Saturday, February 11, 2006

12. Confrontations

"Golan Trevize," said Liono Kodell, "You are hereby charged with the theft of the starship Far Star, and with failing to comply with the orders of Harla Branno, the Mayor of Terminus and Executive Officer of the Foundation Federation. Will you come quietly?"

Mitza Lizalor stepped forward to face Kodell. "Director Trevize has renounced his Foundation citizenship, and is now a citizen of the Commonwealth of Comporellon. As such, he is no longer under your jurisdiction. You may address any complaints you may have with Director Trevize to the Comporellian Foreign Ministry. Any such complaints will be taken under advisement by the Comporellian government and appropriate measures will be taken."

"In other words," said Kodell, "you propose to do nothing, and allow this thief and subversive -- and, it now appears, traitor -- to elude punishment for his crimes."

"The Commonwealth of Comporellon does not regard Director Trevize as either a thief, a subversive, or a traitor," said Lizalor. "We regard him as a loyal, patriotic citizen and a valuable asset to the Comporellian people. Hence, we will, as we say, take any complaints you may have regarding him under advisement, and deal with them in such manner as we find appropriate."

Minister Lizalor's tone and expression were carefully neutral, but Trevize could tell that she was enjoying herself enormously. Kodell was very likely the second most powerful individual in the Galaxy, and Lizalor had the satisfaction of meeting him face to face and telling him that she intended to keep his intended quarry out of his hands.

Trevize had a sudden picture in his mind of Lizalor standing face to face with Harla Branno, and telling her the same thing. That, he knew, was what she really wanted, to cross swords with the most powerful individual in the Galaxy and emerge triumphant. Trevize had to admit to himself that he would enjoy watching such a confrontation.

The other two men in the room remained silent during the dialogue between Lizalor and Kodell. Dinnis Erkar, the First Minister of Comporellon, seemed content to allow his underling Lizalor to present his government's arguments. Thus, if she made some sort of misstep in her dealings with Kodell, Erkar could maintain that she was acting outside the bounds of her authority, and the blame would rest entirely upon her shoulders. Antin Peskonik, the Foundation's ambassador to Comporellon, was present as a diplomatic courtesy. All dealings between the governments of Comporellon and the Foundation supposedly took place under his auspices, so protocol demanded that he be present at any meeting between officials of the two governments. However, he knew that Kodell was everything and he was nothing, and so he remained silent.

Kodell liked to project an image of grandfatherly kindness, as a way of offsetting the very real and rather intimidating power of his position as Director of Security for the Foundation. Trevize, though, had never had any illusions concerning the reality of Kodell's act. One did not get Kodell's sort of job by being genial; one got it by doing whatever had to be done in whatever way it had to be done. Kodell now proceeded to confirm Trevize in his belief by dropping his kindly old grandpapa demeanor.

Kodell's face hardened. The reassuring crinkles disappeared from around his mouth and eyes, and his eyebrows lowered and drew together. Even his snowy mustache seemed to grow intimidating. Trevize was suddenly reminded of old images he had seen of the first Mayor Indbur, who had seized control of the Foundation's government, rounded up and condemned his political enemies, and nearly crushed the life out of the Association of Independent Traders. This, Trevize knew, was the real Liono Kodell.

Glaring at Lizalor, Kodell said, "You may think yourself safe from the power of the Foundation because Mayor Branno sees fit to exercise forebearance in her dealings with other nations. You may think that the Foundation has become a vast, pitiful giant, unable or unwilling to use that power for fear of alienating public opinion across the Galaxy. However, let me assure you that you could not be more mistaken. There comes a time when the appearance of weakness is more to be feared than the appearance of strength, and when that time comes, the Foundation will act, and then those who think to taunt the giant in safety will learn the folly of their ways."

Trevize knew few men who could have withstood Kodell's tirade without wilting. He felt nothing but pride when he saw that Mitza Lizalor remained unbowed. She met Kodell glare for glare, and when he was finished, she answered him. "If that time should come, then we of Comporellon will face our fate without flinching. In the meantime, if you have nothing more to contribute to this discussion, then I suggest you leave."

"Not quite yet, Madame Minister," said Kodell. "I may leave this world without the traitor Trevize, but I have no intention of leaving without the Far Star. That ship is and always has been the property of the Foundation, and you will not be allowed to keep it."

"It is the position of the government of Comporellon," Lizalor replied, "that the Far Star is legally ours under Galactic salvage laws. The ship was left unattended on our world by its pilot, so we have claimed it for our own."

Kodell's normally fair complexion darkened with anger. "If you try to keep that ship, Madame Minister, you will find that you have moved the time for action on our part from the indefinite future to the immediate future. You have forty-eight hours in which to surrender control of the Far Star, at the end of which time a state of war will exist between our two nations. And I assure you that the Foundation will not hesitate to prosecute that war to the full extent of its ability."

Mitza Lizalor allowed the silence following Kodell's ultimatum to stretch out. First Minister Erkar remained impassive. Ambassador Peskonik, on the other hand, was becoming visibly nervous. If war did break out between Comporellon and the Foundation, it would mean an ignominious end to his public career.

Finally, Lizalor spoke. "While the Comporellians are a proud people, and not normally given to compromise, we recognize that there is a certain amount of ambiguity inherent in questions concerning the precise legal status of the Far Star. That being the case, and in the interest of promoting the cause of interstellar peace and preserving the friendly relations which have heretofore characterized our dealings with the Foundation, we of the Comporellian Commonweath are willing to forego our claim to the Far Star. Please accept the return of your wayward vessel with the compliments of the Comporellian government."

Korell continued to glare at Lizalor for a time before finally giving her a curt nod and stalking out of the First Minister's office. Ambassador Peskonik hurried after him.

At last, First Minister Erkar broke his silence. "Just as you predicted, Minister," he said to Lizalor. "He was willing to let us keep Trevize as long as we were willing to return the ship."

Although Lizalor's expression remained as icily correct as it had been throughout the meeting with Kodell, Trevize knew that inside she was awash with pride and exaltation. She had faced down Harla Branno's henchman and come away with her major prize intact. When this day was over, he knew that their celebration together would be long and physically exhausting.

But there was something not quite right with the mood in the room, and Trevize had no difficulty discerning the source of the imperfection. It was Erkar. He didn't share Lizalor's satisfaction with the meeting's outcome. There was some other matter claiming his attention, and when one of the inner doors of the First Minister's office opened, Trevize knew what that other matter was.

The inner door had opened to reveal Goron Bek, the Minister of Defense. Erkar continued, "I thought it would be best to allow Minister Bek to observe the results of your meeting with the Foundation officials."

Minister Lizalor's exultation had vanished in an instant, replaced with uneasiness at the sight of Bek. "Minister Bek," she greeted him warily. "I am curious to know what interest you might have in my discussion with Director Kodell."

Bek explained, "I found it quite significant that Mayor Branno should send such an important member of her administration simply in order to deal with a single ship and a single man. The First Minister," he gestured toward Erkar, "was kind enough to fill me in on the details of ex-Councilman Trevize's arrival and his involvement with the Gravitics Project.

"The First Minister agrees with me," Bek continued, "that, given the potential military applications of the Gravitic Drive, the Ministry of Defense would be a more appropriate agency to administer the Gravitics Project than the Ministry of Transportation. Hence, I have come here in order to escort Director Trevize to his new offices at the Ministry of Defense." From the doorway behind Bek, two men emerged wearing the dark gray uniforms of the Comporellian Defense Force, and holding blaster rifles.

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