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21


It was not difficult to see the Emperor. Agis's eyes sparkled as he greeted Hari Seldon. "Hello, old friend," he said. "Have you come to bring me bad luck?"

"I hope not," said Seldon.

Agis unhooked the elaborate cloak he was wearing and, with a weary grunt, threw it into the corner of the room, saying, "And you lie there."

He looked at Seldon and shook his head. "I hate that thing. It's as heavy as sin and as hot as blazes. I always have to wear it when I'm being smothered under meaningless words, standing there upright like a carved image. It's just plain horrible. Cleon was born to it and he had the appearance for it. I was not and I don't. It's just my misery that I'm a third cousin of his on my mother's side so that I qualified as Emperor. I'd be glad to sell it for a very small sum. Would you like to be Emperor, Hari?"

"No no, I wouldn't dream of it, so don't get your hopes up," said Seldon, laughing.

"But tell me, who is this extraordinarily beautiful young woman you have brought with you today?"

Wanda flushed and the Emperor said genially, "You mustn't let me embarrass you, my dear. One of the few perquisites** an Emperor possesses is the right to say anything he chooses. No one can object or argue about it. They can only say, 'Sire.' However, I don't want any 'Sires' from you. I hate that word. Call me Agis. That is not my birth name, either. It's my Imperial name and I've got to get used to it. So… tell me what's doing, Hari. What's been happening to you since the last time we met?"

Seldon said briefly, "I've been attacked twice."

The Emperor didn't seem to be sure whether this was a joke or not. He said, "Twice? Really?"

The Emperor's face darkened as Seldon told the story of the assaults. "I suppose there wasn't a security officer around when those eight men threatened you."

"Not one."

The Emperor rose from his chair and gestured at the other two to keep theirs. He walked back and forth, as though he were trying to work off some anger. Then he turned and faced Seldon.

"For thousands of years," he began, "whenever something like this happened, people would say, 'Why don't we appeal to the Emperor?' or `Why doesn't the Emperor do something?' And, in the end, the Emperor can do something and does do something, even if it isn't always the intelligent thing to do. But I… Hari, I'm powerless. Absolutely powerless.

"Oh yes, there is the so-called Commission of Public Safety, but they seem more concerned with my safety than that of the public. It's a wonder we're having this audience at all, for you are not at all popular with the Commission.

"There's nothing I can do about anything. Do you know what's happened to the status of the Emperor since the fall of the junta and the restoration of-hah!-Imperial power?"

"I think I do."

"I'll bet you don't-fully. We've got democracy now. Do you know what democracy is?"

"Certainly."

Agis frowned. He said, "I'll bet you think it's a good thing."

"I think it can be a good thing."

"Well, there you are. It isn't. It's completely upset the Empire.

"Suppose I want to order more officers onto the streets of Trantor. In the old days, I would pull over a piece of paper prepared for me by the Imperial Secretary and would sign it with a flourish-and there would be more security officers.

"Now I can't do anything of the sort. I have to put it before the Legislature. There are seventy-five hundred men and women who instantly turn into uncounted gaggles of geese the instant a suggestion is made. In the first place, where is the funding to come from? You can't have, say, ten thousand more officers without having to pay ten thousand more salaries. Then, even if you agreed to something of the sort, who selects the new security officers? Who controls them?

"The Legislature shouts at each other, argues, thunders, and lightens, and in the end-nothing is done. Hari, I couldn't even do as small a thing as fix the broken dome lights you noticed. How much will it cost? Who's in charge? Oh, the lights will be fixed, but it can easily take a few months to do it. That's democracy."

Hari Seldon said, "As I recall, the Emperor Cleon was forever complaining that he could not do what he wished to do."

"The Emperor Cleon," said Agis impatiently, "had two first-class First Ministers-Demerzel and yourself-and you each labored to keep Cleon from doing anything foolish. I have seventy-five hundred First Ministers, all of whom are foolish from start to finish. But surely, Hari, you haven't come to complain to me about the attacks."

"No, I haven't. Something much worse. Sire-Agis-I need credits."

The Emperor stared at him. "After what I've been telling you, Hari? I have no credits. Oh yes, there're credits to run this establishment, of course, but in order to get them I have to face my seventy-five hundred legislators. If you think I can go to them and say, `I want credits for my friend, Hari Seldon' and if you think I'll get one quarter of what I ask for in anything less than two years, you're crazy. It won't happen."

He shrugged and said, more gently, "Don't get me wrong, Hari. I would like to help you if I could. I would particularly like to help you for the sake of your granddaughter. Looking at her makes me feel as though I should give you all the credits you would like-but it can't be done."

Seldon said, "Agis, if I don't get funding, psychohistory will go down the drain-after nearly forty years."

"It's come to nothing in nearly forty years, so why worry?"

"Agis," said Seldon "there's nothing more I can do now. The assaults on me were precisely because I'm a psychohistorian. People consider me a predictor of destruction."

The Emperor nodded. "You're bad luck, Raven Seldon. I told you this earlier."

Seldon stood up wretchedly. "I'm through, then."

Wanda stood, too, next to Seldon the top of her head reaching her grandfather's shoulder. She gazed fixedly at the Emperor.

As Hari turned to go, the Emperor said, "Wait. Wait. There's a little verse I once memorized:

' Ill fares the land

To hastening ills a prey

Where wealth accumulates

And men decay.' "

"What does it mean?" asked a dispirited Seldon.

"It means that the Empire is steadily deteriorating and falling apart, but that doesn't keep some individuals from growing rich. Why not turn to some of our wealthy entrepreneurs? They don't have legislators and can, if they wish, simply sign a credit voucher."

Seldon stared. "I'll try that."



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