Trantor! For eight thousand years, it was the capital of a large and mighty political entity that spanned an ever-growing union of planetary systems. For twelve thousand years after that, it was the capital of a political entity that spanned the entire Galaxy. It was the center, the heart, the epitome of the Galactic Empire.
It was impossible to think of the Empire without thinking of Trantor.
Trantor did not reach its physical peak until the Empire was far gone in decay. In fact, no one noticed that the Empire had lost its drive, its forward look, because Trantor gleamed in shining metal.
Its growth had peaked at the point where it was a planet-girdling city. Its population was stabilized (by law) at forty-five billion and the only surface greenery was at the Imperial Palace and the Galactic University/Library complex.
Trantor's land surface was metal-coated. Its deserts and its fertile areas were alike engulfed and made into warrens of humanity, administrative jungles, computerized elaborations, vast storehouses of food and replacement parts. its mountain ranges were beaten down; its chasms filled in. The city's endless corridors burrowed under the continental shelves and the oceans were turned into huge underground aquacultural cisterns - the only (and insufficient native source of food and minerals.
The connections with the Outer Worlds, from which Trantor obtained the resources it required, depended upon its thousand spaceports, its ten thousand warships, its hundred thousand merchant ships, its million space freighters.
No city so vast was ever recycled so tightly. No planet in the Galaxy had ever made so much use of solar power or went to such extremes to rid itself of waste heat. Glittering radiators stretched up into the thin upper atmosphere upon the nightside and were withdrawn into the metal city on the dayside. As the planet turned, the radiators rose as night progressively fell around the world and sank as day progressively broke. So Trantor always had an artificial asymmetry that was almost its symbol.
At this peak, Trantor ran the Empire?
It ran it poorly, but nothing could have run the Empire well. The Empire was too large to be run from a single world - even under the most dynamic of Emperors. How could Trantor have helped but run it poorly when, in the ages of decay, the Imperial crown was traded back and forth by sly politicians and foolish incompetents and the bureaucracy had become a subculture of corruptibles?
But even at its worst, there was some self-propelled worth to the machinery. The Galactic Empire could not have been run without Trantor.
The Empire crumbled steadily, but as long as Trantor remained Trantor, a core of the Empire remained and it retained an air of pride, of millennia, of tradition and power and - exaltation.
Only when the unthinkable happened - when Trantor finally fell and was sacked; when its citizens were killed by the millions and left to starve by the billions; when its mighty metal coating was scarred and punctured and fused by the attack of the "barbarian" fleet - only then was the Empire considered to have fallen. The surviving remnants on the once-great world undid further what had been left and, in a generation, Trantor was transformed from the greatest planet the human race had ever seen to an inconceivable tangle of ruins.
That had been nearly two and a half centuries ago. In the rest of the Galaxy, Trantor-as-it-had-been still was not forgotten. It would live forever as the favored site of historical novels, the favored symbol and memory of the past, the favored word for sayings such as "All starships land on Trantor," "Like looking for a person in Trantor," and "No more alike than this and Trantor."
In all the rest of the Galaxy -
But that was not true on Trantor itself! Here the old Trantor was forgotten. The surface metal seas gone, almost everywhere. Trantor was now a sparsely settled world of self-sufficient farmers, a place where trading ships rarely came and were not particularly welcome when they did come. The very word "Trantor," though still in official use, had dropped out of popular speech. By present-day Trantorians, it was called "Hame," which in their dialect was what would be called "Home" in Galactic Standard.
Quindor Shandess thought of all this and much more as he sat quietly in a welcome state of half-drowse, in which he could allow his mind to run along a self-propelled and unorganized stream of thought.
He had been First Speaker of the Second Foundation for eighteen years, and he might well bold on for ten or twelve years more if his mind remained reasonably vigorous and if he could continue to fight the political wars.
He was the analog, the mirror image, of the Mayor of Terminus, who ruled over the First Foundation, but how different they were in every respect. The Mayor of Terminus was known to all the Galaxy and the First Foundation was therefore simply "the Foundation" to all the worlds. The First Speaker of the Second Foundation was known only to his associates.
And yet it was the Second Foundation, under himself and his predecessors, who held the real power. The First Foundation was supreme in the realm of physical power, of technology, of war weapons. The Second Foundation was supreme in the realm of mental power, of the mind, of the ability to control. In any conflict between the two, what would it matter how many ships and weapons the First Foundation disposed of, if the Second Foundation could control the minds of those who controlled the ships and weapons?
But how long could he revel in this realization of secret power?
