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The Student and the Conspirator

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Terminus City, established forty years earlier to house the monumental Encyclopedia Galactica project, showed clear signs of designers whose primary concern was anything but aesthetics. Hives of apartments, built according to a handful of uninspired templates, dominated the residential districts in three dimensions. The city center, built around the Time Vault and the Encyclopedia buildings, alternated block to block between under-utilized space and flurries of over-enthusiastic, claustrophobic construction. What existed in between – factories, shops, even the schools and University – was purely functional. Under the snow and sludge, the City looked abstract and uninhabited.

The only movement on the long avenue leading to the University was Salvor Hardin, racing to the gate in a wild, long-legged gait. He stormed the entryway, waving his ID chip with an exaggerated flourish at the security scanner. Once through the gate, he slowed to a languid saunter and continued so until he reached Professor Alurin’s office.

He was late again, but the lesson was scheduled early to allow for that inevitability. His instructor Bor Alurin greeted him without the least glance at his time band. Hardin had been painstakingly punctual for his first year of study with Alurin, following most of a summer spent persuading the aged psychologist to accept a pupil in the first place. He had been studying for three years, however, and his feeling that Alurin was purposefully stunting his progress occluded his determination more often than not.

Hardin whipped off his insulated jacket and folded himself into the chair before Alurin's desk. "The climate control isn't doing too well," he said, with the barest trace of irritation. Terminus was a mild world, and Terminus City near enough to the coast to benefit from the currents' equalizing effect. All the same, winters were still cold, and the population grumbled about the malevolence of their young world.

"You'd find it far worse if you'd lived half your life under a dome, and were old besides," Alurin replied mildly.

"Perhaps." Hardin slotted his portable computer into a terminal and sat straighter. "Shall we begin, Professor?"

 

After the lesson Hardin occupied a table at a nearby café and sat sipping coffee with all the discontent he could muster. It was a struggle, for the coffee had been imported from the Java system, the Galaxy’s acclaimed masters of the trade. Still, as happened regularly, he had left his lesson unsatisfied. Alurin's obscurity was too purposeful to put down to old age -- but what purpose could he have to sabotage Hardin's education? Alurin was Terminus' only psychologist, and Hardin its only student of psychology. He let the thought alone, as he always did, sensing the absence of some crucial detail.

A young man stopped at his table. "Hardin! How good to see you."

Hardin looked up. It was a former University classmate from -- he groped for it -- the engineering course he had taken to fill his physical science requirement. The name wouldn't come. He recalled an absurd enthusiasm for the curriculum. "Ah!" he began heartily. "Have you had many bids from the techie firms?"

Clearly it was the right thing to say. The unknown classmate beamed at him and began to talk: "Half a dozen, old fellow, they've been battling it out since before I graduated! It was difficult, you understand, but I've finally settled it." Hardin smiled back easily. He listened with half an ear to the deliberation that had gone into the choice, letting his mind drift back to his studies. Before starting his work with Alurin, he had joined the by-then established tradition of Foundation children, too precocious for anyone’s good, who had been shunted ahead to early graduation. At nineteen, Alurin had finally accepted him, and what good had that done? It was no use complaining to his parents -- an historian and a chemist -- about Alurin's infuriating wiles. They would only tell him what they had been telling him since he settled on psychology: it was a ridiculous, unnecessary career in a society of scholars and physical scientists, and it was about time that Hardin's flight of madness came to an end and he found a more respectable pursuit. Hardin, naturally, ignored every bit of it, though he felt Alurin was hardly leaving him a choice.

"Yes, see you around," he heard himself say, and the classmate wandered off, looking quite pleased with the encounter.

"You had no idea who he was."

"Exactly right," Hardin agreed good-naturedly, before realizing he didn't recognize the speaker. He turned back to his table. A small man, about Hardin's own age and vastly, studiedly innocent-looking, had sat down across from him. "Though clearly I didn't hide it well enough," Hardin added ruefully.

