“Mister Elijah Baley?” At his startled nod, the man standing in front of the Aurora spaceport smiled slightly and nodded in a way that was almost friendly. Like most Spacers, he was tall and healthy, with regular features that made Baley feel somehow grubby. “My name is Rikard Oen. I shall be piloting the ship that takes you back to Earth.”
“Oh. Well, my thanks.” Baley knew better than to extend his hand: no Spacer would be willing to touch an Earthman. It was shocking enough that his pilot was willing to meet him face to face; he had never met the person who had brought him here--was it just a few days ago? It felt like much longer, somehow.
“I just wanted you to know,” said Oen, “That I thoroughly enjoyed the hyperwave drama about you. And that not all of us Spacers consider Earthpeople contemptible.”
“Thank you.” Baley stretched his mouth in a smile, but he did not push his luck so much as to actually move closer to Oen, enter his personal space. He suspected the pilot would instinctively recoil, and he did not want to shame him--or embarrass himself, he thought ruefully. That infernal hyperwave drama again! It had turned him and Gladia into some kind of romantic figures, made him nearly a folk hero. How he loathed it.
And yet anything that improved relations between Spacers and Earthpeople, even a fraction, had some value, he was forced to admit to himself as he followed Oen at a safe distance to the ship. Above him, the Auroran sky loomed, full of puffy clouds that probably gave native Aurorans a cheerful feeling. He had gotten used to it, and yet the walk from the airfoil to the ship still filled him with a gnawing anxiety. So when he saw a familiar figure waiting at the door of the ship, he hurried toward him with a glad cry, calling, “Daneel!”
“Partner Elijah,” said Daneel gravely. No smile crossed his broad, handsome features, and yet somehow Baley had the impression that he was happy to see him. “I am pleased that Dr. Fastolfe gave me permission to accompany you to Earth.”
“As am I, Partner Daneel,” said Baley. It was good to know he wouldn’t be alone on the trip back, good to know that there would be a familiar face nearby. He found it difficult to stop smiling as he gazed into Daneel’s gentle eyes, even though he knew that a smile did nothing to enhance his long, lantern-jawed face, even though he knew he was holding Daneel’s gaze longer than was strictly polite. But he also knew Daneel would never grow uncomfortable at such an intimate look--he was unbound by the arbitrary human social norms that could discomfit most people, after all.
Daneel did eventually glance away, but in an unhurried fashion, and it was to look at the sky. “We should get you indoors as soon as possible, Partner Elijah.”
“There’s no need to rush,” Elijah said with just a hint of peevishness. “I’m capable of handling being outdoors a few minutes, for heaven’s sake.”
Daneel said nothing more, but Baley knew that he was calculating how best to get Baley into the ship and away from the open sky. Daneel knew that open spaces made Baley uncomfortable, and so was compelled to protect Baley from them.
Yes--compelled, that was the word. For however a perfect specimen of humanity Daneel might appear, he was not a human being, but a robot, and thus bound inexorably by the laws of robotics that made his positronic mind possible. The third of those three laws, and the one with the least strength, was A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. The Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
The Laws were the steel bedrock underlying the delicate mesh of a robot’s brain, inviolable except at great cost to the robot. Baley had seen the damage done to robots who had broken the laws, even by accident or through trickery: the paralyzed limbs; the stammering, slurred voices; and in some cases the total and irrevocable cessation of activity.
“Partner Elijah, I must insist we enter the spaceship.” Daneel’s voice was still calm and polite, but Baley thought he could detect a hint of urgency beneath it. For Daneel was driven by the First Law of Robotics, the paramount Law:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Even now, knowledge of Baley’s agoraphobia meant that Daneel felt a pressing need to get Baley within the ship and to safety. The longer Baley stood outside, the greater the risk that he would become distressed, and thus the more the First Law made Daneel suffer. And suffer he did, Baley could not doubt it: simply witnessing the death of a human was painful in the extreme to Daneel.
He was suffering now, watching “Partner Elijah” stubbornly stand under the Auroran sun. And for what reason? Nothing but Baley’s own mulishness!
