Foundation and Chaos Page 2

The captain cocked his head, listening to a remote voice buzzing in his ear. “Some instability, an irregularity in the last Jump,” he said. “Not unknown as we draw close to a stellar mass. Perhaps you should return to your cabin.”

Lodovik shut down the lounge projectors and rose. He smiled at Captain Tolk and clapped him on the shoulder. “Of any in the Emperor’s service, I would be most willing to entrust you to steer us through the shoals. I need to study our options now anyway. Triage, Captain Tolk. Maximization of what we can take with us, compared to what can be stored in underground vaults.”

Tolk’s face darkened, and he lowered his eyes. “My own family library, at Alos Quad, is--”

The ship’s alarms blared like huge animals in pain. Tolk raised his arms in instinctive self-protection, covering his face

Lodovik dropped to the floor and doubled himself up with amazing dexterity

The ship spun like a top in a fractional dimension it was never meant to navigate

And with a sickening blur of distressed momenta and a sound like a dying behemoth, it made an unscheduled and asymmetric Jump.

The ship reappeared in the empty vastness of status geometry-normal, unstretched space. Ship’s gravity failed simultaneously.

Tolk floated a few centimeters above the floor. Lodovik uncurled and grabbed for an arm of the couch he had occupied just a few moments before. “We’re out of hyperspace,” he said.

“No question,” Tolk said. “But in the name of procreation, where?”

Lodovik knew in an instant what the captain could not. They were being flooded with an interstellar tidal wave of neutrinos. He had never, in his centuries of existence, experienced such an onslaught. To the intricate and super sensitive pathways of his positronic brain, the neutrinos felt like a thin cloud of buzzing insects; yet they passed through the ship and its human crew like so many bits of nothing. A single neutrino, the most elusive of particles, could slip through a light-year of solid lead without being blocked. Very rarely indeed did they react with matter. Within the heart of the Kale’s supernova, however, immense quantities of matter had been compressed into neutronium, producing a neutrino for every proton, more than enough to blow away the outer shells just a year before.

“We’re in the shock front,” Lodovik said.

“How do you know?” Tolk asked.

“Neutrino flux.”

“How--” The captain’s skin grayed, its ashen sheen growing even more prominent. “You’re assuming, of course. It’s a logical assumption.”

Lodovik nodded, though he assumed nothing. The captain and crew would be dead within an hour.

Even this far from Kale’s star, the expanding sphere of neutrinos would be strong enough to transmute a few thousandths of a percent of the atoms within the ship and their bodies. Neutrons would be converted to protons in sufficient numbers to subtly alter organic chemistries, causing poisons to build, nervous signals to meet untimely dead ends.

There were no effective shields against neutrino flux.

“Captain, this is no time for deception,” Lodovik said. “I’m not hazarding a guess. I’m not human; I can feel the effects directly.”

The captain stared at him, uncomprehending.

“I am a robot, Captain. I will survive for a time, but that is no blessing. I am deeply programmed to try to protect humans from harm, but there is nothing I can do to assist you. Every human on this ship is going to die.”

Tolk grimaced and shook his head, as if he could not believe his ears. “We’re going crazy, all of us,” he said.

“Not yet,” Lodovik said. “Captain, please accompany me to the bridge. We may yet be able to save something.”


Linge Chen might have been the most powerful man in the Galaxy, in appearance as well as fact, if he had merely willed it. Instead, he settled for something a mere shade less, and wore a far more comfortable rank and uniform--that of the Chief Commissioner of the Commission of Public Safety.

The ancient and aristocratic Chens had survived through thousands of years to produce Linge by exercising caution, diplomacy, and by being useful to many Emperors. Chen had no wish to supplant the present Emperor or any of his myriad ministers, councilors, and “advisors,” or to be any more of a target for young hotheads than he needed to be. His present visibility was already too high for his taste, but at least he was a target more of derision than of hatred.

He had spent the last of these early-morning hours looking over reports from the governors of seven troubled star systems. Three had declared war on their neighbors, ignoring threats of Imperial intervention, and Chen had used the Emperor’s seal to move a dozen vessels into those systems as safeguard. Fully a thousand other systems were showing severe unrest, yet with recent breakdowns and degradations, the Imperial communications systems could only handle about a tenth of the information sent from the twenty-five million worlds supposedly under their authority.

The total flux of information, sent in real time and unprocessed by experts on Trantor’s companion worlds and space stations, would have increased Trantor’s temperature by tens of degrees. It was because of their considerable skill and intuition borne of thousands of years of experience that the Palace--that is, Chen and his fellow Commissioners--could keep a kind of balance with just the minimal, boiled-down stock from the vast Galactic stew.

