Stor Gendibal jogged along the country road outside the university. It was not common practice for Second Foundationers to venture into the farming world of Trantor. They could do so, certainly, but when they did, they did not venture either far or for long.
Gendibal was an exception and he had, in times past, wondered why. Wondering meant exploring his own mind, something that Speakers, in particular, were encouraged to do. Their minds were at once their weapons and their targets, and they had to keep both offense and defense well honed.
Gendibal had decided, to his own satisfaction, that one reason he was different was because he had come from a planet that was both colder and more massive than the average inhabited planet. When he was brought to Trantor as a boy (through the net that was quietly cast throughout the Galaxy by agents of the Second Foundation on the lookout for talent), he found himself, therefore, in a lighter gravitational field and a delightfully mild climate. Naturally he enjoyed being in the open more than some of the others might.
In his early years on Trantor, he grew conscious of his puny, undersized frame, and he was afraid that settling back into the comfort of a benign world would turn him flabby indeed. He therefore undertook a series of self-developing exercises that had left him still puny in appearance but kept hint wiry and with a good wind. Part of his regimen were these long walks arid joggings - about which some at the Speaker's Table muttered. Gendibal disregarded their chattering.
He kept his own ways, despite the fact that he was first-generation. All the others at the Table were second - and third-generation, with parents and grandparents who had been Second Foundationers. And they were all older than he, too. What, then, was to be expected but muttering?
By long custom, all minds at the Speaker's Table were open (supposedly altogether, though it was a rare Speaker who didn't maintain a comer of privacy somewhere - in the long run, ineffectively, of course) and Gendibal knew that what they felt was envy. So did they; just as Gendibal knew his own attitude was defensive, overcompensating ambition. And so did they.
Besides (Gendibal's mind reverted to the reasons for his ventures into the hinterland) he had spent his childhood in a whole world - a large and expansive one, with grand and variegated scenery - and in a fertile valley of that world, surrounded by what he believed to be the most beautiful mountain ranges in the Galaxy. They were unbelievably spectacular in the grim winter of that world. He remembered his former world and the glories of a now-distant childhood. He dreamed about it often. How could he bring himself to be confined to a few dozen square miles of ancient architecture?
He looked about disparagingly as he jogged. Trantor was a mild and pleasant world, but it was not a rugged and beautiful one. Though it was a farming world, it was not a fertile planet.
It never had been. Perhaps that, as much as any other factor, had led to its becoming the administrative center of, first, an extensive union of planets and then of a Galactic Empire. There was no strong push to have it be anything else. It wasn't extraordinarily good for anything else.
After the Great Sack, one thing that kept Trantor going was its enormous supply of metal. It was a great mine, supplying half a hundred worlds with cheap alloy steel, aluminum, titanium, copper, magnesium - returning, in this way, what it had collected over thousands of years; depleting its supplies at a rate hundreds of times faster than the original rate of accumulation.
There were still enormous metal supplies available, but they were underground and harder to obtain. The Hamish farmers (who never called themselves "Trantorians," a term they considered ill-omened and which the Second Foundationers therefore reserved for themselves) had grown reluctant to deal with the metal any further. Superstition, undoubtedly.
Foolish of them. The metal that remained underground might well be poisoning the soil and further lowering its fertility. And yet, on the other hand, the population was thinly spread and the land supported them. And there were some sales of metal, always.
Gendibal's eyes roved over the fiat horizon. Trantor was alive geologically, as almost all inhabited planets were, but it had been a hundred million years, at least, since the last major geological mountain-building period had occurred. What uplands existed had been eroded into gentle hills. Indeed, many of them had been leveled during the great metal-coating period of Trantor's history.
Off to the south, well out of sight, was the shore of Capital Bay, and beyond that, the Eastern Ocean, both of which had been re-established after the disruption of the underground cisterns.
To the north were the towers of Galactic University, obscuring the comparatively squat-but-wide Library (most of which was underground), and the remains of the Imperial Palace still farther north.
Immediately on either side were farms, on which there was an occasional building. He passed groups of cattle, goats, chickens - the wide variety of domesticated animals found on any Trantorian farm. None of them paid him any mind.
Gendibal thought casually that anywhere in the Galaxy, on any of the vast number of inhabited worlds, he would see these animals and that on no two worlds would they be exactly alike. He remembered the goats of home and his own tame nanny whom he had once milked. They were much larger and more resolute than the small and philosophical specimens that had been brought to Trantor and established there since the Great Sack. Over the inhabited worlds of the Galaxy, there were varieties of each of these animals, in numbers almost beyond counting, and there was no sophisticate on any world who didn't swear by his favorite variety, whether for meat, milk, eggs, wool, or anything else they could produce.
