Seldon sighed as he climbed into one of the skitters that were ranked side by side in the large alcove. There had been a time, just a few years ago, when he had gloried in walking briskly along the interminable corridors of the Library, telling himself that even though he was past sixty he could manage it.
But now, at seventy, his legs gave way all too quickly and he had to take a skitter. Younger men took them all the time because skitters saved them trouble, but Seldon did it because he had to-and that made all the difference.
After Seldon punched in the destination, he closed a contact and the skitter lifted a fraction of an inch above the floor. Off it went at a rather casual pace, very smoothly, very silently, and Seldon leaned back and watched the corridor walls, the other skitters, the occasional walkers.
He passed a number of Librarians and, even after all these years, he still smiled when he saw them. They were the oldest Guild in the Empire, the one with the most revered traditions, and they clung to ways that were more appropriate centuries before-maybe millennia before.
Their garments were silky and off-white and were loose enough to be almost gownlike, coming together at the neck and billowing out from there.
Trantor, like all the worlds, oscillated, where the males were concerned, between facial hair and smoothness. The people of Trantor itself-or at least most of its sectors-were smooth-shaven and had been smooth-shaven for as far back as he knew-excepting such anomalies as the mustaches worn by Dahlites, such as his own foster son, Raych.
The Librarians, however, clung to the beards of long ago. Every Librarian had a rather short neatly cultivated beard running from ear to ear but leaving bare the upper lip. That alone was enough to mark them for what they were and to make the smooth-shaven Seldon feel a little uncomfortable when surrounded by a crowd of them.
Actually the most characteristic thing of all was the cap each wore (perhaps even when asleep, Seldon thought). Square, it was made of a velvety material, in four parts that came together with a button at the top. The caps came in an endless variety of colors and apparently each color had significance. If you were familiar with Librarian lore, you could tell a particular Librarian's length of service, area of expertise, grades of accomplishment, and so on. They helped fix a pecking order. Every Librarian could, by a glance at another's hat, tell whether to be respectful (and to what degree) or overbearing (and to what degree).
The Galactic Library was the largest single structure on Trantor (possibly in the Galaxy), much larger than even the Imperial Palace, and it had once gleamed and glittered, as though boasting of its size and magnificence. However, like the Empire itself, it had faded and withered. It was like an old dowager still wearing the jewels of her youth but upon a body that was wrinkled and wattled.
The skitter stopped in front of the ornate doorway of the Chief Librarian's office and Seldon climbed out.
Las Zenow smiled as he greeted Seldon. "Welcome, my friend," he said in his high-pitched voice. (Seldon wondered if he had ever sung tenor in his younger days but had never dared to ask. The Chief Librarian was a compound of dignity always and the question might have seemed offensive.)
"Greetings," said Seldon. Zenow had a gray beard, rather more than halfway to white, and he wore a pure white hat. Seldon understood that without any explanation. It was a case of reverse ostentation. The total absence of color represented the highest peak of position.
Zenow rubbed his hands with what seemed to be an inner glee. "I've called you in, Hari, because I've got good news for you. We've found it!
"By 'it,' Las, you mean-"
"A suitable world. You wanted one far out. I think we've located the ideal one." His smile broadened. "You just leave it to the Library. Hari. We can find anything."
"I have no doubt, Las. Tell me about this world."
"Well, let me show you its location first." A section of the wall slid aside, the lights in the room dimmed, and the Galaxy appeared in three-dimensional form, turning slowly. Again, red lines marked off the Province of Anacreon, so that Seldon could almost swear that the episode with the three men had been a rehearsal for this.
And then a brilliant blue dot appeared at the far end of the province. "There it is," said Zenow. "It's an ideal world. Sizable, well-watered, good oxygen atmosphere, vegetation, of course. A great deal of sea life. It's there just for the taking. No planet-molding or terraforming required-or, at least, none that cannot be done while it is actually occupied."
Seldon said, "Is it an unoccupied world, Las?"
"Absolutely unoccupied. No one on it."
"But why-if it's so suitable? I presume that, if you have all the details about it, it must have been explored. Why wasn't it colonized?"
"It was explored, but only by unmanned probes. And there was no colonization-presumably because it was so far from everything. The planet revolves around a star that is farther from the central black hole than that of any inhabited planet-farther by far. Too far, I suppose, for prospective colonists, but I think not too far for you. You said, 'The farther, the better.' "
"Yes," said Seldon, nodding. "I still say so. Does it have a name or is there just a letter-number combination?"
"Believe it or not, it has a name. Those who sent out the probes named it Terminus, an archaic word meaning 'the end of the line.' Which it would seem to be."
Seldon said, "Is the world part of the territory of the Province of Anacreon?"
"Not really," said Zenow. "If you'll study the red line and the red shading, you will see that the blue dot of Terminus lies slightly outside it-fifty light-years outside it, in fact. Terminus belongs to nobody; it's not even part of the Empire, as a matter of fact."
"You're right, then, Las. It does seem like the ideal world I've been looking for."
"Of course," said Zenow thoughtfully, "once you occupy Terminus, I imagine the Governor of Anacreon will claim it as being under his jurisdiction."
"That's possible," said Seldon, "but we'll have to deal with that when 1 he matter comes up."
Zenow rubbed his hands again. "What a glorious conception. Setting up a huge project on a brand-new world, far away and entirely isolated, so that year by year and decade by decade a huge Encyclopedia of all human knowledge can be put together. An epitome of what is present in this Library. If I were only younger, I would love to join the expedition."
Seldon said sadly, "You're almost twenty years younger than I am." (Almost everyone is far younger than I am, he thought, even more sadly.)
Zenow said, "Ah yes, I heard that you just passed your seventieth birthday. I hope you enjoyed it and celebrated appropriately."
Seldon stirred. "I don't celebrate my birthdays."
"Oh, but you did. I remember the famous story of your sixtieth birthday."
Seldon felt the pain, as deeply as though the dearest loss in all the world had taken place the day before. "Please don't talk about it," he said.
Abashed, Zenow said, "I'm sorry. We'll talk about something else. If, indeed, Terminus is the world you want, I imagine that your work on the preliminaries to the Encyclopedia Project will be redoubled. As you know, the Library will be glad to help you in all respects."
"I'm aware of it, Las, and I am endlessly grateful. We will, indeed, keep working."
He rose, not yet able to smile after the sharp pang induced by the reference to his birthday celebration of ten years back. He said, "So I must go to continue my labors."
And as he left, he felt, as always, a pang of conscience over the deceit he was practicing. Las Zenow did not have the slightest idea of Seldon's true intentions.