Prelude to Foundation Chapter 9 Microfarm

MYCOGEN-… The microfarms of Mycogen are legendary, though they survive today only in such oft-used similes as “rich as the microfarms of Mycogen” or “tasty as Mycogenian yeast.” Such encomiums tend to intensify with time, to be sure, but Hari Seldon visited those microfarms in the course of The Flight and there are references in his memoirs that would tend to support the popular opinion…
Encyclopedia Galactica
41.

“That was good.” said Seldon explosively. “It was considerably better than the food Graycloud brought-”
Dors said reasonably, “You have to remember that Graycloud’s woman had to prepare it on short notice in the middle of the night.” She paused and said, “I wish they would say ‘wife.’ They make ‘woman’ sound like such an appanage, like ‘my house’ or my robe.’ It is absolutely demeaning.”
“I know. It’s infuriating. But they might well make ‘wife’ sound like an appanage as well. It’s the way they live and the Sisters don’t seem to mind. You and I aren’t going to change it by lecturing. Anyway, did you see how the Sisters did it?”
“Yes, I did and they made everything seem very simple. I doubted I could remember everything they did, but they insisted I wouldn’t have to. I could get away with mere heating. I gathered the bread had some sort of microderivative added to it in the baking that both raised the dough and lent it that crunchy consistency and warm flavor. Just a hint of pepper, didn’t you think?”
“I couldn’t tell, but whatever it was, I didn’t get enough. And the soup. Did you recognize any of the vegetables?”
“No.”
“And what was the sliced meat? Could you tell?”
“I don’t think it was sliced meat, actually. We did have a lamb dish back on Cinna that it reminded me of.”
“It was certainly not lamb.”
“I said that I doubted it was meat at all.-I don’t think anyone outside Mycogen eats like this either. Not even the Emperor, I’m sure. Whatever the Mycogenians sell is, I’m willing to bet, near the bottom of the line. They save the best for themselves. We had better not stay here too long, Hari. If we get used to eating like this, we’ll never be able to acclimatize ourselves to the miserable stuff they have outside.” She laughed.
Seldon laughed too. He took another sip at the fruit juice, which tasted far more tantalizing than any fruit juice he had ever sipped before, and said, “listen, when Hummin took me to the University, we stopped at a roadside diner and had some food that was heavily yeasted. It tasted like- No, never mind what it tasted like, but I wouldn’t have thought it conceivable, then, that microfood could taste like this. I wish the Sisters were still here. It would have been polite to thank them.”
“I think they were quite aware of how we would feel. I remarked on the wonderful smell while everything was warming and they said, quite complacently, that it would taste even better.”
“The older one said that, I imagine.”
“Yes. The younger one giggled.-And they’ll be back. They’re going to bring me a kirtle, so that I can go out to see the shops with them. And they made it clear I would have to wash my face if I was to be seen in public. They will show me where to buy some good-quality kirtles of my own and where I can buy ready-made meals of all kinds. All I’ll have to do is heat them up. They explained that decent Sisters wouldn’t do that, but would start from scratch. In fact, some of the meal they prepared for us was simply heated and they apologized for that. They managed to imply, though, that tribespeople couldn’t be expected to appreciate true artistry in cooking, so that simply heating prepared food would do for us.-They seem to take it for granted, by the way, that I will be doing all the shopping and cooking.”
“As we say at home, ‘When in Trantor, do as the Trantorians do.’ ”
“Yes, I was sure that would be your attitude in this case.”
“I’m only human,” said Seldon.
“The usual excuse,” said Dors with a small smile. Seldon leaned back with a satisfactory well-filled feeling and said, “You’ve been on Trantor for two years, Dors, so you might understand a few things that I don’t. Is it your opinion that this odd social system the Mycogenians have is part of a supernaturalistic view they have?”
“Supernaturalistic?”
“Yes. Would you have heard that this was so?”
“What do you mean by ‘supernaturalistic’?”
“The obvious. A belief in entities that are independent of natural law, that are not bound by the conservation of energy, for instance, or by the existence of a constant of action.”
“I see. You’re asking if Mycogen is a religious community.”