As usual, there were no Hamish in view. Gendibal had the feeling that the farmers avoided being seen by those whom they referred to as "scowlers" (a mispronunciation - perhaps deliberately - of the word "scholars" in their dialect). - Superstition, again.
Gendibal glanced up briefly at Trantor's sun. It was quite high in the sky, but its heat was not oppressive. In this location, at this latitude, the warmth saved mild and the cold never bit. (Gendibal ever. missed the biting cold sometimes or so he imagined. He had never revisited his native world. Perhaps, he admitted to himself, because he didn't want to be disillusioned.)
He had the pleasant feel of muscles that were sharpened and tightened to keenness and he decided he had jogged just long enough. He settled down to a walk, breathing deeply.
He would be ready for the upcoming Table meeting and for one last push to force a change in policy, a new attitude that would recognize the growing danger from the First Foundation and elsewhere and that would put an end to the fatal reliance on the "perfect" working of the Plan. When would they realize that the very perfection was the surest sign of danger?
Had anyone but himself proposed it, he knew, it would have gone through without trouble. As things stood now, there would be trouble, but it would go through, just the same, for old Shandess was supporting him and would undoubtedly continue to do so. He would not wish to enter the history books as the particular First Speaker under whom the Second Foundation had withered.
Gendibal was startled. He became aware of the distant tendril of mind well before he saw the person. It was Hamish mind - a farmer - coarse and unsubtle. Carefully Gendibal withdrew, leaving a touch so light as to be undetectable. Second Foundation policy was very firm in this respect. The farmers were the unwitting shields of the Second Foundation. They must be left as untouched as possible.
No one who came to Trantor for trade or tourism ever saw anything other than the farmers, plus perhaps a few unimportant scholars living in the past. Remove the farmers or merely tamper with their innocence and the scholars would become more noticeable - with catastrophic results. (That was one of the classic demonstrations which neophytes at the University were expected to work out for themselves. The tremendous Deviations displayed on the Prime Radiant when the farmer minds were even slightly tampered with were astonishing.)
Gendibal saw him. It was a farmer, certainly, Hamish to the core. He was almost a caricature of what a Trantorian farmer should be tall and wide, brown-skinned, roughly dressed, arms bare, dark-haired, dark-eyed, a long ungainly stride. Gendibal felt as though he could smell the barnyard about him. (Not too much scorn, he thought. Preem Palver had not minded playing the role of farmer, when that was necessary to his plans. Some farmer he was - short and plump and soft. It was his mind that had fooled the teenaged Arkady, never his body.)
The farmer was approaching him, clumping down the road, staring at him openly - something that made Gendibal frown. No Hamish man or woman had ever looked at him in this manner. Even the children ran away and peered from a distance.
Gendibal did not slow his own stride. There would be room enough to pass the other with neither comment nor glance and that would be best. He determined to stay away from the farmer's mind.
Gendibal drifted to one side, but the farmer was not going to have that. He stopped, spread his legs wide, stretched out his large arms as though to block passage, and said, "Ho! Be you scowler?"
Try as he might, Gendibal could not refrain from sensing the wash of pugnacity in the approaching mind. He stopped. It would be impossible to attempt to pass by without conversation and that would be, in itself, a weary task. Used as one was to the swift and subtle interplay of sound and expression and thought and mentality that combined to make up the communication between Second Foundationers, it was wearisome to resort to word combination alone. It was like prying up a boulder by arm and shoulder, with a crowbar lying nearby.
Gendibal said, quietly and with careful lack of emotion, "I am a scholar. Yes."
"Ho! You am a scowler. Don't we speak outlandish now? And cannot I see that you be one or am one?" He ducked his head in a mocking bow. "Being, as you be, small and weazen and pale and upnosed."
"What is it you want of me, Hamishman?" asked Gendibal, unmoved.
"I be titled Rufirant. And Karoll be my previous." His accent became noticeably more Hamish. His r's rolled throatily.
Gendibal said, "What is it you want with me, Karoll Rufirant?"
"And how be you titled, scowler?"
"Does it matter? You may continue to call me 'scholar.'"
"If I ask, it matters that I be answered, little up-nosed scowler."
"Well then, I am titled Stor Gendibal and I will now go about my business."
"What be your business?"
