The ship was in near-readiness. Nothing lacked, but the destination. The Mule had suggested a return to Trantor - the world that was the bulk of an incomparable Galactic metropolis of the hugest Empire mankind had ever known - the dead world that had been capital of all the stars.
Pritcher disapproved. It was an old path - sucked dry.
He found Bail Channis in the ship's navigation room. The young man's curly hair was just sufficiently disheveled to allow a single curl to droop over the forehead - as if it had been carefully placed there - and even teeth showed in a smile that matched it. Vaguely, the stiff officer felt himself harden against the other.
Channis' excitement was evident, "Pritcher, it's too far a coincidence."
The general said coldly: "I'm not aware of the subject of conversation."
"Oh- Well, then drag up a chair, old man, and let's get into it. I've been going over your notes. I find them excellent."
"How... pleasant that you do."
"But I'm wondering if you've come to the conclusions I have. Have you ever tried analyzing the problem deductively? I mean, it's all very well to comb the stars at random, and to have done all you did in five expeditions is quite a bit of star-hopping. That's obvious. But have you calculated how long it would take to go through every known world at this rate?"
"Yes. Several times," Pritcher felt no urge to meet the young man halfway, but there was the importance of filching the other's mind - the other's uncontrolled, and hence, unpredictable, mind.
"Well, then, suppose we're analytical about it and try to decide just what we're looking for?"
"The Second Foundation," said Pritcher, grimly.
"A Foundation of psychologists," corrected Channis, "who are as weak in physical science as the First Foundation was weak in psychology. Well, you're from the First Foundation, which I'm not. The implications are probably obvious to you. We must find a world which rules by virtue of mental skills, and yet which is very backwards scientifically."
"Is that necessarily so?" questioned Pritcher, quietly. "Our own 'Union of Worlds' isn't backwards scientifically, even though our ruler owes his strength to his mental powers."
"Because he has the skills of the First Foundation to draw upon," came the slightly impatient answer, "and that is the only such reservoir of knowledge in the Galaxy. The Second Foundation must live among the dry crumbs of the broken Galactic Empire. There are no pickings there."
"So then you postulate mental power sufficient to establish their rule over a group of worlds and physical helplessness as well?"
"Comparative physical helplessness. Against the decadent neighboring areas, they are competent to defend themselves. Against the resurgent forces of the Mule, with his background of a mature atomic economy, they cannot stand. Else, why is their location so well-hidden, both at the start by the founder, Hari Seldon, and now by themselves. Your own First Foundation made no secret of its existence and did not have it made for them, when they were an undefended single city on a lonely planet three hundred years ago."
The smooth lines of Pritcher's dark face twitched sardonically. 'And now that you've finished your deep analysis, would you like a list of all the kingdoms, republics, planet states and dictatorships of one sort or another in that political wilderness out there that correspond to your description and to several factors besides?"
"All this has been considered then?" Channis lost none of his brashness.
"You won't find it here, naturally, but we have a completely worked out guide to the political units of the Opposing Periphery. Really, did you suppose the Mule would work entirely hit-and-miss?"
"Well, then" and the young man's voice rose in a burst of energy, "what of the Oligarchy of Tazenda?"
Pritcher touched his ear thoughtfully, "Tazenda? Oh, I think I know it. They're not in the Periphery, are they? It seems to me they're fully a third of the way towards the center of the Galaxy."
"Yes. What of that?"
"The records we have place the Second Foundation at the other end of the Galaxy. Space knows it's the only thing we have to go on. Why talk of Tazenda anyway? Its angular deviation from the First Foundation radian is only about one hundred ten to one hundred twenty degrees anyway. Nowhere near one hundred eighty."
"There's another point in the records. The Second Foundation was established at 'Star's End.'"
"No such region in the Galaxy has ever been located."
"Because it was a local name, suppressed later for greater secrecy. Or maybe one invented for the purpose by Seldon and his group. Yet there's some relationship between 'Star's End' and 'Tazenda,' don't you think?"
"A vague similarity in sound? Insufficient."
'Have you ever been there?"
"Yet it is mentioned in your records."
"Where? Oh, yes, but that was merely to take on food and water. There was certainly nothing remarkable about the world."
"Did you land at the ruling planet? The center of government?"
"I couldn't possibly say."
Channis brooded about it under the other's cold gaze. Then, "Would you look at the Lens with me for a moment?"
The Lens was perhaps the newest feature of the interstellar cruisers of the day. Actually, it was a complicated calculating machine which could throw on a screen a reproduction of the night sky as seen from any given point of the Galaxy.
Channis adjusted the co-ordinate points and the wall lights of the pilot room were extinguished. In the dim red light at the control board of the Lens, Channis' face glowed ruddily. Pritcher sat in the pilot seat, long legs crossed, face lost in the gloom.