It was Seldon’s turn. “Religious?”
“Yes. It’s an archaic term, but we historians use it-our study is riddled with archaic terms. ‘Religious’ is not precisely equivalent to ‘supernaturalistic,’ though it contains richly supernaturalistic elements. I can’t answer your specific question, however, because I’ve never made any special investigation of Mycogen. Still, from what little I’ve seen of the place and from my knowledge of religions in history, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mycogenian society was religious in character.”
“In that case, would it surprise you if Mycogenian legends were also religious in character?”
“No, it wouldn’t.”
“And therefore not based on historical matter?”
“That wouldn’t necessarily follow. The core of the legends might still be authentically historic, allowing for distortion and supernaturalistic intermixture.”
“Ah,” said Seldon and seemed to retire into his thoughts.
Finally Dors broke the silence that followed and said, “It’s not so uncommon, you know. There is a considerable religious element on many worlds. It’s grown stronger in the last few centuries as the Empire has grown more turbulent. On my world of Cinna, at least a quarter of the population is tritheistic.”
Seldon was again painfully and regretfully conscious of his ignorance of history. He said, “Were there times in past history when religion was more prominent than it is today?”
“Certainly. In addition, there are new varieties springing up constantly. The Mycogenian religion, whatever it might be, could be relatively new and may be restricted to Mycogen itself. I couldn’t really tell without considerable study.”
“But now we get to the point of it, Dors. Is it your opinion that women are more apt to be religious than men are?”
Dors Venabili raised her eyebrows. “I’m not sure if we can assume anything as simple as that.” She thought a bit. “I suspect that those elements of a population that have a smaller stake in the material natural world are more apt to find solace in what you call supernaturalism-the poor, the disinherited, the downtrodden. Insofar as supernaturalism overlaps religion, they may also be more religious. There are obviously many exceptions in both directions. Many of the downtrodden may lack religion; many of the rich, powerful, and satisfied may possess it.”
“But in Mycogen,” said Seldon, “where the women seem to be treated as subhuman-would I be right in assuming they would be more religious than the men, more involved in the legends that the society has been preserving?”
“I wouldn’t risk my life on it, Hari, but I’d be willing to risk a week’s income on it.”
“Good,” said Seldon thoughtfully.
Dors smiled at him. “There’s a bit of your psychohistory, Hari. Rule number 47,854: The downtrodden are more religious than the satisfied.”
Seldon shook his head. “Don’t joke about psychohistory, Dors. You know I’m not looking for tiny rules but for vast generalizations and for means of manipulation. I don’t want comparative religiosity as the result of a hundred specific rules. I want something from which I can, after manipulation through some system of mathematicized logic, say, ‘Aha, this group of people will tend to be more religious than that group, provided that the following criteria are met, and that, therefore, when humanity meets with these stimuli, it will react with these responses.’ ”
“How horrible,” said Dors. “You are picturing human beings as simple mechanical devices. Press this button and you will get that twitch.”
“No, because there will be many buttons pushing simultaneously to varying degrees and eliciting so many responses of different sorts that overall the predictions of the future will be statistical in nature, so that the individual human being will remain a free agent.”
“How can you know this?”
“I can’t,” said Seldon. “At least, I don’t know it. I feel it to be so. It is what I consider to be the way things ought to be. If I can find the axioms, the fundamental Laws of Humanics, so to speak, and the necessary mathematical treatment, then I will have my psychohistory. I have proved that, in theory, this is possible-”
“But impractical, right?”
“I keep saying so.”
A small smile curved Dors’s lips, “Is that what you are doing, Hari, looking for some sort of solution to this problem?”
“I don’t know. I swear to you I don’t know. But Chetter Hummin is so anxious to find a solution and, for some reason, I am anxious to please him. He is so persuasive a man.”
“Yes, I know.”
Seldon let that comment pass, although a small frown flitted across his face. Seldon continued. “Hummin insists the Empire is decaying, that it will collapse, that psychohistory is the only hope for saving it-or cushioning it or ameliorating it-and that without it humanity will be destroyed or, at the very least, go through prolonged misery. He seems to place the responsibility for preventing that on me. Now, the Empire will certainly last my time, but if I’m to live at ease, I must lift that responsibility from my shoulders. I must convince myself-and even convince Hummin-that psychohistory is not a practical way out that, despite theory, it cannot be developed. So I must follow up as many leads as I can and show that each one must fail.”