He was the twenty-fifth First Speaker and his incumbency was already a shade longer than average. Ought he, perhaps, not be too keen on holding on and keeping out the younger aspirants? There was Speaker Gendibal, the keenest and newest at the Table. Tonight they would spend time together and Shandess looked forward to it. Ought he look forward also to Gendibal's possible accession some day?
The answer to the question was that Shandess had no real thought of leaving his post. He enjoyed it too much.
He sat there, in his old age, still perfectly capable of performing his duties. His hair was gray, but it had always been light in color and he wore it cut an inch long so that the color scarcely mattered. His eyes were a faded blue and his clothing conformed to the drab styling of the Trantorian farmers.
The First Speaker could, if he wished, pass among the Hamish people as one of them, but his hidden power nevertheless existed. He could choose to focus his eyes and mind at any time and they would then act according to his will and recall nothing about it afterward.
It rarely happened. Almost never. The Golden Rule of the Second Foundation was, "Do nothing unless you must, and when you must act - hesitate."
The First Speaker sighed softly. Living in the old University, with the brooding grandeur of the ruins of the Imperial Palace not too far distant, made one wonder on occasion how Golden the Rule might be.
In the days of the Great Sack, the Golden Rule had been strained to the breaking point. There was no way of saving Trantor without sacrificing the Seldon Plan for establishing a Second Empire. It would have been humane to spare the forty-five billion, but they could not have been spared without retention of the core of the First Empire and that would have only delayed the reckoning. If would have led to a greater destruction some centuries later and perhaps no Second Empire ever
The early First Speakers had worked over the clearly foreseen Sack for decades but had found no solution - no way of assuring both the salvation of Trantor and the eventual establishment of the Second Empire. The lesser evil had to be chosen and Trantor had died!
The Second Foundatianers of the time had managed - by the narrowest of margins - to save the University/Library complex and there had been guilt forever after because of that, too. Though no one had ever demonstrated that saving the complex had led to the of the Mule, there was always the intuition that there was a connection.
How nearly that had wrecked everything!
Yet following the decades of the Sack acrd the Mule came the Golden Age of the Second Foundation.
Prior to that, for over two and a half centuries after Seldon's death, the Second Foundation had burrowed like moles into the Library, intent only on staying out of the way of the Imperials. They served as librarians in a decaying society that cared less and less for the ever-more-misnamed Galactic Library, which fell into the desuetude that best suited the purpose of the Second Foundationers.
It was an ignoble life. They merely conserved the Plan, while out at the end of the Galaxy, the First Foundation fought for its life against always greater enemies with neither help from the Second Foundation nor any real knowledge of it.
It was the Great Sack that liberated the Second Foundation - another reason (young Gendibal - who had courage - had recently said that it was the chief reason) why the Sack was allowed to proceed.
After the Great Sack, the Empire was gone and, in all the later times, the Trantorian survivors never trespassed on Second Foundation territory uninvited. The Second Foundationers saw to it that the University/Library complex which had survived the Sack also survived the Great Renewal. The ruins of the Palace were preserved, too. The metal was gone over almost all the rest of the world. The great and endless corridors were covered up, filled in, twisted, destroyed, ignored; all under rock and soil - all except here, where metal still surrounded the ancient open places.
It might be viewed as a grand memorial of greatness, the sepulcher of Empire, but to the Trantorians - the Hamish people - these were haunted places, filled with ghosts, not to be stirred. Only the Second Foundationers ever set foot in the ancient corridors or touched the titanium gleam.
And even so, all had nearly come to nothing because of the Mule.
The Mule had actually been on Trantor. What if he had found out the nature of the world he had been standing on? His physical weapons were far greater than those at the disposal of the Second Foundation, his mental weapons almost as great. The Second Foundation would have been hampered always by the necessity of doing nothing but what they must, and by the knowledge that almost any hope of tinning the immediate fight might portend a greater eventual loss.
Had it not been for Banta Darell and her swift moment of action. And that, too, had been without the help of the Second Foundation?
And then - the Golden age, when somehow the First Speakers of the time found ways of becoming active, stopping the Mule in his career of conquest, controlling his mind at last; and then stopping the First Foundation itself when it grew wary and overcurious concerning the nature and identity of the Second Foundation. There was Preem Palver, nineteenth First Speaker and greatest of them all, who had managed to put an end to all danger - not without terrible sacrifice - and who had rescued the Seldon Plan.
Now, for a hundred and twenty years, the Second Foundation was again as it once had been, hiding in a haunted portion of Trantor. They were hiding no longer from the Imperials, but from the First Foundation still - a First Foundation almost as large as the Galactic Empire had been and even greater in technological expertise.