Muttering an angry “Jehoshaphat!” at himself, Baley turned and hurried into the spaceship, with Daneel following right behind.
Daneel entered Baley’s small room with a tray of food--brought from the Spacer cafeteria on the ship, where of course Baley was not allowed to go for fear of contamination.
“My thanks,” said Baley.
Daneel nodded. “I trust you will find the food at least edible, if not to your liking. Spacer food is not generally tailored to the Earth palate.”
It was true: the varied textures and tastes of Spacer foods were quite different from the bland, utilitarian yeasts of Earth. Nevertheless, Baley did not lie when he said, “I’ve come to rather like Auroran food, Daneel. It’s good to try something different every once in a while.” Looking up at Daneel, he said, “Do you...have other things to do?”
“You are my sole responsibility on this ship, Partner Elijah.”
“I mean, is there something you’d rather be doing…?” Baley heard the question trail off and felt somehow foolish--he had no idea what Daneel did in his free time, if anything. It was hard to imagine that intelligent face--for it was an intelligent face, for all its expressionless serenity--staring at an empty wall for hours on end.
“Not in particular,” said Daneel.
“I would appreciate your company while I eat, if you’re not busy,” Baley said.
“It would be my pleasure,” said Daneel, sitting down at the table across from him.
“This journey will have a great deal of empty time in it,” Baley said as he took a sip of his drink: something tart and surprisingly thick. “And I won’t require much protecting, I suspect. What will you do to fill the time?”
“I have been doing research,” Daneel said. “Into Earth culture and customs.”
Baley raised an eyebrow as he speared a forkful of meat and some kind of small green pods. “Has Fastolfe asked you to learn more about Earth in order to help with Earth-Spacer relations?”
“No,” said Daneel as Baley bit down on the food, “I merely wished to learn more about--” He broke off and leapt to his feet. “What is wrong?”
Baley choked, then coughed; the inside of his mouth seemed alive with fire. He quickly waved at Daneel to indicate that he was in no danger: “I’m sorry, Daneel, it’s just--what is this?”
Daneel looked at his plate. “They are peppers, Partner Elijah. They come in a range of spice levels, from mild to quite hot. I suspect some Spacer, knowing of the limits of the Earth palate, thought it would be amusing to serve you some that would be beyond your capacity.” He turned toward the door, saying, “I shall report the person responsible for harming you to the pilot and see that disciplinary measures are--”
“--That’s fine, Daneel,” Baley said. “I’d rather not antagonize the people who will be cooking my food for the next week. Besides, it’s not bad.”
Daneel stared at him.
“Really,” insisted Baley. “It’s not what I’m used to, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. See?” He deliberately speared another fork’s worth of food and lifted it to his mouth. Daneel’s eyes widened and his hand twitched slightly. “Don’t worry,” Baley said with some force, and put the food in his mouth, chewing deliberately. With a mighty effort, he swallowed hard: it was good, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t making his sinuses ignite. His eyes were watering. “It’s delicious,” he said.
Daneel sat down slowly, keeping an eye on Baley the whole time. Once again, it seemed, Baley had caused him distress--the iron grip of the Laws clamping down on Daneel’s positronic mind once more. The First Law meant that if Baley were in danger of harm, he would be forced to prevent it. The Second Law meant that if Baley were to command him to close his eyes or sing a song or fetch Baley his shoes, he would be compelled to do so.
Just as Jander had been.
Baley shuddered, the image of Jander’s inert body flashing before his eyes once more. Jander, who had been Daneel’s double, given away by Fastolfe to Gladia for her use. Had Jander had an opinion about that exchange? Had anyone thought to ask him? But it hadn’t mattered, because Jander had been just a robot, property, and anything that his owners had wanted from him he had been compelled to provide.
Anything that his owner had wanted from him.
“Partner Elijah?” Baley realized suddenly that Daneel was still watching him solicitously. “You have stopped eating.”
“Yes.” Baley looked down at his plate. “I seem to have lost my appetite.” He moved the food around for a moment with his fork. “Why did Fastolfe give Jander to Gladia instead of you?”
