Foundation and Empire
Gnome Press, 1952
|Series:||The Foundation Series: Book 2|
|Sub-Genre Tags:||Galactic Empire|
|Avg Member Rating:||
The Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov are one of the great masterworks of science fiction. Unsurpassed for their unique blend of nonstop action, daring ideas, and extensive world-building, they chronicle the struggle of a courageous group of men and women to preserve humanity's light against an inexorable tide of darkness and violence.
Led by its founding father, the great psychohistorian Hari Seldon, and taking advantage of its superior science and technology, the Foundation has survived the greed and barbarism of its neighboring warrior-planets. Yet now it must face the Empire - still the mightiest force in the Galaxy even in its death throes. When an ambitious general determined to restore the Empire's glory turns the vast Imperial fleet toward the Foundation, the only hope for the small planet of scholars and scientists lies in the prophecies of Hari Seldon.
But not even Hari Seldon could have predicted the birth of the extraordinary creature called The Mule - a mutant intelligence with a power greater than a dozen battle fleets - a power that can turn the strongest-willed human into an obedient slave.
BEL RIOSE.... In his relatively short career, Riose earned the title of "The Last of the Imperials" and earned it well. A study of his campaigns reveals him to be the equal of Peurifoy in strategic ability and his superior perhaps in his ability to handle men. That he was born in the days of the decline of Empire made it all but impossible for him to equal Peurifoy's record as a conqueror. Yet he had his chance when, the first of the Empire's generals to do so, he faced the Foundation squarely....
Search for Magicians
Bel Riose traveled without escort, which is not what court etiquette prescribes for the head of a fleet stationed in a yet-sullen stellar system on the Marches of the Galactic Empire.
But Bel Riose was young and energetic - energetic enough to be sent as near the end of the universe as possible by an unemotional and calculating court - and curious besides. Strange and improbable tales fancifully repeated by hundreds and murkily known to thousands intrigued the last faculty; the possibility of a military venture engaged the other two. The combination was overpowering.
He was out of the dowdy ground-car he had appropriated and at the door of the fading mansion that was his destination. He waited. The photonic eye that spanned the doorway was alive, but when the door opened it was by hand.
Bel Riose smiled at the old man. "I am Riose -"
"I recognize you." The old man remained stiffly and unsurprised in his place. "Your business?"
Riose withdrew a step in a gesture of submission. "One of peace. If you are Ducem Barr, I ask the favor of conversation."
Ducem Barr stepped aside and in the interior of the house the walls glowed into life. The general entered into daylight.
He touched the wall of the study, then stared at his fingertips. "You have this on Siwenna?"
Barr smiled thinly. "Not elsewhere, I believe. I keep this in repair myself as well as I can. I must apologize for your wait at the door. The automatic device registers the presence of a visitor but will no longer open the door."
"Your repairs fall short?" The general's voice was faintly mocking.
"Parts are no longer available. If you will sit, sir. You drink tea?"
"On Siwenna? My good sir, it is socially impossible not to drink it here."
The old patrician retreated noiselessly with a slow bow that was part of the ceremonious legacy left by the aristocracy of the last century's better days.
Riose looked after his host's departing figure, and his studied urbanity grew a bit uncertain at the edges. His education had been purely military; his experience likewise. He had, as the cliche has it, faced death many times; but always death of a very familiar and tangible nature. Consequently, there is no inconsistency in the fact that the idolized lion of the Twentieth Fleet felt chilled in the suddenly musty atmosphere of an ancient room.
The general recognized the small black-ivroid boxes that lined the shelves to be books. Their titles were unfamiliar. He guessed that the large structure at one end of the room was the receiver that transmuted the books into sight-and-sound on demand. He had never seen one in operation; but he had heard of them.
Once he had been told that long before, during the golden ages when the Empire had been co-extensive with the entire Galaxy, nine houses out of every ten had such receivers - and such rows of books.
But there were borders to watch now; books were for old men. And half the stories told about the old days were mythical anyway. More than half.
The tea arrived, and Riose seated himself. Ducem Barr lifted his cup. "To your honor."
"Thank you. To yours."
Ducem Barr said deliberately, "You are said to be young. Thirty-five?"
"Near enough. Thirty-four."
"In that case," said Barr, with soft emphasis, "I could not begin better than by informing you regretfully that I am not in the possession of love charms, potions, or philtres. Nor am I in the least capable of influencing the favors of any young lady as may appeal to you."