"On the contrary, it was masterfully done. Only my own careful study of behavior gave you away."

"How strange. It’s my study, too, but I doubt I would have picked it up."

"Oh?"

"I'm training in psychology," Hardin said, unable to keep defensiveness from his voice.

"Ah. My own field is not nearly as formal -- politics."

"A politician? In the Encyclopedia Foundation?" Hardin smiled indulgently.

"A psychologist? In the Encyclopedia Foundation?" the other countered with a matching smile.

Hardin threw up his hands. "You have me there. I'm Salvor Hardin, apparently the most occupationally misguided fool in the Galaxy."

"Yohan Lee. A pleasure."

"There's a Trustee by that name, I believe."

Lee's expression twisted into disgust. "My father. He was a scientist among the original extraction of Encyclopedists, and he won't let anyone forget it until the day he dies."

"And so, seeing how unfit for leadership your father and by extension all scholars are, you've gone into politics."

Lee looked at him curiously for a moment. "You could say that. I'm looking for a mayoral candidate to push through."

Hardin laughed. "And what, exactly, is a mayor going to accomplish? Have you read the Foundation charter?"

"Extensively."

"Then you know the mayor – the entire farcical council, really – couldn’t authorize a garbage disposal. Have you seen the self-effacing mice who've held the post these past four decades? They're barely distinguishable from a wall, much less each other. The Board of Trustees has the real power, if they would care to exercise it."

"But they don't, Hardin, and couldn't effectively if they did care. Precisely why I must find a candidate who would be strong enough, once elected, to win true power for the civilian government."

"Well, why don't you go for it yourself?"

"I find I work better behind the scenes," Lee said with a touch of pride.

"Good luck finding a powerful mayor willing to step aside and become your puppet as soon as he's toppled the Board of Trustees."

Coldly, Lee replied, "You misunderstand. I want no figurehead -- I want a competent leader."

"That's selfless of you," Hardin observed sarcastically.

With an angrily bitten off "hardly," Lee stood and walked out of the cafe. Hardin frowned after him, his mind already drifting away from the conversation: surely Hari Seldon, with the help of his psychohistory, would not have left the bastion of human knowledge with an ineffectual government by accident.

 

More than a week passed before Hardin recalled the conversation. He snapped out of a doze in the middle of his lesson with Alurin.

“Professor,” he said, “you knew Hari Seldon, didn’t you?”

“For a time,” Alurin answered vaguely, “and not very well. Why?”

“I was wondering. Did he discuss psychohistory with you?”

“Not in any detail. I wouldn’t have had the mathematics for it.”

“In general, then.”

“Perhaps. It was a while ago.” Alurin’s expression was neutral, but Hardin still felt he did not like the line of questioning.

“Of course. Was Hari Seldon well-versed in politics, in your experience?”

“He was First Minister for a decade, and he certainly handled the Commission of Public Safety well. Likely he didn’t need to be familiar with politics; he had psychohistory.” He stopped and peered at Hardin. “Why the sudden interest in Seldon?”

“Nothing, Professor. Only a thought.” Hardin tried to set it aside again and concentrate on his work, but Alurin was more tedious than usual. An hour later, Hardin interrupted again: “Why was a civilian government included in the charter when it has no official powers?”

“What’s that?” Alurin waited for his to repeat the question. “I wouldn’t know.”

“Do you think psychohistory might have dictated such a setup?”

“I really would not know,” Alurin repeated, more forcefully, “and if you can think of nothing but Seldon and psychohistory, we’ll finish for the day. I shall see you next week, Hardin.”

It was his first dismissal. Hardin barely managed not to stalk from the room, teeth barred and fists clenched. His resolve held until he reached a heated indoor courtyard connecting the University with the rest of the city. There he punched at a bench in frustration, sparing no thought for the pleasant sliver of summer around him.

“Something the matter?”

Hardin forced himself to relax. “It’s Lee again, isn’t it? Try not to sneak up on me that way.”

Yohan Lee shrugged slightly and said, “No, not while you’re so incensed.”

