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Chapter 43

Seldon passed a restless night. To begin with, Dors had announced that she must accompany him on the tour of the microfarm and he had objected strenuously. "The whole purpose," he said, "is to make her talk freely, to present her with an unusual environment--alone with a male, even if a tribesman. Having broken custom so far, it will be easier to break it further. If youre along, she will talk to you and I will only get the leavings."
"And if something happens to you in my absence, as it did Upperside?"
"Nothing will happen. Please! If you want to help me, stay away. If not, I will have nothing further to do with you. I mean it, Dors. This iiiimportant to me. Much as Ive grown fond of you, you cannot come ahead of this."
She agreed with enormous reluctance and said only, "Promise me youll at least be nice to her, then."
And Seldon said, "Is it me you must protect or her? I assure you that I didnt treat her harshly for pleasure and I wont do so in the future."
The memory of this argument with Dors--their first--helped keep him awake a large part of the night; that, together with the nagging thought that the two Sisters might not arrive in the morning, despite Raindrop Forty-Threes promise. They did arrive, however, not long after Seldon had completed a spare breakfast (he was determined not to grow fat through overindulgence) and had put on a kirtle that fitted him precisely. He had carefully organized the belt so that it hung perfectly.
Raindrop Forty-Three, still with a touch of ice in her eye, said, "if you are ready, Tribesman Seldon, my sister will remain with Tribeswoman Venabili." Her voice was neither twittery nor hoarse. It was as though she had steadied herself through the night, practicing, in her mind, how to speak to one who was a male but not a Brother.
Seldon wondered if she had lost sleep and said, "I am quite ready."
Together, half an hour later, Raindrop Forty-Three and Hari Seldon were descending level upon level. Though it was daytime by the clock, the light was dusky and dimmer than it had been elsewhere on Trantor. There was no obvious reason for this. Surely, the artificial daylight that slowly progressed around the Trantorian sphere could include the Mycogen Sector. The Mycogenians must want it that way, Seldon thought, clinging to some primitive habit. Slowly Seldons eyes adjusted to the dim surroundings. Seldon tried to meet the eyes of passersby, whether Brothers or Sisters, calmly. He assumed he and Raindrop Forty-Three would be taken as a Brother and his woman and that they would be given no notice as long as he did nothing to attract attention.
Unfortunately, it seemed as if Raindrop Forty-Three wanted to be noticed. She talked to him in few words and in low tones out of a clenched mouth. It was clear that the company of an unauthorized male, even though only she knew this fact, raved her self-confidence. Seldon was quite sure that if he asked her to relax, he would merely make her that much more uneasy. (Seldon wondered what she would do if she met someone who knew her. He felt more relaxed once they reached the lower levels, where human beings were fewer.)
The descent was not by elevators either, but by moving staired ramps that existed in pairs, one going up and one going down. Raindrop Forty-Three referred to them as "escalators." Seldon wasnt sure he had caught the word correctly, never having heard it before.
As they sank to lower and lower levels, Seldons apprehension grew. Most worlds possessed microfarms and most worlds produced their own varieties of microproducts. Seldon, back on Helicon, had occasionally shopped for seasonings in the microfarms and was always aware of an unpleasant stomach-turning stench. The people who worked at the microfarms didnt seem to mind. Even when casual visitors wrinkled their noses, they seemed to acclimate themselves to it. Seldon, however, was always peculiarly susceptible to the smell. He suffered and he expected to suffer now. He tried soothing himself with the thought that he was nobly sacrificing his comfort to his need for information, but that didnt keep his stomach from turning itself into knots in apprehension.
After he had lost track of the number of levels they had descended, with the air still seeming reasonably fresh, he asked, "When do we get to the microfarm levels?"
"Were there now."
Seldon breathed deeply. "It doesnt smell as though we are."
"Smell? What do you mean?" Raindrop Forty-Three was offended enough to speak quite loudly.
"There was always a putrid odor associated with microfarms, in my experience. You know, from the fertilizer that bacteria, yeast, fungi, and saprophytes generally need."
"In your experience?" Her voice lowered again. "Where was that?"
"On my home world."
The Sister twisted her face into wild repugnance. "And your people wallow in gabelle?"
Seldon had never heard the word before, but from the look and the intonation, he knew what it meant.
He said, "It doesnt smell like that, you understand, once it is ready for consumption."
"Ours doesnt smell like that aaaany time. Our biotechnicians have worked out perfect strains. The algae grow in the purest light and the most carefully balanced electrolyte solutions. The saprophytes are fed on beautifully combined organics. The formulas and recipes are something no tribespeople will ever know. Come on, here we are. Sniff all you want. Youll find nothing offensive. That is one reason why our food is in demand throughout the Galaxy and why the Emperor, we are told, eats nothing else, though it is far too good for a tribesman if you ask me, even if he calls himself Emperor." She said it with an anger that seemed directly aimed at Seldon. Then, as though afraid he might miss that, she added, "Or even if he calls himself an honored guest."
They stepped out into a narrow corridor, on each side of which were large thick glass tanks in which roiled cloudy green water full of swirling, growing algae, moving about through the force of the gas bubbles that streamed up through it. They would be rich in carbon dioxide, he decided. Rich, rosy light shone down into the tanks, light that was much brighter than that in the corridors. He commented thoughtfully on that.
"Of course," she said. "These algae work best at the red end of the spectrum."
"I presume," said Seldon, "that everything is automated."
She shrugged, but did not respond.
"I dont see quantities of Brothers and Sisters in evidence," Seldon said, persisting.
"Nevertheless, there is work to be done and they do it, even if you dont see them at work. The details are not for you. Dont waste your time by asking............
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