Maps in a mirror, p.40

Maps in a Mirror, page 40

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



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  But he was not all show. Rom never forgot the friend of his childhood. Leyel knew it, and knew also that Rom’s coming to deliver this message from the Commission of Public Safety probably meant that Rom had fought to make the message as mild as it was. So Leyel blustered a bit, then made his little joke. It was his way of surrendering gracefully.

  What Leyel didn’t realize, right up until the day of the funeral, was exactly how dangerous his friendship with Hari Seldon had been, and how stupid it was for him to associate himself with Hari’s name now that the old man was dead. Linge Chen, the Chief Commissioner, had not risen to the position of greatest power in the Empire without being fiercely suspicious of potential rivals and brutally efficient about eliminating them. Hari had maneuvered Chen into a position such that it was more dangerous to kill the old man than to give him his Foundation on Terminus. But now Hari was dead, and apparently Chen was watching to see who mourned.

  Leyel did—Leyel and the few members of Hari’s staff who had stayed behind on Trantor to maintain contact with Terminus up to the moment of Hari’s death. Leyel should have known better. Even alive, Hari wouldn’t have cared who came to his funeral. And now, dead, he cared even less. Leyel didn’t believe his friend lived on in some ethereal plane, watching carefully and taking attendance at the services. No, Leyel simply felt he had to be there, felt he had to speak. Not for Hari, really. For himself. To continue to be himself, Leyel had to make some kind of public gesture toward Hari Seldon and all he had stood for.

  Who heard? Not many. Deet, who thought his eulogy was too mild by half. Hari’s staff, who were quite aware of the danger and winced at each of Leyel’s list of Hari’s accomplishments. Naming them—and emphasizing that only Seldon had the vision to do these great works—was inherently a criticism of the level of intelligence and integrity in the Empire. The Pubs were listening, too. They noted that Leyel clearly agreed with Hari Seldon about the certainty of the Empire’s fall—that in fact as a galactic empire it had probably already fallen, since its authority was no longer coextensive with the Galaxy.

  If almost anyone else had said such things, to such a small audience, it would have been ignored, except to keep him from getting any job requiring a security clearance. But when the head of the Forska family came out openly to affirm the correctness of the views of a man who had been tried before the Commission of Public Safety—that posed a greater danger to the Commission than Hari Seldon.

  For, as head of the Forska family, if Leyel Forska wanted, he could be one of the great players on the political stage, could have a seat on the Commission along with Rom Divart and Linge Chen. Of course, that would also have meant constantly watching for assassins—either to avoid them or to hire them—and trying to win the allegiance of various military strongmen in the farflung reaches of the Galaxy. Leyel’s grandfather had spent his life in such pursuits, but Leyel’s father had declined, and Leyel himself had thoroughly immersed himself in science and never so much as inquired about politics.

  Until now. Until he made the profoundly political act of paying for Hari Seldon’s funeral and then speaking at it. What would he do next? There were a thousand would-be warlords who would spring to revolt if a Forska promised what would-be emperors so desperately needed: a noble sponsor, a mask of legitimacy, and money.

  Did Linge Chen really believe that Leyel meant to enter politics at his advanced age? Did he really think Leyel posed a threat?

  Probably not. If he had believed it, he would surely have had Leyel killed, and no doubt all his children as well, leaving only one of his minor grandchildren, whom Chen would carefully control through the guardians he would appoint, thereby acquiring control of the Forska fortune as well as his own.

  Instead, Chen only believed that Leyel might cause trouble. So he took what were, for him, mild steps.

  That was why Rom came to visit Leyel again, a week after the funeral.

  Leyel was delighted to see him. “Not on somber business this time, I hope,” he said. “But such bad luck—Deet’s at the library again, she practically lives there now, but she’d want to—”

  “Leyel.” Rom touched Leyel’s lips with his fingers.

  So it was somber business after all. Worse than somber. Rom recited what had to be a memorized speech.

