, or can take place in this fashion or in that fashion, and each of an enormous number of alternatives will result in a future course of events that are distinct to at least some degree.
"Bliss might not have come in just now; or she might have been with us a little earlier; or much earlier; or having come in now, she might have worn a different blouse; or even in this blouse, she might not have smiled roguishly at elderly men as is her kindhearted custom. In each of these alternatives - or in each of a very large number of other alternatives of this one event - the Universe would have taken a different track thereafter, and so on for every other variation of every other event, however minor."
Trevize stirred restlessly. "I believe this is a common speculation in quantum mechanics - a very ancient one, in fact."
"Ah, you've heard of it. But let us go on. Imagine it is possible for human beings to freeze all the infinite number of Universes, to step from one to another at will, and to choose which one should be made 'real' - whatever that word means in this connection."
Trevize said, "I hear your words and can even imagine the concept you describe, but I cannot make myself believe that anything like this could ever happen." -
"Nor I, on the whole," said Dom, "which is why I say that it would all seem to be a fable. Nevertheless, the fable states that there were those who could step out of time and examine the endless strands of potential reality. These people were called the Eternals and when they were out of time they were said to be in Eternity.
"It was their task to choose a Reality that would be most suitable to humanity. They modified endlessly - and the story goes into great detail, for I must tell you that it has been written in the form of an epic of inordinate length. Eventually they found (so it is said) a Universe in which Earth was the only planet in the entire Galaxy on which could be found a complex ecological system, together with the development of an intelligent species capable of working out a high technology.
"That, they decided, was the situation in which humanity could be most secure. They froze that strand of events as Reality and then ceased operations. Now we live in a Galaxy that has been settled by human beings only, and, to a large extent, by the plants, animals, and microscopic life that they carry with them - voluntarily or inadvertently - from planet to planet and which usually overwhelm the indigenous life.
"Somewhere in the dim mists of probability there are other Realities in which the Galaxy is host to many intelligences, but they are unreachable. We in our Reality are alone. From every action and every event in our Reality, there are new branches that set off, with only one in each separate case being a continuation of Reality, so that there are vast numbers of potential Universes - perhaps an infinite number - stemming from ours, but all of them are presumably alike in containing the one - intelligence Galaxy in which we live. - Or perhaps I should say that all but a vanishingly small percentage are alike in this way, for it is dangerous to rule out anything where the possibilities approach the infinite."
He stopped, shrugged slightly, and added, "At least, that's the story. It dates back to before the founding of Gaia. I don't vouch for its truth."
The three others had listened intently. Bliss nodded her head, as though it were something she had heard before and she were checking the accuracy of Dom's account.
Pelorat reacted with a silent solemnity for the better part of a minute and then balled his fist and brought it down upon the arm of his chair.
"No," he said is a strangled tone, "that affects nothing. There's no way of demonstrating the truth of the story by observation or by reason, so it can't ever be anything but a piece of speculation, but aside from that. Suppose it's true! The Universe we live in is still one in which only Earth has developed a rich life and an intelligent species, so that in this Universe - whether it is the all-in-all or only one out of an infinite number of possibilities - there must be something unique in the nature of the planet Earth. We should still want to know what that uniqueness is."
In the silence that followed, it was Trevize who finally stirred and shook his head.
"No, Janov," he said, "that's not the way it works. Let us say that the chances are one in a billion trillion - one in 1021 - that out of the billion of habitable planets in the Galaxy only Earth through the workings of sheer chance - would happen to develop a rich ecology and, eventually, intelligence. If that is so, then one in 1021 of the various strands of potential Realities would represent such a Galaxy and the Eternals picked it. We live, therefore, in a Universe in which Earth is the only planet to develop a complex ecology, an intelligent species, a high technology - not because there is something special about Earth, but because simply by chance it developed on Earth and nowhere else.
"I suppose, in fact," Trevize went on thoughtfully, "that there are strands of Reality in which only Gaia has developed an intelligent species, or only Sayshell, or only Terminus, or only some planet which in this Reality happens to bear no life at all. And all of these very special cases are a vanishingly small percentage of the total number of Realities in which there is more than one intelligent species in the Galaxy. - I suppose that if the Eternals had looked long enough they would have found a potential strand of Reality in which every single habitable planet had developed an intelligent species."