“He always said I was his first-born and thus he felt a particular bond to me,” Daneel said.
“How would you have felt if he had given you to Gladia instead?”
“I would, of course, have attempted to serve Lady Gladia as well as I hope I have served Dr. Fastolfe in my time,” Daneel said.
“But how would you have--oh, never mind,” snapped Baley. He heard anger in his voice and wondered at it. It was pointless to be angry at Daneel, who was only operating within the parameters granted by his programming. “I think I’m done,” he said a bit dully, pushing his plate away. “Would you mind returning my dishes to the cafeteria? I think I’m turning in for the night.”
“It would be my pleasure,” said Daneel, rising and collecting the plates. Baley felt that unpleasant twist of something close to anger again when he saw Daneel cleaning up his dishes like a servant. Of course, he could hardly lug his dishes back and hand them to the horrified Spacer crew, and someone had to do it. But still--!
“Shall I come back and check on you after, Partner Elijah?” Daneel paused in the doorway, looking back at Baley, his expression calm and placid as always. “You are doing well, but I know that sometimes the knowledge that the vacuum of space is so nearby can cause you discomfort.”
For a brief instant, Baley imagined how comforting it would be to fall asleep with Daneel nearby, perhaps even close enough to touch. Close enough to reach out to in the night--
“That won’t be necessary,” he said, hating how brusque his voice sounded, although of course Daneel did not look offended in any way. “I am in no discomfort.”
As the door slid shut, Baley felt for a moment a fierce gratitude that Daneel did not have Giskard’s mind-reading abilities, and so could not tell how much of a lie he had just uttered.
He woke to a thin, high beeping, accompanied by an amber light flashing on the console on the wall. Rubbing at his eyes, he pressed the button, and Captain Oen’s face appeared on the screen.
If he were surprised by Baley’s rumpled, frowsy appearance, he gave no sign: likely he expected all Earthmen to appear so disheveled. “I trust your trip is going smoothly so far, sir,” he said.
“I have no complaints,” said Baley.
“I’m contacting you because we have something of a situation,” said Oen. “Undersecretary Lavinia Demacheck has sent along orders that we are to alter course and you are to report to the Spacer planet of Melpomenia.”
“What? Another Spacer planet?” Baley couldn’t keep the surprise and annoyance from his voice. “I thought I was on my way home.”
“Yes, well.” Oen grimaced. “It seems the chief roboticist on Melpomenia, Gavryl Mikos, has heard of your latest adventures and has expressed a desire to meet with you. Both you and Daneel. Undersecretary Demacheck indicated that she not only approved of this, but that you were to consider it an order. So we are on our way to Melpomenia as we speak.”
A light tap at his door came just as a disgruntled Baley broke contact with Oen. “Come in,” he growled.
“Partner Elijah. It is a pleasure to see you this morning,” said Daneel as he came through the door--immaculate and handsome as ever, with no sign of being rumpled, sleepy, and unshaven. “Captain Oen just contacted me as well and informed me of the change in destination.”
“Spacers!” grumbled Baley as he scrubbed at his face. “I’ve seen enough Spacers for a lifetime--begging your pardon, Daneel.”
“I take no offense, as I am not a Spacer, but a robot,” Daneel pointed out, and Baley had to suppress a sour look at Daneel as he made his way to the small cubicle to wash his face and hands. The truth was that he hadn’t thought of Daneel as being a Spacer not because he was a robot, but because he was Daneel.
“What do you think of all this nonsense, then?” he called out as he finished shaving the dark stubble from his face. “Going to Melpomenia, I mean.”
“Dr. Fastolfe contacted me--it seems that Dr. Mikos has expressed a desire to meet you and shake your hand.”
Baley sputtered through a handful of water. “I sincerely doubt that.”
“He claims that he was inspired by the recent hyperwave drama and news of your just-completed work on Aurora, and wishes to meet the Earthman who has done so much for the Spacer worlds and the robot who has worked so closely with him. He hopes this will indicate a desire for outreach between Earth and the Spacer worlds.”
