Fifty years after the death of Hari Seldon, his Foundation Number One on Terminus has grown to one million people, but only 150,000 are directly involved on the Encyclopedia Galactica. Salvor Hardin is mayor of Terminus City, the only settlement on the planet, but true power rests solely with the Board of Trustees, headed by Dr. Lewis Perrine. Hardin mentions that the province of Anacreon has broken free of the Empire and is styling itself a kingdom, along with at least twenty other provinces. He fears that Anacreon will come down upon Terminus and start throwing its weight around. Pirenne insists the Emperor would never stand for his rights to be violated in such a way. Hardin mentions the opening of the Time Vault in three months, and mentions the principle of the freedom of the press. Pirenne insists that the Vault concerns only the Board of Trustees. Hardin provides a final bit of news. A special envoy is to arrive from Anacreon in two weeks. Hardin leaves Pirenne guessing as to what he wants.
The envoy, Anselm Rodric, is received with all the pomp and circumstance of a state visit. He is thoroughly bored by the tour of the Encyclopedia Building, After the tour he gets down to business. How does Terminus stand in respect to Smyrno? Anacreon just concluded a war with them, and the capital of Smyrno is not fifty parsecs away. And what about two other kingdoms, Konom and Daribow? Pirenne insists that Terminus is a scientific institution which has nothing to do with local politics. Roderick says, "Science be damned? We're liable to see Terminus taken over by Smyrno at any time!"
Pirenne suggests the Emperor would not stand idly by in that event. Rodric reveals that Anacreon has signed a treaty with the Empire placing the responsibility of maintaining order within the borders of the old Prefect on behalf of the Emperor. Pirenne points out that Terminus is not part of the Prefect of Anacreon.
"Does Smyrno know that?" Smyrno still holds two systems formerly belonging to Anacreon and Terminus sits in an extremely strategic place between the two kingdoms. Since Terminus cannot defend itself, Anacreon must step in to do the job. Therefore, a military base must be established on the planet. And of course there is the issue of supporting that base. "We're protecting you. You pay for it." Rodric says they will take gold, of course, or chromium or vanadium if they have it.
Mayor Hardin laughs and reveals that Terminus is a world almost totally devoid of metals. They have to be imported. Likewise, there are no manufactured goods, because they have nothing to make them out of. Terminus is completely unproductive, unless he wants a few thousand bushels of potatoes. Rodric suggests they might pay with land. Most of Terminus is empty, and there are nobility on Anacreon who might want an addition to their estates. Hardin asks if Anacreon might provide Terminus with some plutonium for their power plant. "We've only a few years of supply left." This results in dead silence for a few minutes.
"You have nuclear power?"
"Certainly. What's unusual in that? I suppose nuclear power is fifty thousand years old by now. Why shouldn't we have it? Except that it's a little difficult to get plutonium."
The envoy excuses himself and says he will pursue the subject tomorrow. Dr. Pirenne is aghast that Mayor Hardin brought up the issue of their nuclear power plant. Hardin says, "Anacreon no longer has a nuclear-power economy. If they had, our friend would undoubtedly have realized that plutonium, except in ancient tradtion,is not used in power plants. And therefore it follows that the rest of the Periphery no longer has nuclear power either. Certainly Smyrno hasn't, or Anacreon wouldn't have won most of the battles in their recent war."
Pirenne utters an oath and leaves in an ill humor. Salvor Hardin throws his cigar away and looks at the galaxy in the night sky. "Back to oil and coal are they?" he murmurs to himself.
Hardin, through various devious means, owned sixty percent of the city's newspaper. He used it to agitate for a seat on the Board of Trustees, and Pirenne capitulated under pressure. At the first meeting of the newly expanded Board, Pirenne announced the impeding arrival of Lord Dorwin, Chancellor of the Empire. And as soon as the Emperor is appraised of the situation, it may be expected that their difficulties with Anacreon will be smoothed out.
Hardin is upset at how everyone mentions "Empire" as it if were a magic word, when the Emperor is thousands of parsecs away and what there remained of the Imperial navy has been put into the hands of the four Kingdoms. They've had two months' grace because Anacreon has been led to believe Terminus has nuclear weapons, when that was a little white lie. They have a little nuclear power for commercial uses, but that's it. And they're not going to enjoy being misled when they find out.
