The General, Part II
Before beginning this episode of Seldon Crisis, please be advised that this is an independently created podcast and is not meant to be a substitute for reading the books, nor is it affiliated with the family or estate of Isaac Asimov.
theme music plays with voiceovers:
Lathan Devers: “I’m a good trader, but all trades go in both directions.”
Brodrig: “What is the general after? Why is he fighting this war?”
Rose: “Every planet is defended viciously, and once taken, every planet heaves so with rebellion it is as much trouble to hold as to conquer. But they are taken, and they are held. Your Seldon is losing.”
Sergeant Luc: “You’ve… killed the General!”
Empire Commissioner: “I am a Lieutenant of the Imperial Police. You are under arrest.”
Welcome back to Seldon Crisis!
Before recapping part one of The General, I want to talk a little bit about themes. Thus far in Foundation, going back to the beginning when Gaal Dornick arrived on Trantor to meet with “The Raven,” Hari Seldon, father of psychohistory, Asimov has established a few overarching themes. The main one, it seems, is the arc of human progress and civilization, the consolidation of tribes into nations, nations into planetary government, planets into federations, until the entire galaxy is united under one unifying authority, then the inevitable decay of that structure into rebellion, balkanization, eventually widespread anarchy accompanied my massive human suffering. Foundation begins at the point of imminent collapse, when all seems stable on the surface, but the seeds of the fall have established deep roots and no human force will be able to extricate them.
Another important theme is the advantage of science and knowledge over the quest for raw power, as seen in the nascent Foundation’s ability to defeat its stronger enemies, and is the overriding theme of the Seldon plan. A coherent vision for the future of humanity illuminated by the acquired knowledge of the 12,000 years of galactic advancement and stability can reduce the horrific interregnum following collapse from 30,000 year to a single millennium, and the resulting new empire will presumably be stronger as a result and possibly provide new possibilities for human flourishing.
I want to talk about a third theme, however, that lies at the heart of much of Asimov’s writing, and particularly throughout this epic. That is the ever-recurring tendency for humans to achieve their objectives through deception, and is echoed by the author’s apparent delight in deceiving the reader through various plot twists and unexpected revelations. This theme will become stronger the longer we proceed through this story - and I promise some enormous surprises lie ahead in our journey. I have long maintained that Asimov was a mystery writer at heart. He wrote many short mystery stories, loved Agatha Christie’s mystery novels and worshipped her great fictional detective Hercule Poirot, while being surprisingly critical of the most famous writer of mysteries Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his heroic tandem of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. He enjoyed their exploits enough to be a long time member of the Baker St. Irregulars, a Holmes-inspired social club, however, and created a similar mystery solving couple in Elijah Baley and Daneel Olivah in the robots series.
We will see that, while the previous episode was largely about one man’s lust for military glory and determination to defeat an enemy worthy of his talents, the current episode with revel in the will to deceive, and the method of attaining such deception is the seductive power of bribery, both with technology – as we have seen since the days of Limmar Ponyets and Hober Mallow – and with the more traditional means of bribery via exchange of money, and the promise of power and privilege.
So let us recall now, that in our last episode, The General, Part 1, the Foundation faced its most serious Seldon crisis of any thus far. An ambitious Imperial General by the name of Bel Riose was bent on the complete annihilation of the nest of “magicians” he had heard rumors about on the periphery of the galaxy. He had gone so far as to visit Terminus itself to verify these rumors for himself, and had become aware of the famous Seldon plan, which foretold the downfall of the Empire and the eventual return under the power of this small but ambitious enclave of scientists and traders.
Bel Riose had paid a visit to Ducem Barr, the son of Onum Barr from the Merchant Princes, on the planet of Siwenna, where he was cordially, yet somewhat coldly greeted with tea and tales of galactic intrigue, assasination of an evil Imperial viceroy, and a lesson on the implications of psychohistory and the Seldon plan.
Later, we eavesdropped upon a tense conversation among some traders of the Foundation, including one by the name of Sennet Forell who was the son of Hober Mallow. They decided to send a spy to try to disrupt the general’s plans to defeat them with overwhelming Imperial force. Riose captured the spy, a swashbuckling rogue named Lathan Devers, and together he and Ducem Barr plotted to undermine the General’s invasion from within. As we ended the last episode, things looked grim for the Foundation, as an envoy of the Empire named Brodrig had joined Riose at the front to bless the invasion with full Imperial backing.