“Leads? Like going back in history to a time when human society was smaller than it is now?”
“Much smaller. And far less complex.”
“And showing that a solution is still impractical?”
“Yes.”
“But who is going to describe the early world for you? If the Mycogenians have some coherent picture of the primordial Galaxy, Sunmaster certainly won’t reveal it to a tribesman. No Mycogenian will. This is an ingrown society-how many times have we already said it?-and its members are suspicious of tribesmen to the point of paranoia. They’ll tell us nothing.”
“I will have to think of a way to persuade some Mycogenians to talk. Those Sisters, for instance.”
“They won’t even hear you, male that you are, any more than Sunmaster hears me. And even if they do talk to you, what would they know but a few catch phrases?”
“I must start somewhere.”
Dors said, “Well, let me think. Hummin says I must protect you and I interpret that as meaning I must help you when I can. What do I know about religion? That’s nowhere near my specialty, you know. I have always dealt with economic forces, rather than philosophic forces, but you can’t split history into neat little nonoverlapping divisions. For instance, religions tend to accumulate wealth when successful and that eventually tends to distort the economic development of a society. There, incidentally, is one of the numerous rules of human history that you’ll have to derive from your basic Laws of Humanics or whatever you called them. But…”
And here, Dors’s voice faded away as she lapsed into thought. Seldon watched her cautiously and Dors’s eyes glazed as though she was looking deep within herself.
Finally she said, “This is not an invariable rule, but it seems to me that on many occasions, a religion has a book-or books-of significance; books that give their ritual, their view of history, their sacred poetry, and who knows what else. Usually, those books are open to all and are a means of proselytization. Sometimes they are secret.”
“Do you think Mycogen has books of that sort?”
“To be truthful,” said Dors thoughtfully, “I have never heard of any. I might have if they existed openly-which means they either don’t exist or are kept secret. In either case, it seems to me you are not going to see them.”
“At least it’s a starting point,” said Seldon grimly.
42.
The Sisters returned about two hours after Hari and Dors had finished lunch. They were smiling, both of them, and Raindrop Forty-Three, the graver one, held up a gray kirtle for Dors’s inspection.
“It is very attractive,” said Dors, smiling widely and nodding her head with a certain sincerity. “I like the clever embroidery here.”
“It is nothing,” twittered Raindrop Forty-Five. “It is one of my old things and it won’t fit very well, for you are taller than I am. But it will do for a while and we will take you out to the very best kirtlery to get a few that will fit you and your tastes perfectly. You will see.”
Raindrop Forty-Three, smiling a little nervously but saying nothing and keeping her eyes fixed on the ground, handed a white kirtle to Dors. It was folded neatly. Dors did not attempt to unfold it, but passed it on to Seldon.
“From the color I should say it’s yours, Hari.”
“Presumably,” said Seldon, “but give it back. She did not give it to me.”
“Oh, Hari,” mouthed Dors, shaking her head slightly.
“No,” said Seldon firmly. “She did not give it to me. Give it back to her and I’ll wait for her to give it to me.”
Dors hesitated, then made a half-hearted attempt to pass the kirtle back to Raindrop Forty-Three.
The Sister put her hands behind her back and moved away, all life seeming to drain from her face. Raindrop Forty-Five stole a glance at Seldon, a very quick one, then took a quick step toward Raindrop Forty-Three and put her arms about her.
Dors said, “Come, Hari, I’m sure that Sisters are not permitted to talk to men who are not related to them. What’s the use of making her miserable? She can’t help it.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Seldon harshly. “If there is such a rule, it applies only to Brothers. I doubt very much that she’s ever met a tribesman before.”
Dors said to Raindrop Forty-Three in a soft voice, “Have you ever met a tribesman before, Sister, or a tribeswoman?”
A long hesitation and then a slow negative shake of the head.
