He had made enough enemies to acquire a nickname, Hari Seldon mused, and not enough friends to hear what it was.
He could feel the truth of that in the murmuring energy in the crowds. Uneasily he walked from his apartment to his office across the broad squares of Streeling University. "They don't like me," he said.
Dors Vanabili matched his stride easily, studying the massed faces. "I do not sense any danger."
"Don't worry your pretty head about assassination attempts--at least, not right away."
"My, you're in a fine mood today."
"I hate this security screen. Who wouldn't?"
The Imperial Specials had farmed out in what their captain termed "an engaging perimeter" around Hati and Dors. Some carried flash-screen projectors, capable of warding off a full heavy-weapons assault. Others looked equally dangerous bare-handed.
Their scarlet-and-blue uniforms made it easy tosee where the crowd was impinging on the moving security boundary as Hari walked slowly across the main campus square. Where the crowd was thickest, the bright uniforms simply hulled their way through. The entire spectacle made him acutely uncomfortable. Specials were not noted for their diplomacy and this was, after all, a quiet place of learning. Or had been.
Dors clasped his hand in reassurance. "A First Minister can't simply walk around without--"
"I'm not First Minister!"
"The Emperor has designated you, and that's enough for this crowd."
"The High Council hasn't acted. Until they do--"
"Your friendswill assume the best," she said mildly.
"These are my friends?" Hari eyed the crowd suspiciously.
So they were. One called, "Hail the Prof Minister!"and others laughed.
"Is that my nickname now?"
"Well, it's not a bad one."
"Why do they flock so?"
"People are drawn to power."
"I'm still just a professor!"
To offset his irritation, Dors chuckled at him, a wifely reflex. "There's an ancient saying, 'These are the times that fry men's souls.'"
"You have a bit of historical wisdom for everything."
"It's one of the few perks that come with being an historian."
Someone called, "Hey, Math Minister!"
Hari said, "I don't like that name any better."
"Get used to it, You'll be called worse."
They passed by the great Streeling fountain and Hari took refuge in a moment of contemplating its high, arching waters. The splashes drowned out the crowd and he could almost imagine he was back in his simple, happy life. Then he hadto worry about psychohistory and Streeling University infighting. That snug little world had vanished, perhaps forever, the moment Cleon decided to make him a figure in Imperial politics.
The fountain was glorious, yet even it reminded him of the vastness that lay beneath such simplicities. Here the tinkling streams broke free, but their flight was momentary. Trantor's waters ran in mournful dark pipes, down dim passages scoured byancient engineers. A maze of fresh water arteriesand sewage veins twined through the eternal bowels. These bodily fluids of the planet had passed through uncountable trillions of kidneys andthroats, had washed away sins, been toasted with atmarriages and births, had carried off the blood ofmurders and the vomit of terminal agonies. Theyflowed on in their deep night, never knowing theclean vapor joy of unfettered weather, never free of man's hand.
They weretrapped. So was he.
Their party reached the Mathist Department and ascended. Dors rose through the traptube beside him, a breeze fluttering her hair amiably, the effect quite flattering. The Specials took up watchful, rigid positions outside.
Just as he had for the last week, Hari tried again with the captain. "Look, you don't really need to keep a dozen men sitting out here--"
"I'll be the judge of that, Academician sir, if you please."
Hari felt frustrated at the waste of it. He noticed ayoung Specialman eyeing Dors, whose uni-suitrevealed while still covering. Something made himsay, "Well then, I will thank you to have your men keep their eyes where they belong!"
The captain looked startled. He glared at the offending man and stomped over to reprimand him. Hari felt, a spark of satisfaction. Going in the entrance to his office, Dors said, "I'll try to dress more strictly."
"No, no, I'm just being stupid. I shouldn't let tiny things like that bother me
She smiled prettily. "Actually, I rather liked it."
"You did? Me being stupid?"
"Your being protective."
Dors had been assigned years before to watch over him, by Eto Demerzel. Hari reflected that he had gotten used to that role of hers, little noticing that it conflicted in a deep, unspoken way with her also being a woman. Dors was utterly self-reliant, but she had qualities which sometimes did not easily jibe with her duty. Being his wife, for example.
"I will have to do it more often," he said lightly.
Still, he felt a pang of guilt about making trouble for the Specialmen. Their being here was certainly not their idea; Cleon had ordered it. No doubt they would far rather be off somewhere saving theEmpire with sweat and valor.
They went through the high, arched foyer of the Mathist Department, Hari nodding to the staff. Dors went into her own office and he hurried into his suite with an air of an animal retreating into its burrow. He collapsed into his airchair, ignoring the urgent-message holo that hung a meter from his face.
A wave erased it as Yugo Amaryl came in through the connecting e-stat portal. The intrusive, bulky portal was also the fruit of Cleon's security order. The Specials had installed the shimmering weapons-nulling fields everywhere. They lent an irksome, prickly smell of ozone to the air. One more intrusion of Reality, wearing the mask of Politics.
Gregory Benford is a professor of physics at the University of California, Irvine. He is a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and was Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University. and in 1995 received the Lord Prize for contributions to sciences. His research encompasses both theory and experiments in the fields of astrophysics and plasma physics. His fiction has won many awards, including the Nebula Award for his novel Timescape. Dr. Benford makes his home in Laguna Beach, California.