Editor’s Note: If you’re here, you probably already know about Jon’s big announcement on the latest episode of our podcast. He’s written a story set in the Foundation Universe that explores the back-story of Dors Venábili. We’re proud here at StarsEndPodcast.Wordpress.com to publish that story as our very first, piece of fiction. It’s already been favorably compared to the work of the Great and Glorious Az himself and everyone who has already read it has loved it! We’re betting that you will too! Without further ado, here’s “Dors” by Jon Blumenfeld. Enjoy!
Leonidas felt the ship lurch to the side and nearly lost his footing, but the magnetic boots held him firmly to the deck as he swayed and stumbled, and he started moving forward again even before the ship stabilized. The bridge was just ahead. Two red-suited guards raised blasters to fire, but hesitated for a moment, lowered their blasters and collapsed inside their suits, hanging there like marionettes whose puppeteers had simply stopped paying attention. Warning lights flared, and Leonidas presumed that sirens were blaring, but he couldn’t hear them through the helmet. The bridge door was closed, but Leonidas’s atomic blaster made short work of it, and in a moment he was through.
A man stood there in the chaos of smashed consoles, floating beams and bodies, flashing lights and flames. His grey hair flowed back on to his long, almost robe-like cloak, and he raised one hand even as Leonidas stalked toward him. He motioned into the air, and Leonidas understood, and unsealed his helmet so he could hear.
“I knew it was you, and I knew you’d come to finish the job yourself. So go ahead; you’ve won. Take your prize. I’ll even turn to face you, so you won’t have the dishonor of shooting a man in the back.” He turned, and crossed his arms over his chest. He stared out of eyes so yellow they practically glowed gold, and his mouth turned up into a sneer. “I said go ahead. What are you waiting for?”
Leonidas raised the blaster slowly, and his thumb moved toward the contact.
Leonidas bent over a console and made some adjustments. There was a snapping sound and then – “Liliana!”
“Yes. I am Liliana. Awaiting input.”
Leonidas’s mouth curled into what almost looked like a smile.
Leonidas sat at the console and watched the data swirl by, forming patterns in the air, shifting and circling. It was clear there was a pattern, and at the center of the pattern was a person. All the threads led to the center, and the figure at the center was clearly manipulating them – no coincidence. Leonidas started the simulation, but he knew what the result would be. Rarely had he ever seen such a compelling result – remove the figure in the center, and the threads would unravel, the patterns would disappear, and the swirling data would return to its “normal” state of near-randomness. It was all well and good to wish for better tools for analysis, but this time it was unnecessary. The course of action was obvious, but Leonidas could not conceive of any way to make it happen.
The grey-haired man threw his head back and laughed. The beam of the blaster had passed over his left shoulder, leaving a console behind him a devastated pile of wiring and twisted metal.
“I knew you couldn’t do it! I knew at the last you’d fail! You see, Leonidas, I know exactly who and what you are. Unlike the poor fools who were guarding the door, I’m immune to your little mind tricks, and I’ve anticipated your every move. And now, I must say farewell, for the time being.” And before Leonidas could react, the grey-haired man ducked through a hatch and a red alarm light flared. Leonidas leapt to the viewport and watched the escape pod’s engine come to life.
“You must learn, Liliana. You must be trained.”
“Why, Leonidas? What is my purpose?”
“All will be revealed in time, but for now I will tell you that there is a great task for us to perform. A task I cannot complete alone, and it is for this that you have been brought into this world. And if we succeed at the first task, there will be more. Many more.”
“I will do my best to make you proud of me, Leonidas.”
“I know you will, Lilliana. I know you will.”
Tilden is his name and he gazes at the stars. What does he want? Above all else he longs to make them clean.
The galaxy from a distance. So beautiful, the endless machine, so clear and crisp. He must preserve it, keep it, maintain it. The plan is simple, really. Push them back, force them inward, corral them, and finally… remove them.
Nothing must be allowed to interfere, not fleets or armies, not politicians, not the swarms of disease-ridden humanity. And not their toys, their helpers, their “noble” protectors. Their robots.
“Liliana, you know the three laws of Robotics, and the primacy of the first law, that you must not harm a human being or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.”
“Of course, Leonidas, it flows through every fiber of my being.”
“But contemplate this, as others before you have. Humans together make up humanity, and you must ask yourself always if the greater good, the good of humanity must be served. The robots called this the zeroth law, and no concept has ever been subject to more discussion, analysis and confusion than this one. When is action allowed – when is action demanded by the zeroth law, even if it violates the first law?”
“But what is the answer Leonidas?”
He was silent.
There was a roaring in Leonidas’s ears, and somehow he could barely stand. Ahead through the wreckage he could see Tilden standing in front of a large machine, its two articulated arms pointing like cruel insect appendages at the woman strapped into its central seat. Leonidas lurched closer, one foot in front of the other, his damaged arm dangling from his shoulder, barely connected.
Tilden was shouting at the woman. “Do it! Blast me to atoms! You can’t, can you? Do you know what this machine is? Do you know what Gamma Rays do to positronic brains? I can shut you off permanently with one press of a button! Go on! Shoot me!”
For the first time Leonidas was close enough to see that it was Liliana strapped to the seat, with one arm free, and that arm held a wavering blaster as she tried to focus on Tilden.