Seldon threw out his arms. “Well, there you are. If there is a rule of silence, it applies only to the Brothers. Would they have sent these young women-these Sisters-to deal with us if there was any rule against speaking to tribesmen?”
“It might be, Hari, that they were meant to speak only to me and I to you.”
“Nonsense. I don’t believe it and I won’t believe it. I am not merely a tribesman, I am an honored guest in Mycogen, asked to be treated as such by Chetter Hummin and escorted here by Sunmaster Fourteen himself. I will not be treated as though I do not exist. I will be in communication with Sunmaster Fourteen and I will complain bitterly.”
Raindrop Forty-Five began to sob and Raindrop Forty-Three, retaining her comparative impassivity, nevertheless flushed faintly. Dors made as though to appeal to Seldon once again, but he stopped her with a brief and angry outward thrust of his right arm and then stared gloweringly at Raindrop Forty-Three.
And finally she spoke and did not twitter. Rather, her voice trembled hoarsely, as though she had to force it to sound in the direction of a male being and was doing so against all her instincts and desires. “You must not complain of us, tribesman. That would be unjust. You force me to break the custom of our people. What do you want of me?”
Seldon smiled disarmingly at once and held out his hand. “The garment you brought me. The kirtle.”
Silently, she stretched out her arm and deposited the kirtle in his hand. He bowed slightly and said in a soft warm voice, “Thank you, Sister.” He then cast a very brief look in Dors’s direction, as though to say: You see? But Dors looked away angrily.
The kirtle was featureless, Seldon saw as he unfolded it (embroidery and decorativeness were for women, apparently), but it came with a tasseled belt that probably had some particular way of being worn. No doubt he could work it out.
He said, “I’ll step into the bathroom and put this thing on. It won’t take but a minute, I suppose.”
He stepped into the small chamber and found the door would not close behind him because Dors was forcing her way in as well. Only when the two of them were in the bathroom together did the door close.
“What were you doing?” Dors hissed angrily. “You were an absolute brute, Hari. Why did you treat the poor woman that way?”
Seldon said impatiently, “I had to make her talk to me. I’m counting on her for information. You know that. I’m sorry I had to be cruel, but how else could I have broken down her inhibitions?” And he motioned her out.
When he emerged, he found Dors in her kirtle too. Dors, despite the bald head the skincap gave her and the inherent dowdiness of the kirtle, managed to look quite attractive. The stitching on the robe somehow suggested a figure without revealing it in the least. Her belt was wider than his own and was a slightly different shade of gray from her kirtle. What’s more, it was held in front by two glittering blue stone snaps. (Women did manage to beautify themselves even under the greatest difficulty, Seldon thought.)

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Looking over at Hari, Dors said, “You look quite the Mycogenian now. The two of us are fit to be taken to the stores by the Sisters.”
“Yes,” said Seldon, “but afterward I want Raindrop Forty-Three to take me on a tour of the microfarms.”
Raindrop Forty-Three’s eyes widened and she took a rapid step backward.
“I’d like to see them,” said Seldon calmly.
Raindrop Forty-Three looked quickly at Dors. “Tribeswoman-”
Seldon said, “Perhaps you know nothing of the farms, Sister.”
That seemed to touch a nerve. She lifted her chin haughtily as she still carefully addressed Dors. “I have worked on the microfarms. All Brothers and Sisters do at some point in their lives.”
“Well then, take me on the tour,” said Seldon, “and lets not go through the argument again. I am not a Brother to whom you are forbidden to speak and with whom you may have no dealings. I am a tribesman and an honored guest. I wear this skincap and this kirtle so as not to attract undue attention, but I am a scholar and while I am here I must learn. I cannot sit in this room and stare at the wall. I want to see the one thing you have that the rest of the Galaxy does not have… your microfarms. I should think you’d be proud to show them.”
“We are proud,” said Raindrop Forty-Three, finally facing Seldon as she spoke, “and I will show you and don’t think you will learn any of our secrets if that is what you are after. I will show you the microfarms tomorrow morning. It will take time to arrange a tour.”
Seldon said, “I will wait till tomorrow morning. But do you promise? Do I have your word of honor?”