  “The Commission of Public Safety has become concerned that in your declining years—”

  Leyel opened his mouth to protest, but again Rom touched his lips to silence him.

  “That in your declining years, the burdens of the Forska estates are distracting you from your exceptionally important scientific work. So great is the Empire’s need for the new discoveries and understanding your work will surely bring us, that the Commission of Public Safety has created the office of Forska Trustee to oversee all the Forska estates and holdings. You will, of course, have unlimited access to these funds for your scientific work here on Trantor, and funding will continue for all the archives and libraries you have endowed. Naturally, the Commission has no desire for you to thank us for what is, after all, our duty to one of our noblest citizens, but if your well-known courtesy required you to make a brief public statement of gratitude it would not be inappropriate.”

  Leyel was no fool. He knew how things worked. He was being stripped of his fortune and being placed under arrest on Trantor. There was no point in protest or remonstrance, no point even in trying to make Rom feel guilty for having brought him such a bitter message. Indeed, Rom himself might be in great danger—if Leyel so much as hinted that he expected Rom to come to his support, his dear friend might also fall. So Leyel nodded gravely, and then carefully framed his words of reply.

  “Please tell the Commissioners how grateful I am for their concern on my behalf. It has been a long, long time since anyone went to the trouble of easing my burdens. I accept their kind offer. I am especially glad because this means that now I can pursue my studies unencumbered.”

  Rom visibly relaxed. Leyel wasn’t going to cause trouble. “My dear friend, I will sleep better knowing that you are always here on Trantor, working freely in the library or taking your leisure in the parks.”

  So at least they weren’t going to confine him to his apartment. No doubt they would never let him off-planet, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask. “Perhaps I’ll even have time now to visit my grandchildren now and then.”

  “Oh, Leyel, you and I are both too old to enjoy hyperspace any more. Leave that for the youngsters—they can come visit you whenever they want. And sometimes they can stay home, while their parents come to see you.”

  Thus Leyel learned that if any of his children came to visit him, their children would be held hostage, and vice versa. Leyel himself would never leave Trantor again.

  “So much the better,” said Leyel. “I’ll have time to write several books I’ve been meaning to publish.”

  “The Empire waits eagerly for every scientific treatise you publish.” There was a slight emphasis on the word “scientific.” “But I hope you won’t bore us with one of those tedious autobiographies.”

  Leyel agreed to the restriction easily enough. “I promise, Rom. You know better than anyone else exactly how boring my life has always been.”

  “Come now. My life’s the boring one, Leyel, all this government claptrap and bureaucratic bushwa. You’ve been at the forefront of scholarship and learning. Indeed, my friend, the Commission hopes you’ll honor us by giving us first look at every word that comes out of your scriptor.”

  “Only if you promise to read it carefully and point out any mistakes I might make.” No doubt the Commission intended only to censor his work to remove political material—which Leyel had never included anyway. But Leyel had already resolved never to publish anything again, at least as long as Linge Chen was Chief Commissioner. The safest thing Leyel could do now was to disappear, to let Chen forget him entirely—it would be egregiously stupid to send occasional articles to Chen, thus reminding him that Leyel was still around.

  But Rom wasn’t thro
ugh yet. “I must extend that request to Deet’s work as well. We really want first look at it—do tell her so.”

  “Deet?” For the first time Leyel almost let his fury show. Why should Deet be punished because of Leyel’s indiscretion? “Oh, she’ll be too shy for that, Rom—she doesn’t think her work is important enough to deserve any attention from men as busy as the Commissioners. They’ll think you only want to see her work because she’s my wife—she’s always annoyed when people patronize her.”

  “You must insist, then, Leyel,” said Rom. “I assure you, her studies of the functions of the Imperial bureaucracy have long been interesting to the Commission for their own sake.”

  Ah. Of course. Chen would never have allowed a report on the workings of government to appear without making sure it wasn’t dangerous. Censorship of Deet’s writings wouldn’t be Leyel’s fault after all. Or at least not entirely.