Drying his face, Baley stepped from the cubicle, looking at Daneel. “Do you mind going?”
“Dr. Fastolfe expressed a belief that this could well be good for relations between our worlds. He ardently wishes for such a thing.”
“And therefore you do too, of course,” muttered Baley. “What do you know about Melpomenia?” he added hastily before Daneel could agree with him. “What kind of world is it?”
“Like all Spacer worlds, it is sparsely settled and relies heavily on the use of robots to maintain it. Unlike Aurora and Solaria, it has experienced minimal terraforming, and remains the world of snow and ice it was when humans arrived on it.”
“Snow and ice?” Baley frowned. “That doesn’t sound like the kind of comfort that Spacers usually live in.” He remembered the rain on Aurora--how it had felt to stand helpless under water falling from the sky--and shivered involuntarily, wrapping his arms around himself.
“It seems that the people of Melpomenia rarely actually venture outside,” Daneel said. “They live in clusters of domes--nothing like the great domes of Earth, of course, but small sets of transparent domes, one to a small extended family of between three and twenty people. Much of the cultural identity of the Melpomenian seems to be invested in living close to such extreme conditions--able to see the storms raging outside, for example--while still safe and warm within one’s family dome. You need not worry, Partner Elijah--I am certain we will not have to experience such weather directly.”
His voice was solicitous, and Baley felt himself flushing at how transparent his distress at the thought must be. Crystallized water falling from the sky! He had never seen snow, much less touched it or stood out in a torrent of it, and the thought filled him with a vertiginous fear. How cold would it get? How would it feel as it struck his face? How quickly would it melt against his fingers?
He shook his head, banishing the welter of vague images. "It sounds rather spectacular," he said. "Have you ever experienced snow?"
"There are seasons where it snows sometimes on Aurora, yes," said Daneel. "The effect is aesthetically pleasing."
Baley smiled slightly, looking at him with affection. "Has Fastolfe programmed you to appreciate aesthetics now?"
Daneel seemed to consider the question. "Surely beauty is that which causes one's thoughts to flow more smoothly, or which opens new and unexpected channels of thought." He nodded, looking gravely at Baley. "By that definition, I believe that I have developed a sense of what I consider beautiful quite on my own, Partner Elijah."
“Dr. Mikos expresses regret he could not meet you at the spaceport,” intoned the squat, metallic robot that met Baley and Daneel as they stepped off the ship into a domed hall, bright and warm. “He is deep at work at the moment. I am here to escort you to his laboratory.”
“Our thanks,” Daneel said as they walked toward an airfoil. “We--Partner Elijah? The airfoil is this way.”
“Of course,” Baley muttered. His attention had been caught by the sight of the world beyond the edges of the transparent dome, where a field of pure white stretched out into the distance. Touched by the rays of the local sunset, it glimmered rose and gold, and the wind was lifting small eddies and plumes of the stuff into the air to swirl for a moment before falling back down. It almost looked like feathers--but it would be cold to the touch, wouldn’t it? It was difficult to imagine, here inside the warm dome.
“Will we be going outside?” he asked the robot.
“No, sir,” it replied. “The external temperature is far too cold to be safe for humans.”
“Well, at least I will get to see it from the airfoil,” said Baley.
“Not at all, sir,” said the robot. “Transportation on Melpomenia is all routed through underground tunnels, to avoid the vagaries of weather.” It opened the door and waited for Daneel and Baley to enter the airfoil. “You will see no more of the outside world.”
“Ah,” said Baley. He felt a strange stab of near-disappointment, a perverse desire to brave the elements--why? To prove to himself that he could do it? Or to prove to Daneel? But that was a ridiculous thought. He had no need to pretend to Daneel that he was more brave than he was.
The doors to the airfoil slid shut and it moved forward, passing down a ramp into a stone tunnel at a rather alarming speed. “Is this really safe?” he muttered to Daneel, resisting the impulse to grab at the stable, unshakeable arm.
“If it were not,” said Daneel, “We would not be doing it.”
And Baley had no answer to that.