The Board refuses to entertain the notion of militarizing the Foundation. Building an army would mean drawing valuable men away from the Encyclopedia. Hardin says, "What kind of science is it to be stuck out here for centuries classifying the work of the scientists of the last millenium? Have you ever thought of working onward, extending their knowledge and improving upon it? No! You're quite happy to stagnate. The whole Galaxy is, and has been for space knows how long. That's why the Periphery is revolting, that's why communications are breaking down, that's why whole systems are losing nuclear power and going back to barbarous techniques of chemical power. If you ask me, the Galactic Empire is dying!"
One of the Trustees, Jord Fara, brings up the issue of the opening of the Vault, when a message from Hari Seldon will appear. And it occurs to him that it's happening at a very convenient time. Seldon was the greatest psychologist of his time and the founder of the Foundation. It is possible that he used his science to determine the probable course of the future. If he did, it is likely that he has a solution, and when the Time Vault opens he will reveal it. The Encyclopedia was very dear to his heart.
In contrast to Anselm Rodric, Lord Dorwin is fascinated by the work of the Encyclopedists. He considers himself something of an amateur archaeologist, and his interest lies in the "Origin Question", that is, the location in the galaxy where the human species evolved, now lost in the mists of antiquity. But to Lord Dorwin, being a "scientist" means closely reading the works of all the great masters. Salvor Hardin asks when these books were written. Lord Dorwin answers some eight hundred years ago. So Hardin asks, "Why don't you go to Arcturus and study the remains for yourself?"
Lord Dorwin is amused. Whatever for? Dorwin has the works of all the old masters, he weighs them against each other, balances the disagreements, analyzes the conflicting statements, and come to a conclusion. That is the scientific method...to him. "How insufferably crude it would be to go to Arcturus, or to Sol for instance, and blunder about when all the old masters have covered the ground so much more effectively than we can ever hope to do so."
Hardin asks Lord Dorwin if he knows anything about the meltdown of the nuclear plant on Gamma Andromeda V. The Chancellor answers that it was quite a catastrophe, and the Empire is considering putting restrictions on the use of nuclear power. But he can't answer what was wrong with the plant. "It is so difficult these days to find men who really understand the most technical details of our power systems."
Soon after Lord Dorwin departs the Board of Trustees gets an ultimatim from Anacreon, which astonishes them in light of what they thought Lord Dorwin said about the attitude of the Empire on this matter. Salvor Hardin submitted a copy of the ultimatim to Muller Holk in thethe Division of Logic for analysis using symbolic logic to clear away the deadwood which clutters human speech. It boils down to, "You give up what we want in a week, or we take it by force." The Board of Trustees reluctantly agrees. Hardin also submitted a copy of the treaty, signed by Lord Dorwin, and it boiled down to: "Obligations of Anacreon to the Empire: None! Powers of the Empire over Anacreon: None!" And Pirenne agrees to this as well.
Finally, Hardin took the liberty of recording Lord Dorwin's words and submitting the transcript to Muller Holk as well, despite the gross breach of hospitality. After two days of steady work, all the goo and dribble cancelled out. Holk found he had nothing left. "Lord Dorwin, gentlemen, in five days of discussion didn't say one damned thing, and said it so you never noticed. There are the assurances you had from your precious Empire."
A Trustee named Fullham says, "If you were to inflame the city into an act of violence, it would achieve elaborate suicide. We don't intend to allow that. The Encyclopedia comes first."
Hardin reminded them that Rodric already spelled out what Anacreon wanted, outright annexation and the imposition of a feudal system of landed estates and a peasant-aristocracy economy upon Terminus, and the bluff of nuclear power will only delay the inevitable.
Jord Fara still believes a deus ex machina will pop out of Seldon's Time Vault. Hardin objects that Fara's logic is faulty. If Seldon foresaw the Anacreonian mess, why not place the Foundation on some other world nearer the Galactic center? Instead he maneuvered to place the Foundation out in the rim, vulnerable to the break in communication lines, the threat of neighbors, and helplessness because of the utter lack of metals. If he foresaw all this, why not warn the settlers well in advance, rather than wait until one foot is over the cliff? And if Seldon could see the problem fifty years ago, they could see the problem equally well for themselves now.
