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Chapter 15: Moss
66Trevize looked grotesque in his space suit. The onlypart of him that remained outsideeeere his holsters not the onesthat he strapped around his hips ordinarily, but more substantial onesthat eere part of his suit. Carefully, he inserted the blaster in theright-hand holster, the neuronic whip in the left. Again, they had beenrecharged and this time, he thought grimly, nothing wouldtake them away from him.
Bliss smiled. "Are you going to carry weapons even on a world withoutair or Never mind! I won't question your decisions."Trevize said, "Good!" and turned to help Pelorat adjust his helmet,before donning his own.
Pelorat, who had never worn a space suit before, said, ratherplaintively, "Will I really be able to breathe in this thing, Golan?""I promise you," said Trevize.
Bliss watched as the final joints were sealed, her arm about Fallom'sshoulder. The young Solarian stared at the two space-suited figures inobvious alarm. She was trembling, and Bliss's arm squeezed her gentlyand reassuringly.
The airlock door opened, and the two stepped inside, their bloatedarms waving a farewell. It closed. The mainlock door opened and theystepped clumsily onto the soil of a dead world.
It was dawn. The sky was clear, of course, and purplish in color,but the sun had not yet risen. Along the lighter horizon where the sunwould come, there was a slight haze.
Pelorat said, "It's cold.""Do you feel cold?" said Trevize, with surprise. The suits were wellinsulated and if there was a problem, now and then, it was with thegetting rid of body heat.
Pebrat said, "Not at all, but look " His radioed voice soundedTrevize's ear, and his finger pointed.
In the purplish light of dawn, the crumbling stone front of thebuilding they were approaching was sheathed in hoar frost.
Trevize said, "With a thin atmosphere, it would get colder at nightthan you would expect, and warmer in the day. Right now it's the coldestpart of the day and it should take several hours before it gets too hotfor us to remain in the sun."As though the word had been a cabalistic incantation, the rim of thesun appeared above the horizon.
"Don't look at it," said Trevize conversationally. "Your face-plate isreflective and ultraviolet-opaque, but it would still be dangerous."He turned his back to the rising sun and let his long shadow fall onthe building. The sunlight was causing the frost to disappear, even ashe watched. For a few moments, the wall looked dark with dampness andthen that disappeared, too.
Trevize said, "The buildings don't look as good down here as theylooked from the sky. They're cracked and crumbling. That's the resultof the temperature change, I suppose, and of having the water tracesfreeze and melt each night and day for maybe as much as twenty thousandyears."Pelorat said, "There are letters engraved in the stone above theentrance, but crumbling has made them difficult to read.""Can you make it out, Janov?""A financial institution of some sort. At least I make out a wordwhich may be `bank.'""What's that?""A building in which assets were stored, withdrawn, traded, invested,loaned if it's what I think it is.""A whole building devoted to it? No computers?""Without computers taking over altogether."Trevize shrugged. He did not find the details of ancient historyinspiring.
They moved about, with increasing haste, spending less time atsac build ing. The silence, the deadness , was completelydepressing. The slow millennial-long collapse into which they had intrudedmade the place seem like the skeleton of a city, with everything gonebut the bones.
They were well up in the temperate zone, but Trevize imagined hecould feel the heat of the sun on his back.
Pelorat, about a hundred meters to his right, said sharply, "Lookat that."Trevize's ears rang. He said, "Don't shout, Janov. I can hear yourwhispers clearly no matter how far away you are. What is it?"Pelorat, his voice moderating at once, said, "This building is the`Hall of the Worlds.' At least, that's what I think the inscriptionreads."Trevize joined him. Before them was a three-story structure, the lineof its roof irregular and loaded with large fragments of rock, as thoughsome sculptured object that had once stood there had fallen to pieces.
"Are you sure?" said Trevize.
"If we go in, we'll find out."They climbed five low, broad steps, and crossed a space-wastingplaza. In the thin sir, their metal-shod footsteps made a whisperingvibration rather than a sound.
"I see what you mean by `large, useless, and expensive,'" mutteredTrevize.
They entered a wide and high hall, with sunlight shining through tallwindows and illuminating the interior too harshly where it struck andyet leaving things obscure in the shadow. The thin atmosphere scatteredlittle light.