We now join Riose and Brodrig in a garden upon the planet of Wanda, somewhere near the front, as they discuss Riose’s progress.
Brodrig is annoyed with Riose’s continuing requests for additional ships that are in high demand. It is clear that the Empire’s capability is declining and it is no small matter to support the General’s military endeavor. He wants to know why Riose is so cautious and in need of a great quantity of ships to attack such a meager foe.
The General explains the difference between boldness and blindness, “There is a place for a decisive gamble when you know your enemy and can calculate the risks at least roughly; but to move at all against an unknown enemy is blindness in itself. You might as well ask why the same man sprints safely across an obstacle course in the day, and falls over the furniture in his room at night.”
His boldness is further hampered by the decaying technical systems on the aging vessels at his command, and the lack of qualified personnel to service them.
Brodrig reminds him, "Men of that type can not be spared, General. Surely, there must be one man of your vast province who understands nucleics."
Riose: “Were there such a one, I would have him heal the limping, invalid motors that power two of my small fleet of ships. Two ships of my meager ten that can not fight a major battle for lack of sufficient power supply. One fifth of my force condemned to the carrion activity of consolidating positions behind the lines.”
Brodrig: “Your position is not unique in that respect, general. The Emperor has similar troubles.”
Riose brings up an additional frustration. His psychic probe is not working against Devers. He has tested it against his own men and found it works, but it gets nothing from Devers. Ducem Barr has given him a nonsense explanation about how the brains of men of the Foundation might make them invulnerable to it in some way. Brodrig, perhaps suspecting some deception, insists on speaking to the Siwennian privately.
We now revisit our two captive heroes, Ducem Barr and Lathan Devers, in their private chamber under Imperial guard. The man guarding them is a good natured working class sort of soldier by the name of Sergeant Luk. He comes from a farming planet, and his main characteristics are a good natured simplicity of thought, while being devoted to the chain of command as seen through his love for the General, and a normal human tendency to be vulnerable to small acts of bribery that don’t seem to him like they could do any harm. Lathan Devers has obviously attempted to exploit that weakness.
Luk has arrived with a book-film captured from one of the “pig-pen worlds” the general has captured. He’s trading it in gratitude for a previous gift from Devers, a nuclear freezer his wife enjoys using. After sharing his joyful knowledge that the General’s military strategy of an enclosure is nearly complete, he departs, leaving the two men to examine their latest find.
Barr reads the title, The Garden of Summa, and begins to read it contentedly, but Devers is agitated.
Devers: "Listening to this old-time literature isn't doing me any good. You heard what the sergeant said?"
Barr: "Yes, I did. What of it?"
Devers: "The offensive will start. And we sit here!"
Barr: "Where do you want to sit?"
Devers: "You know what I mean. There's no use just waiting."
Barr: "Isn't there? You told me a good deal of Foundation history in the last month, and it seems that the great leaders of past crises did precious little more than sit – and wait."
Devers: "Ah, Barr, but they knew where they were going."
Barr: "Did they? I suppose they said they did when it was over, and for all I know maybe they did. But there's no proof that things would not have worked out as well or better if they had not known where they were going. The deeper economic and sociological forces aren't directed by individual men."
Again we see that Barr is trustful of the Seldon plan and its inevitable success. Devers is not nearly so trustful. He is a man of action, and brings up the only option that seems available, that of eliminating Riose through assassination. Barr explains that it would do little good. Brodrig is the real threat as he could produce a hundred ships if necessary. He goes into a little backstory on Brodrig.
Barr: "He's a low-born rascal who has by unfailing flattery tickled the whims of the Emperor. He's well-hated by the court aristocracy, vermin themselves, because he can lay claim to neither family nor humility. He is the Emperor's adviser in all things, and the Emperor's too in the worst things. He is faithless by choice but loyal by necessity. There is not a man in the Empire as subtle in villainy or as crude in his pleasures. And they say there is no way to the Emperor's favor but through him; and no way to his, but through infamy."
They discuss possible ways they could get to Brodrig and maybe bribe him - but Barr insists it would cost too much and Brodrig wouldn't stay bribed. Then Sergeant Luk reappears and has some big news. Brodrig is coming to interrogate them. He is clearly terrified of the envoy and has heard stories of his cruelty and capriciousness.
Luk speaks in fearful tones, "They say he has men with blast-guns who follow him everywhere, and when he wants pleasure, he just tells them to blast down anyone they meet. And they do – and he laughs."
