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Chapter 12: To the Surface
51Trevize turned his head at once to look at Bliss. Herface was expressionless, but taut, and her eyes were fixed on Banderwith an intensity that made her seem oblivious to all else.
Pelorat's eyes were wide, disbelieving.
Trevize, not knowing what Bliss would or could do,struggled to fight down an overwhelming sense of loss (not so muchat the thought of dying, as of dying without knowing where Earth was,without knowing why he had chosen Gaia as humanity's future). He had toplay for time.
He said, striving to keep his voice steady, and his words clear,"You have shown yourself a courteous and gentle Solarian, Bander. Youhave not grown angry at our intrusion into your world. You have beenkind enough to show us over your estate and mansion, and you haveanswered our questions. It would suit your character better to allow usto leave now. No one need ever know we were on this world and we wouldhave no cause to return. We arrived in all innocence, seeking merelyinformation.""What you say is so," said Bander lightly, "and, so far, I havegiven you life. Your lives were forfeit the instant you entered ouratmosphere. What I might have done and should have done onmaking close contact with you, would be to have killed you at once. Ishould then have ordered the appropriate robot to dissect your bodiesfor what information on Outworlders that might yield me.
"I have not done that. I have pampered my own curiosity and given into my own easygoing nature, but it is enough. I can do it no longer. Ihave, in fact, already compromised the safety of Solaria, for if,through some weakness, I were to let myself be persuaded to let you go,others of your kind would surely follow, however much you might promisethat they would not.
"There is, however, at least this. Your death will be painless. I willmerely heat your brains mildly and drive them into inactivation. You willexperience no pain. Life will merely cease. Eventually, when dissectionand study are over, I will convert you to ashes in an intense flash ofheat and all will be over."Trevize said, "If we must die, then I cannot argue against a quickpainless death, but why must we die at all, having given no offense?""Your arrival was an offense.""Not on any rational ground, since we could not know it was anoffense.""Society defines what constitutes an offense. To you, it may seemirrational and arbitrary, but to us it is not, and this is our world onwhich we have the full right to say that in this and that, you have donewrong and deserve to die."Bander smiled as though it were merely making pleasant conversationand went on, "Nor have you any right to complain on the ground of yourown superior virtue. You have a blaster which uses a beam of microwavesto induce intense killing heat. It does what I intend to do, but doesit, I am sure, much more crudely and painfully. You would have nohesitation in using it on me right now, had I not drained its energy,and if I were to be so foolish as to allow you the freedom of movementthat would enable you to remove the weapon from its holster."Trevize said despairingly, afraid even to glance again at Bliss, lestBander's attention be diverted to her, "I ask you, as an act of mercy,not to do this."Bandar said, turning suddenly grim, "I must first be merciful tomyself and to my world, and to do that, you must die."He raised his hand and instantly darkness descended upon Trevize.
52For a moment, Trevize felt the darkness choking himand thought wildly, Is this death?
And as though his thoughts had given rise to an echo, he heard awhispered, "Is this death?" It was Pelorat's voice.
Trevize tried to whisper, and found he could. "Why ask?" he said,with a sense of vast relief. "The mere fact that you can ask shows itis not death.""Mere are old legends that there is life after death.""Nonsense," muttered Trevize. "Bliss? Are you here, Bliss?"There was no answer to that.
Again Pelorat echoed, "Bliss? Bliss? What happened, Golan?"Trevize said, "Bender must be dead. He would, in that case, be unableto supply the power for his estate. The lights would go out.""But how could? You mean Bliss did it?""I suppose so. I hope she did not come to harm in the process." Hewas on his hands and knees crawling about in the total darkness of theunderground (if one did not count the occasional subvisible flashing ofa radioactive atom breaking down in the walls).
Then his hand came on something warm and soft. He felt along itand recognized a leg, which he seized. It was clearly too small to beBander's. "Bliss?"The leg kicked out, forcing Trevize to let go.
He said, "Bliss? Say something!""I am alive," came Bliss's voice, curiously distorted.
Trevize said, "But are you well?""No." And, with that, light returned to theirsurroundings weakly. The walls gleamed faintly, brightening anddimming erratically.
Bander lay crumpled in a shadowy heap. At its side, holding its head,was Bliss.
She looked up at Trevize and Pelorat. "The Solarian is dead," she said,and her cheeks glistened with tears in the weak light.
Trevize was dumbfounded. "Why are you crying?""Should I not cry at having killed a living thing of thought andintelligence? That was not my intention."Trevize leaned down to help her to her feet, but she pushed himaway.