In the center was a larger than life-size human figure in what seemedto be a synthetic stone. One arm had fallen off. The other arm was crackedat the shoulder and Trevize felt that if he tapped it sharply that arm,too, would break off. He stepped back as though getting too near mighttempt him into such unbearable vandalism.
"I wonder who that is?" said Trevize. "No markings anywhere. Isuppose those who set it up felt that his fame was so obvious he neededno identification, but now " He felt himself in danger of growingphilosophical and turned his attention away.
Pelorat was looking up, and Trevize's glance followed the angle ofPelorat's head. There were markings carvings on the wallwhich Trevize could not read.
"Amazing," said Pelorat. "Twenty thousand years old, perhaps, and,in here, protected somewhat from sun and damp, they're still legible.""Not to me," said Trevize.
"It's in old script and ornate even for that. Let's seenow seven one two " His voice died away in amumble, and then he spoke up again. "There are fifty names listed andthere are supposed to have been fifty Spacer worlds and this is `The Hallof the Worlds.' I assume those are the names of the fifty Spacer worlds,probably in the order of establishment. Aurora is first and Solaria islast. If you'll notice, there are seven columns, with seven names inthe first six columns and then eight names in the last. It is as thoughthey had planned a seven-by-seven grid and then added Solaria after thefact. My guess, old chap, is that      list dates back to before Solariawas terraformed and populated.""And which one is this planet we're standing on? Can you tell?"Pelorat said, "You'll notice that   e fifth one down in the thirdcolumn, the nineteenth in order, is inscribed in letters a little largerthan the others. The listers seem to have been self-centered enough togive themselves some pride of place. Besides ""What does the name read?""As near as I can make out, it says Melpomenia. It's a name I'mtotally unfamiliar with.""Could it represent Earth?"Pelorat shook his head vigorously, but      went unseen inside hishelmet. He said, "There are dozens of words used for Earth in the oldlegends. Gaia is one of them, as you know. So is Terra, and Erda, andso on. They're all short. I don't know of any long name used for it,or anything even resembling a short version of Melpomenia.""Then we're standing on Melpomenia, and it's not Earth.""Yes. And besides as I started to say earlier an evenbetter indication than the larger lettering is that   e co-ordinates ofMelpomenia are given as 0,       and you would expect co-ordinates tobe referred to one's own planet.""Co-ordinates?" Trevize sounded dumbfounded. "Th   list gives thecoordinates, too?""They give three figures for each and I presume those areco-ordinates. What else can they be?"Trevize did not answer. He opened a small compartment in the portionof the space suit that covered his right thigh and took out a compactdevice with wire connecting it  o   e compartment. He put it up tohis eyes and carefully focused it on the inscription on the wall, hissheathed fingers making a difficult job out of something      wouldordinarily have been a moment's work.
"Camera?" asked Pelorat unnecessarily.
"It will feed the image directly in o   e ship's computer," saidTrevize.
He took several photographs from different angles; then said,"Wait! I've got to get higher. Help me, Janov."Pelorat clasped his hands together, stirrup-fashion, but Trevize shookhis head. "Th   won't support my weight. Get on your hands and knees."Pelorat did so, laboriously, and, as laboriously, Trevize, havingtucked   e camera in o its compartment again, stepped on Pelorat'sshoulders and from them on to   e pedestal of the statue. He tried torock the statue carefully to judge its firmness, then placed his footon one bent knee and used it as a base for pushing himself upward andcatching   e armless shoulder. Wedging his toes against some unevennessat   e chest, he lifted himself and, finally, after several grunts,managed to sit on the shoulder. To   ose long-dead who had reveredthe statue and what it represented, what Trevize did would have seemedblasphemy, and Trevize was sufficiently influenced by that   ought totry to sit lightly.
"You'll fall and hurt yourself," Pelorat called out anxiously.
"I'm not going  o fall and hurt myself, but you mightdeafen me." Trevize unslung his camera and focused once more. Severalmore photographs were taken and then he replaced   e camera yet again andcarefully lowered himself till his feet touched the pedestal. He jumped tothe ground and the vibration of his contact was apparently the final push,for the still in act arm crumbled, and produced a small heap of rubbleat   e foot of the statue. It made virtually no noise as it fell.
Trevize froze, his first impulse being      of finding a place  o hidebefore the watchman came and caught him. Amazing, he   ought afterward,how quickly one relives   e days of one's childhood in a situationlike th   when you've accidentally broken something      looksimportant. It lasted only a moment, but it cut deeply.
