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Chapter 21
Yet the following day found Hari Seldon back in the library. For one thing, there was his promise to Hummin. He had promised to try and he couldnt very well make it a halfhearted process. For another, he owed something to himself too. He resented having to admit failure. Not yet, at least. Not while he could plausibly tell himself he was following up leads. So he stared at the list of reference book-films he had not yet checked through and tried to decide which of the unappetizing number had the slightest chance of being useful to him. He had about decided that the answer was "none of the above" and saw no way out but to look at samples of each when he was startled by a gentle tap against the alcove wall.
Seldon looked up and found the embarrassed face of Lisung Randa peering at him around the edge of the alcove opening. Seldon knew Randa, had been introduced to him by Dors, and had dined with him (and with others) on several occasions. Randa, an instructor in psychology, was a little man, short and plump, with a round cheerful face and an almost perpetual smile. He had a sallow complexion and the narrowed eyes so characteristic of people on millions of worlds. Seldon knew that appearance well, for there were many of the great mathematicians who had borne it, and he had frequently seen their holograms. Yet on Helicon he had never seen one of these Easterners. (By tradition they were called that, though no one knew why; and the Easterners themselves were said to resent the term to some degree, but again no one knew why.)
"Theres millions of us here on Trantor," Randa had said, smiling with no trace of self-consciousness, when Seldon, on first meeting him, had not been able to repress all trace of startled surprise. "Youll also find lots of Southerners--dark skins, tightly curled hair. Did you ever see one?"
"Not on Helicon," muttered Seldon.
"All Westerners on Helicon, eh? How dull! But it doesnt matter. Takes all kinds." (He left Seldon wondering at the fact that there were Easterners, Southerners, and Westerners, but no Northerners. He had tried finding an answer to why that might be in his reference searches and had not succeeded.) And now Randas good-natured face was looking at him with an almost ludicrous look of concern. He said, "Are you all right, Seldon?"
Seldon stared. "Yes, of course. Why shouldnt I be?"
"Im just going by sounds, my friend. You were screaming."
"Screaming?" Seldon looked at him with offended disbelief.
"Not loud. Like this." Randa gritted his teeth and emitted a strangled high-pitched sound from the back of his throat. "If Im wrong, I apologize for this unwarranted intrusion on you. Please forgive me."
Seldon hung his head. "Youre forgiven, Lisung. I do make that sound sometimes, Im told. I assure you its unconscious. Im never aware of it."
"Are you aware why you make it?"
"Yes. Frustration. Frustration."
Randa beckoned Seldon closer and lowered his voice further. "Were disturbing people. Lets come out to the lounge before were thrown out."
In the lounge, over a pair of mild drinks, Randa said, "May I ask you, as a matter of professional interest, why you are feeling frustration?"
Seldon shrugged. "Why does one usually feel frustration? Im tackling something in which I am making no progress."
"But youre a mathematician, Hari. Why should anything in the history library frustrate you?"
"What were you doing here?"
"Passing through as part of a shortcut to where I was going when I heard you ... moaning. Now you see"--and he smiled--"its no longer a shortcut, but a serious delay--one that I welcome, however."
"I wish I were just passing through the history library, but Im trying to solve a mathematical problem that requires some knowledge of history and Im afraid Im not handling it well."
Randa stared at Seldon with an unusually solemn expression on his face, then he said, "Pardon me, but I must run the risk of offending you now. Ive been computering you."
"Computering me!" Seldons eyes widened. He felt distinctly angry.
"I have offended you. But, you know, I had an uncle who was a mathematician. You might even have heard of him: Kiangtow Randa."
Seldon drew in his breath. "Are you a relative of that Randa?"
"Yes. He is my fathers older brother and he was quite displeased with me for not following in his footsteps--he has no children of his own. I thought somehow that it might please him that I had met a mathematician and I wanted to boast of you--if I could--so I checked what information the mathematics library might have."
"I see. And thats what you were really doing there. Well--Im sorry. I dont suppose you could do much boasting."
"You suppose wrong. I was impressed. I couldnt make heads or tails of the subject matter of your papers, but somehow the information seemed to be very favorable. And when I checked the news files, I found you were at the Decennial Convention earlier this year. So ... whats psychohistory, anyway? Obviously, the first two syllables stir my curiosity."
"I see you got that word out of it."
"Unless Im totally misled, it seemed to me that you can work out the future course of history."
Seldon nodded wearily, "That, more or less, is what psychohistory is or, rather, what it is intended to be."
"But is it a serious study?" Randa was smiling. "You dont just throw sticks?"
"Throw sticks?"
"Thats just a reference to a game played by children on my home planet of Hopara. The game is supposed to tell the future and if youre a smart kid, you can make a good thing out of it. Tell a mother that her child will grow up beautiful and marry a rich man and its good for a piece of cake or a half-credit piece on the spot. She isnt going ............
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