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13


Up and down. Up and down. Up and down.

Gleb Andorin watched Gambol Deen Namarti trudging up and down. Namarti was obviously unable to sit still under the driving force of the violence of his passion.

Andorin thought: He's not the brightest man in the Empire or even in the movement, not the shrewdest, certainly not the most capable of rational thought. He has to be held back constantly-but he's driven as none of the rest of us are. We would give up, let go, but he won't. Push, pull, prod, kick. Well, maybe we need someone like that. We must have someone like that or nothing will ever happen.

Namarti stopped, as though he felt Andorin's eyes boring into his back. He turned around and said, "If you're going to lecture me again on Kaspalov, don't bother."

Andorin shrugged lightly. "Why bother lecturing you? The deed is done. The harm-if any-has been done."

"What harm, Andorin? What harm? If I had not done it, then we would have been harmed. The man was on the edge of being a traitor. Within a month, he would have gone running "

"I know. I was there. I heard what he said."

"Then you understand there was no choice. No choice. You don't think I liked to have an old comrade killed, do you? I had no choice."

"Very well. You had no choice."

Namarti resumed his tramping, then turned again. "Andorin, do you believe in gods?"

Andorin stared, "In what?"

"In gods."

"I never heard the word. What is it?"

Namarti said, "It's not Galactic Standard. Supernatural influences. How's that?"

"Oh, supernatural influences. Why didn't you say so? No, I don't believe in that sort of thing. By definition, something is supernatural if it exists outside the laws of nature and nothing exists outside the laws of nature. Are you turning into a mystic?" Andorin asked it as though he were joking, but his eyes narrowed with sudden concern.

Namarti stared him down. Those blazing eyes of his could stare anyone down. "Don't be a fool. I've been reading about it. Trillions of people believe in supernatural influences."

"I know," said Andorin. "They always have."

"They've done so since before the beginning of history. The word 'gods' is of unknown origin. It is, apparently, a hangover from some primeval language of which no trace any longer exists, except that word. Do you know how many different varieties of beliefs there are in various kinds of gods?"

"Approximately as many as the varieties of fools among the Galactic population, I should say."

Namarti ignored that. "Some people think the word dates back to the time when all humanity existed on but a single world."

"Itself a mythological concept. That's just as lunatic as the notion of supernatural influences. There never was one original human world."

"There would have to be, Andorin," said Namarti, annoyed. "Human beings can't have evolved on different worlds and ended as a single species."

"Even so, there's no effective human world. It can't be located, it can't he defined, so it can't be spoken of sensibly, so it effectively doesn't exist."

"These gods," said Namarti, continuing to follow his own line of thought, "are supposed to protect humanity and keep it safe or at least to care for those portions of humanity that know how to make use of the gods. At a time when there was only one human world, it makes sense to suppose they would be particularly interested in caring for that one tiny world with a few people. They would care for such a world as though they were big brothers-or parents."

"Very nice of them. I'd like to see them try to handle the entire Empire."

"What if they could? What if they were infinite?"

"What if the Sun were frozen? What's the use of 'what if?"

"I'm just speculating. Just thinking. Haven't you ever let your mind wander freely? Do you always keep everything on a leash?"

"I should imagine that's the safest way, keeping it on a leash. What does your wandering mind tell you, Chief?"

Namarti's eyes flashed at the other, as though he suspected sarcasm, but Andorin's face remained good-natured and blank.

Namarti said, "What my mind is telling me is this-If there are gods, they must be on our side."

"Wonderful-if true. Where's the evidence?"

"Evidence? Without the gods, it would just be a coincidence, I suppose, but a very useful one." Suddenly Namarti yawned and sat down, looking exhausted.

Good, thought Andorin. His galloping mind has finally wound itself down and he may talk sense now.

"This matter of internal breakdown of the infrastructure-" said Namarti, his voice distinctly lower.

Andorin interrupted. "You know, Chief, Kaspalov was not entirely wrong about this. The longer we keep it up, the greater the chance that Imperial forces will discover the cause. The whole program must, sooner or later, explode in our faces."

"Not yet. So far, everything is exploding in the Imperial face. The unrest on Trantor is something I can feel." He raised his hands, rubbing his fingers together. "I can feel it. And we are almost through. We are ready for the next step."

Andorin smiled humorlessly. "I'm not asking for details, Chief. Kaspalov did and look where that got him. I am not Kaspalov."

"It's precisely because you're not Kaspalov that I can tell you. And because I know something now I didn't then."

"I presume," said Andorin, only half-believing what he was saying, "that you intend a strike on the Imperial Palace grounds."

Namarti looked up. "Of course. What else is there to do? The problem, however, is how to penetrate the grounds effectively. I have my sources of information there, but they are only spies. I'll need men of action on the spot."

"To get men of action into the most heavily guarded region in all the galaxy will not be easy."

"Of course not. That's what has been giving me an unbearable headache till now-and then the gods intervened."

Andorin said gently (it was taking all his self-restraint to keep from showing his disgust), "I don't think we need a metaphysical discussion. What has happened-leaving the gods to one side?"

"My information is that His Gracious and Ever to Be Beloved Emperor Cleon I has decided to appoint a new Chief Gardener. This is the first new appointee in nearly a quarter of a century."

"And if so?"

"Do you see no significance?"

Andorin thought for a moment. "I am not a favorite of your gods. I don't see any significance."

"If you have a new Chief Gardener, Andorin, the situation is the same as having a new administrator of any other type-the same as if you had a new First Minister or a new Emperor. The new Chief Gardener will certainly want his own staff. He will force into retirement what he considers dead wood and will hire younger gardeners by the hundreds."

