Saturday, February 11, 2006

16. Selection

Goron Bek was being blunt, for him. "Director Trevize, your progress in implementing directive DM-322-303-1 has been unsatisfactory."

In an ordinary conversation, Golan Trevize would have offered either an apology, an excuse, or an explanation. However, he knew that Bek was interested in none of these, so he remained silent and waited for the Defense Minister to continue.

"Unless you wish to face charges of obstructionism, I expect you to comply with the directive, most especially with regard to paragraph four subsection C. I expect you to have a suitable candidate available for implementation of the remedial phase of the directive in time for our next meeting."

"Yes, Minister."

"That will be all for now, Director."

"Yes, Minister."

Walking back to the Project compound, Trevize's mind was heavy. Translated into plain Galactic, Bek had just ordered Trevize to identify one of the members of his research team as a traitor and saboteur, in his next report to Bek. The consequences would be swift and deadly: arrest, a mock trial, and a quick execution. Whoever Trevize named would likely be dead within hours of his next meeting with Bek.

After reaching the Project compound, Trevize went straight to his office, sat behind his desk, and stared at the top. Sometime within the next twenty-four Comporellian hours, he would have to condemn an innocent man to death; either one of his subordinates, or himself.

All right, he said to his alleged intuition, you're supposed to be infallible. Tell me what to do next.

There was no answer.

Trevize broke with his regular routine tour of inspection around the Project compound, choosing instead to remain within his office. Denrun and the others, perhaps sensing his mood, did not interrupt him. The Comporellian hours, shorter than the Standard hours to reflect Comporellon's shorter day, passed by Trevize with terrifying speed. He tried to read status reports, tried to write status reports, tried to sleep, tried to eat. It was impossible to do anything while his last fatal Investigation Report to Minister Bek remained unwritten.

Finally, in the small hours of the morning, Trevize opened the file on his investigation, and sat looking at the blank screen that would eventually become somebody's death sentence. His fingers began tapping at the computer's keyboard, and the bland, verbose opening sentences of the report appeared on the screen. Trevize was barely aware of any conscious thought as the sentences became paragraphs, the paragraphs pages, and the pages a finished document. With all the terrible finality of a murderer pressing the contact of a blaster, Trevize pressed the key that would enter the report in his file, and send a copy to the identical file in Goron Bek's computer.

Only then did it seem to Trevize that perhaps his intuition had been guiding his fingers after all. The realization came to him that he did not, after all, have it within him to order another man's death. He had chosen to return to Comporellon, he had accepted leadership of the Gravitics Project, and now the responsibility for the outcome rested on him alone. If that meant choosing his own death, then so be it.

Golan Trevize smiled for the first time in weeks as he read the name he had defiantly named in his report: Goron Bek.

His computer chirped at him, and a message appeared on the screen to remind him that it was time for his daily meeting with the Minister of Defense. Still smiling, Trevize rose from his desk, left his office, and went out to the compound's exit to meet his escort.

As the door to the outside slid open, however, the face that met him was not the face of Captain Weklin, his usual escort. Instead, Trevize found himself looking at a man in the black uniform of the Ministry of Security. Furthermore, the man was familiar, though it took a moment for Trevize to place him. The last time Trevize had seen this man had been during his first visit to Comporellon with Janov and Bliss.

"You're the taxi driver!" Trevize exclaimed.

The black-uniformed man nodded at Trevize, clearly pleased at being remembered. He said, "You are correct, sir. Lt. Herris Mindollo of the Comporellian Security Force. I did indeed have the pleasure of escorting you and your companions to the Ministry of Transportation during your initial visit to our world."

"Against our will, as you'll doubtless recall."

Lt. Mindollo nodded again. "These things are sometimes necessary in my line of work. I think you'll agree that matters did eventually resolve themselves to your satisfaction."

Was that a veiled reference to Trevize's first tryst with Mitza Lizalor? Not that that mattered right now. Trevize asked, "Are you here to escort me to Minister Bek's office?"

Oddly enough, Lt. Mindollo seemed to be having trouble keeping his expression neutral. Trevize had the strange impression that the security man was trying to keep from grinning at him. Mindollo replied, "I'm here to escort you to the office that was Bek's."


"Yes, was. Goron Bek is no longer Minister of Defense. He has been arrested on charges of attempting to sabotage the Gravitics Project."

Stunned, it took Trevize several seconds to formulate a response. He finally said, "Who has been chosen to replace him?"

Lt. Mindollo said, "You have . . . Minister Trevize."

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