He now allowed himself a few minutes of personal exploration, essential to his sanity. But even that was far from frivolous amusement. It was with an expression of curious intrigue that he sat before his informer and asked about “Raven” Seldon. The informer, a hollow, elongated ovoid arranged horizontally on his desk, gleamed its natural eggshell white for an instant, then brought up all the various murmurings and documents from around Trantor and key outlying worlds. A few small film book articles appeared in the center of the display, a piece from an offworld mathematical journal, an interview with the student newspaper at Seldon’s sacrosanct Streeling University, bulletins from the Imperial Library...Mentioning nothing about psychohistory. The infamous Seldon was remarkably quiet this week, perhaps in anticipation of his trial. None of his colleagues in the Project had had much to say, either. Just as well.

Chen closed that search and leaned back in the chair, contemplating which crisis to respond to next. He had thousands of problems to deal with daily, most of which he fed to his selected councilors and their assistants, but he was taking a personal interest in the response to a supernova explosion near four relatively loyal Imperial worlds, including beautiful and productive Sarossa.

He had sent his most reliable and ingenious councilor to oversee what little rescuing could be done at Sarossa. His brows furrowed at the thought of the inadequacy of this response...And what political dangers the Commission, and Trantor, might face if nothing at all could be accomplished. Empire after all was a matter of quid pro quo; if there was no quo then there might as well be no quid.

Public Safety was more than just a political catchphrase; in this endless painful age of decay, an aristocratic official such as Chen still had an important function. The public image of the Commissioners seemed to be one of irresponsible luxury, but Chen took his duties very seriously. He harked back to a better time, when the Empire could and did look after its many children, the citizens of its far reaches, with established peacemaking, policing, financial and technical aid, and rescue.

Chen felt a presence at his elbow and his hair stood on end. He turned with a sudden flash of irritation (or was it fear?) to see his chief personal secretary, small and mild Kreen. Kreen’s usually pleasant face was almost bloodless and he did not seem to want to convey his message.

“Sorry,” Chen said. “You startled me. I was enjoying a relatively peaceful moment on this infernal device. What is it, Kreen?”

“My apologies...for the grief we must all feel...I did not want this news to come to you through your machine.” Kreen was naturally suspicious of the informer, which could do so many of his own functions so quickly and anonymously.

“Yes, damn it, what is it?”

“The Imperial survey ship Spear of Glory, Your Honor...” Kreen swallowed. His people, from the small southern hemisphere Lavrenti Sector, had worked as servants to the Imperial courts for thousands of years. It was in his blood to feel his master’s pain. Sometimes Kreen seemed less a human being than a shadow...though a very useful shadow.

“Yes? What is it--blown to smithereens?”

Kreen’s face crinkled with anticipated distress. “No! Your Honor...That is, we do not know. It is a day overdue, and there are no communications, not even an emergency beacon.”

Chen listened with a sinking heart and a twist in his stomach. Lodovik Trema...

And of course a fine captain and crew.

Chen opened and closed his mouth. He needed more information desperately, but of course Kreen would have given him all that there was, so there was no more.

“And Sarossa?”

“The shock front is less than five days from Sarossa, Your Honor.”

“I know that. Have any other ships been dispatched?”

“Yes, sire. Four much smaller ships have been deflected from the missions to save Kisk, Puma, and Transdal.”

“Sky, no!” Chen stood and fumed. “I wasn’t consulted. They must not reduce those rescue forces...they’re at minimum already.”

“Commissioner, the representative from Sarossa was received by the Emperor just two hours ago...without our knowledge. He convinced the Emperor and Farad Sinter that--”

“Sinter is a fool. Three worlds neglected for one, an Imperial favorite! He’ll get his Emperor killed someday.” But then Chen calmed himself, closing his eyes, focusing inward, drawing on six decades of special training to set his mind calmly and quickly to finding the best path through this morass.

To lose Lodovik, ugly, faithful, and supremely resourceful Lodovik...

Let the opposing force pull you down, gather its energy for the spring back.

“Can you get me a summary or an actual recording of these meetings, Kreen?”

“Yes, sire. They will not yet be subject to review and interdiction by the court historians. There is commonly a backlog of two days on these rewritings, sire.”

“Good. When an inquiry is held, and questions asked, we will leak Sinter’s words to the public...I think the lowest and most popular journals will serve us best. Perhaps the All-World Tongue, or the Big Ear.”

Kreen smiled. “I myself am fond of The Emperor’s Eyes.”

“Even better. No authentication required...just more rumors among an uneducated and unhappy population.” He shook his head sadly. “Even if we bring down Sinter, it will be small recompense for losing Lodovik. What chance he might survive?”

Kreen shrugged; that was well outside his limited expertise.

So few in the Imperial Sector understood the vagaries of hyperdrive and Jump science. There was one, however. An old ship’s captain turned trader and occasional smuggler, who specialized in sending goods and passengers along the quickest and quietest routes...A bright and unscrupulous rogue, some said, but a man who had been of service to Chen in the past.

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