Pelorat knelt in his turn, saying softly, "Please, Bliss, even youcan't bring it back to life. Tell us what happened."She allowed herself to be pulled upward and said dully, "Gaia cando what Bander could do. Gaia can make use of the unevenly distributedenergy of the Universe and translate it into chosen work by mentalpower alone.""I knew that," said Trevize, attempting to be soothing without quiteknowing how to go about it. "I remember well our meeting in space whenyou or Gaia, rather held our spaceship captive. I thoughtof that when Bander held me captive after it had taken my weapons. Itheld you captive, too, but I was confident you could have broken freeif you had wished.""No. I would have failed if I had tried. When your ship was in my/our/Gaia's grip," she said sadly, "I and Gaia were truly one. Now there is ahyperspatial separation that limits my/our/Gaia's efficiency. Besides,Gaia does what it does by the sheer power of massed brains. Even so,all those brains together lack the transducer-lobes this one Solarianhas. We cannot make use of energy as delicately, as efficiently, astirelessly as he could. You see that I cannot make the lights gleammore brightly, and I don't know how long I can make them gleam at allbefore tiring. Bander could supply the power for an entire vast estate,even when it was sleeping.""But you stopped it," said Trevize.
"Because it didn't suspect my powers," said Bliss, "and because Idid nothing that would give it evidence of them. It was thereforewithout suspicion of me and gave me none of its attention. Itconcentrated entirely on you, Trevize, because it was you who borethe weapons again, how well it has served that you armedyourself and I had to wait my chance to stop Bander with onequick and unexpected blow. When it was on the point of killing us,when its whole mind was concentrated on that, and on you, I was ableto strike.""And it worked beautifully.""How can you say something so cruel, Trevize? It was only my intentionto stop it. I merely wished to block its use of its transducer. In themoment of surprise when it tried to blast us and found it could not,but found, instead, that the very illumination about us was fadinginto darkness, I would tighten my grip and send it into a prolongednormal sleep and release the transducer. The power would then remainon, and we could get out of this mansion, into our ship, and leave theplanet. I hoped to so arrange things that, when Bander finally woke,it would have forgotten all that had happened from the instant of itssighting us. Gaia has no desire to kill in order to accomplish what canbe brought about without killing.""What went wrong, Bliss?" said Pelorat softly.
"I had never encountered any such thing as those transducer-lobes andI lacked any time to work with them and learn about them. I merely struckout forcefully with my blocking maneuver and, apparently, it didn't workcorrectly. It was not the entry of energy into the lobes that was blocked,but the exit of that energy. Energy is always pouring into those lobes ata reckless rate but, ordinarily, the brain safeguards itself by pouringout that energy just as quickly. Once I blocked the exit, however, energypiled up within the lobes at once and, in a tiny fraction of a second,the temperature had risen to the point where the brain protein inactivatedexplosively and it was dead. The lights went out and I removed my blockimmediately, but, of course, it was too late.""I don't see that you could have done anything other than that whichyou did, dear," said Pelorat.
"Of what comfort is that, considering that I have killed.""Bander was on the point of killing us," said Trevize.
"That was cause for stopping it, not for killing it."Trevize hesitated. He did not wish to show the impatience he felt forhe was unwilling to offend or further upset Bliss, who was, after all,their only defense against a supremely hostile world.
He said, "Bliss, it is time to look beyond Bander's death. Because itis dead, all power on the estate is blanked out. This will be noticed,sooner or later, probably sooner, by other Solarians. They will be forcedto investigate. I don't think you will be able to hold off the perhapscombined attack of several. And, as you have admitted yourself, you won'tbe able to supply for very long the limited power you are managing tosupply now. It is important, therefore, that we get back to the surface,and to our ship, without delay.""But, Golan," said Pelorat, "how do we do that? We came for manykilometers along a winding path. I imagine it's quite a maze down hereand, for myself, I haven't the faintest idea of where to go to reachthe surface. I've always had a poor sense of direction."Trevize, looking about, realized that Pelorat was correct. He said,"I imagine there are many openings to the surface, and we needn't findthe one we entered.""But we don't know where any of the openings are. How do we findthem?"Trevize turned again to Bliss. "Can you detect anything. mentally,that will help us find our way out?"Bliss said, "The robots on this estate are all inactive. I can detecta thin whisper of subintelligent life straight up, but all that tellsus is that the surface is straight up, which we know.""Well, then," said Trevize, "we'll just have to look for someopening.""Hit-and-miss," said Pelorat, appalled. "We'll never succeed.""We might, Janov," said Trevize. "If we search, there will be a chance,however small. The alternative is simply to stay here, and if we do thatthen we will never succeed. Come, a small chance is better than none.""Wait," said Bliss. "I do sense something.""What?" said Trevize.