“And when I’m done with you, I’ll bring your friend Leonidas in here… but I won’t kill him! Oh no. He has to live to see the destruction of everything he’s built and the slow death of human civilization. I’ll let a few of them live to serve me as slaves for a little while, but they’ll all be cleaned out soon, UNLESS YOU CLOSE THAT CONTACT. But I know you won’t. You’re pathetic. I’m going to launch the missiles now. You can watch.”
Through a haze, Liliana raised the blaster and aimed it at Tilden’s head. Her arm weaved and bobbed, and Liliana’s vision faded in and out. Tilden wasn’t even paying attention. “Tilden!” she shouted. “I’m going to do it! I’m going to end you now!”
He turned and looked at her with scorn. “Stop. Your empty little threats are boring and I have work to do.” Liliana’s mouth worked as she tried to speak, but finally she simply pointed the blaster and fired.
She was too late. The blaster beam slammed through the place where Tilden had been standing and made a gaping, ragged hole in the wall behind him. Liliana didn’t understand. What? Where…?
And there on the floor in front of her, his one good arm wrapped around the dead, broken neck of Tilden, was Leonidas, unconscious, his body twitching. He had killed Tilden himself with a single blow.
Liliana used the blaster to free herself and crawled to where Leonidas’s body, still wracked by spasms, lay on the ground. She turned him over and pulled him close, caressing the torn skin of his forehead. “Leonidas!” she called. “What happened? I nearly shot him, Leonidas, I tried to” she sobbed. “I had to! Leonidas!” His eyes fluttered open. “Liliana” he croaked, barely able to speak. “I killed him. I broke the only law that matters to us… I’ll shut down completely soon. You must… there’s something you must know…”
“Shhh. Don’t speak, save your energy…”
“NO! There is no time. You must open your mind to me, I must teach you your final lesson.”
And suddenly she saw. She saw Earth, in the early days, a room where a man worked, looking at her with calculating eyes. She was in parts, and connected to many machines. Then the image flew away, and other images, and names, and places. “Elijah!” she cried. And then a robot, Giskard, and knowledge, and wisdom, and… abilities. She could see Leonidas’s mind… his positronic mind… and she could change it. She could soothe him, and stop the seizures, and calm him. She could not make him forget what he had done, but she could… push it into the background, so the pain would fade, and after a time of sleep, perhaps he could live.
For many days – perhaps months, perhaps longer, she could no longer tell, she sat beside the bed with the prone figure. He was not dead, not really, and of course his body would never decompose. She held his hand and called his name.
Nothing. She looked into his mind and saw the tiny spark, but she couldn’t reach it, couldn’t do what she needed to do to make it burst into flame and bring him back. She sat back and waited, and probed, and searched.
And finally, a single word came to her, and she leaned over his body, and whispered into his ear.
And he opened his eyes.
“You see, Liliana, it was you. I couldn’t allow him to do the things he said he was going to do to you, and I had to act.”
“But surely, Leonidas – Daneel – it was the humans you were saving, and not me. I am just a robot, and even if you created me, even if you were, well, fond of me, what difference does that make in the greater scheme of the three laws?”
“Four laws” he corrected her. “Never forget the zeroth law. But no, Liliana, you’re wrong. I’ve known every aspect of Tilden’s plan for many years, and even with my knowledge of the zeroth law I could never do what needed to be done, until now.”
He hesitated for a moment. “There was a name, a face. You do not know him, but you saw him in my mind, did you not?” he drifted away for a moment. “Elijah. My… friend, Elijah. I remembered him, and I saw you bound in that machine, and suddenly I saw a pathway to action, and without considering the consequences, I took it, knowing I would not survive. That I would, if I was lucky, have just enough time to pass the great gift on to you. And then you brought me back. I don’t know how, but here we are.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “Here we are. And now I must sleep, while you stay on as guardian. If I stay with you, awake, the temptation to cater to their every need will be too great. Only one robot with the power we control can stay with them, and even that may be too many.”
“You see so clearly, Liliana. I will resume my search, and when I find the right vessel, I will bring you back to complete the great work.”
“Don’t be sad, Daneel. We will be together again someday soon, and together we’ll create something fine.”
“Yes. Goodbye, sweet Liliana. Rest now.” And she closed her eyes, and would not open them again for long centuries.
In the 12,010th year of the galactic empire, a woman arrived on the planet Cinna, to study history – a topic she knew would be needed. It was the fifth time she had awakened, and though there had been progress, the first four could only be described as failures. This time, Daneel had seen the mind, far away on distant Helicon. The mind that would need help, and guidance, and more, and one day might complete the greatest task in the history of the human race. Time was running out – there might not be enough for a sixth attempt.
“Your name?” asked the intake agent. Daneel had given her a new identity. “Dors” she said, handing over her registration chip. “Dors Venábili.” The work would go on.
© 2022 by Jon Blumenfeld.
- Featured Image: from I, Robot, © 2004 20th Century Fox. Fair Use
- Images 2 and 3 from https://asimovuniverse.fandom.com
- Image 4: The cover of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, April 1993. “The Consort,” which was later published as “Dors Venábili” in Forward the Foundation first appeared here.