Raindrop Forty-Three said with clear contempt, “I am a Sister and I will do as I say. I will keep my word, even to a tribesman.” Her voice grew icy at the last words, while her eyes widened and seemed to glitter.
Seldon wondered what was passing through her mind and felt uneasy.
43.
Seldon passed a restless night. To begin with, Dors had announced that she must accompany him on the tour of the microfarm and he had objected strenuously. “The whole purpose,” he said, “is to make her talk freely, to present her with an unusual environment-alone with a male, even if a tribesman. Having broken custom so far, it will be easier to break it further. If you’re along, she will talk to you and I will only get the leavings.”
“And if something happens to you in my absence, as it did Upperside?”
“Nothing will happen. Please! If you want to help me, stay away. If not, I will have nothing further to do with you. I mean it, Dors. This is important to me. Much as I’ve grown fond of you, you cannot come ahead of this.”
She agreed with enormous reluctance and said only, “Promise me you’ll at least be nice to her, then.”
And Seldon said, “Is it me you must protect or her? I assure you that I didn’t treat her harshly for pleasure and I won’t do so in the future.”
The memory of this argument with Dors-their first-helped keep him awake a large part of the night; that, together with the nagging thought that the two Sisters might not arrive in the morning, despite Raindrop Forty-Three’s promise. They did arrive, however, not long after Seldon had completed a spare breakfast (he was determined not to grow fat through overindulgence) and had put on a kirtle that fitted him precisely. He had carefully organized the belt so that it hung perfectly.
Raindrop Forty-Three, still with a touch of ice in her eye, said, “if you are ready, Tribesman Seldon, my sister will remain with Tribeswoman Venabili.” Her voice was neither twittery nor hoarse. It was as though she had steadied herself through the night, practicing, in her mind, how to speak to one who was a male but not a Brother.
Seldon wondered if she had lost sleep and said, “I am quite ready.”
Together, half an hour later, Raindrop Forty-Three and Hari Seldon were descending level upon level. Though it was daytime by the clock, the light was dusky and dimmer than it had been elsewhere on Trantor. There was no obvious reason for this. Surely, the artificial daylight that slowly progressed around the Trantorian sphere could include the Mycogen Sector. The Mycogenians must want it that way, Seldon thought, clinging to some primitive habit. Slowly Seldon’s eyes adjusted to the dim surroundings. Seldon tried to meet the eyes of passersby, whether Brothers or Sisters, calmly. He assumed he and Raindrop Forty-Three would be taken as a Brother and his woman and that they would be given no notice as long as he did nothing to attract attention.
Unfortunately, it seemed as if Raindrop Forty-Three wanted to be noticed. She talked to him in few words and in low tones out of a clenched mouth. It was clear that the company of an unauthorized male, even though only she knew this fact, raved her self-confidence. Seldon was quite sure that if he asked her to relax, he would merely make her that much more uneasy. (Seldon wondered what she would do if she met someone who knew her. He felt more relaxed once they reached the lower levels, where human beings were fewer.)
The descent was not by elevators either, but by moving staired ramps that existed in pairs, one going up and one going down. Raindrop Forty-Three referred to them as “escalators.” Seldon wasn’t sure he had caught the word correctly, never having heard it before.
As they sank to lower and lower levels, Seldon’s apprehension grew. Most worlds possessed microfarms and most worlds produced their own varieties of microproducts. Seldon, back on Helicon, had occasionally shopped for seasonings in the microfarms and was always aware of an unpleasant stomach-turning stench. The people who worked at the microfarms didn’t seem to mind. Even when casual visitors wrinkled their noses, they seemed to acclimate themselves to it. Seldon, however, was always peculiarly susceptible to the smell. He suffered and he expected to suffer now. He tried soothing himself with the thought that he was nobly sacrificing his comfort to his need for information, but that didn’t keep his stomach from turning itself into knots in apprehension.
After he had lost track of the number of levels they had descended, with the air still seeming reasonably fresh, he asked, “When do we get to the microfarm levels?”
“We’re there now.”
Seldon breathed deeply. “It doesn’t smell as though we are.”
