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Chapter 24

Seldon panted, facing a tree, holding it closely, embracing it. He watched for the flying object to make its appearance again so that he could back about the tree and hide on the far side, like a squirrel. The tree was cold, its bark was rough, it gave no comfort--but it offered cover. Of course, that might be insufficient, if he was being searched for with a heat-seeker, but, on the other hand, the cold trunk of a tree might blur even that.
Below him was hard-packed soil. Even in this moment of hiding, of attempting to see his pursuer while remaining unseen, he could not help wondering how thick the soil might be, how long it had taken to accumulate, many domes in the warmer areas of Trantor carried forests on their back, and whether the trees were always confined to the creases between domes, leaving the higher regions to moss, grass, and underbrush.
He saw it again. It was not a hypership, nor even an ordinary air-jet. It was a jet-down. He could see the faint glow of the ion trails corning out at the vertices of a hexagon, neutralizing the gravitational pull and allowing the wings to keep it aloft like a large soaring bird. It was a vehicle that could hover and explore a planetary terrain.
It was only the clouds than had saved him. Even if they were using heat-seekers, that would only indicate there were people below. The jet-down would have to make a tentative dive below the banked ceiling before it could hope to know how many human beings there were and whether any of them might be the particular person the patties aboard were seeking.
The jet-down was closer now, but it couldnt hide from him either. The rumble of the engine gave it away and they couldnt rum that off, not as long as they wished to continue their search. Seldon knew the jet-downs, for on Helicon or on any undomed world with skies that cleared now and then, they were common, with many in private hands.
Of what possible use would jet-downs be on Trantor, with all the human life of the world under domes, with low cloud ceilings all but perpetual--except for a few government vehicles designed for just this purpose, that of picking up a wanted person who had been lured above the domes? Why not? Government forces could nor enter the grounds of the University, but perhaps Seldon was no longer on the grounds. He was on top of the domes which might be outside the jurisdiction of any local government. An Imperial vehicle might have every right to land on any part of the dome and question or remove any person found upon it. Hummin had not warned him of this, but perhaps he had merely not thought of doing so.
The jet-down was even closer now, nosing about like a blind beast sniffing out its prey. Would it occur to them to search this group of trees? Would they land and send out an armed soldier or two to beat through the copse? And if so, what could he do? He was unarmed and all his quicktwist agility would be useless against the agonizing pain of a neuronic whip. It was not attempting to land. Either they missed the significance of the trees Or--
A new thought suddenly hit him. What if this wasnt a pursuit vessel at all? What if it was part of the meteorological testing? Surely, meteorologists would want to test the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Was he a fool to hide from it?
The sky was getting darker. The clouds were getting thicker or, much more likely, night was falling.
And it was getting colder and would get colder still. Was he going to stay out here freezing because a perfectly harmless jet-down had made an appearance and had activated a sense of paranoia that he had never felt before? He had a strong impulse to leave the copse and get back to the meteorological station. After all, how would the man Hummin feared so much--Demerzel--know that Seldon would, at this particular time, be Upperside and ready to be taken? For a moment, that seemed conclusive and, shivering with the cold, he moved out from behind the tree.
And then he scurried back as the vessel reappeared even closer than before. He hadnt seen it do anything that would seem to be meteorological. It did nothing that might be considered sampling, measuring, or testing. Would he see such things if they took place? He did not know the precise sort of instruments the jet-down carried or how they worked. If they were doing meteorological work, he might not be able to tell.--Still, could he take the chance of coming into the open?
After all, what if Demerzel did know of his presence Upperside, simply because an agent of his, working in the University, knew about it and had reported the matter. Lisung Randa, that cheerful, smiling little Easterner, had suggested he go Upperside. He had suggested it quite forcefully and the subject had not arisen naturally out of the conversation; at least, not naturally enough. Was it possible that he was a government agent and had alerted Demerzel somehow? Then there was Leggen, who had given him the sweater. The sweater was useful, but why hadnt Leggen told him he would need one earlier so he could get his own? Was there something special about the one he was wearing? It was uniformly purple, while all the others indulged in the Trantorian fashion of bright patterns. Anyone looking down from a height would see a moving dull blotch in among others that were bright and know immediately whom they wanted. And Clowzia? She was supposedly Upperside to learn meteorology and help the meteorologists. How was it possible that she could come to him, talk to him at ease, and quietly walk him away from the others and isolate him so that he could easily be picked up?
For that matter, what about Dors Venabili? She knew he was going Upperside. She did not stop it. She might have gone with him, but she was conveniently busy. It was a conspiracy. Surely, it was a conspiracy. He had convinced himself now and there was no further thought of getting out from the shelter of the trees. (His feet felt like lumps of ice and stamping them against the ground seemed to do no good.) Would the jet-down never leave? And even as he thought that, the pitch of the engines rumble heightened and the jet-down rose into the clouds and faded away.
Seldon listened eagerly, alert to the smallest sound, making sure it was finally gone. And then, even after he was sure it was gone, he wondered if that was just a device to flush him out of hiding. He remained where he was while the minutes slowly crawled on and night continued to fall. And finally, when he felt that the true alternative to taking the chance of coming out in the open was that of freezing into insensibility, he stepped out and moved cautiously beyond the shelter of the trees. It was dusky twilight, after all. They couldnt detect him except by a heat-seeker, but, if so, he would hear the jet-down return. He waited just beyond the trees, counting to himself, ready to hide in the copse again at the smallest sound--though what good that would do him once he was spotted, he couldnt imagine.
Seldon looked about. If he could find the meteorologists, they would surely have artificial light, but except for that, there would be nothing. He could still just make out his surroundings, but in a matter of a quarter of an hour, half an hour at the outside, he would not. With no lights and a cloudy sky above, it would be dark--completely dark.
Desperate at the prospect of being enveloped in total darkness, Seldon realized that he would have to find his way back to the crease that had brought him there as quickly as possible and retrace his steps. Folding his arms tightly around himself for warmth, he set off in what he thought was the direction of the crease between the domes.
There might, of course, be more than one crease leading away from the copse, but he dimly made out some of the sprigs of berries he had seen coming in, which now looked almost black rather than bright red. He could not delay. He had to assume he was right. He moved up the crease as fast as he might, guided by failing sight and by the vegetation underfoot.
But he couldnt stay in the crease forever. He had come over what had seemed to him to be the tallest dome in sight and had found a crease that cut at right angles ac............
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