Dr. Gaal Dornick is a mathematician from Synnax who was invited by the great Hari Seldon to join the mysterious Seldon Project on Trantor. His voyage to the capital world of the Galactic Empire, on a passenger liner that is the product of 12,000 years of Imperial progress, is the first time he ventured into hyperspace.
When the ship lands, thousands of passengers wait in debarkation rooms which rotate to maintain a single direction “up” as the ships artificial gravity gives way to Trantor’s natural gravity. Customs is a minor formality, he is travelling light. As he makes his way to the taxis, he picks up a follower who manages to hear Dornick accept a “direct line to the Luxor”, The taxi flies over the crowds and enters a tunnel in a wall of the Debarkation Building, miles away. When Dornick arrives at the Luxor Hotel he realizes he hand seen no glimpse of Trantor’s sky. For Trantor, the administrative hub of the Empire, is a world completely enveloped by a single city.
Later Dornick follows signs to the “Sun Room” but it is only a chamber for basking in artificial radiation. He tries to buy a ticket for a planetary tour, but the next one is tomorrow, and he is expected to be at the University of Trantor at that time. But he accepts a ticket to an observation tower instead. The operator checks if its raining. He says he hasn’t been outside himself in three years. No, it’s fine, there’s good weather.
The elevator is the new gravitic type, and Dornick neglects to read the sign to tuck his feet under a rail in the floor . A helping hand brings him back to the floor after he begins to float into the air to the amusement of the other passengers. When they arrive on the observation deck, the man with the helping hand follows Dornick out. There is only a horizon of metal against sky, no green to be seen except the 100 square miles of natural vegetation at the Emperor’s palace, which might be ten thousand miles away for all Dornick knew.
His friend at the elevator is named Jerril. Dornick reveals he is on Trantor for a job with Dr. Seldon’s project. Jerril says Seldon is known as “Raven” because he keeps predicting disaster. Dornick knows nothing of this, even when Jerril presses him on the matter. He grows annoyed and takes his leave. And when Dornick arrives back in his hotel room another man is waiting for him that annoys him even further, until the visitor announces himself as Hari Seldon.
Dornick mentions the man in the tower, and Seldon reveals he is an agent of the Commission of Public Safety who followed Dornick from the spaceport. Dornick says he called Hari “Raven Seldon” because he predicts disaster. Seldon says, “I do. He takes out a pocket computer and sets up a rough approximation of the current state of the galaxy. Dornick accepts the simulation provisionally. Seldon says, “Good, add to this the known probability of Imperial assassination, viceregal revolt, the recurrance of economic depression, the declining rate of planetary explorations…” When he is done, he presents the function to Dornick. “This is Trantor in three centuries.” Dornick is astonished. Total destruction!
Seldon makes him put the mathematics into words, a summary of the decline and fall of the Galactic Empire. Then he makes Dornick calculate the probability of the fall mentally, without the use of the computer. 85%? “Not bad, but not good. The actual figure is 92.5%” This is why they call him Raven Seldon. And it has appeared in none of the journals. But some of the results have leaked out into the aristocracy. Seldon invites Dornick to meet him at the University the next day.
Gaal Dornick is unable to keep his appointment, he is put under the detention of the Commission of Public Safety. His interrogation reveals nothing other than he was a provincial of Synnax, he had a doctorate in Mathematics, he applied for a position with Dr. Seldon and was accepted. They kept asking him what secret instructions he received, what was it really all about? “When will Trantor be destroyed?” Gaal hesitated, and said he could not say of his own knowledge. They pressed him for Dr. Seldon’s knowledge. “He is of the opinion that Trantor will be destroyed in three centuries.” When they leave him, he asserts his right to a lawyer, and this right is granted.
Lors Avakim is appointed by Dr. Seldon to represent him. He has a personal recording device which also has the capability of blanking the spy beam. They can talk freely. Dornick is innocent and wants a hearing with the Emperor. Avakim says that is impossible, this is not the Empire of the Entun Dynasty anymore. He was sent to assure Dornick that all will end well, for the Project with a 99.9% probability, and for Dornick himself 77.2%. Dornick complains that there’s a one in five chance of being sentenced to prison or death. Avakim assures him the last is under one percent.
