Thursday, October 11, 2007

Forward the Foundation

"I tell you again, Hari," said Yugo Amaryl, "that your friend Demerzel is in deep trouble." He emphasized the word "friend" very lightly and with an unmistakable air of distaste.

Hari Seldon detected the sour note and ignored it. He looked up from his tricomputer and said, "I tell you again, Yugo, that that's nonsense." And then--with a trace of annoyance, just a trace--he added, "Why are you taking up my time by insisting?"

"Because I think it's important." Amaryl sat down defiantly. It was a gesture that indicated he was not going to be moved easily. Here he was and here he would stay.

Eight years before, he had been a heatsinker in the Dahl Sector--as low on the social scale as it was possible to be. He had been lifted out of that position by Seldon, made into a mathematician and an intellectual--more than that, into a psychohistorian.

Never for one minute did he forget what he had been and who he was now and to whom he owed the change. That meant that if he had to speak harshly to Hari Seldon--for Seldon's own good--no consideration of respect and love for the older man and no regard for his own career would stop him. He owed such harshness--and much more--to Seldon.

"Look, Hari," he said, chopping at the air with his left hand, "for some reason that is beyond my understanding, you think highly of this Demerzel, but I don't. No one whose opinion I respect--except you--thinks well of him. I don't care what happens to him personally, Hari, but as long as I think you do, I have no choice but to bring this to your attention."

Seldon smiled, as much atthe other's earnestness as at what he considered to be the uselessness of his concern. He was fond of Yugo Amaryl--more than fond. Yugo was one of the four people he had encountered during that short period of his life when he was in flight across the face of the planet Trantor--Eto Demerzel, Dors Venabili, Yugo Amaryl, and Raych--four, the likes of which he had not found since.

In a particular and, in each case, different way, these four were indispensable to him--Yugo Amaryl, because of his quick understanding of the principles of psychohistory and of his imaginative probings into new areas. It was comforting to know that if anything happened to Seldon himself before the mathematics of the field could be completely worked out--and how slowly it proceeded, and how mountainous the obstacles--there would at least remain one good mind that would continue the research.

He said, "I'm sorry, Yugo. I don't mean to be impatient with you or to reject out of hand whatever it is you are so anxious to make me understand. It's just this job of mine; it's this business of being a department head--"

Amaryl found it his turn to smile and he repressed a slight chuckle. "I'm sorry, Hari, and I shouldn't laugh, but you have no natural aptitude for the position."

"As well I know, but I'll have to learn. I have to seem to be doing something harmless and there is nothing--nothing--more harmless than being the head of the Mathematics Department at Streeling University. I can fill my day with unimportant tasks, so that no one need know or ask about the course of our psychohistorical research, but the trouble is, I do fill my day with unimportant tasks and I have insufficient time to--" His eyes glanced around his office at the material stored in computers to which only he and Amaryl had the key and which, even if anyone else stumbled upon them, had been carefully phrased in an invented symbology that no one else would understand.

Amaryl said, "Once you work your way further into your duties, you'll begin to delegate and then you'll have more time."

"I hope so," said Seldon dubiously. "But tell me, what is it about Eto Demerzel that is so important?"

"Simply that Eto Demerzel, our great Emperor's First Minister, is busily creating an insurrection."

Seldon frowned. "Why would he want to do that?"

"I didn't say he wants to. He's simply doing it--whether he knows it or not--and with considerable help from some of his political enemies. That's all right with me, you understand. I think that, under ideal conditions, it would be a good thing to have him out of the Palace, off Trantor . . . beyond the Empire, for that matter. But you think highly of him, as I've said, and so I'm warning you, because I suspect that you are not following the recent political course of events as closely as you should."

"There are more important things to do," said Seldon mildly.

"Like psychohistory. I agree. But how are we going to develop psychohistory with any hope of success if we remain ignorant of politics? I mean, present-day politics. Now--now--is the time when the present is turning into the future. We can't just study the past. We know what happened in the past. It's against the present and the near future that we can check our results."