“Smell? What do you mean?” Raindrop Forty-Three was offended enough to speak quite loudly.
“There was always a putrid odor associated with microfarms, in my experience. You know, from the fertilizer that bacteria, yeast, fungi, and saprophytes generally need.”
“In your experience?” Her voice lowered again. “Where was that?”
“On my home world.”
The Sister twisted her face into wild repugnance. “And your people wallow in gabelle?”
Seldon had never heard the word before, but from the look and the intonation, he knew what it meant.
He said, “It doesn’t smell like that, you understand, once it is ready for consumption.”
“Ours doesn’t smell like that at any time. Our biotechnicians have worked out perfect strains. The algae grow in the purest light and the most carefully balanced electrolyte solutions. The saprophytes are fed on beautifully combined organics. The formulas and recipes are something no tribespeople will ever know. Come on, here we are. Sniff all you want. You’ll find nothing offensive. That is one reason why our food is in demand throughout the Galaxy and why the Emperor, we are told, eats nothing else, though it is far too good for a tribesman if you ask me, even if he calls himself Emperor.” She said it with an anger that seemed directly aimed at Seldon. Then, as though afraid he might miss that, she added, “Or even if he calls himself an honored guest.”
They stepped out into a narrow corridor, on each side of which were large thick glass tanks in which roiled cloudy green water full of swirling, growing algae, moving about through the force of the gas bubbles that streamed up through it. They would be rich in carbon dioxide, he decided. Rich, rosy light shone down into the tanks, light that was much brighter than that in the corridors. He commented thoughtfully on that.
“Of course,” she said. “These algae work best at the red end of the spectrum.”
“I presume,” said Seldon, “that everything is automated.”
She shrugged, but did not respond.
“I don’t see quantities of Brothers and Sisters in evidence,” Seldon said, persisting.
“Nevertheless, there is work to be done and they do it, even if you don’t see them at work. The details are not for you. Don’t waste your time by asking about it.”
“Wait. Don’t be angry with me. I don’t expect to be told state secrets. Come on, dear.” (The word slipped out.)
He took her arm as she seemed on the point of hurrying away. She remained in place, but he felt her shudder slightly and he released her in embarrassment. He said, “It’s just that it seems automated.”
“Make what you wish of the seeming. Nevertheless, there is room here for human brains and human judgment. Every Brother and Sister has occasion to work here at some time. Some make a profession of it.”
She was speaking more freely now but, to his continuing embarrassment, he noticed her left hand move stealthily toward her right arm and gently rub the spot where he had touched her, as though he had stung her. “It goes on for kilometers and kilometers,” she said, “but if we turn here there’ll he a portion of the fungal section you can see.”
They moved along. Seldon noted how clean everything was. The glass sparkled. The tiled floor seemed moist, though when he seized a moment to bend and touch it, it wasn’t. Nor was it slippery-unless his sandals (with his big toe protruding in approved Mycogenian fashion) had nonslip soles. Raindrop Forty-Three was right in one respect. Here and there a Brother or a Sister worked silently, studying gauges, adjusting controls, sometimes engaged in something as unskilled as polishing equipment-always absorbed in whatever they were doing.
Seldon was careful not to ask what they were doing, since he did not want to cause the Sister humiliation in having to answer that she did not know or anger in her having to remind him there were things he must not know. They passed through a lightly swinging door and Seldon suddenly noticed the faintest touch of the odor he remembered. He looked at Raindrop Forty-Three, but she seemed unconscious of it and soon he too became used to it. The character of the light changed suddenly. The rosiness was gone and the brightness too. All seemed to be in a twilight except where equipment was spotlighted and wherever there was a spotlight there seemed to be a Brother or a Sister. Some wore lighted headbands that gleamed with a pearly glow and, in the middle distance, Seldon could see, here and there, small sparks of light moving erratically.
As they walked, he cast a quick eye on her profile. It was all he could really judge by. At all other times, he could not cease being conscious of her bulging bald head, her bare eyes, her colorless face. They drowned her individuality and seemed to make her invisible. Here in profile, however, he could see something. Nose, chin, full lips, regularity, beauty. The dim light somehow smoothed out and softened the great upper desert.