"A mind.""Intelligence?""Yes, but limited, I think. What reaches me most clearly, though,is something else.""What?" said Trevize, again fighting impatience.
"Fright! Intolerable fright!" said Bliss, in a whisper.
53Trevize looked about ruefully. He knew where they hadentered but he had no illusion on the score of being able to retrace thepath by which they had come. He had, after all, paid little attentionto the turnings and windings. Who would have thought they'd be in theposition of having to retrace the route alone and without help, and withonly a flickering, dim light to be guided by?
He said, "Do you think you can activate the car, Bliss?"Bliss said, "I'm sure I could, Trevize, but that doesn't mean I canrun it."Pelorat said, "I think that Bander ran it mentally. I didn't see ittouch anything when it was moving."Bliss said gently, "Yes, it did it mentally, Pel, buthow , mentally? You might as well say that it did it byusing the controls. Certainly, but if I don't know the details of usingthe controls, that doesn't help, does it?""You might try," said Trevize.
"If I try, I'll have to put my whole mind to it, and if I do that,then I doubt that I'll be able to keep the lights on. The car will dous no good in the dark even if I learn how to control it.""Then we must wander about on foot, I suppose?""I'm afraid so."Trevize peered at the thick and gloomy darkness that lay beyond the dimlight in their immediate neighborhood. He saw nothing, heard nothing.
He said, "Bliss, do you still sense this frightened mind?""Yes, I do.""Can you tell where it is? Can you guide us to it?""The mental sense is a straight line. It is not refracted sensiblyby ordinary matter, so I can tell it is coming from that direction."She pointed to a spot on the dusky wall, and said, "But we can't walkthrough the wall to it. The best we can do is follow the corridors andtry to find our way in whatever direction will keep the sensation growingstronger. In short, we will have to play the game of hot-and-cold.""Then let's start right now."Pelorat hung back. "Wait, Golan; are we sure we want to find thisthing, whatever it is? If it is frightened, it may be that we will havereason to be frightened, too."Trevize shook his head impatiently. "We have no choice, Janov. It'sa mind, frightened or not, and it may be willing to or may be madeto direct us to the surface.""And do we just leave Bander lying here?" said Pelorat uneasily.
Trevize took his elbow. "Come, Janov. We have no choice in that,either. Eventually some Solarian will reactivate the place, and a robotwill find Bander and take care of it I hope not before we aresafely away."He allowed Bliss to lead the way. The light was always strongestin her immediate neighborhood and she paused at each doorway, at eachfork in the corridor, trying to sense the direction from which thefright came. Sometimes she would walk through a door, or move around acurve, then come back and try an alternate path, while Trevize watchedhelplessly.
Each time Bliss came to a decision and moved firmly in a particulardirection, the light came on ahead of her. Trevize noticed that it seemeda bit brighter now either because his eyes were adapting to thedimness, or because Bliss was learning how to handle the transductionmore efficiently. At one point, when she passed one of the metal rodsthat were inserted into the ground, she put her hand on it and the lightsbrightened noticeably. She nodded her head as though she were pleasedwith herself.
Nothing looked in the least familiar; it seemed certain they werewandering through portions of the rambling underground mansion they hadnot passed through on the way in.
Trevize kept looking for corridors that led upward sharply, and hevaried that by studying the ceilings for any sign of a trapdoor. Nothingof the sort appeared, and the frightened mind remained their only chanceof getting out.
They walked through silence, except for the sound of their own steps;through darkness, except for the light in their immediate vicinity;through death, except for their own lives. Occasionally, they made outthe shadowy bulk of a robot, sitting or standing in the dusk, with nomotion. Once they saw a robot lying on its side, with legs and arms inqueer frozen positions. It had been caught off-balance, Trevize thought,at the moment when power had been turned off, and it had fallen. Bander,either alive or dead, could not affect the force of gravity. Perhapsall over the vast Bander estate, robots were standing and lying inactiveand it would be that that would quickly be noted at the borders.