He adds that Brodrig hates the general and would like to kill him, but that the general is too "good and wise" to be worried about such a threat. He knows his soldiers will defend him to the death.
Muk departs, taking Barr to his quarters, and shortly thereafter, Brodrig arrives flanked by two armed guards. Asimov describes the envoy as follows, "The Privy Secretary had little of the look of the lost soul about him just then. If the space fiend had bought him, he had left no visible mark of possession. Rather might Brodrig have been considered a breath of court-fashion come to enliven the hard, bare ugliness of an army base. The stiff, tight lines of his sheened and immaculate costume gave him the illusion of height, from the very top of which his cold, emotionless eyes stared down the declivity of a long nose at the trader. He brought his ivory stick to the ground before him and leaned upon it daintily."
Brodrig seems to expect Devers will attempt to use his gadgets to gain favor and tells him he has no interest in them. He finds a chair and sits imperiously, while denying Devers the same honor.
Brodrig: "You will stand in the presence of a Peer of the Realm."
Devers: "If you're not interested in my stock in trade, what am I here for... Sir?"
Brodrig ignores the question and begins his interrogation. He asks if Devers is really a citizen of this barbarian world causing all of this frenzy and was he really captured as Riose claims? Devers only nods silently. Brodrig explains what he is after. He wants information about what Bel Riose’s real aims are in wasting imperial resources in chasing after “fleabite world” at the edge of the galaxy. He lets Devers know of his knowledge of the supposed failure of the psychic probe to penetrate his mind, but is sure this is proof that Riose is lying. He has brought a more effective probe, the first major bribe of our story.
Brodrig pulls out a wad of intricately designed paper rectangles and asks Devers if he knows what it is?
Devers: "It looks like cash."
Brodrig: "Cash it is – and the best cash of the Empire, for it is backed by my estates, which are more extensive than the Emperor's own. A hundred thousand credits. All here! Between two fingers! Yours!"
Devers: "For what, sir? I am a good trader, but all trades go in both directions."
Brodrig: "For what? For the truth! What is the general after? Why is he fighting this war?"
Devers tells him what Riose's true objective is. The Empire itself! Brodrig is bored by this and tells him it's obvious. He wants to know how Riose intends to take over the Empire by defeating this tiny world on the edge of the galaxy.
Devers explains that the answer lies in Foundation technology, which will enable Riose to transmute elements, iron to iridium, which will give him the power to control the economy and take the throne within two years. He claims to have discovered these technological secrets at the cost of a death sentence awaiting him if he returns to Foundation space.
Ah.. the legacy of Limmar Ponyets from our fourth episode! The fascination with alchemical transmutation was a staple of the historical tales that Asimov studied in detail and loved so much. He couldn't help inserting it as a plot point in multiple tales within this great epic.
Brodrig then reveals a state secret, that the Empire has offered a hundred tons of Iridium a year to make peace and that the General has refused the offer. He now knows why! Riose will have all of that and more when he controls Foundation technology. He happily throws the money at Devers who eagerly scrambles to pick it up. Before leaving, he adds a hint of the sadism that has made him infamous.
Brodrig: "One reminder, trader. My playmates with the guns here have neither middle ears, tongues, education, nor intelligence. They can neither hear, speak, write, nor even make sense to a Psychic Probe. But they are very expert at interesting executions. I have bought you, man, at one hundred thousand credits. You will be good and worthy merchandise. Should you forget that you are bought at any time and attempt to ... say ... repeat our conversation to Riose, you will be executed. But executed my way."
Devers is returned to his quarters, and in response to Barr's obvious question, he replies, "No, that's the queerest part of it. He bribed me."
General Bel Riose has been hard at work on his war for two months and is short tempered and irritable. He has ordered Sergeant Luk to bring the two prisoners to his quarters and then to stand guard outside so he can speak to them privately. He informs them that their precious Foundation is clearly losing, despite fighting valiantly for each planet within their influence. While he speaks, Barr idly examines a crystalline bust of Clean II on a nearby table.
Riose: "Your Seldon is losing. To be sure, he battles well, for these men of the Foundation swarm like senseless bees and fight like madmen. Every planet is defended viciously, and once taken, every planet heaves so with rebellion it is as much trouble to hold as to conquer. But they are taken, and they are held. Your Seldon is losing."
Barr: "But he has not yet lost."
Riose: "The Foundation itself retains less optimism. They offer me millions in order that I may not put this Seldon to the final test."