Pelorat's voice was hollow, as befitted one who had witnessed andeven abetted an act of vandalism, but he managed to find words ofcomfort. "It's it's all right, Golan. It was about to come downby itself, anyway."He walked over to the pieces on the pedestal and floor as though hewere going to demonstrate the point, reached out for one of the largerfragments, and then said, "Golan, come here."Trevize approached and Pelorat, pointing at a piece of stone that hadclearly been the portion of the arm that had been joined to the shoulder,said, "What is this?"Trevize stared. There was a patch of fuzz, bright green incolor. Trevize rubbed it gently with his suited finger. It scraped offwithout trouble.
"It looks a lot like moss," he said.
"The life-without-mind that you mentioned?""I'm not completely sure how far without mind. Bliss, I imagine,would insist that this had consciousness, too but she would claimthis stone also had it."Pelorat said, "Do you suppose that moss stuff is what's crumblingthe rock?"Trevize said, "I wouldn't be surprised if it helped. The world hasplenty of sunlight and it has some water. Half what atmosphere it has iswater vapor. The rest is nitrogen and inert gases. Just a trace of carbondioxide, which would lead one to suppose there's no plant life butit could be that the carbon dioxide is low because it is virtually allincorporated into the rocky crust. Now if this rock has some carbonate init, perhaps this moss breaks it down by secreting acid, and then makesuse of the carbon dioxide generated. This may be the dominant remainingform of life on this planet.""Fascinating," said Pelorat.
"Undoubtedly," said Trevize, "but only in a limited way. Theco-ordinates of the Spacer worlds are rather more interesting but whatwe really want are the co-ordinates of Earth . If they'renot here, they may be elsewhere in the building or in anotherbuilding. Come, Janov.""But you know " began Pelorat.
"No, no," said Trevize impatiently. "We'll talk later. We've gotto see what else, if anything, this building can give us. It's gettingwarmer." He looked the small temperature reading on the back of his leftglove. "Come, Janov."They tramped through the rooms, walking as gently as possible, notbecause they were making sounds in the ordinary sense, or because therewas anyone to hear them, but because they were a little shy of doingfurther damage through vibration.
They kicked up some dust, which moved a short way upward and settledquickly through the thin air, and they left footmarks behind them.
Occasionally, in some dim corner, one or the other would silentlypoint out more samples of moss that were growing. There seemed a littlecomfort in the presence of life, however low in the scale, somethingthat lifted the deadly, suffocating feel of walking through a dead world,especially one in which artifacts all about showed that once, long ago,it had been an elaborately living one.
And then, Pelorat said, "I think this must be a library."Trevize looked about curiously. There were shelves and, as helooked more narrowly, what the corner of his eye had dismissed as mereornamentation, seemed as though they might well be book-films. Gingerly,he reached for one. They were thick and clumsy and then he realizedthey were only cases. He fumbled with his thick fingers to open one, andinside he saw several discs. They were thick, too, and seemed brittle,though he did not test that.
He said, "Unbelievably primitive.""Thousands of years old," said Pelorat apologetically, as thoughdefending the old Melpomenians against the accusation of retardedtechnology.
Trevize pointed to the spine of the film where there were dimcurlicues of the ornate lettering that the ancients had used. "Is thatthe title? What does it say?"Pelorat studied it. "I'm not really sure, old man. I think one ofthe words refers to microscopic life. It's a word for `microorganism,'
perhaps. I suspect these are technical microbiological terms which Iwouldn't understand even in Standard Galactic." `"Probably," said Trevize morosely. "And, equally probably, itwouldn't do us any good even if we could read it. We're not interestedin germs. Do me a favor, Janov. Glance through some of these booksand see if there's anything there with an interesting title. While you'redoing that, I'll look over these book-viewers.""Is that what they are?" said Pelorat, wondering. They were squat,cubical structures, topped by a slanted screen and a curved extensionat the top that might serve as an elbow rest or a place on which to putan electro-notepad if they had had such on Melpomenia.
Trevize said, "If this is a library, they must have book-viewers ofone kind or another, and this seems as though it might suit."He brushed the dust off the screen very gingerly and was relievedthat the screen, whatever it might be made of, did not crumble at histouch. He manipulated the controls lightly, one after another. Nothinghappened. He tried another book-viewer, then another, with the samenegative results.