"It seems to me," said Seldon, "that I have heard this argument before."

"And you'll hear it again. It doesn't seem to do me any good to explain this to you."

Seldon sighed, sat back in his chair, and regarded Amaryl with a smile. The younger man could be abrasive, but he took psychohistory seriously--and that repaid all.

Amaryl still had the mark of his early years as a heatsinker. He had the broad shoulders and the muscular build of one who had been used to hard physical labor. He had not allowed his body to turn flabby and that was a good thing, for it inspired Seldon to resist the impulse to spend all of his time at the desk as well. He did not have Amaryl's sheer physical strength, but he still had his own talents as a Twister--for all that he had just turned forty and could not keep it up forever. But for now, he would continue. Thanks to his daily workouts, his waist was still trim, his legs and arms firm.

He said, "This concern for Demerzel cannot be purely a matter of his being a friend of mine. You must have some other motive."

"There's no puzzle to that. As long as you're a friend of Demerzel, your position here at the University is secure and you can continue to work on psychohistorical research."

"There you are. So I do have a reason to be friends with him. It isn't beyond your understanding at all."

"You have an interest in cultivating him. That, I understand. But as for friendship--that, I don't understand. However--if Demerzel lost power, quite apart from the effect it might have on your position, then Cleon himself would be running the Empire and the rate of its decline would increase. Anarchy might then be upon us before we have worked out all the implications of psychohistory and made it possible for the science to save all humanity."

"I see. --But, you know, I honestly don't think that we're going to work out psychohistory in time to prevent the Fall of the Empire."

"Even if we could not prevent the Fall, we could cushion the effects, couldn't we?"


"There you are, then. The longer we have to work in peace, the greater the chance we will have to prevent the Fall or, at least, ameliorate the effects. Since that is the case, working backward, it may be necessary to save Demerzel, whether we--or, at least, I--like it or not."

"Yet you just said that you would like to see him out of the Palace and away from Trantor and beyond the Empire."

"Yes, under ideal conditions, I said. But we are not living under ideal conditions and we need our First Minister, even if he is an instrument of repression and despotism."

"I see. But why do you think the Empire is so close to dissolution that the loss of a First Minister will bring it about?"


"Are you using it for predictions? We haven't even gotten the framework in place. What predictions can you make?"

"There's intuition, Hari."

"There's always been intuition. We want something more, don't we? We want a mathematical treatment that will give us probabilities of specific future developments under this condition or that. If intuition suffices to guide us, we don't need psychohistory at all."

"It's not necessarily a matter of one or the other, Hari. I'm talking about both: the combination, which may be better than either--at least until psychohistory is perfected."

"If ever," said Seldon. "But tell me, where does this danger to Demerzel arise? What is it that is likely to harm him or overthrow him? Are we talking about Demerzel's overthrow?"

"Yes," said Amaryl and a grim look settled on his face.

"Then tell me. Have pity on my ignorance."

Amaryl flushed. "You're being condescending, Hari. Surely you've heard of Jo-Jo Joranum."

"Certainly. He's a demagogue-- Wait, where's he from? Nishaya, right? A very unimportant world. Goat herding, I think. High-quality cheeses."

"That's it. Not just a demagogue, however. He commands a strong following and it's getting stronger. He aims, he says, for social justice and greater political involvement by the people."

"Yes," said Seldon. "I've heard that much. His slogan is: 'Government belongs to the people.' "

"Not quite, Hari. He says: 'Government is the people.' "

Seldon nodded. "Well, you know, I rather sympathize with the thought."

"So do I. I'm all for it--if Joranum meant it. But he doesn't, except as a stepping-stone. It's a path, not a goal. He wants to get rid of Demerzel. After that it will be easy to manipulate Cleon. Then Joranum will take the throne himself and he will be the people. You've told me yourself that there have been a number of episodes of this sort in Imperial history--and these days the Empire is weaker and less stable than it used to be. A blow which, in earlier centuries, merely staggered it might now shatter it. The Empire will welter in civil war and never recover and we won't have psychohistory in place to teach us what must be done."