This is clearly an allusion to the state secret which Brodrig had privately shared with Devers. Apparently it is too juicy a bit of knowledge to not be shared by all who hear it. Riose also adds another news item, that Brodrig has been made second in command at his own request.
Devers: "At his own request, boss? How come? Or are you growing to like the fellow?"
Riose: "No, can't say I do. It's just that he bought the office at what I considered a fair and adequate price."
When asked what price, they are informed that it was the delivery of the needed reinforcements, five beautiful and highly lethal warships which will make the conclusion of the war inevitable in short order. The Emperor included his congratulations and promised to send more reinforcements if needed.
Devers is shaken and can't hide his horror at the knowledge that the Foundation is lost. Riose pounces. He accuses Devers of being a committed partisan of the enemy, despite his apparent good behavior.
Devers denies it, but Riose has grown tired of the obvious deception.
Riose: "You were caught easily. You surrendered at first blow with a burnt-out shield. You're quite ready to desert your world, and that without a price. Interesting, all this, isn't it?"
Devers: "I crave to be on the winning side, boss. I'm a sensible man; you called me that yourself."
Riose: "Granted! Yet no trader since has been captured. No tradeship but has had the speed to escape at choice. No trade ship but has had a screen that could take all the beating a light cruiser could give it, should it choose to fight. And no trader but has fought to death when occasion warranted. Traders have been traced as the leaders and instigators of the guerilla warfare on occupied planets and of the flying raids in occupied space. Are you the only sensible man then? You neither fight nor flee, but turn traitor without urging. You are unique, amazingly unique – in fact, suspiciously unique."
He threatens to use the psychic probe once again, but before doing so insists that Devers and Barr remove their bracelets, which he has clearly discerned are the tools with which they have been keeping their secrets hidden from him.
As he is about to use the probe to reveal the duplicity of his prisoners, a receiver on his desk glows and a message capsule clicks into the slot. He steps behind his desk and bends over to retrieve the message. Barr quietly raises the bust of Cleon II that he had been examining and in a quick and graceful motion brings it down upon Riose's head with a crash.
Devers is shocked at his friend’s sudden transformation into a demon of action.
Barr: "Out! Quickly!"
He seizes the general's blaster from his inert body. The two men hastily exit the chamber and command the stunned Sergeant Luk to lead them to the trader's ship, with Riose's captured blaster digging into his back. Upon their arrival at the airlock, Devers turns to the furious Luk.
Devers: "Stand where you are, Luk. You've been a decent man, and we're not going to kill you."
He might have been well to stand and do as he was told, but the ever-loyal sergeant had seen Riose's monogram on the blaster.
Luk: "You've killed the general!"
In Asmov's words, "With a wild, incoherent yell, he charged blindly upon the blasting fury of the gun and collapsed in blasted ruin.
The trade ship was rising above the dead planet before the signal lights began their eerie blink and against the creamy cobweb of the great Lens in the sky which was the Galaxy, other black forms rose."
Devers knew his ship could outrun the others, and so it did. Where they were to go and to what effect was not presently known, but it was now apparent that Devers' made up story about the Foundation's ability to transmute elements at will had convinced Brodrig to throw in his lot with the General.
Once clear of Riose's base and the pursuing craft, Devers tries to contact the Association of Independent Traders and gets a tiny signal which is then lost, but he receives just enough of a response to get the horrifying news. Riose had been telling the truth. The Foundation had offered a huge tribute to the Empire and it had been refused.
Interestingly, the specifics of the battle news was that there was "fighting in the outer suns of Loris." Devers explains to Barr that Loris was one of the original four kingdoms along with Anacreon, and Smyrno. I don't think the fourth was ever named, unless I am just forgetting it which is quite possible. I’ll leave this a challenge to my listeners - perhaps somebody remembers a fourth kingdom being mentioned at some point in the story? Anyway, the importance of this news is that this meant that the Empire was now on the doorstep of Terminus itself. The awful conclusion of the conflict now appeared inevitable and imminent and there was absolutely nothing to be done about it.
Devers is crushed by the news and lashes out at Barr for his lack of concern. He is, after all, only a Siwennian and has no friends in Foundation space, at imminent risk of annihilation. Barr counters that he has already suffered grievous loss, much like his father long ago. He has two sons and a nephew who have been forced to stay on Siwenna under Riose's power and that his escape with Devers now means their death. He tells Devers of the meeting at the beginning of our last episode, when Riose had mentioned a cult centering around rumors of magicians on the edge of the galaxy.
