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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN GAIA
 1.
 
 
 
       IT TOOK HOURS FOR THE SKIP FROM THE SPACE STATION TO REACH THE vicinity of theFar Star --very long hours for Trevize to endure.
 
                Had the situation been normal, Trevize would have tried to signal and would have expected a response. If there had been no response, he would have taken evasive action.
 
                Since he was unarmed and there had been no response, there was nothing to do but wait. The computer would not respond to any direction he could give it that involved anything outside the ship.
 
                Internally, at least, everything worked well. The life-support systems were in perfect order, so that he and Pelorat were physically comfortable. Somehow, that didn’t help. Life dragged on and the uncertainty of what was to come was wearing him down. He noticed with irritation that Pelorat seemed calm. As though to make it worse, while Trevize felt no sense of hunger at all, Pelorat opened a small container of chicken-bits, which on opening had rapidly and automatically warmed itself. Now he was eating it methodically.
 
                Trevize said irritably, “Space, Janov! That stinks!”
 
                Pelorat looked startled and sniffed at the container. “It smells all right to me, Golan.”
 
                Trevize shook his head. “Don’t mind me. I’m just upset. But do use a fork. Your fingers will smell of chicken all day.”
 
                Pelorat looked at his fingers with surprise. “Sorry! I didn’t notice. I was thinking of something else.”
 
                Trevize said sarcastically, “Would you care to guess at what type of nonhumans the creatures on the approaching ship must be?” He was ashamed that he was less calm than Pelorat was. He was a Navy veteran (though he had never seen battle, of course) and Pelorat was a historian. Yet his companion sat there quietly.
 
                Pelorat said, “It would be impossible to imagine what direction evolution would take under conditions differing from those of Earth. The possibilities may not be infinite, but they would be so vast that they might as well be. However, I can predict that they are not senselessly violent and they will treat us in a civilized fashion. If that wasn’t true, we would be dead by now.”
 
                “At least you can still reason, Janov, my friend--you can still be tranquil. My nerves seem to be forcing their way through whatever tranquilization they have put us under. I have an extraordinary desire to stand up and pace. Why doesn’t that blasted ship arrive?”
 
                Pelorat said, “I am a man of passivity, Golan. I have spent my life doubled over records while waiting for other records to arrive. I do nothing but wait. You are a man of action and you are in deep pain when action is impossible.”
 
                Trevize felt some of his tension leave. He muttered, “I underestimate your good sense, Janov.”
 
                “No, you don’t,” said Pelorat placidly, “but even a na?ve academic can sometimes make sense out of life.”
 
                “And even the cleverest politician can sometimes fail to do so.”
 
                “I didn’t say that, Golan.” --
 
                “No, but I did. --So let me become active. I can still observe. The approaching ship is close enough to seem distinctly primitive.”
 
                “Seem?”
 
                Trevize said, “If it’s the product of nonhuman minds and hands, what may seem primitive may, in actual fact, be merely nonhuman.”
 
                “Do you think it might be a nonhuman artifact?” asked Pelorat, his face reddening slightly.
 
                “I can’t tell. I suspect that artifacts, however much they may vary from culture to culture, are never quite as plastic as products of genetic differences might be.”
 
                “That’s just a guess on your part. All we know are different cultures. We don’t know different intelligent species and therefore have no way of judging how different artifacts might be.”
 
                “Fish, dolphins, penguins, squids, even the ambiflexes, which are not of Earthly origin--assuming the others are--all solve the problem of motion through a viscous medium by streamlining, so that their appearances are not as different as their genetic makeup might lead one to believe. It might be so with artifacts.”
 
                “The squid’s tentacles and the ambiflex’s helical vibrators,” responded Pelorat, “are enormously different from each other, and from the fins, flippers, and limbs of vertebrates. It might be so with artifacts.”
 
                “In any case,” said Trevize, “I feel better. Talking nonsense with you, Janov, quiets my nerves. And I suspect we’ll know what we’re getting into soon, too. The ship is not going to be able to dock with ours and whatever is on it will come across on an old-fashioned tether--or we will somehow be urged to cross to it on one--since the unilock will be useless. --Unless some nonhuman will use some other system altogether.”
 
