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Chapter 14: Dead Planet
60Trevize felt depressed. What few victories he had hadsince the search began had never been definitive; they had merely beenthe temporary staving off of defeat.
Now he had delayed the Jump to the third of the Spacer worlds tillhe had spread his unease to the others. When he finally decided that hesimply must tell the computer to move the ship through hyperspace, Peloratwas standing solemnly in the doorway to the pilot-room, and Bliss wasjust behind him and to one side. Even Fallom was standing there, gazingat Trevize owlishly, while one hand gripped Bliss's hand tightly.
Trevize had looked up from the computer and had said, ratherchurlishly, "Quite the family group!" but that was only his own discomfortspeaking.
He instructed the computer to Jump in such a way as to reenter spaceat a further distance from the star in question than was absolutelynecessary. He told himself that that was because he was learningcaution as a result of events on the first two Spacer worlds, but hedidn't believe that. Well underneath, he knew, he was hoping that hewould arrive in space at a great enough distance from the star to beuncertain as to whether it did or did not have a habitable planet. Thatwould give him a few more days of in-space travel before he could findout, and (perhaps) have to stare bitter defeat in the face.
So now, with the "family group" watching, he drew a deep breath,held it, then expelled it in a between-the-lips whistle as he gave thecomputer its final instruction.
The star-pattern shifted in a silent discontinuity and the viewscreenbecame barer, for he had been taken into a region in which the starswere somewhat sparser. And there, nearly in the center, was a brightlygleaming star.
Trevize grinned broadly, for this was a victory of sorts. After all,the third set of co-ordinates might have been wrong and there might havebeen no appropriate G-type star in sight. He glanced toward the otherthree, and said, "That's it. Star number three.""Are you sure?" asked Bliss softly.
"Watch!" said Trevize. "I will switch to the equi-centered view inthe computer's Galactic map, and if that bright star disappears, it'snot recorded on the map, and it's the one we want."The computer responded to his command, and the star blinked outwithout any prior dimming. It was as though it had never been, but therest of the starfield remained as it was, in sublime indifference.
"We've got it," said Trevize.
And yet he sent the Far Star forward at little more than halfthe speed he might easily have maintained. There was still the questionof the presence or absence of a habitable planet, and he was in no hurryto find out. Even after three days of approach, there was still nothingto be said about that, either way.
Or, perhaps, not quite nothing. Circling the star was a large gasgiant. It was very far from its star and it gleamed a very pale yellowon its daylight side, which they could see, from their position, as athick crescent.
Trevize did not like its looks, but he tried not to show it and spokeas matter-of-factly as a guidebook. "There's a big gas giant out there,"he said. "It's rather spectacular. It has a thin pair of rings and twosizable satellites that can be made out at the moment."Bliss said, "Most systems include gas giants, don't they?""Yes, but this is a rather large one. Judging from the distance ofits satellites, and their periods of revolution, that gas giant is almosttwo thousand times as massive as a habitable planet would be.""What's the difference?" said Bliss. "Gas giants are gas giants andit doesn't matter what size they are, does it? They're always present atgreat distances from the star they circle, and none of them are habitable,thanks to their size and distance. We just have to look closer to thestar for a habitable planet."Trevize hesitated, then decided to place the facts on the table. "Thething is," he said, "that gas giants tend to sweep a volume of planetaryspace clean. What material they don't absorb into their own structureswill coalesce into fairly large bodies that come to make up theirsatellite system. They prevent other coalescences at even a considerabledistance from themselves, so that the larger the gas giant, the morelikely it is to be the only sizable planet of a particular star. There'lljust be the gas giant and asteroids.""You mean there is no habitable planet here?""The larger the gas giant, the smaller the chance of a habitableplanet and that gas giant is so massive it is virtually a dwarf star."Pelorat said, "May we see it?"All three now stared at the screen (Fallom was in Bliss's room withthe books).
The view was magnified till the crescent filled the screen. Crossingthat crescent a distance above center was a thin dark line, the shadowof the ring system which could itself be seen a small distance beyondthe planetary surface as a gleaming curve that stretched into the darkside a short distance before it entered the shadow itself.