Barr: "It is not quite a cult. You see, it is forty years now that Siwenna has been gripped in the same unbearable vice that threatens your world. Five revolts have been ground out. Then I discovered the ancient records of Hari Seldon – and now this 'cult' waits. It waits for the coming of the 'magicians' and for that day it is ready. My sons are leaders of those who wait. It is that secret which is in my mind and which the Probe must never touch. And so they must die as hostages; for the alternative is their death as rebels and half of Siwenna with them. You see, I had no choice! And I am no outsider."
Barr makes an important point. He is a believer in Seldon's prophecy and in the inevitability of eventual Foundation victory as unlikely as it now seems. The problem, however, is that Seldon's plan says nothing about the fate of Siwenna, and it now appears that all hope is lost for the successful uprising he and his family have so long desired.
Devers laments that Barr hadn't cracked Riose's skull, only wounded him, but Barr says that wouldn't have helped matters in the least, because Brodrig is worse.
Barr: "All Siwenna would have been my hostage. Brodrig has proven his worth long since. There exists a world which five years ago lost one male in every ten – and simply for failure to meet outstanding taxes. This same Brodrig was the tax-collector. No, Riose may live. His punishments are mercy in comparison."
Devers: "But six months, six months, in the enemy base, with nothing to show for it. Nothing to show for it!"
Barr now remembers there may be something after all. He fishes a small sphere from his pocket and puts it on the table.
Devers snatched it. "What is it?"
Barr: "The message capsule. The one that Riose received just before I jacked him. Does that count as something?"
After a shower, Barr returns to find Devers hard at work at his lab bench, investigating the spherical device. He asks if Devers can open it without the proper credentials.
Devers: "If I can't, I'll resign from the Association and never skipper a ship for what's left of my life. I've got a three-way electronic analysis of the interior now, and I've got little jiggers that the Empire never heard of, especially made for jimmying capsules. I've been a burglar before this, y'know. A trader has to be something of everything." More shades of Limmar Ponyets (I'm never going to let you forget that name you know).
Eventually, of course, Devers succeeds in opening the capsule and contemptuously observes that the medium is permanent. A Foundation message would be designed to oxidize into dust seconds after reading - just like the one that you-know-who received back at the beginning of The Traders.
The message was brief, and apparently routine:
"FROM: AMMEL BRODRIG, ENVOY EXTRAORDINARY OF HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY, PRIVY SECRETARY OF THE COUNCIL, AND PEER OF THE REALM.
TO: BEL RIOSE, MILITARY GOVERNOR OF SIWENNA. GENERAL OF THE IMPERIAL FORCES, AND PEER OF THE REALM.
I GREET YOU. PLANET #1120 NO LONGER RESISTS. THE PLANS OF OFFENSE AS OUTLINED CONTINUE SMOOTHLY. THE ENEMY WEAKENS VISIBLY AND THE ULTIMATE ENDS IN VIEW WILL SURELY BE GAINED."
Barr is dejected and bitterly unhappy, as the message appears to be worthless for their purposes. It contains no essential information of any possible use to the Foundation. All appears to be lost. Devers however, sees something that Barr is missing. He asks him to read again the final words and asks what he might have meant by "THE ULTIMATE ENDS IN VIEW?"
Barr: "The conquest of the Foundation. Well?"
Devers: "Yes? And maybe he means the conquest of the Empire. You know he believes that to be the ultimate end."
Barr: "And if he does?"
Devers: "If he does! Why, watch then, and I'll show you."
"With one finger the lavishly monogrammed sheet of message-parchment was thrust back into its slot. With a soft twang, it disappeared and the globe was a smooth, unbroken whole again.Somewhere inside was the tiny oiled whir of the controls as they lost their setting by random movements."
Devers: "Now there is no known way of opening this capsule without knowledge of Riose's personal characteristic, is there?"
Barr: "To the Empire, no."
Devers: "Then the evidence it contains is unknown to us and absolutely authentic."
Devers explains to the incredulous Barr that they now have direct evidence of Brodrig's treachery, and that if they can get it to the Emperor he will no doubt suspect that both Riose and Brodrig are conspiring to overthrow him and will likely recall the fleet.
Barr thinks it's impossible for them to reach Trantor as they don't even know where they are, but Devers reminds him that his is a Foundation ship, well armed and that they have personal shields on board that the Empire never found. They also have the funds that Brodrig generously provided to them in his bribe.
All they have to do is find the nearest planet, buy the charts they need, and off to Trantor to hopefully end the war before it's too late.