                “How big is the ship?”
 
                “Without being able to use the ship’s computer to calculate the distance of the ship by radar, we can’t possibly know the size.”
 
                A tether snaked out toward theFar Star .
 
                Trevize said, “Either there’s a human aboard or nonhumans use the same device. Perhaps nothing but a tether can possibly work.”
 
                “They might use a tube,” said Pelorat, “or a horizontal ladder.”
 
                “Those are inflexible things. It would be far too complicated to try to make contact with those. You need something that combines strength and flexibility.”
 
                The tether made a dull clang on theFar Star as the solid hull (and consequently the air within) was set to vibrating. There was the usual slithering as the other ship made the fine adjustments of speed required to bring the two into a common velocity. The tether was motionless relative to both.
 
                A black dot appeared on the hull of the other ship and expanded like the pupil of an eye.
 
                Trevize grunted. “An expanding diaphragm, instead of a sliding panel.”
 
                “Nonhuman?”
 
                “Not necessarily, I suppose. But interesting.”
 
                A figure emerged.
 
                Pelorat’s lips tightened for a moment and then he said in a disappointed voice, “Too bad. Human.”
 
                “Not necessarily,” said Trevize calmly. “All we can make out is that there seem to be five projections. That could be a head, two arms, and two legs--but it might not be. --Wait!”
 
                “What?”
 
                “It moves more rapidly and smoothly than I expected. --Ah!”
 
                “What?”
 
                “There’s some sort of propulsion. It’s not rocketry, as nearly as I can tell, but neither is it hand over hand. Still, not necessarily human.”
 
                There seemed an incredibly long wait despite the quick approach of the figure along the tether, but there was finally the noise of contact.
 
                Trevize said, “It’s coming in, whatever it is. My impulse is to tackle it the minute it appears.” He balled a fist.
 
                “I think we had better relax,” said Pelorat. “It may be stronger than we. It can control our minds. There are surely others on the ship. We had better wait till we know more about what we are facing.”
 
                “You grow more and more sensible by the minute, Janov,” said Trevize, “and I, less and less.”
 
                They could hear the airlock moving into action and finally the figure appeared inside the ship.
 
                “About normal size,” muttered Pelorat. “The space suit could fit a human being.”
 
                “I never saw or heard of such a design, but it doesn’t fall outside the limits of human manufacture, it seems to me. --It doesn’t say anything.”
 
                The space-suited figure stood before them and a forelimb rose to the rounded helmet, which--if it were made of glass--possessed one-way transparency only. Nothing could be seen inside.
 
                The limb touched something with a quick motion that Trevize did not clearly make out and the helmet was at once detached from the rest of the suit. It lifted off.
 
                What was exposed was the face of a young and undeniably pretty woman.
 
 
 
 2.
 
 
 
 Pelorat’s expressionless face did what it could to look stupefied. He said hesitantly, “Are you human?”
 
                The woman’s eyebrows shot up and her lips pouted. There was no way of telling from the action whether she was faced with a strange language and did not understand or whether she understood and wondered at the question.
 
                Her hand moved quickly to the left side of her suit, which opened in one piece as though it were on a set of hinges. She stepped out and the suit remained standing without content for a moment. Then, with a soft sigh that seemed almost human, it collapsed.
 
                She looked even younger, now that she had stepped out. Her clothing was loose and translucent, with the skimpy items beneath visible as shadows. The outer robe reached to her knees.
 
                She was small-breasted and narrow-waisted, with hips rounded and full. Her thighs, which were seen in shadow, were generous, but her legs narrowed to graceful ankles. Her hair was dark and shoulder-length, her eyes brown and large, her lips full and slightly asymmetric.
 
                She looked down at herself and then solved the problem of her understanding of the language by saying, “Don’t Ilook human?”
 
                She spoke Galactic Standard with just a trifle of hesitation, as though she were straining a bit to get the pronunciation quite right.
 
                Pelorat nodded and said with a small smile, “I can’t deny it. Quite human. Delightfully human.”
 