Slowly, as the induction period passed, the points of light brightened on the screen. And then they were thick and bright with the generously populated star-groupings of the Galaxy's center.
"This," explained Channis, "is the winter night-sky as seen from Trantor. That is the important point that, as far as I know, has been neglected so far in your search. All intelligent orientation must start from Trantor as zero point. Trantor was the capital of the Galactic Empire. Even more so scientifically and culturally, than politically. And, therefore, the significance of any descriptive name should stem, nine times out of ten, from a Trantorian orientation. You'll remember in this connection that, although Seldon was from Helicon, towards the Periphery, his group worked on Trantor itself."
"What is it you're trying to show me?" Pritcher's level voice plunged icily into the gathering enthusiasm of the other.
"The map will explain it. Do you see the dark nebula?" The shadow of his arm fell upon the screen, which took on the bespanglement of the Galaxy. The pointing finger ended on a tiny patch of black that seemed a hole in the speckled fabric of light. "The stellagraphical records call it Pelot's Nebula. Watch it. I'm going to expand the image."
Pritcher had watched the phenomenon of Lens Image expansion before but he still caught his breath. It was like being at the visiplate of a spaceship storming through a horribly crowded Galaxy without entering hyperspace. The stars diverged towards them from a common center, flared outwards and tumbled off the edge of the screen. Single points became double, then globular. Hazy patches dissolved into myriad points. And always that illusion of motion.
Channis spoke through it all, "You'll notice that we are moving along the direct line from Trantor to Pelot's Nebula, so that in effect we are still looking at a stellar orientation equivalent to that of Trantor. There is probably a slight error because of the gravitic deviation of light that I haven't the math to calculate for, but I'm sure it can't be significant."
The darkness was spreading over the screen. As the rate of magnification slowed, the stars slipped off the four ends of the screen in a regretful leave-taking. At the rims of the growing nebula, the brilliant universe of stars shone abruptly in token for that light which was merely hidden behind the swirling unradiating atom fragments of sodium and calcium that filled cubic parsecs of space.
And Channis pointed again, "This has been called 'The Mouth' by the inhabitants of that region of space. And that is significant because it is only from the Trantorian orientation that it looks like a mouth." What he indicated was a rift in the body of the Nebula, shaped like a ragged, grinning mouth in profile, outlined by the glazing glory of the starlight with which it was filled.
"Follow 'The Mouth.' " said Channis. "Follow 'The Mouth' towards the gullet as it narrows down to a thin, splintering line of light.
Again the screen expanded a trifle, until the Nebula stretched away from "The Mouth" to block off all the screen but that narrow trickle and Channis' finger silently followed it down, to where it straggled to a halt, and then, as his finger continued moving onward, to a spot where one single star sparked lonesomely; and there his finger halted, for beyond that was blackness, unrelieved.
"'Star's End,'" said the young man, simply. "The fabric of the Nebula is thin there and the light of that one star finds its way through in just that one direction - to shine on Trantor."
"You're tying to tell me that-" the voice of the Mule's general died in suspicion.
"I'm not trying. That is Tazenda - Star's End."
The lights went on. The Lens flicked off. Pritcher reached Channis in three long strides, "What made you think of this?"
And Channis leaned back in his chair with a queerly puzzled expression on his face. "It was accidental. I'd like to take intellectual credit for this, but it was only accidental. In any case, however it happens, it fits. According to our references, Tazenda is an oligarchy. It rules twenty-seven inhabited planets. It is not advanced scientifically. And most of all, it is an obscure world that has adhered to a strict neutrality in the local politics of that stellar region, and is not expansionist. I think we ought to see it."
"Have you informed the Mule of this?"
"No. Nor shall we. We're in space now, about to make the first hop."
Pritcher, in sudden horror, sprang to the visiplate. Cold space met his eyes when he adjusted it. He gazed fixedly at the view, then turned. Automatically, his hand reached for the hard, comfortable curve of the butt of his blaster.
"By whose order?"
"By my order, general"- it was the first time Channis had ever used the other's title -"while I was engaging you here. You probably felt no acceleration, because it came at the moment I was expanding the field of the Lens and you undoubtedly imagined it to be an illusion of the apparent star motion."
"Why? Just what are you doing? What was the point of your nonsense about Tazenda, then?"
"That was no nonsense. I was completely serious. We're going there. We left today because we were scheduled to leave three days from now. General, you don't believe there is a Second Foundation, and I do. You are merely following the Mule's orders without faith; I recognize a serious danger. The Second Foundation has now had five years to prepare. How they've prepared, I don't know, but what if they have agents on Kalgan. If I carry about in my mind the knowledge of the whereabouts of the Second Foundation, they may discover that. My life might be no longer safe, and I have a great affection for my life. Even on a thin and remote possibility such as that, I would rather play safe. So no one knows of Tazenda but you, and you found out only after we were out in space. And even so, there is the question of the crew." Channis was smiling again, ironically, in obviously complete control of the situation.