It's been many episodes since we last visited the Imperial capital of Trantor, with its gleaming metal enclosing a world of forty billion inhabitants. You may remember the description of it that Asimov provided in the Psychohistorians, when Gaal Dornick first arrived. I refer you to the text of The General in Foundation and Empire to hear a recapitulation and elaboration upon this description. Suffice it to say that the mission that Devers and Barr have embarked upon, to not only safely land on the planet, but to find their way through the complex bureaucratic thicket of a government designed to rule an entire galaxy and get their message into the hands of the Emperor seems an impossible task.
Somehow they make their way to the planets surface, and what do you suppose is the first thing they do once they have gained the relative safety of the planet's enclosure? Why they buy a newspaper of course! It is the Trantor Imperial News, the official news organ of the imperial government. I have to quote this description of the operation of this journalistic enterprise, because a mere 70 years or so after its publication it is so anachronistically hilarious.
"In the back of the news room, there was the soft clicking noise of additional editions being printed in long-distance sympathy with the busy machines at the Imperial News offices ten thousand miles away by corridor – six thousand by air-machine – just as ten million sets of copies were being likewise printed at that moment in ten million other news rooms all over the planet."
It's funny how none of the brilliantly imaginative minds of science fiction writers of the golden age of science fiction conceived of anything remotely like the internet we take for granted today.
The bold and dauntless Devers is out of his element. He has no idea how they will cut through the throng of humanity that encircles the Emperor. Barr assures him that there is a way, but it will involve a host of bribes of lower level officials and that he has the knowledge and understanding of Imperial culture to do the talking and spread their funds appropriately, but that they are up against an enormously difficult task.
To make matters worse, the newspaper gives an account of a battle in which the Foundation forces were wiped out, Bel Riose has captured Loris, and is on the doorstep of Terminus. Devers is despondent, but Barr assures him this is standard wartime propaganda, probably hugely overstated. Devers says they will have to work fast, but Barr gives him a dose of unappetizing reality.
Barr: "You can't go fast on Trantor. If you try, you'll end up at the point of an atom-blaster, most likely."
Devers: "How long will it take?"
Barr: "A month, if we're lucky. A month, and our hundred thousand credits – if even that will suffice. And that is providing the Emperor does not take it into his head in the meantime to travel to the Summer Planets, where he sees no petitioners at all."
After getting dinner our two plucky heroes get to work at their epic task of bribery, and for quite a while all goes well. Barr eloquently explains their needs, is denied, then obliquely refers to the compensation for the target's efforts on their behalf, bills are quietly exchanged, and they advance unhindered to the next level of obstacles in their path. Eventually, however, they reach a point at which the bribes do not attain their desired result. They are speaking to the Home Commissioner of the Outer Provinces.
Commissioner: "But the Emperor is indisposed, gentlemen. It is really useless to take the matter to my superior. His Imperial Majesty has seen no one in a week."
Barr: "He will see us. It is but a question of seeing a member of the staff of the Privy Secretary."
Barr's request is coldly denied, so the time has come for the requisite bribe. The Commissioner appears to play his role, accepting the bills and counting them slowly. When he appears to balk, Barr asks him if the sum is inadequate.
Commissioner: "On the contrary, it is more than adequate. To return to what I was saying, it is the Emperor himself who has become interested in your case. Is it not true, sirs, that you have recently been guests of General Riose? Is it not true that you have escaped from the midst of his army with, to put it mildly, astonishing ease? Is it not true that you possess a small fortune in bills backed by Lord Brodrig's estates? In short, is it not true that you are a pair of spies and assassins sent here to – Well, you shall tell us yourself who paid you and for what!"
Barr: "Do you know, I deny the right of a petty commissioner to accuse us of crimes. We will leave."
Commissioner: "You will not leave. You need answer no question now; that will be reserved for a later – and more forceful – time. Nor am I a commissioner; I am a Lieutenant of the Imperial Police. You are under arrest."
Barr and Devers now face an implacable foe, in whose hand now appears a highly lethal blast gun pointed in their direction. Devers slowly begins to retrieve his own concealed weapon, at which the policeman smiles and closes the contacts.
"The blasting line of force struck Devers' chest in an accurate blaze of destruction – that bounced harmlessly off his personal shield in sparkling spicules of light. Devers shot in turn, and the lieutenant's head fell from off an upper torso that had disappeared. It was still smiling as it lay in the jag of sunshine which entered through the new-made hole in the wall. It was through the back entrance that they left."