He thought with surprise: She could be very beautiful if she grew her hair and arranged it nicely. And then he thought that she couldn’t grow her hair. She would be bald her whole life. Why? Why did they have to do that to her? Sunmaster said it was so that a Mycogenian would know himself (or herself) for a Mycogenian all his (or her) life. Why was that so important that the curse of hairlessness had to be accepted as a badge or mark of identity?
And then, because he was used to arguing both sides in his mind, he thought: Custom is second nature. Be accustomed to a bald head, sufficiently accustomed, and hair on it would seem monstrous, would evoke nausea. He himself had shaved his face every morning, removing all the facial hair, uncomfortable at the merest stubble, and yet he did not think of his face as bald or as being in any way unnatural. Of course, he could grow his facial hair at any time he wished-but he didn’t wish to do so.
He knew that there were worlds on which the men did not shave; in some, they did not even clip or shape the facial hair but let it grow wild. What would they say if they could see his own bald face, his own hairless chin, cheek, and lips? And meanwhile, he walked with Raindrop Forty-Three-endlessly, it seemed-and every once in a while she guided him by the elbow and it seemed to him that she had grown accustomed to that, for she did not withdraw her hand hastily. Sometimes it remained for nearly a minute.
She said, “Here! Come here!”
“What is that?” asked Seldon.
They were standing before a small tray filled with little spheres, each about two centimeters in diameter. A Brother who was tending the area and who had just placed the tray where it was looked up in mild inquiry.
Raindrop Forty-Three said to Seldon in a low voice, “Ask for a few.”
Seldon realized she could not speak to a Brother until spoken to and said uncertainly, “May we have a few, B-brother?”
“Have a handful, Brother,” said the other heartily.
Seldon plucked out one of the spheres and was on the point of handing it to Raindrop Forty-Three when he noticed that she had accepted the invitation as applying to herself and reached in for two handfuls. The sphere felt glossy, smooth. Seldon said to Raindrop Forty-Three as they moved away from the vat and from the Brother who was in attendance, “Are these supposed to be eaten?” He lifted the sphere cautiously to his nose.
“They don’t smell,” she said sharply.
“What are they?”
“Dainties. Raw dainties. For the outside market they’re flavored in different ways, but here in Mycogen we eat them unflavored-the only way.” She put one in her mouth and said, “I never have enough.”
Seldon put his sphere into his mouth and felt it dissolve and disappear rapidly. His mouth, for a moment, ran liquid and then it slid, almost of its own accord, down his throat.
He stood for a moment, amazed. It was slightly sweet and, for that matter, had an even fainter bitter aftertaste, but the main sensation eluded him. “May I have another?” he said.
“Have half a dozen,” said Raindrop Forty-Three, holding out her hand. “They never have quite the same taste twice and have practically no calories. Just taste.”
She was right. He tried to have the dainty linger in his mouth; he tried licking it carefully; tried biting off a piece. However, the most careful lick destroyed it. When a bit was crunched off apiece, the rest of it disappeared at once. And each taste was undefinable and not quite like the one before.
“The only trouble is,” said the Sister happily, “that every once in a while you have a very unusual one and you never forget it, but you never have it again either. I had one when I was nine-” Her expression suddenly lost its excitement and she said, “It’s a good thing. It teaches you the evanescence of things of the world.”
It was a signal, Seldon thought. They had wandered about aimlessly long enough. She had grown used to him and was talking to him. And now the conversation had to come to its point. Now!
44.
Seldon said, “I come from a world which lies out in the open, Sister, as all worlds do but Trantor. Rain comes or doesn’t come, the rivers trickle or are in flood, temperature is high or low. That means harvests are good or bad. Here, however, the environment is truly controlled. Harvests have no choice but to be good. How fortunate Mycogen is.”
He waited. There were different possible answers and his course of action would depend on which answer came.
She was speaking quite freely now and seemed to have no inhibitions concerning his masculinity, so this long tour had served its purpose. Raindrop Forty-Three said, “The environment is not that easy to control. There are, occasionally, viral infections and there are sometimes unexpected and undesirable mutations. There are times when whole vast batches wither or are worthless.”