Trevize said, "The planet's axis of rotation is inclined aboutthirty-five degrees to its plane of revolution, and its ring is in theplanetary equatorial plane, of course, so that the star's light comesin from below, at this point in its orbit, and casts the ring's shadowwell above the equator."Pelorat watched raptly. "Those are thin rings.""Rather above average size, actually," said Trevize.
"According to legend, the rings that circle a gas giant in Earth'splanetary system are much wider, brighter, and more elaborate than thisone. The rings actually dwarf the gas giant by comparison.""I'm not surprised," said Trevize. "When a story is handed on fromperson to person for thousands of years, do you suppose it shrinks inthe telling?"Bliss said, "It's beautiful. If you watch the crescent, it seems towrithe and wriggle before your eyes.""Atmospheric storms," said Trevize. "You can generally see that moreclearly if you choose an appropriate wavelength of light. Here, let metry." He placed his hands on the desk and ordered the computer to workits way through the spectrum and stop at the appropriate wavelength.
The mildly lit crescent went into a wilderness of color that shiftedso rapidly it almost dazed the eyes that tried to follow. Finally,it settled into a red-orange, and, within the crescent, clear spiralsdrifted, coiling and uncoiling as they moved.
"Unbelievable," muttered Pelorat.
"Delightful," said Bliss.
Quite believable, thought Trevize bitterly, and anything butdelightful. Neither Pelorat nor Bliss, lost in the beauty, bothered tothink that the planet they admired lowered the chances of solving themystery Trevize was trying to unravel. But, then, why should they? Bothwere satisfied that Trevize's decision had been correct, and theyaccompanied him in his search for certainty without an emotional bondto it. It was useless to blame them for that.
He said, "The dark side seems dark, but if our eyes were sensitive tothe range just a little beyond the usual long-wave limit, we would seeit as a dull, deep, angry red. The planet is pouring infrared radiationout into space in great quantities because it is massive enough to bealmost red-hot. It's more than a gas giant; it's a sub-star."He waited a little longer and then said, "And now let's put that objectout of our mind and look for the habitable planet that may exist.""Perhaps it does," said Pelorat, smiling. "Don't give up, oldfellow.""I haven't given up," said Trevize, without true conviction. "Theformation of planets is too complicated a matter for rules to be hardand fast. We speak only of probabilities. With that monster out in space,the probabilities decrease, but not to zero."Bliss said, "Why don't you think of it this way? Since the first twosets of co-ordinates each gave you a habitable planet of the Spacers, thenthis third set, which has already given you an appropriate star, shouldgive you a habitable planet as well. Why speak of probabilities?""I certainly hope you're right," said Trevize, who did not feel atall consoled. "Now we will shoot out of the planetary plane and in towardthe star."The computer took care of that almost as soon as he had spoken hisintention. He sat back in his pilot's chair and decided, once again,that the one evil of piloting a gravitic ship with a computer so advancedwas that one could never never  pilot any othertype of ship again.
Could he ever again bear to do the calculations himself? Could he bearto have to take acceleration into account, and limit it to a reasonablelevel? In all likelihood, he would forget and pour on the energytill he and everyone on board were smashed against one interior wallor another.
Well, then, he would continue to pilot this one ship oranother exactly like it, if he could even bear to make so much of achange always.
And because he wanted to keep his mind off the question of thehabitable planet, yes or no, he mused on the fact that he had directedthe ship to move above the plane, rather than below. Barring anydefinite reason to go below a plane, pilots almost always chose to goabove. Why?
For that matter, why be so intent on considering one directionabove and the other below? In the symmetry of space that was pureconvention.
Just the same, he was always aware of the direction in which anyplanet under observation rotated about its axis and revolved about itsstar. When both were counterclockwise, then the direction of one's raisedarm was north, and the direction of one's feet was south. And throughoutthe Galaxy, north was pictured as above and south as below.