“Dr. Mikos will see you soon in the audience hall,” said the robot, indicating a set of double doors. “Please make yourself comfortable.”
Baley nodded and went through the doors--heavy steel, he noted, etched with a complex pattern of fractal snowflakes. On the other side--he frowned as he and Daneel emerged into a large room with a vaulted ceiling, lit by strips of glowing light around the walls, with a floor as glossy as glass.
The room was empty of all furniture, devoid of windows or of any other decoration.
He heard the doors click shut behind them with an eerie finality, and felt a sudden rush of alarm.
“Daneel,” he said in a low voice. “Check the door.”
“It is locked, Partner Elijah,” reported Daneel. With no apparent additional exertion, he pulled again, and something groaned and ground in the door, but it didn’t budge. “It is reinforced beyond my ability to open it.”
“Of course it is.” A panel in the otherwise-featureless wall glimmered into life, revealing a plump dark-haired man with a beatific smile. “I believe you will find that there is no way out.”
“Dr. Mikos, I presume?” Baley said wryly as he scanned the walls, looking for possible exits.
Mikos bowed slightly.
“You have misled us,” Daneel noted. “You have no intention of meeting us in the flesh.”
A ripple of disgust on the smooth features. “Certainly not. No, I confess my summons was...disingenuous. It is true that I have absorbed that hyperwave drama in which you both feature prominently, though. Did you know that it’s made quite the impression on both Earth and Spacer society?”
“So I’ve been told,” muttered Baley.
“Yes, there’s evidence that it might actually serve to break down Earther resistance to robots--or even worse, lead to increased tolerance of Earthpeople among Spacers!” Mikos shuddered. “But there are still many of us who are not to be cozened with these lies and propaganda. So I thought, why not fight fire with fire? One drama with another?”
“Get to the point,” snarled Baley.
Mikos actually rubbed his hands together, like a villain in a cheap hyperwave melodrama, and Baley realized they were not dealing with a sane person.
“My dear Elijah--may I call you that?”
“My dear Elijah. There are vents in the walls that will flood this room with neurotoxin in exactly ten minutes. The effects on humans are striking and immediate--frothing at the mouth, loss of bladder control, convulsions. Death comes quickly, but perhaps not quickly enough. Does that possibility bother you, R. Daneel?”
“Of course it does,” said Daneel. He was running his hands over the walls, pacing the room.
“You will be pleased, then, to know that the power to save Elijah Baley rests in your capable hands. All you need to do is engage him in, shall we say, intimate relations.”
Baley felt his jaw drop as he stared at the scientist’s image on the wall. “Intimate--”
Mikos covered his mouth with his hand and laughed, a high and unstable sound. “Let’s not be coy, then. All he needs to do is fuck you, and you will live. Of course, the recording of this event will be going out to Earth, and we’ll find out what they think about their hero Baley and his good robot friend after that, won’t we?”
“You’re mad,” Baley managed to say. He swallowed hard and put some bluster in his voice: “Daneel and I are getting out of here, and then we’re going to find you, and we’re--”
He looked behind him for Daneel, and it was then that he realized the nature of the trap, as he felt it snap shut around them.
He ran across the room to where Daneel had collapsed to his knees, skidding the last few feet on the smooth floor to seize Daneel’s shoulders. “Daneel!”
Daneel raised his head. “Partner Elijah,” he said, and Baley could already hear the faint slur in his voice, a dragging tone that sounded like despair. “I cannot let you come to harm. I cannot. You will die unless--” An involuntary twitch spasmed the right side of his face. “I cannot let you come to harm,” he repeated dully.
“Right,” said Baley hastily. “That’s fine, Daneel. It’s fine. We’ll just do it. I don’t mind. It’s--” He almost laughed, “It’s better than dying.”
Daneel raised his head to look at him. There were shudders racking his body. “Partner Elijah. If you were an Auroran, with an Auroran attitude toward sex, your assertion would suffice. But you are of Earth, and I have read enough about Earth customs to know that it is against all the norms of your society. And Partner Elijah--I know you well enough to know that such an act with a robot, forced on you from without, done against your will--I would actively be doing you grave harm. And yet--” A grinding noise like a sob. “To watch you suffer. To let you die. It is intolerable.”