Pelorat said, "Might you not also argue that a Reality had been found in which Earth was for some reason not as it was in other strands, but specially suited in some way for the development of intelligence? In fact, you can go further and say that a Reality had been found in which the whole Galaxy was not as it was in other strands, but was somehow in such a state of development that only Earth could produce intelligence."
Trevize said, "You might argue so, but I would suppose that my version makes more sense."
"That's a purely subjective decision, of course..." began Pelorat with some heat, but Dom interrupted, saying "This is logic-chopping. Come, let us not spoil what is proving, at least for me, a pleasant and leisurely evening."
Pelorat endeavored to relax and to allow his heat to drain away. He smiled finally and said, "As you say, Dom."
Trevize, who had been casting glances at Bliss, who sat with mocking demurity, hands in her lap, now said, "And how did this world come to be, Dom? Gaia, with its group consciousness?"
Dom's old head leaned back and he laughed in a high-pitched manner. His face crinkled as he said, "Fables again! I think about that sometimes, when I read what records we have on human history. No matter how carefully records are kept and filed and computerized, they grow fuzzy with time. Stories grow by accretion. Tales accumulate - like dust. The longer the time lapse, the dustier the history - until it degenerates into fables."
Pelorat said, "We historians are familiar with the process, Dom. There is a certain preference for the fable. 'The falsely dramatic drives out the truly dull,' said Liebel Gennerat about fifteen centuries ago. It's called Gennerat's Law now."
"Is it?" said Dom. "And I thought the notion was a cynical invention of my own. Well, Gennerat's Law fills our past history with glamour and uncertainty. - Do you know what a robot is?"
"We found out on Sayshell," said Trevize dryly.
"You saw one?"
"No. We were asked the question and, when we answered in the negative, it was explained to us."
"I understand. - Humanity once lived with robots, you know, but it didn't work well."
"So we were told."
"The robots were deeply indoctrinated with what are called the Three Laws of Robotics, which date back into prehistory. There are several versions of what those Three Laws might have been. The orthodox view has the following reading: '1) A robot may not harm a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; a) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; ~) A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. '
"As robots grew more intelligent and versatile, they interpreted these Laws, especially the all-overriding First, more and more generously and assumed, to a greater and greater degree, the role of protector of humanity. The protection stifled people and grew unbearable.
"The robots were entirely kind. Their labors were clearly humane and were meant entirely for the benefit of all - which somehow made them all the more unbearable.
"Every robotic advance made the situation worse. Robots were developed with telepathic capacity, but that meant that even human thought could be monitored, so that human behavior became still more dependent on robotic oversight.
"Again robots grew steadily more like human beings in appearance, but they were unmistakably robots in behavior and being humanoid made them more repulsive. So, of course, it had to come to an end."
"Why 'of course'?" asked Pelorat, who had been listening intently.
Dom said, "It's a matter of following the logic to the bitter end. Eventually the robots grew advanced enough to become just sufficiently human to appreciate why human beings should resent being deprived of everything human in the name of their own good. In the long run, the robots were forced to decide that humanity might be better off caring for themselves, however carelessly and ineffectively.
"Therefore, it is said, it was the robots who established Eternity somehow and became the Eternals. They located a Reality in which they felt that human beings could be as secure as possible - alone in the Galaxy. Then, having done what they could to guard us and in order to fulfill the First Law in the truest sense, the robots of their own accord ceased to function and ever since we have been human beings - advancing, however we can, alone."
Dom paused. He looked from Trevize to Pelorat, and then said, "Well, do you believe all that?"
Trevize shook his head slowly. "No. There is nothing like this in any historical record I have ever heard of. How about you, Janov?"
Pelorat said, "There are myths that are similar in some ways."
"Come, Janov, there are myths that would match anything that any of us can make up, given sufficiently ingenious interpretation. I'm talking about history - reliable records."
"Oh well. Nothing there, as far as I know."