Fara objects that they can't. And Hardin is angered by this. "You haven't tried. First you refused to admit there was a menace at all, then you resorted to a blind faith in the Emperor, and now you've shifted it to an all-seeing Hari Seldon. It's a diseased attitude. And it's not just you, its the whole Galaxy. Lord Dorwin's idea of scientific research was to read all the books on the subject. And Pirenne listened and made no objections. You men and half of Terminus are just as bad. We consider the greatest end of science is the classification of past data. Here in the Periphery they've lost nuclear power. In Gamma Andromeda a power plant has undergone meltdown and the Chancellor of the Empire says the solution is to restrict nuclear power. Don't you see, it's Galaxy wide. It's a worship of the past. It's a deterioration...a stagnation!"
The Trustees are at a loss for answers. Hardin suggests that Anacreon isn't wall Hari Seldon was worried about. He suspects that no one has the faintest conception of what is really going on. The smelliest part of the whole deal is the lack of first class psychologists in the original population of Terminus except Bor Alurin (who trained Hardin in his youth), and Alurin carefully refrained from training his pupils in more than the fundamentals. Perhaps a psychologist might have caught on to what this was all about, too soon to suit Hari Seldon. As it is they've been stumbling about, getting only misty glimpses of the truth. And that's what Hari Seldon wanted. Hardin finishes speaking and stalks out of the room.
Mayor Hardin and his friend Yohan Lee privately conspire to seize political power from the Board of Trustees. The Anacreonians were landing in two days, and Salvor Hardin had only the barest notion of what Hari Seldon had been driving at these past fifty years.
The next day in the Time Vault a holographic video of Hari Seldon appears. He is in his wheelchair and his voice is old and soft. He says, "I am Hari Seldon...your grandparents left for Terminus a few months back in my time and since then I have suffered a rather inconvenient paralysis....it is fifty years now since this Foundation was established. Fifty years in which the members of the Foundation have been ignorant of what it was they were working toward. It was necessary that they be ignorant, but now the necessity is gone. The Encyclopedia Foundation, to begin with, is a fraud and always has been!"
In the Vault there is the sound of scrambling and muffled exclamations, but Hardin does not turn around.
"It was a fraud in the sense that neither I nor my colleagues care at all whether a single volume of the Encyclopedia is ever published. It served its purpose. By it we extracted an Imperial charter from the Emperor and attracted the hundred thousand humans necessary for our scheme, and by it we managed to keep them preoccupied while events shaped themselves until it was too late for any of them to draw back. In the fifty years you have worked on the fraudulent project your retreat as been cut off and you have now no choice but to proceed on the infintely more important project that was and is our real plan. From now on and into the centuries the path you must take is inevitable. You will be faced with a series of crises as you are now faced with the first.
"For centuries Galactic civilization has stagnated and declined. Somewhere in the last fifty years historians will place an arbitary line and say, 'Here marks the Fall of the Galactic Empire'. And they will be right, though no one will recognize that Fall for centuries. After that fall will come a period of barbarism which our psychohistory tells us should last for thirty thousand years. We cannot stop the Fall, but we can shorten the period of barbarism that follows down to a mere thousand years. The ins and outs of that shortening we cannot tell you, or our plan might fail. But this I can tell you, Terminus and its companion Foundation at the other end of the Galaxy are the seeds of a Second Galactic Empire."
Hari Selden then outlines the details of their present crisis and suggests the solution is forced upon them. It is, in other words, obvious.
After the video ends, the Board of Trustees admits they were wrong to Hardin and schedule a meeting to discuss their next action. Hardin smiles, knowing they would be giving orders no longer. Out there in Terminus City Yohan Lee's men were already in control. In two days time Anacreon would be landing in force, but that was fine, in six months they would be giving orders no longer as well. Salvor Hardin had guessed the solution, and as Hari Seldon said, it was obvious.