The First Speaker's eyes closed in the pleasant warmth and he passed into that never-never state of relaxing hallucinatory experiences that were not quite dreams and not quite conscious thought.
Enough of gloom. All would be well. Trantor was still capital of the Galaxy, for the Second Foundation was here and it was mightier and more in control than ever the Emperor had been.
The First Foundation would be contained and guided and would move correctly. However formidable their ships and weapons, they could do nothing as long as key leaders could be, at need, mentally controlled.
And the Second Empire would come, but it would not be like the first. It would be a Federated Empire, with its parts possessing considerable self-rule, so that there would be none of the apparent strength and actual weakness of a unitary, centralized government. The new Empire would be looser, more pliant, more flexible, more capable of withstanding strain, and it would be guided always - always - by the hidden men and women of the Second Foundation. Trantor would then be still the capital, more powerful with its forty thousand psychohistorians than ever it had been with its forty-five billion -
The First Speaker snapped awake. The sun was lower in the sky. Had he been mumbling? Had he said anything aloud?
If the Second Foundation had to know much and say little, the ruling Speakers had to know mere and say less, and the First Speaker lead to know mist and say least.
He smiled wryly. It was always so tempting to become a Trantorian patriot - to see the whole purpose of the Second Empire as that of bringing about Trantorian hegemony. Seldon had warned of it; he had foreseen even that, five centuries before it could come to pass.
The First Speaker had not slept too long, however. It was not yet time for Gendibal's audience.
Shandess was looking forward to that private meeting. Gendibal was young enough to look at the Plan with new eyes, and keen enough to see what others might not. And it was not beyond possibility that Shandess would learn from what the youngster had to say.
No one would ever be certain how much Preem Palver - the great Palver himself - had profited from that day when the young Kol Benjoam, not yet thirty, came to talk to him about possible ways of handling the First Foundation. Benjoam, who was later recognized as the greatest theorist since Seldon, never spoke of that audience in later years, but eventually he became the twenty-first First Speaker. There were some who credited Benjoam, rather than Palver, for the great accomplishments of Palver's administration.
Shandess amused himself with the thought of what Gendibal might say. It was traditional that keen youngsters, confronting the First Speaker alone for the first time, would place their entire thesis in the first sentence. And surely they would not ask for that precious first audience for something trivial - something that might ruin their entire subsequent career by convincing the First Speaker they were lightweights.
Four hours later, Gendibal faced him. The young man showed no sign of nervousness. He waited calmly for Shandess to speak first.
Shandess said, "You have asked for a private audience, Speaker, on a matter of importance. Could you please summarize the matter for me?"
And Gendibal, speaking quietly, almost as though he were describing what he had just eaten at dinner, said, "First Speaker, the Seldon Plan is meaningless!"
Stor Gendibal did not require the evidence of others to give him a sense of worth. He could not recall a time when he did not know himself to be unusual. He had been recruited for the Second Foundation when he was only a ten-year-old boy by an agent who had recognized the potentialities of his mind.
He had then done remarkably well at his studies and had taken to psychohistory as a spaceship responds to a gravitational field. Psychohistory had pulled at him and he had curved toward it, reading Seldon's text on the fundamentals when others his age were merely trying to handle differential equations.
When he was fifteen, he entered Trantor's Galactic University (as the University of Trantor had been officially renamed), after an interview during which, when asked what his ambitions were, he had answered firmly, "To be First Speaker before I am forty."
He had not bothered to aim for the First Speaker's chair without qualification. To gain it, one way or another, seemed to him to be a certainty. It was to do it in youth that seemed to him to be the goal. Even Preem Palver bad been forty-two on his accession.
The interviewer's expression had flickered when Gendibal had said that, but the young man already had the feel of psycholanguage and could interpret that flicker. He knew, as certainly as though the interviewer had announced it, that a small notation would go on his records to the effect that he would be difficult to handle.
Well, of course!
Gendibal intended to be difficult to handle.
He was thirty now. He would be thirty-one in a matter of two months and he was already a member of the Council of Speakers. He had nine years, at most, to become First Speaker and he knew he would make it. This audience with the present First Speaker was crucial to his plans and, laboring to present precisely the proper impression, he had. spared no effort to polish his command of psycholanguage.
When two Speakers of the Second Foundation communicate with each other, the language is like no other in the Galaxy. It is as much a language of fleeting gestures as of words, as much a matter of detected mental - change patterns as anything else.
An outsider would hear little or nothing, but in a short time, much in the way of thought would be exchanged and the communication would be unreportable in its literal form to anyone but still another Speaker.