“You astonish me. And what happens then?”
“There is usually no recourse but to destroy the spoiled batches, even those that are merely suspected of spoilage. Trays and tanks must be totally sterilized, sometimes disposed of altogether.”
“It amounts to surgery, then,” said Seldon. “You cut out the diseased tissue.”
“Yes.”
“And what do you do to prevent such things from happening?”
“What can we do? We test constantly for any mutations that may spring up, any new viruses that may appear, any accidental contamination or alteration of the environment. It rarely happens that we detect anything wrong, but if we do, we take drastic action. The result is that bad years are very few and even bad years affect only fractional bits here and there. The worst year we’ve ever had fell short of the average by only 12 percent-though that was enough to produce hardship. The trouble is that even the most careful forethought and the most cleverly designed computer programs can’t always predict what is essentially unpredictable.”
(Seldon felt an involuntary shudder go through him. It was as though she was speaking of psychohistory-but she was only speaking of the microfarm produce of a tiny fraction of humanity, while he himself was considering all the mighty Galactic Empire in every one of all its activities.) Unavoidably disheartened, he said, “Surely, it’s not all unpredictable. There are forces that guide and that care for us all.”
The Sister stiffened. She turned around toward him, seeming to study him with her penetrating eyes. But all she said was “What?”
Seldon felt uneasy. “It seems to me that in speaking of viruses and mutations, we’re talking about the natural, about phenomena that are subject to natural law. That leaves out of account the supernatural, doesn’t it? It leaves out that which is not subject to natural law and can, therefore, control natural law.”
She continued to stare at him, as though he had suddenly begun speaking some distant, unknown dialect of Galactic Standard. Again she said, in half a whisper this time, “Wharf.”
He continued, stumbling over unfamiliar words that half-embarrassed him. “You must appeal to some great essence, some great spirit, some… I don’t know what to call it.”
Raindrop Forty-Three said in a voice that rose into higher registers but remained low, “I thought so. I thought that was what you meant, but I couldn’t believe it. You’re accusing us of having religion. Why didn’t you say so? Why didn’t you use the word?”
She waited for an answer and Seldon, a little confused at the onslaught, said, “Because that’s not a word I use. I call it ‘supernaturalism.’ ”
“Call it what you will. It’s religion and we don’t have it. Religion is for the tribesmen, for the swarming ho-”
The Sister paused to swallow as though she had come near to choking and Seldon was certain the word she had choked over was-”
She was in control again. Speaking slowly and somewhat below her normal soprano, she said, “We are not a religious people. Our kingdom is of this Galaxy and always has been. If you have a religion-”
Seldon felt trapped. Somehow he had not counted on this. He raised a hand defensively. “Not really. I’m a mathematician and my kingdom is also of this Galaxy. It’s just that I thought, from the rigidity of your customs, that your kingdom-”
“Don’t think it, tribesman. If our customs are rigid, it is because we are mere millions surrounded by billions. Somehow we must mark ourselves off so that we precious few are not lost among your swarms and hordes. We must be marked off by our hairlessness, our clothing, our behavior, our way of life. We must know who we are and we must be sure that you tribesmen know who we are. We labor in our farms so that we can make ourselves valuable in your eyes and thus make certain that you leave us alone. That’s all we ask of you… to leave us alone.”
“I have no intention of harming you or any of your people. I seek only knowledge, here as everywhere.”
“So you insult us by asking about our religion, as though we have ever called on a mysterious, insubstantial spirit to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”
“There are many people, many worlds who believe in supernaturalism in one form or another… religion, if you like the word better. We may disagree with them in one way or another, but we are as likely to be wrong in our disbelief as they in their belief. In any case, there is no disgrace in such belief and my questions were not intended as insults.”
But she was not reconciled. “Religion!” she said angrily. “We have no need of it.”
Seldon’s spirits, having sunk steadily in the course of this exchange, reached bottom. This whole thing, this expedition with Raindrop Forty-Three, had come to nothing.
But she went on to say, “We have something far better. We have history.”
And Seldon’s feelings rebounded at once and he smiled.

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