Devers: "Quickly to the ship. They'll have the alarm out in no time. It's another plan that's backfired. I could swear the space fiend himself is against me."
This is the point in the story that most strains credulity to me, for the two clearly identified murderers of an imperial police officer, are somehow successful in fleeing the scene of the carnage resulting from their clumsy attempt at a bribe and making their way to Devers' ship and then successfully elude pursuing craft and dangerously leap into hyperspace without proper preparations and calculations, resulting in Barr nearly losing consciousness. Somehow, Devers had found it possible - and reasonable - to buy another newspaper along the way! If this segment was written today all you would have to say is they checked the hyperspace news, but we must abide with the limitations of mid-twentieth century ignorance of modern telecommunications capabilities. Only when Devers and Barr have gained the safety of hyperspace do they pause to look at the large block headline on the front page of the Imperial News.
Devers: "Recalled and arrested – Riose and Brodrig. Why?"
Barr: "The story doesn't say, but what does it matter? The war with the Foundation is over, and at this moment, Siwenna is revolting. Read the story and see. We'll stop in some of the provinces and find out the later details. If you don't mind, I'll go to sleep now."
Another delicious quote from Asimov concludes the chapter, so evocative of golden age science fiction prose, "In grasshopper jumps of increasing magnitude, the trade ship was spanning the Galaxy in its return to the Foundation."
So what in the great galaxy happened to cause this happy outcome for the Foundation? I will allow you the listener to read the concluding chapter for yourself to divine the details, but in essence, the conclusion was always inevitable. Devers and Barr's wild exploits accomplished absolutely nothing, except for enriching a few corrupt officials of the Imperial government and depleting one unfortunate officer of his head. As Barr should have known, and claimed to be confident of from start, Hari Seldon's calculations had ascertained that the Foundation would prevail in the end.
Barr, in retrospect realized his folly, and explains to Sennet Forell, the son of the great Hober Mallow, how the victory came to be, "You see, sir, you – and Devers – and everyone no doubt, had the idea that beating the Empire meant first prying apart the Emperor and his general. You, and Devers, and everyone else were right – right all the time, as far as the principle of internal disunion was concerned."
Barr: "You were wrong, however, in thinking that this internal split was something to be brought about by individual acts, by inspirations of the moment. You tried bribery and lies. You appealed to ambition and to fear. But you got nothing for all your pains. In fact, appearances were worse after each attempt. And through all this wild threshing up of tiny ripples, the Seldon tidal wave continued onward, quietly – but quite irresistibly."
I find it funny that Ducem Barr, the man who impulsively clubbed Bel Riose over the head with a bust of Cleon II, would have the nerve to criticize inspirations of the moment. He also had quite a direct hand in the bribery and lies he mocks. I suppose we can forgive him a few inconsistencies knowing of the horrific losses to his family that could have made his behavior a little erratic.
Barr explains to the still confused Forell, "A weak general could never have endangered us, obviously. A strong general during the time of a weak Emperor would never have endangered us, either; for he would have turned his arms towards a much more fruitful target. Events have shown that three-fourths of the Emperors of the last two centuries were rebel generals and rebel viceroys before they were Emperors. So it is only the combination of strong Emperor and strong general that can harm the Foundation; for a strong Emperor can not be dethroned easily, and a strong general is forced to turn outwards, past the frontiers."
This passage, again, shows the value of the young Asimov's enthusiastic studies of history. In reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, he would have seen this pattern repeated again and again. It would seem that this is an inescapable path in the decline of a powerful empire, and Asimov simply re-enacted it in humanity's distant future.
I am further intrigued, however, by the implications this presents in the greater story arc of Foundation. In some ways, the clash of the Dead Hand of Hari Seldon and the Living Will of Bel Riose is the perfect encapsulation of the essence of psychohistorical determinism, one that has been hinted at throughout the stories leading up to this climactic confrontation, but never so thoroughly explored as it is here.
Where can Asimov possibly go from here? Shouldn't this effectively be the end of the story? Seldon knew the future from the power of his science as has been proved conclusively now. Why should we even read on? I can imagine Asimov wondering what he could write now that would keep the reader's attention. They’re not going to keep falling for this over and over are they?