  “I’ll tell her that, Rom. She’ll be flattered. But won’t you stay and tell her yourself? I can bring you a cup of peshat, we can talk about old times—”

  Leyel would have been surprised if Rom had stayed. No, this interview had been at least as hard on Rom as it had been on him. The very fact that Rom had been forced into being the Commission’s messenger to his childhood friend was a humiliating reminder that the Chens were in the ascendant over the Divarts. But as Rom bowed and left, it occurred to Leyel that Chen might have made a mistake. Humiliating Rom this way, forcing him to place his dearest friend under arrest like this—it might be the straw to break the camel’s back. After all, though no one had ever been able to find out who hired the assassin who killed Rom’s father, and no one had ever learned who denounced Rom’s grandfather, leading to his execution by the paranoid Emperor Wassiniwak, it didn’t take a genius to realize that the House of Chen had profited most from both events.

  “I wish I could stay,” said Rom. “But duty calls. Still, you can be sure I’ll think of you often. Of course, I doubt I’ll think of you as you are now, you old wreck. I’ll remember you as a boy, when we used to tweak our tutor—remember the time we recoded his lector, so that for a whole week explicit pornography kept coming up on the display whenever the door of his room opened?”

  Leyel couldn’t help laughing. “You never forget anything, do you!”

  “The poor fool. He never figured out that it was us! Old times. Why couldn’t we have stayed young forever?” He embraced Leyel and then swiftly left.

  Linge Chen, you fool, you have reached too far. Your days are numbered. None of the Pubs who were listening in on their conversation could possibly know that Rom and Leyel had never teased their tutor—and that they had never done anything to his lector. It was just Rom’s way of letting Leyel know that they were still allies, still keeping secrets together—and that someone who had authority over both of them was going to be in for a few nasty surprises.

  It gave Leyel chills, thinking about what might come of all this. He loved Rom Divart with all his heart, but he also knew that Rom was capable of biding his time and then killing swiftly, efficiently, coldly. Linge Chen had just started his latest six-year term of office, but Leyel knew he’d never finish it. And the next Chief Commissioner would not be a Chen.

  Soon, though, the enormity of what had been done to him began to sink in. He had always thought that his fortune meant little to him—that he would be the same man with or without the Forska estates. But now he began to realize that it wasn’t true, that he’d been lying to himself all along. He had known since childhood how despicable rich and powerful men could be—his father had made sure he saw and understood how cruel men became when their money persuaded them they had a right to use others however they wished. So Leyel had learned to despise his own birthright, and, starting with his father, had pretended to others that he could make his way through the world solely by wit and diligence, that he would have been exactly the same man if he had grown up in a common family, with a common education. He had done such a good job of acting as if he didn’t care about his wealth that he came to believe it himself.

  Now he realized that Forska estates had been an invisible part of himself all along, as if they were extensions of his body, as if he could flex a muscle and cargo ships would fly, he could blink and mines would be sunk deep into the earth, he could sigh and all over the Galaxy there would be a wind of change that would keep blowing until everything was exactly as he wanted it. Now all those invisible limbs and senses had been amputated.. Now he was crippled—he had only as many arms and legs and eyes as any other human being.

  At last he was what he had always pretended to be. An ordinary, powerless man. He hated it.

  For the first hours after Rom left, Leyel pretended he could take all this in stride. He sat at the lector and spun through the pages smoothly—without anything on the pages registering in his memory. He kept wishing Deet were there so he could laugh with her about how little this hurt him; then he would be glad that Deet was not there, because one sympathetic touch of her hand would push him over the edge, make it impossible to contain his emotion.

  Finally he could not help himself. Thinking of Deet, of their children and grandchildren, of all that had been lost to them because he had made an empty gesture to a dead friend, he threw himself to the softened floor and wept bitterly. Let Chen listen to recordings of what the spy beam shows of this! Let him savor his victory! I’ll destroy him somehow, my staff is still loyal to me, I’ll put together an army, I’ll hire assassins of my own, I’ll make contact with Admiral Sipp, and then Chen will be the one to sob, crying out for mercy as I disfigure him the way he has mutilated me—

  Fool.