                The young woman spread her arms as though inviting closer examination. “I should hope so, gentleman. Men have died for this body.”
 
                “I would rather live for it,” said Pelorat, finding a vein of gallantry which faintly surprised him.
 
                “Good choice,” said the woman solemnly. “Once this body is attained, all sighs become sighs of ecstasy.”
 
                She laughed and Pelorat laughed with her.
 
                Trevize, whose forehead had puckered into a frown through this exchange, rapped out, “How old are you?”
 
                The woman seemed to shrink a little. “Twenty-three-- gentleman.”
 
                “Why have you come? What is your purpose here?”
 
                “I have come to escort you to Gaia.” Her command of Galactic Standard was slipping slightly and her vowels tended to round into diphthongs. She made “come” sound like “comb” and “Gaia” like “Gay-uh.”
 
                “Agirl to escort us.”
 
                The woman drew herself up and suddenly she had the bearing of one in charge. “I,” she said, “am Gaia, as well as another. It was my stint on the station.”
 
                “Yourstint? Were you the only one on board?”
 
                Proudly. “I was all that was needed.”
 
                “And is it empty now?”
 
                “I am no longer on it, gentleman, but it is not empty.It is there.”
 
                “It? To what do you refer?”
 
                “To the station. It is Gaia. It doesn’t need me. It holds your ship.”
 
                “Then what are you doing on the station?”
 
                “It is my stint.”
 
                Pelorat had taken Trevize by the sleeve and had been shaken off. He tried again. “Golan,” he said in an urgent half-whisper. “Don’t shout at her. She’s only a girl. Let me deal with this.”
 
                Trevize shook his head angrily, but Pelorat said, “Young woman, what is your name?”
 
                The woman smiled with sudden sunniness, as though responding to the softer tone. She said, “Bliss.”
 
                “Bliss?” said Pelorat. “A very nice name. Surely that’s not all there is.”
 
                “Of course not. A fine thing it would be to have one syllable. It would be duplicated on every section and we wouldn’t tell one from another, so that the men would be dying for the wrong body. Bussenobiarella is my name in full.”
 
                “Nowthat’s a mouthful.”--
 
                “What? Seven syllables? That’s not much. I have friends with fifteen syllables in their names and they never get done trying combinations for the friend-name. I’ve stuck with Bliss now ever since I turned fifteen. My mother called me ‘Nobby,’ if you can imagine such a thing.”
 
                “In Galactic Standard, ‘bliss’ means ‘ecstasy’ or ‘extreme happiness,’” said Pelorat.
 
                “In Gaian language, too. It’s notvery different from Standard, and ‘ecstasy’ is the impression I intend to convey.”
 
                “My name is Janov Pelorat.”
 
                “I know that. And this other gentleman--the shouter--is Golan Trevize. We received word from Sayshell.”
 
                Trevize said at once, his eyes narrow, “How did you receive word?”
 
                Bliss turned to look at him and said calmly, “I didn’t. Gaia did.”
 
                Pelorat said, “Miss Bliss, may my partner and myself speak Privately for a moment?”
 
                “Yes, certainly, but we have to get on with it, you know.”
 
                “I won’t take long.” He pulled hard at Trevize’s elbow and was reluctantly followed into the other room.
 
                Trevize said in a whisper, “What’s all this? I’m sure she can hear us in here. She can probably read our minds, blast the creature.”
 
                “Whether she can or can’t, we need a bit of psychological isolation for just a moment. Look, old chap, leave her alone. There’s nothing we can do, and there’s no use taking that out on her. There’s probably nothing she can do either. She’s just a messenger girl. Actually, as long as she’s on board, we’re probably safe; they wouldn’t have put her on board if they intended to destroy the ship. Keep bullying and perhaps they will destroy it--and us--after they take her off.”
 
                “I don’t like being helpless,” said Trevize grumpily.
 
                “Who does? But acting like a bully doesn’t make you less helpless. It just makes you a helpless bully. Oh, my dear chap, I don’t mean to be bullyingyou like this and you must forgive me if I’m excessively critical of you, but the girl is not to be blamed.”
 