It was pure convention, dating back into the primeval mists, and itwas followed slavishly. If one looked at a familiar map with south above,one didn't recognize it. It had to be turned about to make sense. Andall things being equal, one turned north and "above."Trevize thought of a battle fought by Bel Riose, the Imperialgeneral of three centuries before, who had veered his squadron below theplanetary plane at a crucial moment, and caught a squadron of vessels,waiting and unprepared. There were complaints that it had been an unfairmaneuver by the losers, of course.
A convention, so powerful and so primordially old, must have startedon Earth and that brought Trevize's mind, with a jerk, back tothe question of the habitable planet.
Pelorat and Bliss continued to watch the gas giant as it slowlyturned on the viewscreen in a slow, slow back-somersault. The sunlitportion spread and, as Trevize kept its spectrum fixed in the orange-redwavelengths, the storm-writhing of its surface became ever madder andmore hypnotic.
Then Fallom came wandering in and Bliss decided it must take a napand that so must she.
Trevize said to Pelorat, who remained, "I have to let go of the gasgiant, Janov. I want to have the computer concentrate on the search fora gravitational blip of the right size.""Of course, old fellow," said Pelorat.
But it was more complicated than that. It was not just a blip of theright size that the computer had to search for, it was one of the rightsize and at the right distance. It would still be several days beforehe could be sure.
61Trevize walked into his room, grave, solemn indeedsomber and started perceptibly.
Bliss was waiting for him and immediately next to her was Fallom,with its loincloth and robe bearing the unmistakable fresh odor ofsteaming and vacupressing. The youngster looked better in that than inone of Bliss's foreshortened nightgowns.
Bliss said, "I didn't want to disturb you at the computer, but nowlisten. Go on, Fallom."Fallom said, in its high-pitched musical voice, "I greetyou, Protector Trevize. It is with great pleasure that I amap ad accompanying you on this ship through space. I am happy,too, for the kindness of my friends, Bliss and Pel."Fallom finished and smiled prettily, and once again Trevize thoughtto himself: Do I think of it as a boy or as a girl or as both or asneither?
He nodded his head. "Very well memorized. Almost perfectlypronounced.""Not at all memorized," said Bliss warmly. "Fallom composed thisitself and asked if it would be possible to recite it to you. I didn'teven know what Fallom would say till I heard it said."Trevize forced a smile, "In that case, very good indeed." He noticedBliss avoided pronouns when she could.
Bliss turned to Fallom and said, "I told you Trevize would likeit. Now go to Pel and you can have some more reading if youwish."Fallom ran off, and Bliss said, "It's really astonishing how quicklyFallom is picking up Galactic. The Solarians must have a special aptitudefor languages. Think how Bander spoke Galactic merely from hearing iton hyperspatial communications. Those brains may be remarkable in waysother than energy transduction."Trevize grunted.
Bliss said, "Don't tell me you still don't like Fallom.""I neither like nor dislike. The creature simply makes me uneasy. Forone thing, it's a grisly feeling to be dealing with a hermaphrodite."Bliss said, "Come, Trevize, that's ridiculous. Fallom is a perfectlyacceptable living creature. To a society of hermaphrodites, think howdisgusting you and I must seem males and females generally. Eachis half of a whole and, in order to reproduce, there must be a temporaryand clumsy union.""Do you object to that, Bliss?""Don't pretend to misunderstand. I am trying to view us from thehermaphroditic standpoint. To them, it must seem repellent in the extreme;to us, it seems natural. So Fallom seems repellent to you, but that'sjust a shortsighted parochial reaction.""Frankly," said Trevize, "it's annoying not to know the pronoun touse in connection with the creature. It impedes thought and conversationto hesitate forever at the pronoun.""But that's the fault of our language," said Bliss, "and notof Fallom. No human language has been devised with hermaphroditismin mind. And I'm glad you brought it up, because I've been thinkingabout it myself. Saying `it,' as Bander itself insisted on doing,is no solution. That is a pronoun intended for objects to which sex isirrelevant, and there is no pronoun at all for objects that are sexuallyactive in both senses. Why not just pick one of the pronouns arbitrarily,then? I think of Fallom as a girl. She has the high voice of one, forone thing, and she