Saturday, February 11, 2006

5. The Gift

The Far Star sat beneath the sun of Gaia. Standing beside it were Golan Trevize, Janov Pelorat and Bliss. This time, however, Pelorat and Bliss would not be joining Trevize as he set off once again into space.

"Are you sure you wish to do this?" Bliss inquired one final time. "You can stay on Gaia. You're one of the most honored people on the planet."

"Because I chose to make your world the model for the future of the Galaxy," Trevize noted sardonically.

"That's true," Bliss admitted. "We're flattered that you find us worthy. We don't even mind," she added wryly, "that your reason for choosing Galaxia was fear of a hypothetical alien menace."

Trevize shook his head. "I have commitments to honor elsewhere." He could tell that Bliss was forcing herself not to mention his Comporellian paramour, Mitza Lizalor. Trevize had noticed with some curiosity (and a good deal of relief) that Bliss was no longer commenting on his social life. Of all the things he disliked about her, that had been the most prominent.

Pelorat stepped forward. Taking Trevize's hand in his own, he said, "I've only known you for half a year, but somehow it seems like a lifetime. Probably because I've experienced more in my time with you than in all the decades before. I've come to rely on your determination and self-assurance, for I've always been aware of a conspicuous lack of those things in my own makeup."

Trevize smiled. "You don't need my determination and self-assurance any more, for you've developed a good deal of your own. And whatever you lack, I'm certain that Bliss will more than make up for."

With a wry smile of his own, Pelorat said, "I don't doubt that you're right. Good luck, my dear friend. I shall remember you always."

"And I you, Janov. If I had had someone like you to teach me history in school, I might have become an academic rather than a politician."

"But then you wouldn't have been available to us," Bliss pointed out. "We wouldn't have had your decision, and where would we be then?"

"Don't be so sure," Trevize cautioned her. "I'm certain that Daneel would have found some way to exile me from Terminus at the proper time, even if I had taken up dentistry."

"Do you really think it was Daneel's manipulations that led Mayor Branno to exile you?" Pelorat wondered. "After all, from what you tell me it was your own outspokenness on the subject of the Second Foundation that led her to act. If you had kept your beliefs to yourself, might the whole train of events never have happened?"

Trevize sighed. "That's the trouble with mentalics. When you're dealing with them, you can never be sure whether the motives you act on are your own or theirs. Was my speech spontaneous, or was one of Daneel's mentalic robots present on Terminus, waiting for the correct moment to loosen my tongue?"

Pelorat said, "It seems pointless to second-guess yourself."

"True. I must say, though, that I now have a much better understanding of why men like Arkady Darrell's father were so obsessed with eliminating the Second Foundation. The temptation to endlessly examine one's motives for outside tampering could easily drive a man mad."

Bliss now stepped forward, and followed Pelorat's example by taking Trevize's hand in hers. She said, "I know it's customary in some Isolate cultures to present a gift to someone who is departing for an extended period."

"It's called a going-away present," Trevize said.

"Since no Gaian is ever truly apart from the rest of our planet, the custom is unknown here. Nevertheless, since it is one of your customs, we thought it would be appropriate to present you with a gift, as a token of our gratitude."

So saying, Bliss leaned forward and kissed Trevize on the mouth.

Trevize stood still for a moment, clearly mystified. Finally he said, "That's your idea of a gift?"

"Were you expecting a chronometer?"

Shaking his head, Trevize turned and entered the airlock of the Far Star. Pelorat and Bliss stepped back, and a minute later the ship lifted off the ground. When it had finally disappeared into the sky, Pelorat turned to Bliss and said, "I must say, I agree with Golan. It seems an odd choice for a gift. Why a kiss?"

Then Bliss told him, and astonishment filled Pelorat's face. "What an extraordinary thing. Was this your idea?"

"Dom came up with the larger plan, but the kiss was my idea."

All Pelorat could do was stare up into the sky and repeat, "What an extraordinary thing."

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