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15


Linn said with utmost courtesy, "Tell me exactly why you are here, Dr. Venabili."

Dors smiled without menace-and yet not exactly pleasantly, either. "To begin with," she said, "I have come here to show you that I can come here."

"Yes. My husband was taken to his interview with the General in an official ground-car under armed guard. I myself left the hotel at a the same time he did, on foot and unarmed-and here I am-and I believe I got here before he did. I had to wade through five guardsmen, including the guardsman whose car I appropriated, in order to reach you. I would have waded through fifty."

Linn nodded his head phlegmatically. "I understand that you are sometimes called The Tiger Woman."

"I have been called that. Now, having reached you, my task is to make certain that no harm comes to my husband. He is venturing into the General's lair-if I can be dramatic about it-and I want him to emerge unharmed and unthreatened."

"As far as I am concerned, I know that no harm will come to your husband as a result of this meeting. But if you are concerned, why do you come to me? Why didn't you go directly to the General?"

"Because, of the two of you, it is you that has the brains."

There was a short pause and Linn said, "That would be a most dangerous remark-if overheard."

"More dangerous for you than for me, so make sure it is not overheard. Now, if it occurs to you that I am to be simply soothed and put off and that, if my husband is imprisoned or marked for execution, that there will really be nothing I can do about it, disabuse yourself."

She indicated the two blasters that lay on the table before her. "I entered the grounds with nothing. I arrived in your immediate vicinity with two blasters. If I had no blasters, I might have had knives, with which I am an expert. And if I had neither blasters nor knives, I would still be a formidable person. This table we're sitting at is metal-obviously-and sturdy."

"It is."

Dors held up her hands, fingers splayed, as if to show that she held no weapon. Then she dropped them to the table and, palms down, caressed its surface.

Abruptly Dors raised her fist and then brought it down on the table with a loud crash, which sounded almost as if metal were striking metal. She smiled and lifted her hand.

"No bruise," Dors said. "No pain. But you'll notice that the table is slightly bent where I struck it. If that same blow had come down with the name force on a person's head, the skull would have exploded. I have never done such a thing; in fact, I have never killed anyone, though I have injured several. Nevertheless, if Professor Seldon is harmed-"

"You are still threatening."

"I am promising. I will do nothing if Professor Seldon is unharmed. Otherwise, Colonel Linn, I will be forced to maim or kill you and-I promise you again-I will do the same to General Tennar."

Linn said, "You cannot withstand an entire army, no matter how tigerish a woman you are. What then?"

"Stories spread," said Dors, "and are exaggerated. I have not really done much in the way of tigerishness, but many more stories are told of me than are true. Your guardsmen fell back when they recognized me and they themselves will spread the story, with advantage, of how I made my way to you. Even an army might hesitate to attack me, Colonel Linn, but even if they did and even if they destroyed me, beware the indignation of the people. The junta is maintaining order, but it is doing so only barely and you don't want anything to upset matters. Think, then, of how easy the alternative is. Simply do not harm Professor Hari Seldon."

"We have no intention of harming him."

"Why the interview, then?"

"What's the mystery? The General is curious about psychohistory. The government records are open to us. The old Emperor Cleon was interested. Demerzel, when he was First Minister, was interested. Why should we not be in our turn? In fact, more so."

"Why more so?"

"Because time has passed. As I understand it, psychohistory began as a thought in Professor Seldon's mind. He has been working on it, with increasing vigor and with larger and larger groups of people, for nearly thirty years. He has done so almost entirely with government support, so that, in a way, his discoveries and techniques belong to the government. We intend to ask him about psychohistory, which, by now, must be far advanced beyond what existed in the times of Demerzel and Cleon, and we expect him to tell us what we want to know. We want something more practical than the vision of equations curling their way through air. Do you understand me?"

"Yes," said Dors, frowning.

"And one more thing. Do not suppose that the danger to your husband comes from the government only and that any harm that reaches him will mean that you must attack us at once. I would suggest that Professor Seldon may have purely private enemies. I have no knowledge of such things, but surely it is possible."

"I shall keep that in mind. Right now, I want to have you arrange that I join my husband during his interview with the General. I want to know, beyond doubt, that he is safe."

"That will be hard to arrange and will take some time. It would be impossible to interrupt the conversation, but if you wait till it is ended-"

"Take the time and arrange it. Do not count on double-crossing me and remaining alive."



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