                “Janov, she’s young enough to be your youngest daughter.”
 
                Pelorat straightened. “All the more reason to treat her gently. Nor do I know what you imply by the statement.”
 
                Trevize thought a moment, then his face cleared. “Very well. You’re right. I’m wrong. It is irritating, though, to have them send a girl. They might have sent a military officer, for instance, and given us a sense of somevalue , so to speak. Just a girl? And she keeps placing responsibility on Gaia?”
 
                “She’s probably referring to a ruler who takes the name of the planet as an honorific--or else she’s referring to the planetary council. We’ll find out, but probably not by direct questioning.”
 
                “Men have died for her body!” said Trevize. “Huh! --She’s bottom-heavy!”
 
                “No one is asking you to die for it, Golan,” said Pelorat gently. “Come! Allow her a sense of self-mockery. I consider it amusing and good-natured, myself.”
 
                They found Bliss at the computer, bending down and staring at its component parts with her hands behind her back as though she feared touching it.
 
                She looked up as they entered, ducking their heads under the low lintel. “This is an amazing ship,” she said. “I don’t understand half of what I see, but if you’re going to give me a greeting-present, this is it. It’s beautiful. It makes my ship look awful.”
 
                Her face took on a look of ardent curiosity. “Are you really from the Foundation?”
 
                “How do you know about the Foundation?” asked Pelorat.
 
                “We learn about it in school. Mostly because of the Mule.”
 
                “Why because of the Mule, Bliss?”
 
                “He’s one of us, gentle-- What syllable of your name may I use, gentleman?”
 
                Pelorat said, “Either Jan or Pel. Which do you prefer?”
 
                “He’s one of us, Pel,” said Bliss with a comradely smile. “He was born on Gaia, but no one seems to know where exactly.”
 
                Trevize said, “I imagine he’s a Gaian hero, Bliss, eh?” He had become determinedly, almost aggressively, friendly and cast a placating glance in Pelorat’s direction. “Call me Trev,” he added.
 
                “Oh no,” she said at once. “He’s a criminal. He left Gaia without permission, and no one should do that. No one knowshow he did it. But he left, and I guess that’s why he came to a bad end. The Foundation beat him in the end.”
 
                “TheSecond Foundation?” said Trevize.
 
                “Is there more than one? I suppose if I thought about it I would know, but I’m not interested in history, really. The way I look at it is, I’m interested in what Gaia thinks best. If history just goes past me, it’s because there are enough historians or that I’m not well adapted to it. I’m probably being trained as a space technician myself. I keep being assigned to stints like this and I seem to like it and it stands to reason I wouldn’t like it if--”
 
                She was speaking rapidly, almost breathlessly, and Trevize had to make an effort to insert a sentence. “Who’s Gaia?”
 
                Bliss looked puzzled at that. “Just Gaia. --Please, Pel and Trev, let’s get on with it. We’ve got to get to the surface.”
 
                “We’re going there, aren’t we?”
 
                “Yes, but slowly. Gaia feels you can move much more rapidly if you use the potential of your ship. Would you do that?”
 
                “We could,” said Trevize grimly. “But if I get the control of the ship back, wouldn’t I be more likely to zoom off in the opposite direction?”
 
                Bliss laughed. “You’re funny. Of course, you can’t go in any direction Gaia doesn’t want you to go. But you can go faster in the direction Gaiadoes want you to go. See?”
 
                “We see,” said Trevize, “and I’ll try to control my sense of humor.Where do I land on the surface?”
 
                “It doesn’t matter. You just head downward and you’ll land at the right place. Gain will see to that.”
 
                Pelorat said, “And will you stay with us, Bliss, and see that we are treated well?”
 
                “I suppose I can do that. Let’s see now, the usual fee for my services--I meanthat kind of services--can be entered on my balance-card.”
 
                “And the other kind of services?”
 
                Bliss giggled. “You’re a nice old man.”
 
                Pelorat winced.
 
 
 
 3.
 