  Leyel rolled over onto his back, dried his face on his sleeve, then lay there, eyes closed, calming himself. No vengeance. No politics. That was Rom’s business, not Leyel’s. Too late for him to enter the game now—and who would help him, anyway, now that he had already lost his power? There was nothing to be done.

  Leyel didn’t really want to do anything, anyway. Hadn’t they guaranteed that his archives and libraries would continue to be funded? Hadn’t they guaranteed him unlimited research funds? And wasn’t that all he had cared about anyway? He had long since turned over all the Forska operations to his subordinates—Chen’s trustee would simply do the same job. And Leyel’s children wouldn’t suffer much—he had raised them with the same values that he had grown up with, and so they all pursued careers unrelated to the Forska holdings. They were true children of their father and mother—they wouldn’t have any self-respect if they didn’t earn their own way in the world. No doubt they’d be disappointed by having their inheritance snatched away. But they wouldn’t be destroyed.

  I am not ruined. All the lies that Rom told are really true, only they didn’t realize it. All that matters in my life, I still have. I really don’t care about my fortune. It’s just the way I lost it that made me so furious. I can go on and be the same person I always was. This will even give me an opportunity to see who my true friends are—to see who still honors me for my scientific achievements, and who despises me for my poverty.

  By the time Deet got home from the library—late, as was usual these days—Leyel was hard at work, reading back through all the research and speculation on protohuman behavior, trying to see if there was anything other than half-assed guesswork and pompous babble. He was so engrossed in his reading that he spent the first fifteen minutes after she got home telling her of the hilarious stupidities he had found in the day’s reading, and then sharing a wonderful, impossible thought he had had.

  “What if the human species isn’t the only branch to evolve on our family tree? What if there’s some other primate species that looks exactly like us, but can’t interbreed with us, that functions in a completely different way, and we don’t even know it, we all think everybody’s just like us, but here and there all over the Empire there are whole towns, cities, maybe even worlds of people who secretly aren’t human at all.”

  “But Leyel, my overwrought
husband, if they look just like us and act just like us, then they are human.”

  “But they don’t act exactly like us. There’s a difference. A completely different set of rules and assumptions. Only they don’t know that we’re different, and we don’t know that they’re different. Or even if we suspect it, we’re never sure. Just two different species, living side by side and never guessing it.”

  She kissed him. “You poor fool, that isn’t speculation, it already exists. You have just described the relationship between males and females. Two completely different species, completely unintelligible to each other, living side by side and thinking they’re really the same. The fascinating thing, Leyel, is that the two species persist in marrying each other and having babies, sometimes of one species, sometimes of the other, and the whole time they can’t understand why they can’t understand each other.”

  He laughed and embraced her. “You’re right, as always, Deet. If I could once understand women, then perhaps I’d know what it is that makes men human.”

  “Nothing could possibly make men human,” she answered. “Every time they’re just about to get it right, they end up tripping over the damned Y chromosome and turning back into beasts.” She nuzzled his neck.

  It was then, with Deet in his arms, that he whispered to her what had happened when Rom visited that day. She said nothing, but held him tightly for the longest time. Then they had a very late supper and went about their nightly routines as if nothing had changed.

  Not until they were in bed, not until Deet was softly snoring beside him, did it finally occur to Leyel that Deet was facing a test of her own. Would she still love him, now that he was merely Leyel Forska, scientist on a pension, and not Lord Forska, master of worlds? Of course she would intend to. But just as Leyel had never been aware of how much he depended on his wealth to define himself, so also she might not have realized how much of what she loved about him was his vast power; for even though he didn’t flaunt it, it had always been there, like a solid platform underfoot, hardly noticed except now, when it was gone, when their footing was unsure.

 
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