Saturday, February 11, 2006

14. Procedures

Golan Trevize woke up with a sentence drifting through his mind. Before he opened his eyes he could see it glowing against the insides of his eyelids.

Get it in writing.

It could have been a remnant of a forgotten dream, or a message from his allegedly infallible intuition, or just the aftereffects of the previous evening's meal. When Trevize opened his eyes, the sentence vanished from his sight.

It remained in his mind, though. As Trevize rose from the cot in his office, showered, dressed, and prepared for the morning's meeting with Goron Bek, he was constantly turning the message over in his mind. By the time he had been allowed out of the Gravitics Project research lab and escorted to Bek's office, he had worked out a course of action.

As always, the two members of Trevize's military escort had entered Bek's inner office with him and taken up posts on either side of the door. Trevize walked up to the huge desk on the far side of the office and stood silently while Bek studied the screen of his computer.

To give himself something to do while he waited, Trevize counted the seconds until Bek looked up and took notice of him. He had created a database back at the research lab where he plotted each day's wait. Most days, Bek kept him waiting between thirty and fifty seconds. Yesterday, the day of his ultimatum, the Defense Minister had kept him waiting only twelve seconds. Today, Trevize had reached seven in his count when Bek looked up and spoke to him.

"Director," Bek greeted him.

"Minister," Trevize responded.

It was like a macabre parody of his meetings with Mitza Lizalor. The exact same words, spoken in the exact same way.

"I hope you've had time to consider the suggestion I made at our last meeting," said Bek.

"I've been giving it a lot of thought," Trevize admitted.

"Good, good. And have you reached any conclusions?"

"I have," said Trevize. "I've come to the conclusion that the procedures you've outlined need to be taken seriously."

"Well, that's a start. How seriously do you intend to take my suggestion?"

"Seriously enough to think that it needs to be put on an official footing."

There was a pause before Bek said, "What exactly do you mean by an official footing?"

"I mean that, if your suggestion is to become official policy with regard to the Gravitics Project, it ought to be spelled out. There ought to be a set of official guidelines documenting the proposed procedures. And what's more," Trevize said, his eyes locked onto Bek's own," I feel that, absent such a set of official guidelines, it would be . . . premature . . . of me to attempt to implement the proposed procedures."

There was another pause, much longer that the first one. At last, Bek said, "And if I were to suggest that, in the interest of keeping the Gravitics Project on schedule, it would be permissible to forego the creation of such a set of official guidelines?"

"Then I would feel it my duty to refuse to implement the suggested procedures, Minister. Under any circumstances."

A third pause, the longest of all. Then Bek said, "After giving the matter due consideration, I find myself coming to appreciate the merits of your suggestion. Very well. I'll see to it that a set of official guidelines is established with regard to the proposed procedures. Afterwards, I'll expect those procedures to be followed to the letter, and in a timely fashion."

"They will be," said Trevize.

"Excellent. Thank you for your assistance in this matter, Director. That will be all for now."

"Yes, Minister."

As Trevize was escorted from the Defense Minister's office back to the Gravitics lab, he felt as exhausted as if he had just finished a twenty-mile run. However, he also had the unmistakable impression that he had just taken a key step in solving the problem of Bek's usurpation of the Gravitics Project. For the first time since Bek had walked into First Minister Erkar's office, Trevize felt the future opening up before him.

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