Gendibal felt the hair prickling on the back of his neck. There were other minds present. He did not have to turn to know there were three more Hamishmen behind him. Off in the distance, there were others. The farmer smell was strong.
"My business, Karoll Rufirant, is certainly none of yours."
"Say you so?" Rufirant's voice rose. "Mates, he says his business be not ours."
There was a laugh from behind him and a voice sounded. "Right he be, for his business be book-mucking and 'puter-rubbing, and that be naught for true men."
"Whatever my business is," said Gendibal firmly, "I will be about it now."
"And how will you do that, wee scowler?" said Rufirant.
"By passing you."
"You would try? You would not fear arm-stopping?"
"By you and all your mates? Or by you alone?" Gendibal suddenly dropped into thick Hamish dialect. "Art not feared alone?"
Strictly speaking, it was not proper to prod him in this manner, but it would stop a mass attack and that had to be stopped, lest it force a still greater indiscretion on his part.
It worked. Rufirant's expression grew lowering. "If fear there be, bookboy, th'art the one to be full of it. Mates, make room. Stand back and let him pass that he may see if I be feared alane."
Rufirant lifted his great arms and moved them about. Gendibal did not fear the farmer's pugilistic science; but there was always a chance that a goodly blow might land.
Gendibal approached cautiously, working with delicate speed within Rufirant's mind. Not much - just a touch, unfelt - but enough to slow reflexes that crucial notch. Then out, and into all the others, who were now gathering in greater numbers. Gendibal's Speaker mind darted back and forth with virtuosity, never resting in one mind long enough to leave a mark, but just long enough for the detection of something that might be useful.
He approached the farmer catlike, watchful, aware and relieved that no one was making a move to interfere.
Rufirant struck suddenly, but Gendibal saw it in his mind before any muscle had begun to tighten and he stepped to one side. The blow whistled past, with little room to spare. Yet Gendibal still stood there, unshaken. There was a collective sigh from the others.
Gendibal made no attempt to either parry or return a blow. It would be difficult to parry without paralyzing his own arm and to return a blow would be of no use, far the farmer would withstand it without trouble.
He could only maneuver the man as though he were a bull, forcing him to miss. That would serve to break his morale as direct opposition would not.
Bull-like and roaring, Rufirant charged. GendibaI was ready and drifted to one side just sufficiently to allow the farmer to miss his clutch. Again the charge. Again the miss.
GendibaI felt his own breath begin to whistle through his nose. The physical effort was small, but the mental effort of trying to control without controlling was enormously difficult. He could not keep it up long.
He said - as calmly as he could while batting lightly at Rufirant's fear-depressant mechanism, trying to rouse in a minimalist manner what must surely be the farmer's superstitious dread of scholars - "I will now go about my business."
Rufirant's face distorted with rage, but for a moment he did not move. Gendibal could sense his thinking. The little scholar had melted away like magic. Gendibal could feel the other's fear rise and for a moment
But then the Hamish rage surged higher and drowned the fear.
Rufirant shouted, "Mates! Scowler he dancer. He do duck on nimble toes and scorns the rules of honest Hamish blow-for-blow. Seize him. Hold him. We will trade blow for blow, then. He may be firststriker, gift of me, and I - I will be last-striker."
Gendibal found the gaps among those who now surrounded him. His only chance was to maintain a gap long enough to get through, then to run, trusting to his own wind and to his ability to dull the farmers' will.
Back and forth he dodged, with his mind cramping in effort.
It would rat work. There were too many of them and the necessity of abiding within the rules of Trantorian behavior was too constricting.
He felt hands on his arms. He was held.
He would have to interfere with at least a few of the minds. It would be unacceptable and his cancer would be destroyed. But his life - his very life - was at hazard.
How had this happened?
The meeting of the Table was not complete.
It was not the custom to wait if any Speaker were late. Nor, thought Shandess, was the Table in a mood to wait, in any case. Stor Gendibal was the youngest and far from sufficiently aware of the fact. He acted as though youth were in itself a virtue and age a matter of negligence on the part of those who should know better. Gendibal was not popular with the other Speakers. He was not, in point of fact, entirely popular with Shandess himself. But popularity was not at issue here.
Delora Delarmi broke in on his reverie. She was looking at him out of wide blue eyes, her round face - with its accustomed air of innocence and friendliness - masking an acute mind (to all but other Second Foundationers of her own rank) and ferocity of concentration.
She said, smiling, "First Speaker, do we wait longer?" (The meeting had not yet been formally called to order so that, strictly speaking, she could open the conversation, though another might have waited for Shandess to speak first by right of his title.)