 
 
 Bliss reacted to the swoop down to Gaia with a na?ve excitement. She said, “There’s no feeling of acceleration.”
 
                “It’s a gravitic drive,” said Pelorat. “Everything accelerates together, ourselves included, so we don’t feel anything.”
 
                “But how does it work, Pel?”
 
                Pelorat shrugged. “I think Trev knows,” he said, “but I don’t think he’s really in a mood to talk about it.”
 
                Trevize had dropped down Gaia’s gravity-well almost recklessly. The ship responded to his direction, as Bliss had warned him, in a partial manner. An attempt to cross the lines of gravitic force obliquely was accepted--but only with a certain hesitation. An attempt to rise upward was utterly ignored.
 
                The ship was still not his.
 
                Pelorat said mildly, “Aren’t you going downward rather rapidly, Golan?”
 
                Trevize, with a kind of flatness to his voice, attempting to avoid anger (more for Pelorat’s sake, than anything else) said, “The young lady says that Gaia will take care of us.”
 
                Bliss said, “Surely, Pel. Gaia wouldn’t let this ship do anything that wasn’t safe. Is there anything to eat on board?”
 
                “Yes indeed,” said Pelorat. “What would you like?”
 
                “No meat, Pel,” said Bliss in a businesslike way, “but I’ll take fish or eggs, along with any vegetables you might have.”
 
                “Some of the food we have is Sayshellian, Bliss,” said Pelorat. “I’m not sure I know what’s in it, but you might like it.”
 
                “Well, I’ll taste some,” said Bliss dubiously.
 
                “Are the people on Gaia vegetarian?” asked Pelorat.
 
                “A lot are.” Bliss nodded her head vigorously. “It depends on what nutrients the body needs in particular cases. Lately I haven’t been hungry for meat, so I suppose I don’t need any. And I haven’t been aching for anything sweet. Cheese tastes good, and shrimp. I think I probably need to lose weight.” She slapped her right buttock with a resounding noise. “I need to lose five or six pounds right here.”
 
                “I don’t see why,” said Pelorat. “It gives you something comfortable to sit on.”
 
                Bliss twisted to look down at her rear as best she might. “Oh well, it doesn’t matter. Weight goes up or down as it ought. I shouldn’t concern myself.”
 
                Trevize was silent because he was struggling with theFar Star . He had hesitated a bit too long for orbit and the lower limits of the planetary exosphere were now screaming past the ship. Little by little, the ship was escaping from his control altogether. It was as though something else had learned to handle the gravitic engines. TheFar Star , acting apparently by itself, curved upward into thinner air and slowed rapidly. It then took up a path on its own that brought it into a gentle downward curve.
 
                Bliss had ignored the edgy sound of air resistance and sniffed delicately at the steam rising from the container. She said, “It must be all right, Pd, because if it weren’t, it wouldn’t smell right and I wouldn’t want to eat it.” She put a slim finger into it and then licked at the finger. “You guessed correctly, Pd. It’s shrimp or something like it. Good!”
 
                With a gesture of dissatisfaction, Trevize abandoned the computer.
 
                “Young woman,” he said, as though seeing her for the first time.
 
                “My name is Bliss,” said Bliss firmly.
 
                “Bliss, then! You knew our names.”
 
                “Yes, Trev.”
 
                “How did you know them?”
 
                “It was important that I know them, in order for me to do my job. So I knew them.”
 
                “Do you know who Munn Li Compor is?”
 
                “I would--if it were important for me to know who he is. Since I do not know who he is, Mr. Compor is not coming here. For that matter,” she paused a moment, “no one is coming here but you two.”
 
                “We’ll see.”
 
                He was looking down. It was a cloudy planet. There wasn’t a solid layer of cloud, but it was a broken layer that was remarkably evenly scattered and offered no clear view of any part of the planetary surface.
 
                He switched to microwave and the radarscope glittered. The surface was almost an image of the sky. It seemed a world of islands-- rather like Terminus, but more so. None of the islands was very large and none was very isolated. It was something of an approach to a planetary archipelago. The ship’s orbit was well inclined to the equatorial plane, but he saw no sign of ice caps.
 