"Yes, I see your point, but surely it's not going to be that easy to get rid of Demerzel."

"You don't know how strong Joranum is growing."

"It doesn't matter how strong he's growing." A shadow of thought seemed to pass over Seldon's brow. "I wonder that his parents came to name him Jo-Jo. There's something juvenile about that name."

"His parents had nothing to do with it. His real name is Laskin, a very common name on Nishaya. He chose Jo-Jo himself, presumably from the first syllable of his last name."

"The more fool he, wouldn't you say?"

"No, I wouldn't. His followers shout it--'Jo . . . Jo . . . Jo . . . Jo'--over and over. It's hypnotic."

"Well," said Seldon, making a move to return to his tricomputer and adjust the multidimensional simulation it had created, "we'll see what happens."

"Can you be that casual about it? I'm telling you the danger is imminent."

"No, it isn't," said Seldon, eyes steely, his voice suddenly hardening. "You don't have all the facts."

"What facts don't I have?"

"We'll discuss that another time, Yugo. For now, continue with your work and let me worry about Demerzel and the state of the Empire."

Amaryl's lips tightened, but the habit of obedience to Seldon was strong. "Yes, Hari."

But not overwhelmingly strong. He turned at the door and said, "You're making a mistake, Hari."

Seldon smiled slightly. "I don't think so, but I have heard your warning and I will not forget. Still, all will be well."

And as Amaryl left, Seldon's smile faded. --Would, indeed, all be well?


But Seldon, while he did not forget Amaryl's warning, did not think of it with any great degree of concentration. His fortieth birthday came and went--with the usual psychological blow.

Forty! He was not young any longer. Life no longer stretched before him as a vast uncharted field, its horizon lost in the distance. He had been on Trantor for eight years and the time had passed quickly. Another eight years and he would be nearly fifty. Old age would be looming.

And he had not even made a decent beginning in psychohistory! Yugo Amaryl spoke brightly of laws and worked out his equations by making daring assumptions based on intuition. But how could one possibly test those assumptions? Psychohistory was not yet an experimental science. The complete study of psychohistory would require experiments that would involve worlds of people, centuries of time--and a total lack of ethical responsibility.

It posed an impossible problem and he resented having to spend any time whatever on departmental tasks, so he walked home at the end of the day in a morose mood.

Ordinarily he could always count on a walk through the campus to rouse his spirits. Streeling University was high-domed and the campus gave the feeling of being out in the open without the necessity of enduring the kind of weather he had experienced on his one (and only) visit to the Imperial Palace. There were trees, lawns, walks, almost as though he were on the campus of his old college on his home world of Helicon.

The illusion of cloudiness had been arranged for the day with the sunlight (no sun, of course, just sunlight) appearing and disappearing at odd intervals. And it was a little cool, just a little.

It seemed to Seldon that the cool days came a little more frequently than they used to. Was Trantor saving energy? Was it increasing inefficiency? Or (and he scowled inwardly as he thought it) was he getting old and was his blood getting thin? He placed his hands in his jacket pockets and hunched up his shoulders.

Usually he did not bother guiding himself consciously. His body knew the way perfectly from his offices to his computer room and from there to his apartment and back. Generally he negotiated the path with his thoughts elsewhere, but today a sound penetrated his consciousness. A sound without meaning.

"Jo . . . Jo . . . Jo . . . Jo . . ."

It was rather soft and distant, but it brought back a memory. Yes, Amaryl's warning. The demagogue. Was he here on campus?

His legs swerved without Seldon's making a conscious decision and brought him over the low rise to the University Field, which was used for calisthenics, sports, and student oratory.

In the middle of the Field was a moderate-sized crowd of students who were chanting enthusiastically. On a platform was someone he didn't recognize, someone with a loud voice and a swaying rhythm.

Excerpted from

Forward the Foundation

by Isaac Asimov
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