Remember that Asimov's editor at Astounding Stories, John Campbell, was a huge influence on the path of his writing, and had suggested the premise of the story to him from the beginning. Campbell knew well of what a successful epic was made, and would likely have seen the blind alley that Asimov was painting himself into. There is a clue of the crack in the door that the writer could wedge open within the lines I just quoted from Ducem Barr. "…it is only the combination of strong Emperor and strong general that can harm the Foundation." This empire – the one that had improbably ruled the galaxy for 12,000 years, is on the clear path to oblivion. The Foundation, and the reader who aligns his or her sympathies with them, will no longer fear their declining power. Their complete collapse, as Seldon foresaw, is now inevitable. What new villain can possibly take its place? Without an empire how can there ever be a strong emperor and strong general to seriously threaten them?
Perhaps, not an emperor or a general in the traditional sense, but an individual of unforeseen capability could fulfill this role, to be both a powerful driver of raw force to envelop planets and submit them to his will, and a masterful administrator of the worlds under his command. Someone or something entirely unforeseen by Hari Seldon, an x factor that lies outside of this all-encompassing equations. We are soon to meet this factor in our next episode.
Let me turn very briefly to the last bit of dialog in this chapter, a few lines which might not seem important, and which I might very well have overlooked if it weren't for the attention drawn to them by my friend and loyal listener of the podcast, Erasmo Acosta.
Forell, Barr, and Devers are rejoicing in the newfound freedom of the Foundation in the wake of their stunning victory. Forell is jubilant, "Good! Good! Then you imply the Empire can never threaten us again."
Barr: "It seems to me so, Frankly, Cleon may not live out the year, and there's going to be a disputed succession almost as a matter of course, which might mean the last civil war for the Empire."
Forell: "Then, there are no more enemies."
Barr: "There's a Second Foundation."
Forell: "At the other end of the Galaxy? Not for centuries."
Devers interjects: "There are internal enemies, perhaps."
Forell: "Are there? Who, for instance?"
Devers: "People, for instance, who might like to spread the wealth a bit, and keep it from concentrating too much out of the hands that work for it. See what I mean?"
This is fascinating. Devers has always struck me as an independent sort. A man who loves his lone work among the stars, but hardly a plutocratic fat cat. Here he seems to be implying that a new enemy of the Foundation will be the common people who may seek to benefit from the efforts of people like him in trading and accumulating wealth for themselves as they serve the greater interests. The final line of the chapter is "Slowly, Forell's gaze lost its contempt and grew one with the anger of Devers' own."
Notably, Barr doesn't join in this sentiment and I find I am glad of this. I enjoyed Devers' manic intensity and swashbuckling attitude throughout the story, but don't think he would make for the kind of enlightened leadership as I would wish to live under. Barr, by contrast, was described as a patrician. This would imply he was a nobleman who would be expected to defend the concerns of the ruling class. We have seen, however, that his behavior - at times admittedly erratic - was largely selfless. We don't know much about Forell, except that he was a powerful figure among the traders. Perhaps this is why he shares Devers' anger at the idea of the little guy getting his fair share of the goods he has acquired through his commercial exploits.
The point of all this, and I suspect that of Asimov's rather enigmatically phrased concluding dialog, is that there is another threat to the Foundation from within, in the form of societal change potentially unfriendly to the leaders of the Foundation. We should expect to see this become a greater factor as the story unfolds.
I'll conclude this episode by noting that Asimov is becoming a better and better writer as he goes. Where he started with caricatures like Linge Chen and Weinis of Anacreon, and benign despots like Hardin and Mallow, he is now beginning to develop some real depth in his characters. Devers is fun but a little shady. Barr is noble but somewhat erratic. Riose is a determined soldier with grandiose aims but a somewhat congenial nature. At least he was until Cleon recalled him and presumably treated him and Brodrig in similar manner to how the unfortunate police commissioner was treated at the hands of Devers' blaster.
Of course, our beloved author still has some flaws, most notably in the absence of female characters of any depth or genuine importance to the story. That is about to change, however. Look forward to the next episode, The Mule, part one, for an excellent example of this change. For any women in the audience, you are about to finally have a representative of your gender impact this story in a profound way. I must say this is a long overdue development.
Let me thank the usual suspects; Tom Barnes for the wonderful theme music orchestration, Jeremy MacKinnon for sound design, Mike Topping for our beautiful podcast artwork, and my wonderful listeners, without whom this podcast would not exist. I thank each and every one of you, and look forward to joining you in our upcoming episodes. My only complaint is that not enough of you email me at email@example.com or tag me on twitter at joelgmckinnon. I adore engagement, so please let me know what you think of the show. Until next time, when together we meet on Seldon Crisis with The Mule, Pt 1.