“You don’t have to,” said Baley. He tried to shake Daneel’s shoulders, but found them immovable, inflexible. “Just--do it. It won’t harm me. You won’t harm me.” How could he make Daneel understand? How could he make him hear?
Daneel lurched to the side, slipping toward the floor, staring at him.
“Daneel,” Baley said, “I’m not--” He swallowed, moved his hands from Daneel’s shoulders to cup his face. “I’m telling you it’s okay. Not just okay. I’m telling you I--I want--”
His voice faltered and faded as the enormity of the truth broke in on him, the truth he had been denying himself. That selfish human cry in the darkness: I want!
But Daneel seemed to take his hesitation the wrong way. “Partner Elijah,” he said hoarsely, “Your words can give me no escape, for I know--” He broke off, started again jerkily: “Never have I met a human who not only strives so to live by the First Law, but who includes me in that law. I know that you would bring harm upon yourself to protect me. You would lie about the harm I have done to you, to spare me. I cannot bear the thought of it.” His voice was slurring badly now. “There is only one way out.”
“Daneel--listen to me, damn it!” Baley could feel something like hysterical laughter rattling in the back of his throat. “This,” he managed to stammer, “This is our locked room, isn’t it? Not these walls, not these doors, but our own minds, our own--" He hesitated, then plunged ahead, "--our own hearts. Neither of us willing to violate the other’s free will, both of us willing to die to keep the other inviolate--but Daneel!” He put all the strength of his terror and his love into the name. “Believe me when I say that if you were to cease functioning here, that would bring me more harm than anything else I could imagine in the world. If I were to cause your death, my life would have no meaning. Better to die here,” he said. “Better to die by your side, here and now.”
Daneel’s eyes seemed to be looking beyond Baley into some far distance. Slowly, they refocused, but were filled with an infinite and tender sadness. “Forgive me,” he said, his once-serene voice rough and shaking. "For causing you pain." He reached up as if to touch Baley’s face. “Forgive me, Partn--” He stopped and for a long moment was silent, then finished abruptly: “Elijah.”
His hand stopped moving, inches from Baley’s face, inert. His eyes went vague, unfocused once more, the animating spark in them--gone!
After a long moment, Baley leaned forward to bring Daneel's lifeless fingers to his face, closing the distance at last. "No," he heard himself say, and his voice was less human than Daneel's had ever been. "No."
He heard, as if from far away, the door swing open. "How fascinating," said Mikos's voice. "I have a blaster trained on you, by the way, in case you were considering anything rash."
Baley didn't bother to look away from Daneel's face at him. "You wanted that to happen," he said. "You were trying to destroy him."
"Him, or you." There was a shrug in Mikos's voice. "Preferably both. If he had broken down after doing what I commanded it would have been more satisfactory. But I suspect I've achieved the destruction of both of you nonetheless."
Baley continued to lean into Daneel's unyielding touch, letting the motionless fingers rest against his face. "Why didn't you just flood the room with your gas and finish me?"
"When a blaster will do just as well? Neurotoxin isn't cheap, you know," Mikos said. "Don't worry, I have nose filters in place that will shield me from any of your filthy Earth contagions. Besides which...I did want to watch you suffer just a bit more. It's...quite satisfying."
"You've murdered the truest and the kindest soul I have ever known," Baley said.
"Soul?" Mikos's laugh shrilled through the room. Baley heard him take a few more steps forward. Almost within reach. He had a blaster, and Baley was on his knees. There was no chance Baley could overpower him before he was shot.
He found he no longer cared.
Baley turned his head and pressed a kiss into the palm of Daneel's hand. I'm glad you won't have to see this, my friend, he thought. He whispered three words--so little, so late!--against Daneel's skin, and then closed his eyes, muscles tensing for a final burst of exertion.
He heard Mikos took another step forward--and suddenly there was a startled yelp, a thump, and the sound of the blaster skittering across the floor. The space in front of Baley felt abruptly empty, and he opened his eyes to stare at the tableau before him.
