Robots and Empire

1. THE DESCENDANT

1

Gladia felt the lawn lounge to make sure it wasn't too damp and then sat down. A touch at the control adjusted it in such a way as to allow her to be semirecumbent and another activated the diamagnetic field and gave her, as it always did, the sensation of utter relaxation. And why not? She was, in actual fact, floating - a centimeter above the fabric.

It was a warm and pleasant night, the kind that found the planet Aurora at its best - fragrant and star-lit.

With a pang of sadness, she studied the numerous little sparks that dotted the sky with patterns, sparks that were all the brighter because she had ordered the lights of her establishment dimmed.

How was it, she wondered, that she had never learned the names of the stars and had never found out which were which in all the twenty-three decades of her life. One of them was the star about which her birth planet of Solaria orbited, the star which, during the first three decades of her life, she had thought of merely as "the sun."

Gladia had once been called Gladia Solaria. That was when she had come to Aurora, twenty decades before two hundred Standard Galactic Years - and it was meant as a not very friendly way of marking her foreign birth. A month before had been the bicentennial anniversary of her she had left unmarked because she did to think of those days. Before that, Gladia Delmarre -

She stirred uneasily. She had almost forgotten that surname. Was it because it was so long ago? Or was it merely that she labored to forget?

All these years she had not regretted Solaria, never missed it.

And yet now?

Was it because she had now, quite suddenly, discovered herself to have survived it? It was gone - a historical memory and she still lived on? Did she miss it now for that reason?

Her brow furrowed. No, she did not miss it, she decided resolutely. She did not long for it, nor did she wish to return to it. It was just the peculiar pang of something that had been so much a part of her - however destructively - being gone.

Solaria! The last of the Spacer worlds to be settled and made into a home for humanity. And in consequence, by some mysterious law of symmetry perhaps, it was also the first to die.

The first? Did that imply a second and third and so on?

Gladia felt her sadness deepen. There were those who thought there was indeed such an implication. If so, Aurora, her long-adopted home, having been the first Spacer-World to be settled, would, by that same rule of symmetry, therefore be the last of the fifty to die. In that case, it might, even at worst, outlast her own stretched-out lifetime and if so, that would have to do.

Her eyes sought the stars again. It was hopeless. There was no way she could possibly work out which of those indistinguishable dots of light was Solaria's sun. She imagined it would be one of the brighter ones, but there were hundreds even of those.

She lifted her arm and made what she identified to herself only as her "Daneel gesture." The fact that it was dark did not matter.

Robot Daneel Olivaw was at her side almost - at once. Anyone who had known him a little over twenty decades before, when he had first been designed by Han Fastolfe, would not have been conscious of any noticeable change in him. His broad, high-cheekboned face, with its short bronze hair combed back; his blue eyes; his