"What's this about new gardeners?" exclaimed Seldon. This time he did not ask Gruber to sit down.
Gruber's eyes blinked rapidly. He was in a panic at having been recalled so unexpectedly. "N-new g-gardeners?" he stammered.
"You said 'all the new gardeners.' Those were your words. What new gardeners?"
Gruber was astonished. "Sure, if there is a new Chief Gardener, there will be new gardeners. It is the custom."
"I have never heard of this."
"The last time we had a change of Chief Gardeners, you were not First Minister. It is likely you were not even on Trantor."
"But what's it all about?"
"Well, gardeners are never discharged. Some die. Some grow too old and are pensioned off and replaced. Still, by the time a new Chief Gardener is ready for his duties, at least half the staff is aged and beyond their best years. They are all pensioned off generously and new gardeners are brought in."
"Partly and partly because by that time there are usually new plans for the gardens and it is new ideas and new schemes we must have. There are almost five hundred square kilometers in the gardens and parklands and it usually takes some years to reorganize it and it is myself who will have to supervise it all. Please, First Minister." Gruber was gasping. "Surely a clever man like your own self can find a way to change the blessed Emperor's mind."
Seldon paid no attention. His forehead was creased in concentration. "Where do the new gardeners come from?"
"There are examinations on all the worlds-there are always people waiting to serve as replacements. They'll be coming in by the hundreds in a dozen batches. It will take me a year, at the least-"
"From where do they come? From where?"
"From any of a million worlds. We want a variety of horticultural knowledge. Any citizen of the Empire can qualify."
"From Trantor, too?"
"No, not from Trantor. There is no one from Trantor in the gardens." His voice grew contemptuous. "You can't get a gardener out of Trantor. The parks they have here under the dome aren't gardens. They are potted plants and the animals are in cages. Trantorians, poor specimens that they are, know nothing about open air, free water, and the true balance of nature."
"All right, Gruber. I will now give you a job. It will be up to you to get me the names of every new gardener scheduled to arrive over the coming weeks. Everything about them. Name. World. Reference number. Education. Experience. Everything. I want it all here on my desk just as quickly as possible. I'm going to send people to help you. People with machines. What kind of a computer do you use?"
"Only a simple one for keeping track of plantings and species and things like that."
"All right. The people I send will be able to do anything you can't do. I can't tell you how important this is."
"If I should do this-"
"Gruber, this is not the time to make bargains. Fail me and you will not be Chief Gardener. Instead, you will be discharged without a pension."
Alone again, Seldon barked into his communication wire, "Cancel all appointments for the rest of the afternoon."
He then let his body flop in his chair, feeling every bit of his fifty years and feeling his headache worsen. For years, for decades, security had been built up around the Imperial Palace grounds, thicker, more solid, more impenetrable, as each new layer and each new device was added.
And every once in a while, hordes of strangers were let into the grounds. No questions asked, probably, but one: "Can you garden?"
The stupidity involved was too colossal to grasp.
And he had barely caught it in time. Or had he? Was he, even now, too late?