Pritcher's hand fell away from his blaster, and for a moment a vague discomfort pierced him. What kept him from action? What deadened him? There was a time when he was a rebellious and unpromoted captain of the First Foundation's commercial empire, when it would have been himself rather than Channis who would have taken prompt and daring action such as that. Was the Mule right? Was his controlled mind so concerned with obedience as to lose initiative? He felt a thickening despondency drive him down into a strange lassitude.
He said, "Well done! However, you will consult me in the future before making decisions of this nature."
The flickering signal caught his attention.
"That's the engine room," said Channis, casually. "They warmed up on five minutes' notice and I asked them to let me know if there was any trouble. Want to hold the fort?"
Pritcher nodded mutely, and cogitated in the sudden loneliness on the evils of approaching fifty. The visiplate was sparsely starred. The main body of the Galaxy misted one end. What if he were free of the Mule's influence-
But he recoiled in horror at the thought.
Chief Engineer Huxlani looked sharply at the young, ununiformed man who carried himself with the assurance of a Fleet officer and seemed to be in a position of authority. Huxlani, as a regular Fleet man from the days his chin had dripped milk, generally confused authority with specific insignia.
But the Mule had appointed this man, and the Mule was, of course, the last word. The only word for that matter. Not even subconsciously did he question that. Emotional control went deep.
He handed Channis the little oval object without a word.
Channis hefted it, and smiled engagingly.
"You're a Foundation man, aren't you, chief?"
"Yes, sir. I served in the Foundation Fleet eighteen years before the First Citizen took over."
"Foundation training in engineering?"
"Qualified Technician, First Class - Central School on Anacreon."
"Good enough. And you found this on the communication circuit, where I asked you to look?"
"Does it belong there?"
"Then what is it?"
"A hypertracer, sir."
"That's not enough. I'm not a Foundation man. What is it?"
"It's a device to allow the ship to be traced through hyperspace."
"In other words we can be followed anywhere."
"All right. It's a recent invention, isn't it? It was developed by one of the Research Institutes set up by the First Citizen, wasn't it?"
"I believe so, Sir."
"And its workings are a government secret. Right?"
"I, believe so, Sir."
"Yet here it is. Intriguing."
Channis tossed the hypertracer methodically from hand to hand for a few seconds. Then, sharply, he held it out, "Take it, then, and put it back exactly where you found it and exactly how you found it. Understand? And then forget this incident. Entirely!"
The chief choked down his near-automatic salute, turned sharply and left.
The ship bounded through the Galaxy, its path a wide-spaced dotted line through the stars. The dots, referred to, were the scant stretches of ten to sixty light-seconds spent in normal space and between them stretched the hundred-and-up light-year gaps that represented the "hops" through hyperspace.
Bail Channis sat at the control panel of the Lens and felt again the involuntary surge of near-worship at the contemplation of it.
He was not a Foundation man and the interplay of forces at the twist of a knob or the breaking of a contact was not second nature to him.
Not that the Lens ought quite to bore even a Foundation man. Within its unbelievably compact body were enough electronic circuits to pin-point accurately a hundred million separate stars in exact relationship to each other. And as if that were not a feat in itself, it was further capable of translating any given portion of the Galactic Field along any of the three spatial axes or to rotate any portion of the Field about a center.
It was because of that, that the Lens had performed a near-revolution in interstellar travel. In the younger days of interstellar travel, the calculation of each "hop" through hyperspace meant any amount of work from a day to a week - and the larger portion of such work was the more or less precise calculation of "Ship's Position" on the Galactic scale of reference. Essentially that meant the accurate observation of at least three widely-spaced stars, the position of which, with reference to the arbitrary Galactic triple-zero, were known.
And it is the word "known," that is the catch. To any who know the star field well from one certain reference point, stars are as individual as people. Jump ten parsecs, however, and not even your own sun is recognizable. It may not even be visible.
The answer was, of course, spectroscopic analysis. For centuries, the main object of interstellar engineering was the analysis of the "light signature" of more and more stars in greater and greater detail. With this, and the growing precision of the "hop" itself, standard routes of travel through the Galaxy were adopted and interstellar travel became less of an art and more of a science.
And yet, even under the Foundation with improved calculating machines and a new method of mechanically scanning the star field for a known "light signature," it sometimes took days to locate three stars and then calculate position in regions not previously familiar to the pilot.
It was the Lens that changed all that. For one thing it required only a single known star. For another, even a space tyro such as Channis could operate it.