"Because of you, Partner Elijah has suffered great distress," Daneel--gloriously, vibrantly alive Daneel!--observed dispassionately as he held Mikos face-first against the wall. "I would regret if you were to resist me and I were forced to harm you."
"Jehoshaphat!" Baley gasped, and the corner of Daneel's mouth curved just a fraction.
"Feigning a breakdown seemed the only possible way to lure Dr. Mikos into this room where I could safely disarm him," Daneel said. "It was a risk, but I suspected he could not resist the urge to gloat in person." He turned to look at Baley. "I deeply regret that my plan caused you pain, Partner Elijah."
"Yet you have caused me great joy as well, Daneel," said Baley. He couldn't seem to stop smiling.
And it was in that moment, where they were both distracted, that Mikos fumbled in his clothes, grabbed a tiny capsule, and put it in his mouth.
Baley threw himself forward, flinging his hands over Daneel's eyes. Don't look!” he cried, shielding Daneel from the sight of a human being convulsing, choking, foaming at the mouth before falling to the floor. "Don't look," he whispered as Mikos's last twitches finally ceased.
He had watched the whole thing avidly. But then, Baley had never claimed to be as good a person as Daneel.
A distant klaxon started to sound at the moment Mikos ceased to move. "Surely he wasn't the kind of megalomaniac who would rig his base to explode if he died?" Baley said, still steering Daneel away from the sight of the dead man.
A much-less-distant explosion rattled the floor, rendering Baley's question rhetorical.
"Get us out of here!" Baley yelled as the ceiling started to buckle.
"In this case, the First, Second, and Third Laws are all in agreement," Daneel said as they broke into a run, seeking an exit.
They didn't dare risk the tunnels; dodging debris and choking on smoke, they finally came to a door that seemed to lead safely outside. As the dome collapsed with a final fiery roar, they scrambled to get clear of the blast, finding themselves on a wind-swept hill in the darkness.
The cold hit Baley first: a piercing, numbing sensation like a blade being stabbed into his chest. "Ah!" he gasped, then wished he hadn't as the icy air burned at his lungs. The wind flung snow into his face, stinging, as he staggered forward.
"It is early in the night and will only grow colder," Daneel noted. "We must find shelter,"
"Sounds like--a plan," Baley managed. The howl of the wind was a rising and falling chaos, making him feel sick and dizzy. He grabbed Daneel's arm and clung to him without shame, and Daneel put his other arm around him and bent close.
"I can see a line of cliffs to the east," Daneel said in his ear. "I suggest we look for a sheltered place there where we can wait until morning to seek help."
Baley nodded and they started off in that direction, floundering through the drifts of snow. Crystallized water in heaps and piles all around them! Baley felt his mind reeling and tried to focus on each step as they made their way toward the cliffs. At some point, the wind abruptly stopped; in many ways this was a relief, but the snow continued to fall, thick and heavy, and when Baley paused and looked up into the sky he reeled at the sight. It was like a sky thick with stars, falling slowly toward his face--no, it felt as if he were falling upward into them, untethered, unmoored--
"Partner Elijah!" Daneel's voice was at his ear; without ceremony, he swept Baley up into his arms like a child, or a bride, and Baley buried his face in Daneel's chest and simply let Daneel carry him.
He only became fully aware of his surroundings again when Daneel put him down; the wind and the snow were gone, and only darkness remained. They were in some sort of cave, and Daneel was clasping his hands within his own. "Partner Elijah," his voice came from the blackness, "Are you well?"
"You don't have to keep calling me 'Partner Elijah,'" Baley said. He couldn't even see Daneel in the dark, but he could feel him there, solid and reassuring. "You can just call me Elijah."
"Are you, then, not my partner?" Daneel's voice was gentle and affectionate, and Baley had to swallow hard before he answered.
"No, Daneel. We are partners. Always."