“It’s nothing. I just don’t see psychology working out for me after all.” He dropped down on the bench and invited Lee to join him. “Anyway, I’m sorry for being so contrary last week.”

“You’re entirely forgiven,” Lee acknowledged. “I shouldn’t have bored you with my plans.”

“I wasn’t bored. I’ve actually considered it, and you’re probably right. But what can you do about it? You’re one man, one kid to those head-in-the-sand trustees. Even if you found your candidate, how would you get him in?”

“There are ways,” Lee said calmly. “Now, what’s the trouble with psychology?”

“The only psychologist on Terminus is determined to be the last. He’s making no effort to teach me.”

Lee frowned. “That’s Bor Alurin isn’t? Part of Seldon’s team?”

“That’s the one, and he sent me away because I asked him about Seldon. There’s something decidedly off-color about this whole thing, Lee,” he declared with sudden vehemence.

“By which you mean…” Lee prompted.

“All of it. The Foundation, the Board of Trustees, Hari Seldon, everything.”

“I’ll leave that speculation to you, Hardin. I’m more concerned with what can be done about the problems I can point to.”

As usually happened when he believed himself to hold superior knowledge, Hardin’s tone grew irritable and didactic. “But then you’ll be striking blindly against psychohistory, against intractable social currents. Without understanding what Seldon planned, you’ll be lost.”

“And you’re qualified to work it out?” Lee asked skeptically.

“I didn’t say that, but I’m getting the shape of it now.”

“And you deduce…”

“That you’ll be in over your head if you rush it.”

“And so you’re volunteering to help me wade through?” Lee ventured.

Hardin threw his head back in confusion. “I didn’t say – It does sound like that, doesn’t it?” He thought about it. “Yes, I am volunteering. Congratulations, Lee, you have yourself a convert.”

“How fortunate for me.”

“Monster of generosity that I am, I’ll take that in the spirit in which it was intended.”

 

For a month, his studies and a job at the Terminus City Journal kept Hardin from lengthy meetings with Lee, though he did toy with psychohistory when he could. He found himself sifting the Journal’s records in his free time, reading about the Foundation’s earliest years. As he told Lee when he had the chance, it gave him no immediate insights, but he was certainly absorbing resources to call upon later. Lee, still unconvinced of the validity of Hardin’s reasoning, listened with strained politeness. Many of their exchanges degenerated into general resentfulness, for no reason that Hardin could identify, having discovered to his surprise that Lee, if painfully direct and not a little ruthless, was a more than usually acceptable companion.

Following a particularly disheartening session with Alurin, they sat in Hardin’s small apartment, a news holograph chirping unheeded behind them. Aside from the jumbled materials on his desk, the single room was scrupulously clean, with a pervasive odor of staleness that, had he ever been off Terminus, Lee would have identified as a hotel room stench that had followed humanity out of the mists of history. The moment he arrived, he pushed back the blinds and threw open the narrow window, letting the fresh spring breeze sweep in. Hardin watched impassively. It would occur to him only later that Lee had stretched the bounds of polite behavior.

From an unoccupied corner of the desk, Lee was saying, “If it’s going nowhere, why don’t you drop it and stick to journalism? You’ll be better placed for keeping tabs on Seldon’s tricks.”

“You still don’t believe it.”

“I’m waiting for compelling evidence. But you’re avoiding my question, Hardin.”

Hardin sighed, almost growling as he slumped lower in the room’s only chair. “I stick to psychology precisely because I don’t want to be a journalist and can’t see any other options.”

“You could try your hand at politics.”

“Yes, maybe I’ll be your prize candidate,” Hardin drawled.

“That was my intention.”

Hardin sat up and appraised him sharply. “You’re serious.”

“Why not?” Lee asked. “It wouldn’t be too difficult for you to get a Council seat, whatever that’s worth. And it could be fun.”

“And then you’d have a man on the inside.”

“If you’d like to think of it that way.”

“I don’t find myself attracted to the idea of being your man.”