Dom said, "I'm not surprised. Before the robots withdrew, many parties of human beings left to colonize robotless worlds in deeper space, in order to take their own measures for freedom. They came particularly from overcrowded Earth, with its long history of resistance to robots. The new worlds were founded fresh and they did not even want to remember their bitter humiliation as children under robot nursemaids. They kept no records of it and they forgot."
Trevize said, "This is unlikely."
Pelorat turned to him. "No, Golan. It's not at all unlikely. Societies create their own history and tend to wipe out lowly beginnings, either by forgetting them or inventing totally fictitious heroic rescues. The Imperial government made attempts to suppress knowledge of the pre-Imperial past in order to strengthen the mystic aura of eternal rule. Then, too, there are almost no records of the days before hyperspatial travel - and you know that the very existence of Earth is unknown to most people today."
Trevize said, "You can't have it both ways, Janov. If the Galaxy has forgotten the robots, how is it that Gaia remembers?"
Bliss intervened with a sudden lilt of soprano laughter. "We're different."
"Yes?" said Trevize. "In what way?"
Dom said, "Now, Bliss, leave this to me. We are different, men of Terminus. Of all the refugee groups fleeing from robotic domination, we who eventually reached Gaia (following in the track of others who reached Sayshell) were the only ones who had learned the craft of telepathy from the robots.
"it is a craft, you know. It is inherent in the human mind, but it must be developed in a very subtle and difficult manner. It takes many generations to reach its full potential, but once well begun, it feeds on itself. We have been at it for over twenty thousand years and the sense-of-Gaia is that full potential has even now not been reached. It was long ago that our development of telepathy made us aware of group consciousness - first only of human beings; then animals; then plants; and finally, not many centuries ago, the inanimate structure of the planet itself.
"Because we traced this back to the robots, we did not forget them. We considered them not our nursemaids but our teachers. We felt they had opened our mind to something we would never for one moment want them closed to. We remember them with gratitude."
Trevize said, "But just as once you were children to the robots, now you are children to the group consciousness. Have you not lost humanity now, as you had then?"
"It is different, Trev. What we do now is our own choice - our own choice. That is what counts. It is not forced on us from outside, but is developed from the inside. It is something we never forget. And we are different in another way, too. We are unique in the Galaxy. There is no world like Gaia."
"How can you be sure?"
"We would know, Trev. We would detect a world consciousness such as ours even at the other end of the Galaxy. We can detect the beginnings of such a consciousness in your Second Foundation, for instance, though not until two centuries ago."
"At the time of the Mule?"
"Yes. One of ours." Dom looked grim. "He was an aberrant and he left us. We were naive enough to think that was not possible, so we did not act in time to stop him. Then, when we turned our attention to the Outside Worlds, we became aware of what you call the Second Foundation and we left it to them."
Trevize stared blankly for several moments, then muttered, "There go our history books!" He shook his head and said in a louder tone of voice, "That was rather cowardly of Gaia, wasn't it, to do so?" said Trevize. "He was your responsibility."
"You are right. But once we finally turned our eyes upon the Galaxy, we saw what until then we had been blind to, so that the tragedy of the Mule proved a life-saving matter to us. It was then that we recognized that eventually a dangerous crisis would come upon us. And it has - but not before we were able to take measures, thanks to the incident of the Mule."
"What sort of crisis?"
"One that threatens us with destruction?"
"I can't believe that. You held off the Empire, the Mule, and Sayshell. You have a group consciousness that can pluck a ship out of space at a distance of millions of kilometers. What can you have to fear? - Look at Bliss. She doesn't look the least bit perturbed. She doesn't think there's a crisis."
Bliss had placed one shapely leg over the arm of the chair and wriggled her toes at him. "Of course I'm not worried, Trev. You'll handle it."
Trev said forcefully, "Me?"
Dom said, "Gaia has brought you here by means of a hundred gentle manipulations. It is you who must face our crisis."
Trev stared at him and slowly his face turned from stupefaction into gathering rage. "Me? Why, in all of space, me? I have nothing to do with this."
"Nevertheless, Trev," said Dom with an almost hypnotic calmness, "you. Only you. In all of space, only you."