has the capacity of producing young, which is thevital definition of femininity. Pelorat has agreed; why don't you do so,too? Let it be `she' and `her.'"Trevize shrugged. "Very well. It will sound peculiar to point outthat she has testicles, but very well."Bliss sighed. "You do have this annoying habit of trying to turneverything into a joke, but I know you are under tension and I'll makeallowance for that. Just use the feminine pronoun for Fallom, please.""I will." Trevize hesitated, then, unable to resist, said, "Fallomseems more your surrogate-child every time I see you together. Is itthat you want a child and don't think Janov can give you one?"Bliss's eyes opened wide. "He's not there for children! Do you thinkI use him as a handy device to help me have a child? It is not time forme to have a child, in any case. And when it is time, it will have tobe a Gaian child, something for which Pel doesn't qualify.""You mean Janov will have to be discarded?""Not at all. A temporary diversion, only. It might even be broughtabout by artificial insemination.""I presume you can only have a child when Gaia's decision is thatone is necessary; when there is a gap produced by the death of analready-existing Gaian human fragment.""That is an unfeeling way of putting it, but it is true enough. Gaiamust be well proportioned in all its parts and relationships.""As in the case of the Solarians."Bliss's lips pressed together and her face grew a little white. "Notat all. The Solarians produce more than they need and destroy theexcess. We produce just what we need and there is never a necessity ofdestroying as you replace the dying outer layers of your skin byjust enough new growth for renewal and by not one cell more.""I see what you mean," said Trevize. "I hope, by the way, that youare considering Janov's feelings.""In connection with a possible child for me? That has never come upfor discussion; nor will it.""No, I don't mean that. It strikes me you are becoming moreand more interested in Fallom. Janov may feel neglected.""He's not neglected, and he is as interested in Fallom as I am. Sheis another point of mutual involvement that draws us even closertogether. Can it be that you are the one who feelsneglected?"" I ?" He was genuinely surprised.
"Yes, you. I don't understand Isolates any more than you understandGaia, but I have a feeling that you enjoy being the central point ofattention on this ship, and you may feel cut out by Fallom.""That's foolish.""No more foolish than your suggestion that I am neglecting Pel.""Then let's declare a truce and stop. I'll try to view Fallom as agirl, and I shall not worry excessively about you being inconsiderateof Janov's feelings."Bliss smiled. "Thank you. All is well, then."Trevize turned away, and Bliss then said, "Wait!"Trevize turned back and said, just a bit wearily, "Yes?""It's quite clear to me, Trevize, that you're sad and depressed. I amnot going to probe your mind, but you might be willing to tell me what'swrong. Yesterday, you said there was an appropriate planet in this systemand you seemed quite pleased. It's still there, I hope. The findinghasn't turned out to be mistaken, has it?""There's an appropriate planet in the system, and it's still there,"said Trevize.
"Is it the right size?"Trevize nodded. "Since it's appropriate, it's of the right size. Andit's at the right distance from the star as well.""Well, then, what's wrong?""We're close enough now to analyze the atmosphere. It turns out thatit has none to speak of.""No atmosphere?""None to speak of. It's a nonhabitable planet, and there is no othercircling the sun that has even the remotest capacity for habitability. Wehave come up with zero on this third attempt."62Pelorat, looking grave, was clearly unwilling to intrudeon Trevize's unhappy silence. He watched from the door of the pilot-room,apparently hoping that Trevize would initiate a conversation.
Trevize did not. If ever a silence seemed stubborn, his did.
And finally, Pelorat could stand it no longer, and said, in a rathertimid way, "What are we doing?"Trevize looked up, stared at Pelorat for a moment, turned away,and then said, "We're zeroing in on the planet.""But since there's no atmosphere ""The computer says there's no atmosphere. Till now,it's always told me what I've wanted to hear and I've accepted it. Nowit has told me something I don't want to hear, and I'mgoing to check it. If the computer is ever going to be wrong, this isthe time I want it to be wrong.""Do you think it's wrong?""No; I don't.""Can you think of any reason that might make it wrong?""No, I can't.&............
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