                Neither were there the unmistakable marks of uneven population distribution, as would be expected, for instance, in the illumination of the night side.
 
                “Will I be coming down near the capital city, Bliss?” asked Trevize.
 
                Bliss said indifferently, “Gaia will put you down somewhere convenient.”
 
                “I’d prefer a big city.”
 
                “Do you mean a large people-grouping?”
 
                “Yes.”
 
                “It’s up to Gaia.”
 
                The ship continued its downward path and Trevize tried to find amusement in guessing on which island it would land.
 
                Whichever it might be, it appeared they would be landing within the hour.
 
 
 
 4.
 
 
 
       The ship landed in a quiet, almost feathery manner, without a moment of jarring, without one anomalous gravitational effect. They stepped out, one by one: first Bliss, then Pelorat, and finally Trevize.
 
                The weather was comparable to early summer at Terminus City. There was a mild breeze and with what seemed to be a late-morning sun shining brightly down from a mottled sky. The ground was green underfoot and in one direction there were the serried rows of trees that bespoke an orchard, while in the other there was the distant line of seashore.
 
                There was the low hum of what might have been insect life, a flash of bird--orsome small flying creature--above and to one side, and theclack-clack of what might have been some farm instrument.
 
                Pelorat was the first to speak and he mentioned nothing he either saw or heard. Instead, he drew in his breath raspingly and said, “Ah, it smellsgood , like fresh-made applesauce.”
 
                Trevize said, “That’s probably an apple orchard we’re looking at and, for all we know, they’re making applesauce.”
 
                “On your ship, on the other hand,” said Bliss, “it smelled like-- Well, it smelled terrible.”
 
                “You didn’t complain when you were on it,” growled Trevize.
 
                “I had to be polite. I was a guest on your ship.”
 
                “What’s wrong with staying polite?”
 
                “I’m on my own world now.You’re the guest.You be polite.”
 
                Pelorat said, “She’s probably right about the smell, Golan. Is there any way of airing out the ship?”
 
                “Yes,” said Trevize with a snap. “It can be done--if this little creature can assure us that the ship will not be disturbed. She has already shown us she can exert unusual power over the ship.”
 
                Bliss drew herself up to her full height. “I’m not exactly little and if leaving your ship alone is what it takes to get it cleaned up, I assure you leaving it alone will be a pleasure.”
 
                “And then can we be taken to whoever it is that you speak of as Gaia?” said Trevize.
 
                Bliss looked amused. “I don’t know if you’re going to believe this, Trev.I’m Gaia.”
 
                Trevize stared. He had often heard the phrase “collect one’s thoughts” used metaphorically. For the first time in his life, he felt as though he were engaged in the process literally. Finally he said, “You?”
 
                “Yes. And the ground. And those trees. And that rabbit over there in the grass. And the man you can see through the trees. The whole planet and everything on it is Gaia. We’re all individuals--we’re all separate organisms--but we all share an overall consciousness. The inanimate planet does so least of all, the various forms of life to a varying degree, and human beings most of all--but we all share.”
 
                Pelorat said, “I think, Trevize, that she means Gaia is some sort of group consciousness.”
 
                Trevize nodded. “I gathered that. --In that case, Bliss, who runs this world?”
 
                Bliss said, “It runs itself. Those trees grow in rank and file of their own accord. They multiply only to the extent that is needed to replace those that for any reason die. Human beings harvest the apples that are needed; other animals, including insects, eat their share-- and only their share.”
 
                “The insects know what their share is, do they?” said Trevize.
 
                “Yes, they do--in a way. It rains when it is necessary and occasionally it rains rather hard whenthat is necessary--and occasionally there’s a siege of dry weather whenthat is necessary.”
 
                “And the rain knows what to do, does it?”
 
                “Yes, it does,” said Bliss very seriously. “In your own body, don’t all the different cells know what to do? When to grow and when to stop growing? When to form certain substances and when not to-- and when they form them, just how much to form, neither more nor less? Each cell is, to a certain extent, an independent chemical fac............
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