He wasn't surprised. Even if the device were to remain in workingorder for twenty millennia in a thin atmosphere and was resistant towater vapor, there was still the question of the power source. Storedenergy had a way of leaking, no matter what was done to stop it. Thatwas another aspect of the all embracing, irresistible second law ofthermodynamics.
Pelorat was behind him. "Golan?""Yes.""I have a book-film here ""What kind?""I think it's a history of space flight.""Perfect but it won't do us any good if I can't make this viewerwork."His hands clenched in frustration.
"We could take the film back to the ship.""I wouldn't know how to adapt it to our viewer. It wouldn't fit andour scanning system is sure to be incompatible.""But is all that really necessary, Golan? If we ""It is really necessary, Janov. Now don't interrupt me. I'm tryingto decide what to do. I can try adding power to the viewer. Perhaps thatis all it needs.""Where would you get the power?""Well " Trevize drew his weapons, looked at them briefly, thensettled his blaster back into its holster. He cracked open his neuronicwhip, and studied the energy-supply level. It was at maximum.
Trevize threw himself prone upon the floor and reached behind theviewer (he kept assuming that was what it was) and tried to push itforward. It moved a small way and he studied what he found in theprocess.
One of those cables had to carry the power supply and surely itwas the one that came out of the wall. There was no obvious plug orjoining. (How does one deal with an alien and ancient culture where thesimplest taken-for granted matters are made unrecognizable?)He pulled gently at the cable, then harder. He turned it one way,then the other. He pressed the wall in the vicinity of the cable, andthe cable in the vicinity of the wall. He turned his attention, as besthe could, to the half-hidden back of the viewer and nothing he could dothere worked, either.
He pressed one hand against the floor to raise himself and, as hestood up, the cable came with him. What he had done that had loosened it,he hadn't the slightest idea.
It didn't look broken or torn away. The end seemed quite smooth andit had left a smooth spot in the wall where it had been attached.
Pelorat said softly, "Golan, may I "Trevize waved a peremptory arm at the other. "Not now, Janov. Please!"He was suddenly aware of the green material caking the creases on hisleft glove. He must have picked up some of the moss behind the viewerand crushed it. His glove had a faint dampness to it, but it dried ashe watched, and the greenish stain grew brown.
He turned his attention toward the cable, staring at the detached endcarefully. Surely there were two small holes there. Wires could enter.
He sat on the floor again and opened the power unit of his neuronicwhip. Carefully, he depolarized one of the wires and clicked it loose. Hethen, slowly and delicately, inserted it into the hole, pushing it inuntil it stopped. When he tried gently to withdraw it again, it remainedput, as though it had been seized. He suppressed his first impulse toyank it out again by force. He depolarized the other wire and pushedit into the other opening. It was conceivable that      would close thecircuit and supply the viewer with power.
"Janov," he said, "you've played about with book-films of allkinds. See if you can work out a way of inserting that book into theviewer.""Is it really nece ""Please, Janov, you keep trying to ask unnecessary questions. We onlyhave so much time. I don't want  o have to wait far into the night forthe building to cool off to the point where we can return.""It must go in this way," said Janov, "but ""Good," said Trevize. "If it's a history of space flight, then itwill have to begin with Earth, since it was on Earth that space flightwas invented. Let's see if this thing works now."Pelorat, a little fussily, placed the book-film into the obviousreceptacle and then began studying the markings on the various controlsfor any hint as to direction.
Trevize spoke in a low voice, while waiting, partly to ease his owntension. "I suppose there must be robots on this world, too here andthere in reasonable order to all appearances glistening in thenear-vacuum. The trouble is their power supply would long since have beendrained, too, and, even if repowered, what about their brains? Levers andgears might withstand the millennia, but what about whatever microswitchesor subatomic gizmos they had in their brains? They would have to havedeteriorated, and even if they had not, what would they know aboutEarth. W    would they "Pelorat said, "The viewer is working, old chap. See here."In the dim light, the book-viewer screen began to flicker. It was onlyfaint, but Trevize turned up the power slightly on his neuronic whip andit grew brighter. The thin air about them kept the area outside the shaftsof sunlight comparatively dim, so that   e room was faded and shadowy,and the scre............
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