The nearest sizable star at the moment was Vincetori, according to "hop" calculations, and on the visiplate now, a bright star was centered. Channis hoped that it was Vincetori.
The field screen of the Lens was thrown directly next that of the visiplate and with careful fingers, Channis punched out the co-ordinates of Vincetori. He closed a relay, and the star field sprang to bright view. In it, too, a bright star was centered, but otherwise there seemed no relationship. He adjusted the Lens along the Z-Axis and expanded the Field to where the photometer showed both centered stars to be of equal brightness.
Channis looked for a second star, sizably bright, on the visiplate and found one on the field screen to correspond. Slowly, he rotated the screen to similar angular deflection. He twisted his mouth and rejected the result with a grimace. Again he rotated and another bright star was brought into position, and a third. And then he grinned. That did it. Perhaps a specialist with trained relationship perception might have clicked first try, but he'd settle for three.
That was the adjustment. In the final step, the two fields overlapped and merged into a sea of not-quite-rightness. Most of the stars were close doubles. But the fine adjustment did not take long. The double stars melted together, one field remained, and the "Ship's Position" could now be read directly off the dials. The entire procedure had taken less than half an hour.
Channis found Han Pritcher in his private quarters. The general was quite apparently preparing for bed. He looked up.
"Not particularly. We'll be at Tazenda in another hop."
"I don't want to bother you if you're turning in, but have you looked through the film we picked up in Cil?"
Han Pritcher cast a disparaging look at the article in question, where it lay in its black case upon his low bookshelf, "Yes."
"And what do you think?"
"I think that if there was ever any science to History, it has been quite lost in this region of the Galaxy."
Channis grinned broadly, "I know what you mean. Rather barren, isn't it?"
"Not if you enjoy personal chronicles of rulers. Probably unreachable, I should say, in both directions. Where history concerns mainly personalities, the drawings become either black or white according to the interests of the writer. I find it all remarkably useless."
"But there is talk about Tazenda. That's the point I tried to make when I gave you the film. It's the only one I could find that even mentioned them."
"All right. They have good rulers and bad. They've conquered a few planets, won some battles, lost a few. There is nothing distinctive about them. I don't think much of your theory, Channis."
"But you've missed a few points. Didn't you notice that they never formed coalitions? They always remained completely outside the politics of this corner of the star swarm. As you say, they conquered a few planets, but then they stopped - and that without any startling defeat of consequence. It's just as if they spread out enough to protect themselves, but not enough to attract attention."
"Very well," came the unemotional response. "I have no objection to landing. At the worst - a little lost time."
"Oh, no. At the worst - complete defeat. If it is the Second Foundation. Remember it would be a world of space-knows-how-many Mules."
"What do you plan to do?"
"Land on some minor subject planet. Find out as much as we can about Tazenda first, then improvise from that."
"All right. No objection. If you don't mind now, I would like the light out."
Channis left with a wave of his hand.
And in the darkness of a tiny room in an island of driving metal lost in the vastness of space, General Han Pritcher remained awake, following the thoughts that led him through such fantastic reaches.
If everything he had so painfully decided were true - and how all the facts were beginning to fit - then Tazenda was the Second Foundation. There was no way out. But how? How?
Could it be Tazenda? An ordinary world? One without distinction? A slum lost amid the wreckage of an Empire? A splinter among the fragments? He remembered, as from a distance, the Mule's shriveled face and his thin voice as he used to speak of the old Foundation psychologist, Ebling Mis, the one man who had - maybe - learned the secret of the Second Foundation.
Pritcher recalled the tension of the Mule's words: "It was as if astonishment had overwhelmed Mis. It was as though something about the Second Foundation had surpassed all his expectations, had driven in a direction completely different from what he might have assumed. If I could only have read his thoughts rather than his emotions. Yet the emotions were plain - and above everything else was this vast surprise."
Surprise was the keynote. Something supremely astonishing! And now came this boy, this grinning youngster, glibly joyful about Tazenda and its undistinguished subnormality. And he had to be right. He had to. Otherwise, nothing made sense.
Pritcher's last conscious thought had a touch of grimness. That hypertracer along the Etheric tube was still there. He had checked it one hour back, with Channis well out of the way.
It was a casual meeting in the anteroom of the Council Chamber - just a few moments before passing into the Chamber to take up the business of the day - and the few thoughts flashed back and forth quickly.
"So the Mule is on his way."
"That's what I hear, too. Risky! Mighty risky!"
"Not if affairs adhere to the functions set up."
"The Mule is not an ordinary man - and it is difficult to manipulate his chosen instruments without detection by him. The controlled minds are difficult to touch. They say he's caught on to a few cases."
"Yes, I don't see how that can be avoided."
"Uncontrolled minds are easier. But so few are in positions of authority under him-"
They entered the Chamber. Others of the Second Foundation followed them.