"I have no need of artificial aids in that respect, sir." The complacency undeniably present in the general's voice was stirred with amusement. "Do you receive many requests for such commodities?"
"Enough. Unfortunately, an uninformed public tends to confuse scholarship with magicianry, and love life seems to be that factor which requires the largest quantity of magical tinkering."
"And so would seem most natural. But I differ. I connect scholarship with nothing but the means of answering difficult questions."
The Siwennian considered somberly, "You may be as wrong as they!"
"That may turn out or not." The young general set down his cup in its flaring sheath and it refilled. He dropped the offered flavor-capsule into it with a small splash. "Tell me then, patrician, who are the magicians? The real ones."
Barr seemed startled at a title long unused. He said, "There are no magicians."
"But people speak of them. Siwenna crawls with the tales of them. There are cults being built about them. There is some strange connection between it and those groups among your countrymen who dream and drivel of ancient days and what they call liberty and autonomy. Eventually the matter might become a danger to the State."
The old man shook his head. "Why ask me? Do you smell rebellion, with myself at the head?"
Riose shrugged, "Never. Never. Oh, it is not a thought completely ridiculous. Your father was an exile in his day; you yourself a patriot and a chauvinist in yours. It is indelicate in me as a guest to mention it, but my business here requires it. And yet a conspiracy now? I doubt it. Siwenna has had the spirit beat out of it these three generations."
The old man replied with difficulty, "I shall be as indelicate a host as you a guest. I shall remind you that once a viceroy thought as you did of the spiritless Siwennians. By the orders of that viceroy my father became a fugitive pauper, my brothers martyrs, and my sister a suicide. Yet that viceroy died a death sufficiently horrible at the hands of these same slavish Siwennians."
"Ah, yes, and there you touch nearly on something I could wish to say. For three years the mysterious death of that viceroy has been no mystery to me. There was a young soldier of his personal guard whose actions were of interest. You were that soldier, but there is no need of details, I think."
Barr was quiet. "None. What do you propose?"
"That you answer my questions."
"Not under threats. I am old enough for life not to mean particularly overmuch."
"My good sir, these are hard times," said Riose, with meaning, "and you have children and friends. You have a country for which you have mouthed phrases of love and folly in the past. Come, if I should decide to use force, my aim would not be so poor as to strike you."
Barr said coldly, "What do you want?"
Riose held the empty cup as he spoke. "Patrician, listen to me. These are days when the most successful soldiers are those whose function is to lead the dress parades that wind through the imperial palace grounds on feast days and to escort the sparkling pleasure ships that carry His Imperial Splendor to the summer planets. I . . . I am a failure. I am a failure at thirty-four, and I shall stay a failure. Because, you see, I like to fight.
"That's why they sent me here. I'm too troublesome at court. I don't fit in with the etiquette. I offend the dandies and the lord admirals, but I'm too good a leader of ships and men to be disposed of shortly by being marooned in space. So Siwenna is the substitute. It's a frontier world; a rebellious and a barren province. It is far away, far enough away to satisfy all.
"And so I moulder. There are no rebellions to stamp down, and the border viceroys do not revolt lately; at least, not since His Imperial Majesty's late father of glorious memory made an example of Mountel of Paramay."
"A strong Emperor," muttered Barr.
"Yes, and we need more of them. He is my master; remember that. These are his interests I guard."
Barr shrugged unconcernedly. "How does all this relate to the subject?"
"I'll show you in two words. The magicians I've mentioned come from beyond - out there beyond the frontier guards, where the stars are scattered thinly -"
" 'Where the stars are scattered thinly,' " quoted Barr, " 'And the cold of space seeps in.' "
"Is that poetry?" Riose frowned. Verse seemed frivolous at the moment. "In any case, they're from the Periphery - from the only quarter where I am free to fight for the glory of the Emperor."
"And thus serve His Imperial Majesty's interests and satisfy your own love of a good fight."
"Exactly. But I must know what I fight; and there you can help."
"How do you know?"
Riose nibbled casually at a cakelet. "Because for three years I have traced every rumor, every myth, every breath concerning the magicians - and of all the library of information I have gathered, only two isolated facts are unanimously agreed upon, and are hence certainly true. The first is that the magicians come from the edge of the Galaxy opposite Siwenna; the second is that your father once met a magician, alive and actual, and spoke with him."
The aged Siwennian stared unblinkingly, and Riose continued, "You had better tell me what you know -"
Copyright © 1952 by Isaac Asimov
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