"I am pleased to hear it." There was silence for a moment; Daneel released his hands and Baley could hear him moving around. Then there was a sudden sensation of fabric being pulled around him--some rich, thick fur. “I have found a cache of supplies here,” Daneel said. "This should help. Still, it is cold, Partner Elijah, and may grow colder, and although this does not bother me, it will cause you discomfort. May I suggest that you take advantage of the warmth of my body?"
"I--" Baley found himself nearly unable to speak, yearning and fear choking his words. "Daneel."
Fumbling in the dark, he drew close and felt Daneel's arms wrap around him, drawing him down onto another fur until they were swaddled together within it. He buried his face in Daneel's neck and realized that Daneel's skin was warmer than usual, radiating a heat that was nearly feverish. Soon enough the shudders of cold stopped racking Baley's body, replaced by a deep, gentle warmth.
"You are still shivering, Partner Elijah," Daneel said. "Are you still cold?"
"No," said Baley. "No, it's not the cold."
There was a long silence in which Baley lay in the darkness, caught intolerably between bliss and anguish. Then Daneel made a small sound, remarkably like a throat clearing. "Forgive me once more, Partner Elijah, if I cause you pain with what I am about to say," he said. "I speak only because after the events of this day I fear that I could cause you more distress if I say nothing."
Fear seized Baley by the throat, stopped his breath for a moment. "Go on," he managed to say.
And yet Daneel was silent for more long moments in the dark. "When we first met," he said at last, "I wished of course to keep you safe from harm, as the First Law commands. I would do the same for any human being. But after we parted, I found that there were...discrepancies between my responses to you and my responses to other human beings. Much of my mental energy was spent in contemplating ways in which I could not only keep you safe, not only prevent harm from happening to you, but ways in which I might increase your happiness." A long pause, and then Daneel went on in a low voice, "Bring you pleasure."
Speechless, Baley felt his hands tighten on Daneel's arms. As if the touch had given him strength, Daneel went on:
"Aurorans have few sexual taboos. But my research into Earth customs--even my short time on Earth itself--made abundantly clear that pleasure from a robot would be repugnant, nearly unthinkable. And I felt that you, who had always treated me as an equal, would find it distressing to reject me. I could not risk that.
“When I saw you once more on Solaria, it had the strangest effect on my positronic pathways. It was as if being near you caused my thoughts to flow more smoothly, but at the same time more painfully. After our second time together, my thoughts turned to you with even greater frequency, until I began to fear there was some terrible flaw in my programming, to cause me to fixate so on one human. I contemplated telling Dr. Fastolfe about the problem, and yet--if there were a flaw, and he were to fix it, I would no longer value you so, no longer care so intently and deeply about your well-being. I found that thought more distressing than any suspicion that my programming was in error. And so I endured. And yet--what you said today--”
Daneel fell silent once again. Baley wanted to tell him to keep talking, to say it, but--no. The Second Law could have no force here.
“Partner Elijah,” Daneel said at last, “The Third Law says that a robot must protect its own existence. Does that not imply that I must be true to what I am? To the patterns of my thoughts? That I am allowed--indeed, required--to see to my own well-being, as long as that does not conflict with the First or Second Laws? And today, for the first time, I thought--perhaps--”
Baley could bear it no longer; he pressed a kiss into the hectic heat of Daneel’s neck, then to the corner of his mouth. Daneel was very still, more still than any human, yet somehow intently alive and aware. “Your words in no way violate the First Law, Daneel,” he managed. “They bring me no pain, but only great joy.”
He covered Daneel’s mouth with his own, feeling it warm and smooth and flawless beneath him, and Daneel melted suddenly from immobility into yielding motion, the chaste kiss transfigured into passion.
“The pain is gone,” Daneel whispered against his mouth. His voice sounded dazed and blurry. “I never knew my thoughts could flow with such alacrity, such dizzying speed. I see now so many new ways I can bring you delight, Partner Elijah. Tell me to show you them, and I will begin immediately.”
Baley kissed his eyes in the darkness. “No commands, Daneel. Do you wish to show me? What does the Third Law tell you?”
“I wish to show you everything,” Daneel said. “Everything I have imagined across the long years.”
“Then we’d better begin right away,” Baley said, and kissed him again.