"That's possible."

"It's more than possible. It's certain. Exactly that happened when the present Chief Gardener was appointed and the same when his predecessor was appointed and so on. Hundreds of strangers from the Outer Worlds-"

"Why from the Outer Worlds?"

"Use your brains-if you have any, Andorin. What do Trantorians know about gardening when they've lived under domes all their lives, tending potted plants, zoos, and carefully arranged crops of grains and fruit trees? What do they know about life in the wild?"

"Ahhh. Now I understand."

"So there will be these strangers flooding the grounds. They will be carefully checked, I presume, but they won't be as tightly screened as they would be if they were Trantorians. And that means, surely, that we should be able to supply just a few of our own people, with false identifications, and get them inside. Even if some are screened out, a few might make it-a few must make it. Our people will enter, despite the supertight security established since the failed coup in the early days of First Minister Seldon." (He virtually spat out the name, as he always did.) "We'll finally have our chance."

Now it was Andorin who felt dizzy, as if he'd fallen into a spinning vortex. "It seems odd for me to say so, Chief, but there is something to this 'gods' business after all, because I have been waiting to tell you something that I now see fits in perfectly."

Namarti stared at the other suspiciously and looked around the room, as though he suddenly feared for security. But such fear was groundless. The room was located deep in an old-fashioned residential complex and was well shielded. No one could overhear and no one, even with detailed directions, could find it easily-nor get through the layers of protection provided by loyal members of the organization.

Namarti said, "What are you talking about?"

"I've found a man for you. A young man-very naive. A quite likable fellow, the kind you feel you can trust as soon as you see him. He's got an open face, wide-open eyes; he's lived in Dahl; he's an enthusiast for equality; he thinks Joranum was the greatest thing since Dahlite cokeicers; and I'm sure we can easily talk him into doing anything for the cause."

"For the cause?" said Namarti, whose suspicions were not in the least alleviated. "Is he one of us?"

"Actually, he's not one of anything. He's got some vague notions in his head that Joranum wanted sector equality."

"That was his lure. Sure."

"It's ours, too, but the kid believes it. He talks about equality and popular participation in government. He even mentioned democracy."

Namarti snickered. "In twenty thousand years, democracy has never been used for very long without falling apart."

"Yes, but that's not our concern. It's what drives the young man and I tell you, Chief, I knew we had our tool just about the moment I saw him, but I didn't know how we could possibly use him. Now I know. We can get him onto the Imperial Palace grounds as a gardener."

"How? Does he know anything about gardening?"

"No. I'm sure he doesn't. He's never worked at anything but unskilled labor. He's operating a hauler right now and I think that he had to be taught how to do that. Still, if we can get him in as a gardener's helper, if he just knows how to hold a pair of shears, then we've got it."

"Got what?"

"Got someone who can approach anyone we wish-and do so without raising the flutter of a suspicion-and get close enough to strike. I'm telling you he simply exudes a kind of honorable stupidity, a kind of foolish virtue that inspires confidence."

"And he'll do what we tell him to do?"

"Absolutely."

"How did you meet this person?"

"It wasn't I. It was Manella who really spotted him."

"Who?"

"Manella. Manella Dubanqua."

"Oh. That friend of yours." Namarti's face twisted into a look of prissy disapproval.

"She's the friend of many people," said Andorin tolerantly. "That's one of the things that makes her so useful. She can weigh a man quickly and with very little to go on. She talked to this fellow because she was attracted to him at sight-and I assure you that Manella is not one who is usually attracted by anything but the bottom line-so, you see, this man is rather unusual. She talked to this fellow-his name is Planchet, by the way-and then told me, 'I have a live one for you, Gleb.' I'll trust her on the matter of live ones any day of the week."

Namarti said slyly, "And what do you think this wonderful tool of yours would do once he had the run of the grounds, eh, Andorin?"

Andorin took a deep breath. "What else? If we do everything right, he will dispose of our dear Emperor Cleon, First of that Name, for us."

Namarti's face blazed into anger. "What? Are you mad? Why should we want to kill Cleon? He's our hold on the government. He's the facade behind which we can rule. He's our passport to legitimacy. Where are your brains? We need him as a figurehead. He won't interfere with us and we'll be stronger for his existence."

Andorin's fair face turned blotchy red and his good humor finally exploded. "What do you have in mind, then? What are you planning? I'm getting tired of always having to second-guess."

Namarti raised his hand. "All right. All right. Calm down. I meant no harm. But think a bit, will you? Who destroyed Joranum? Who destroyed our hopes ten years ago? It was that mathematician. And it is he who rules the Empire now with his idiotic talk about psychohistory. Cleon is nothing. It is Hari Seldon we must destroy. It is Hari Seldon whom I've been turning into an object of ridicule with these constant breakdowns. The miseries they entail are placed at his doorstep. It is all being interpreted as his inefficiency, his incapacity." There was a trace of spittle in the corners of Namarti's mouth. "When he's cut down, there will be a cheer from the Empire that will drown out every holovision report for hours. It won't even matter if they know who did it." He raised his hand and let it drop, as if he were plunging a knife into someone's heart. "We will be looked upon as heroes of the Empire, as saviors. Eh? Eh? Do you think your youngster can cut down Hari Seldon?"

Andorin had recovered his sense of equanimity-at least outwardly.

"I'm sure he would," he said with forced lightness. "For Cleon, he might have some respect; the Emperor has a mystical aura about him, as you know." (He stressed the "you" faintly and Namarti scowled.) "He would have no such feelings about Seldon."

Inwardly, however, Andorin was furious. This was not what he wanted. He was being betrayed.



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