Or perhaps not, he thought suddenly. Solarians would know when oneof their number would be dying of old age and physical decay. The worldwould be alerted and ready. Bander, however, had died suddenly, withoutpossible foreknowledge, in the prime of its existence. Who would know? Whowould expect? Who would be watching for inactivation?
But no (and Trevize thrust back optimism and consolation as dangerouslures into overconfidence). The Solarians would note the cessation ofall activity on the Bander estate and take action at once. They allhad too great an interest in the succession to estates to leave deathto itself.
Pelorat murmured unhappily, "Ventilation has stopped. A place likethis, underground, must be ventilated, and Bander supplied the power. Nowit has stopped.""It doesn't matter, Janov," said Trevize. "We've got enough air downin this empty underground place to last us for years.""It's close just the same. It's psychologically bad.""Please, Janov, don't get claustrophobic. Bliss, are we anycloser?""Much, Trevize," she replied. "The sensation is stronger and I amclearer as to its location."She was stepping forward more surely, hesitating less at points ofchoice of direction.
"There! There!" she said. "I can sense it intensely."Trevize said dryly, "Even I can hear it now."All three stopped and, automatically, held their breaths. They couldhear a soft moaning, interspersed with gasping sobs.
They walked into a large room and, as the lights went on, they sawthat, unlike all those they had hitherto seen, it was rich and colorfulin furnishings.
In the center of the room was a robot, stooping slightly, its armsstretched out in what seemed an almost affectionate gesture and, ofcourse, it was absolutely motionless.
Behind the robot was a flutter of garments. A round frightened eyeedged to one side of it, and there was still the sound of a brokenheartedsobbing.
Trevize darted around the robot and, from the other side, a smallfigure shot out, shrieking. It stumbled, fell to the ground, andlay there, covering its eyes, kicking its legs in all directions, asthough to ward off some threat from whatever angle it might approach,and shrieking, shrieking Bliss said, quite unnecessarily, "It's a child!"54Trevize drew back, puzzled. What was a child doinghere? Bander had been so proud of its absolute solitude, so insistentupon it.
Pelorat, less apt to fall back on iron reasoning in the face of anobscure event, seized upon the solution at once, and said, "I supposethis is the successor.""Bander's child," said Bliss, agreeing, "but too young, I think,to be a successor. The Solarians will have to find one elsewhere."She was gazing at the child, not in a fixed glare, but in a soft,mesmerizing way, and slowly the noise the child was making lessened. Itopened its eyes and looked at Bliss in return. Its outcry was reducedto an occasional soft whimper.
Bliss made sounds of her own, now, soothing ones, broken words thatmade little sense in themselves but were meant only to reinforce thecalming effect of her thoughts. It was as though she were mentallyfingering the child's unfamiliar mind and seeking to even out itsdisheveled emotions.
Slowly, never taking its eyes off Bliss, the child got to its feet,stood there swaying a moment, then made a dash for the silent, frozenrobot. It threw its arms about the sturdy robotic leg as though avidfor the security of its touch.
Trevize said, "I suppose that the robot is its nursemaid orcaretaker. I suppose a Solarian can't care for another Solarian, noteven a parent for a child."Pelorat said, "And I suppose the child is hermaphroditic.""It would have to be," said Trevize.
Bliss, still entirely preoccupied with the child, was approachingit slowly, hands held half upward, palms toward herself, as thoughemphasizing that there was no intention of seizing the small creature. Thechild was now silent, watching the approach, and holding on the moretightly to the robot.
Bliss said, "There, child warm, child soft, warm,comfortable, safe, child safe safe."She stopped and, without looking round, said in a low voice, "Pel,speak to it in its language. Tell it we're robots come to take care ofit because the power failed.""Robots!" said Pelorat, shocked.
"We must be presented as robots. It's not afraid of robots. And it'snever seen a human being, maybe can't even conceive of them."Pelorat said, "I don't know if I can think of the right expression. Idon't know the archaic word for `robot.'""Say `robot,' then, Pel. If that doesn't work, say `iron thing.' Saywhatever you can."Slowly, word by word, Pelorat spoke archaically. The child looked athim, frowning intensely, as though trying to understand.
Trevize said, "You might as well ask it how to get out, while you'reat it."Bliss said, "No. Not yet. Confidence first, then information."The child, looking now at Pelorat, slowly released its hold on therobot and spoke in a high-pitched musical voice.
Pelorat said anxiously, "It's speaking too quickly for me."Bliss said, "Ask it to repeat more slowly. I'm doing my best to calmit and remove i............
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