A guard comes into the room and confiscates Avakim’s recorder. “We will supply you with one, Counsellor, that does not cast a static field.” In that event, his interview is done and he leaves.
The trial lasts three days. Dornick was not the center of attention, but rather, Hari Seldon. During the questioning it comes out that Dr. Seldon only has 50 mathemeticians on his project, but nearly 100,000 people in all capacities. It is his testimony that the fall of Trantor cannot be changed by 100,000 people, not even over the course of three centuries. The prosecutor springs his trap: Now attend, sir, most carefully, for we want a considered answer. What is the purpose of your hundred thousand?”
“To minimize the effects of the destruction. The coming destruction of Trantor is not an isolated event, but the climax of an intricate drama which began centuries ago and which is accelerating in pace continually. I refer, gentlemen, to the developing decline and fall of the Galactic Empire.”
The courtroom explodes in chaos. Calls of treason are heard. The prosecutor points out that the Empire has stood for 12,000 years and has the good wishes of a quadrillion human beings behind it. Hari Seldon paints a picture of galactic civilization falling into darkness and barbarism for a period of thirty thousand years….unless his hundred thousand project members are permitted to work. They can reduce the period of Dark Ages to a mere one thousand years of suffering. The huge onrushing mass of events can be deflected just a little, but enough to remove 29,000 years of misery from human history.
The prosecutor asks how he proposes to do this. “By saving the knowledge of the race. WIth the destruction of our social fabric, science will be broken into a million pieces. Individuals will know much of exceedingly tiny facets of what there is to know. But if we prepare a summary of all knowledge, an “Encyclopedia Galactica”, it will never be lost. Coming generations will build on it, and it will not have to be rediscovered. And that is what his 100,000 people are set aside to do.”
The next day, Gaal Dornick and Hari Seldon meet privately with Lord Linge Chen, the real ruler of the Galaxy who controls everything from behind the facade of a child Emperor. Chen suggests he can save the Emperor a lot of trouble simply by having Seldon executed immediately. Seldon says, “The tale of my interrupted trial will spread throughout the Galaxy…people will see the future holds no promise for them…have me killed and Trantor will fall in fifty years rather than three hundred and you yourself will not live out a single year.”
Linge asks “Need the preparation of your encyclopedia be done on Trantor?” Seldon points out that Trantor possesses the Imperial Library. “And yet if you were located elsewhere, let us say on a planet where the hurry and distractions of a metropolis will not interfere with scholastic musings, might not that have advantages?” Minor ones, perhaps. “Such a world has been chosen, then. You may work, doctor, at your leisure. The Galaxy will know that you are working and fighting to prevent the Fall. They will even be told that you will prevent the Fall. Meanwhile there will be no disturbance of the Emperor’s peace.”
The alternative for Hari Seldon is death for himself and as many of his followers as seems necessary. Dornick’s heart skips a beat.
The world chosen is called Terminus, the absolute furthest habitable world in the Galaxy. Seldon says he will need time to arrange the transport of twenty thousand families. Chen grants the time. So Seldon accepts exile.
At the University, which is now under military law, Seldon and Dornick retire to Seldon’s office, which is shielded by a static device which is enhanced with random recordings of innocuous conversations to keep the authorities from growing suspicious.
Seldon assures Dornick that the six months of preparation time they have been granted will be enough. They have been preparing to leave for Terminus for some time, and the whole trial was a scheme to manipulate Chen into arranging the exile. Why? “Twenty thousand families would not travel to the end of the Galaxy of their own will perhaps. And working on Terminus, we will have Imperial support without ever rousing fears that we would endanger Imperial safety.”
Dornick asks why the families must be forced there. Seldon says, “It is enough to know for now that a scientific refuge will be established on Terminus. And another will be established at the other end of the Galaxy, let us say at ‘Star’s End’. As for myself, I will die soon, but there will be successors, perhaps even yourself, who will apply the final touch to the scheme and initiate the revolt on Anacreon. After that events may roll unheeded.”
“I do not understand, sir.”
“You will. Most will leave for Terminus, but some will stay. It will be easy to arrange. But as for me, I am finished.”