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Chapter 10

Seldon tried to look inconspicuous at the air-taxi rental terminus, which he found difficult. To look ostentatiously inconspicuous--to slink about, to turn his face away from all who passed, to study one of the vehicles overintently--was surely the way to invite attention. The way to behave was merely to assume an innocent normality.
But what was normality? He felt uncomfortable in his clothes. There were no pockets, so he had no place to put his hands. The two pouches, which dangled from his belt on either side, distracted him by hitting against him as he moved, so that he was continually thinking someone had nudged him. He tried looking at women as they passed. They had no pouches, at least none dangling, but they carried little boxlike affairs that they occasionally clipped to one hip or another by some device he could not make out. It was probably pseudomagnetic, he decided. Their clothes were not particularly revealing, he noted regretfully, and not one had any sign of d閏olletage, although some dresses seemed to be designed to emphasize the buttocks. Meanwhile, Hummin had been very businesslike, having presented the necessary credits and returned with the superconductive ceramic tile that would activate a specific air-taxi.
Hummin said, "Get in, Seldon," gesturing to a small two-seated vehicle.
Seldon asked, "Did you have to sign your name, Hummin?"
"Of course not. They know me here and dont stand on ceremony."
"What do they think youre doing?"
"They didnt ask and I volunteered no information." He inserted the tile and Seldon felt a slight vibration as the air-taxi came to life. "Were headed for D-7," said Hummin, making conversation.
Seldon didnt know what D-7 was, but he assumed it meant some route or other. The air-taxi found its way past and around other ground-cars and finally moved onto a smooth upward-slanting track and gained speed. Then it lifted upward with a slight jolt.
Seldon, who had been automatically strapped in by a webbed restraint, felt himself pushed down into his seat and then up against the webbing. He said, "That didnt feel like antigravity."
"It wasnt," said Hummin. "That was a small jet reaction. Just enough to take us up to the tubes."
What appeared before them now looked like a cliff patterned with cave openings, much like a checkerboard. Hummin maneuvered toward the D-7 opening, avoiding other air-taxis that were heading for other tunnels.
"You could crash easily," said Seldon, clearing his throat.
"So I probably would if everything depended on my senses and reactions, but the taxi is computerized and the computer can overrule me without trouble. The same is true for the other taxis.--Here we go."
They slid into D-7 as if they had been sucked in and the bright light of the open plaza outside mellowed, turning a warmer yellow hue. Hummin released the controls and sat back. He drew a deep breath and said, "Well, thats one stage successfully carried through. We might have been stopped at the station. In here, were fairly safe."
The ride was smooth and the walls of the tunnel slipped by rapidly. There was almost no sound, just a steady velvety whirr as the taxi sped along. "How fast are we going?" asked Seldon.
Hummin cast an eye briefly at the controls. "Three hundred and fifty kilometers per hour."
"Magnetic propulsion?"
"Yes. You have it on Helicon, I imagine."
"Yes. One line. Ive never been on it myself, though Ive always meant to. I dont think its anything like this."
"Im sure it isnt. Trantor has many thousands of kilometers of these tunnels honeycombing the land subsurface and a number that snake under the shallower extensions of the ocean. Its the chief method of long-distance travel."
"How long will it take us?"
"To reach our immediate destination? A little over five hours."
"Five hours!" Seldon was dismayed.
"Dont be disturbed. We pass rest areas every twenty minutes or so where we can stop, pull out of the tunnel, stretch our feet, eat, or relieve ourselves. Id like to do that as few times as possible, of course."
They continued on in silence for a while and then Seldon started when a blaze of light flared at their right for a few seconds and, in the flash, he thought he saw two air-taxis.
"That was a rest area," said Hummin in answer to the unspoken question.
Seldon said, "Am I really going to be safe wherever it is you are taking me?"
Hummin said, "Quite safe from any open movement on the part of the Imperial forces. Of course, when it comes to the individual operator--the spy, the agent, the hired assassin--one must always be careful. Naturally, I will supply you with a bodyguard."
Seldon felt uneasy. "The hired assassin? Are you serious? Would they really want to kill me?"
Hummin said, "Im sure Demerzel doesnt. I suspect he wants to use you rather than kill you. Still, other enemies may turn up or there may be unfortunate concatenations of events. You cant go through life sleepwalking."
Seldon shook his head and turned his face away. To think, only forty-eight hours ago he had been just an insignificant, virtually unknown Outworld mathematician, content only to spend his remaining time on Trantor sight-seeing, gazing at the enormity of the great world with his provincial eye. And now, it was finally sinking in: He was a wanted man, hunted by Imperial forces. The enormity of the situation seized him and he s............
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