Cleon, Emperor of the Galaxy, was walking hurriedly through the arcade that led from his private quarters in the Small Palace to the offices of the rather tremendous staff that lived in the various annexes of the Imperial Palace, which served as the nerve center of the Empire.
Several of his personal attaches walked after him, with looks of the deepest concern on their faces. The Emperor did not walk to others. He summoned them and they came to him. If he did walk, he never showed signs of haste or emotional trauma. How could he? He was the Emperor and, as such, far more a symbol of all the worlds than a human being.
Yet now he seemed to be a human being. He motioned everyone aside with an impatient wave of his right hand. In his left hand he held a gleaming hologram.
"The First Minister," he said in an almost strangled voice, not at all like the carefully cultivated tones he had painstakingly assumed along with the throne. "Where is he?"
And all the high functionaries who were in his way fumbled and gasped and found it impossible to manage coherence. He brushed past them angrily, making them all feel, undoubtedly, as though they were living through a waking nightmare.
Finally he burst into Demerzel's private office, panting slightly, and shouted-literally shouted- "Demerzel!"
Demerzel looked up with a trace of surprise and rose smoothly to his feet, for one did not sit in the presence of the Emperor unless specifically invited to. "Sire?" he said.
And the Emperor slammed the hologram down on Demerzel's desk and said, "What is this? Will you tell me that?"
Demerzel looked at what the Emperor had given him. It was a beautiful hologram, sharp and alive. One could almost hear the little boy-perhaps ten years old-speaking the words that were included in the caption: "I don't want no robot in charge of running the Empire."
Demerzel said quietly, "Sire, I have received this, too."
"And who else has?"
"I am under the impression, Sire, that it is a flier that is being widely spread over Trantor."
"Yes, and do you see the person at whom that brat is looking?" He tapped his Imperial forefinger at it. "Isn't that you?"
"The resemblance is striking, Sire."
"Am I wrong in supposing that the whole intent of this flier, as you call it, is to accuse you of being a robot?"
"That does seem to be its intention, Sire."
"And stop me if I'm wrong, but aren't robots the legendary mechanical human beings one finds in-in thrillers and children's stories?"
"The Mycogenians have it as an article of faith, Sire, that robots-"
"I'm not interested in the Mycogenians and their articles of faith. Why are they accusing you of being a robot?"
"Merely a metaphorical point, I'm sure, Sire. They wish to portray me as a man of no heart, whose views are the conscienceless calculations of a machine."
"That's too subtle, Demerzel. I'm no fool." He tapped the hologram again. "They're trying to make people believe you are really a robot."
"We can scarcely prevent it, Sire, if people choose to believe that."
"We cannot afford it. It detracts from the dignity of your office. Worse than that, it detracts from the dignity of the Emperor, The implication is that I-I would choose as my First Minister a mechanical man. That is impossible to endure. See here, Demerzel, aren't there laws that forbid the denigration of public officers of the Empire?"
"Yes, there are-and quite severe ones, Sire, dating back to the great Law Codes of Aburamis."
"And to denigrate the Emperor himself is a capital offense, is it not?"
"Death is the punishment, Sire. Yes."
"Well, this not only denigrates you, it denigrates me-and whoever did it should be executed forthwith. It was this Joranum, of course, who is behind it."
"Undoubtedly. Sire, but proving it might be rather difficult."
"Nonsense! I have proof enough! I want an execution."
"The trouble is, Sire, that the laws of denigration are virtually never enforced. Not in this century, certainly."
"And that is why society is becoming so unstable and the Empire is being shaken to its roots. The laws are still in the books, so enforce them."
Demerzel said, "Consider, Sire, if that would be wise. It would make you appear to be a tyrant and a despot. Your rule has been a most successful one through kindness and mildness-"
"Yes and see where that got me. Let's have them fear me for a change, rather than love me-in this fashion."
"I strongly recommend that you not do so, Sire. It may be the spark that will start a rebellion."
"What would you do, then? Go before the people and say, 'Look at me. I am no robot."'
"No, Sire, for as you say that would destroy my dignity and, worse yet, yours."
"I am not certain, Sire. I have not yet thought it through."
"Not yet thought it through? Get in touch with Seldon."
"What is so difficult to understand about my order? Get in touch with Seldon!"
"You wish me to summon him to the Palace, Sire?"
"No, there's no time for that. I presume you can set up a sealed communication line between us that cannot be tapped."
"Then do so. Now!"