“That’s too bad. It has a certain appeal.”

Scrupulously, Hardin said, “On further consideration, it would not be wholly repellant in all contexts.” He smiled. “In any case, I’m not eligible for another three years.”

“It’s never too early to start planning and making connections. Forget Alurin and put your psychology to practical use.”

Hardin’s brow wrinkled pensively. “What do you actually do, Lee?”

“Do?”

“You have an income, obviously, which I can’t imagine your political messing around brings in.”

Nonchalantly, Lee said, “I have a team of trained … bodyguards, and I hire out their services.”

“Like a gang?” Hardin asked, swallowing a laugh. “Out of a hyperwave drama?”

“Something of that nature.”

Hardin nodded lengthily to have something to do. He had the image of small, trim Yohan Lee commanding an army of hulking, muscular, nearly identical men three times his size. When the hilarity of the image became less urgent, he said, “And it pays well?”

“Exceedingly.”

“I didn’t think there would be much of a market for it here. Scientists don’t acknowledge violence in my experience.”

“You’d be surprised.”

“Maybe.” Hardin swayed and flopped onto his bed. “Will your gang be used in your political pursuits?”

“It may become necessary.”

“May.”

“I anticipate it will.”

“Does it bother you?”

“Not unduly.”

“Where did you get a gang, anyway?”

“Seldon seems to have assumed that intelligent parents will inevitably produce intelligent children, and the intelligent parents themselves agree. It’s not true, genetics being an imprecise science at best, and a much devolved one now. I had many classmates in my schooldays who were ideal case studies – you’ve seen some of them, I imagine. Out of place, lost in an intellectual environment that bores or confuses them. Our society isn’t kind to anyone who fails to fit the scholarly mold. I simply gave them another path. They’re very grateful.”

“You’re unbelievable, Lee.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m not sure I meant that as a complement.”

“That’s all right.”

The conversation drifted, and Lee soon left. Only later did Hardin realize that the subject of his potential candidacy had been dropped without his declaring a decision. He tried to think about it seriously. It would be more fun that continuing with Alurin, at any rate.

 

Yohan Lee’s apartment was not much larger, but certainly more lived-in. His sister Opal saw to that, arriving unannounced no less than twice each week with food and literature and occasionally her three-year-old son Klaus. Two days after his last conversation with Hardin, Opal brought over a box of imported sweets, along with Klaus. She tried to engage Lee in conversation, but he was distracted and she too busy keeping Klaus from making a mess to stress the point.

The holophone bleeped and flashed Hardin’s number.

Lee forced himself to approach the console calmly. “Yes?”

Hardin’s face, uncharacteristically grave, appeared on the screen. “Bor Alurin is dead.”

“When?”

“A few hours ago.” Hardin’s shoulders twitched restlessly. “Strange. Just as I’d decided to tell him I was through with his lessons.”

“I’m sorry.” And then, “Through?”

The boyish grin he’d been battling broke across Hardin’s face. “That’s right. I’ve decided to take you up on your offer.”

“May I ask what the deciding factor was?”

“I thought how nice it would be to work with someone who wasn’t forever keeping secrets from me.” He adopted a lofty expression. “The only thing more worthy than honesty is competence. In your friends, anyway. You wouldn’t really want either in your enemies.” He frowned. “I mean, honest enemies might be convenient, but it’d raise the question of why you were enemies at all. What do you think, Lee?”

“I think your witticisms sound better when you don’t attempt to qualify them.”

Mock-seriously, Hardin protested, “They aren’t wit, they’re wisdom.”

“It’s a good thing I have three years to train you.”

Hardin’s cheer faltered. “So it’s really on? We’re really doing it?”

“Why not?” Then, more seriously, “I won’t force it on you, if aren’t sure.”

“Nonsense! I’m excited.” And he grinned like a space-pirate in the hyperwave dramas that occasionally came in shipments from Trantor.

Lee laughed silently. “First lesson: never smile like that in public again.”