The language of Speakers had its advantage in speed and in infinite delicacy, but it had the disadvantage of making it almost impossible to mask true opinion.
Gendibal knew his own opinion of the First Speaker. He felt the First Speaker to be a man past his mental prime. The First Speaker - in Gendibal's assessment - expected no crisis, was not trained to meet one, and lacked the sharpness to deal with one if it appeared. With all Shandess's goodwill and amiability, he was the stuff of which disaster was made.
All of this Gendibal had to hide not merely from words, gestures, and facial expressions, but even from his thoughts. He knew no way of doing so efficiently enough to keep the First Speaker from catching a whiff of it.
Nor could Gendibal avoid knowing something of the First Speaker's feeling toward him. Through bonhomie and goodwill - quite apparent and reasonably sincere - Gendibal could feel the distant edge of condescension and amusement, and tightened his own mental grip to avoid revealing any resentment in return - or as little as possible.
The First Speaker smiled and leaned back in his chair. He did not actually lift his feet to the desk top, but he got across just the right mixture of self-assured ease and informal friendship - just enough of each to leave Gendibal uncertain as to the effect of his statement.
Since Gendibal had not been invited to sit down, the actions and attitudes available to him that might be designed to minimize the uncertainty were limited. It was impossible that the First Speaker did not understand this.
Shandess said, "The Seldon Plan is meaningless? What a remarkable statement! Have you looked at the Prime Radiant lately, Speaker Gendibal?"
"I study it frequently, First Speaker. It is my duty to do so and my pleasure as well."
"Do you, by any chance, study only those portions of it that fall under your purview, now and then? Do you observe it in microfashion - an equation system here, an adjustment rivulet there? Highly important, of course, but I have always thought it an excellent occasional exercise to observe the whole course. Studying the Prime Radiant, acre by acre, has its uses - but observing it as a continent is inspirational. To tell you the truth, Speaker, I have not done it for a long time myself. Would you join me?"
Gendibal dared not pause too long. It had to be done, and it must be done easily and pleasantly or it might as well not be done. "It would be an honor and a pleasure, First Speaker."
The First Speaker depressed a lever on the side of his desk. T here was one such in the office of every Speaker and the one in Gendibal's office was in no way inferior to that of the First Speaker. The Second Foundation was an equalitarian society in all its surface manifestations - the unimportant ones. In fact, the only official prerogative of the First Speaker was that which was explicit in his title he always spoke first.
The room grew dark with the depression of the lever but, almost at once, the darkness lifted into a pearly dimness. Both long walls turned faintly creamy, then brighter and whiter, and finally there appeared neatly printed equations - so small that they could not be easily read.
"If you have no objections," said the First Speaker, making it quite clear that there would be none allowed, "we will reduce the magnification in order to see as much at one time as we can."
The neat printing shrank down into fine hairlines, faint black meanderings over the pearly background.
The First Speaker touched the keys of the small console built into the arm of his chair. "We'll bring it back to the start - to the lifetime of Hari Seldon - and we'll adjust it to a small forward movement. We'll shutter it so that we can only see a decade of development at a time. It gives one a wonderful feeling of the flow of history, with no distractions by the details. I wonder if you have ever done this."
"Never exactly this way, First Speaker."
"You should. It's a marvelous feeling. Observe the sparseness of the black tracery at the start. There was not much chance for alternatives in the first few decades. The branch points, however, increase exponentially with time. Were it not for the fact that, as soon as a particular branch is taken, there is an extinction of a vast array of others in its future, all would soon become unmanageable. Of course, in dealing with the future, we must be careful what extinctions we rely upon."
"I know, First Speaker." There was a touch of dryness in Gendibal's response that he could not quire remove.
The First Speaker did not respond to it. "Notice the winding lines of symbols in red. There is a pattern to them. To all appearances, they should exist randomly, as even Speaker earns his place by adding refinements to Seldon's original Plan. It would seem there is no way, after all, of predicting where a refinement can be added easily or where a particular Speaker will find his interests or his ability tending, and yet I have long suspected that the admixture of Seldon Black and Speaker Red follows a strict law that is strongly dependent on time and on very little else."
Gendibal watched as the years passed and as the black and red hairlines made an almost hypnotic interlacing pattern. The pattern meant nothing in itself, of course. What counted were the symbols of which it was composed.
Here and there a bright-blue rivulet made its appearance, bellying out; branching, and becoming prominent, then falling in upon itself and fading into the black or red.
The First Speaker said, "Deviation Blue," and the feeling of distaste, originating in each, filled the space between them. "We catch it over and over, and we'll be coming to the Century of Deviations eventually."