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24


Tennis was one of Hari's favorite sports, but he preferred to play rather than watch others. He watched with impatience, therefore, as the Emperor Cleon, dressed in sports fashion, loped across the court to return the ball. It was Imperial tennis, actually, so-called because it was a favorite of Emperors, a version of the game in which a computerized racket was used that could alter its angle slightly with appropriate pressures on the handle. Hari had tried to develop the technique on several occasions but found that mastering the computerized racket would take a great deal of practice-and Hari Seldon's time was far too precious for what was clearly a trivial pursuit.

Cleon placed the ball in a nonreturnable position and won the game. He trotted off the court to the careful applause of the functionaries who were watching and Seldon said to him, "Congratulations, Sire. You played a marvelous game."

Cleon said indifferently, "Do you think so, Seldon? They're all so careful to let me win. I get no pleasure out of it."

Seldon said, "In that case, Sire, you might order your opponents to play harder."

"It wouldn't help. They'd be careful to lose anyway. And if they did win, I would get even less pleasure out of losing than out of winning meaninglessly. Being an Emperor has its woes, Seldon. Joranum would have found that out-if he had ever succeeded in becoming one."

He disappeared into his private shower facility and emerged in due time, scrubbed and dried and dressed rather more formally.

"And now, Seldon" he said, waving all the others away, "the tennis court is as private a place as we can find and the weather is glorious, so let us not go indoors. I have read the Mycogenian message of this Sunmaster Fourteen. Will it do?"

"Entirely, Sire. As you have read, Joranum was denounced as a Mycogenian Breakaway and is accused of blasphemy in the strongest terms."

"And does that finish him?"

"It diminishes his importance fatally, Sire. There are few who accept the mad story of the First Minister's robothood now. Furthermore, Joranum is revealed as a liar and a poseur and, worse, one who was caught at it."

"Caught at it, yes," said Cleon thoughtfully. "You mean that merely to be underhanded is to be sly and that may be admirable, while to be caught is to be stupid and that is never admirable."

"You put it succinctly, Sire."

"Then Joranum is no longer a danger."

"We can't be certain of that, Sire. He may recover, even now. He still has an organization and some of his followers will remain loyal. History yields examples of men and women who have come back after disasters as great as this one-or greater."

"In that case, let us execute him, Seldon."

Seldon shook his head. "That would be inadvisable, Sire. You would not want to create a martyr or to make yourself appear to be a despot."

Cleon frowned. "Now you sound like Demerzel. Whenever I wish to take forceful action, he mutters the word 'despot.' There have been Emperors before me who have taken forceful action and who have been admired as a result and have been considered strong and decisive."

"Undoubtedly, Sire, but we live in troubled times. Nor is execution necessary. You can accomplish your purpose in a way that will make you seem enlightened and benevolent."

"Seem enlightened?"

"Be enlightened, Sire. I misspoke. To execute Joranum would be to take revenge, which might be regarded as ignoble. As Emperor, however, you have a kindly-even paternal-attitude toward the beliefs of all your people. You make no distinctions, for you are the Emperor of all alike."

"What is it you're saying?"

"I mean, Sire, that Joranum has offended the sensibilities of the Mycogenians and you are horrified at his sacrilege, he having been born one of them. What better can you do but hand Joranum over to the Mycogenians and allow them to take care of him? You will be applauded for your proper Imperial convern."

"And the Mycogenians will execute him, then?"

"They may, Sire. Their laws against blasphemy are excessively severe. At best, they will imprison him for life at hard labor."

Cleon smiled. "Very good. I get the credit for humanity and tolerance and they do the dirty work."

"They would, Sire, if you actually handed Joranum over to them. That would, however, still create a martyr."

"Now you confuse me. What would you have me do?"

"Give Joranum the choice. Say that your regard for the welfare of all the people in your Empire urges you to hand him over to the Mycogenians for trial but that your humanity fears the Mycogenians may be too severe. Therefore, as an alternative, he may choose to be banished to Nishaya, the small and secluded world from which he claimed to have come, to live the rest of his life in obscurity and peace. You'll see to it that he's kept under guard, of course."

"And that will take care of things?"

"Certainly. Joranum would be committing virtual suicide if he chose to be returned to Mycogen-and he doesn't strike me as the suicidal type. He will certainly choose Nishaya, and though that is the sensible course of action, it is also an unheroic one. As a refugee in Nishaya, he can scarcely lead any movement designed to take over the Empire. His following is sure to disintegrate. They could follow a martyr with holy zeal, but it would be difficult, indeed, to follow a coward."

"Astonishing! How did you manage all this, Seldon?" There was a distinct note of admiration in Cleon's voice.

Seldon said, "Well, it seemed reasonable to suppose-"

"Never mind," said Cleon abruptly. "I don't suppose you'll tell me the truth or that I would understand you if you did, but I'll tell you this much. Demerzel is leaving office. This last crisis has proved to be too much for him and I agree with him that it is time for him to retire. But I can't do without a First Minister and, from this moment onward, you are he."

"Sire!" exclaimed Seldon in mingled astonishment and horror.

"First Minister Hari Seldon." said Cleon calmly. "The Emperor wishes it."



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