Asimov was reading the second chapter of The Qaz Nanotropy when he heard voices coming from down the hall. Rather bored with the story, he stood up and took a few long low gravity steps towards the door. Suddenly, there was Mahasvin, striding quickly into the library through the open door.
Asimov pulled his finger out of the book and let it close with a rather loud thump. He asked, "So, you are also a guest of the Overseers?"
Mahasvin nodded, "Yes, and it appears they intend to keep me here a good long time. I was setting up my new household when I heard that you were here. When did you arrive?"
"I just got here. Already I've been given a reading assignment." Asimov showed her the cover of The Qaz Nanotropy.
Mahasvin glanced at the cover of The Qaz Nanotropy then she looked at the book shelves and observed, "Sachiz seems to be a real big science fiction fan."
Asimov waved The Qaz Nanotropy in the air and complained, "She thinks she can prove to me that time travel is possible by making me read this silly science fiction book."
Mahasvin laughed, "If only it were that easy!" She reached out and took the book from Asimov.
Asimov sighed, "I've been resurrected as an artificial life form and I've visited the Galactic Core and even the Andromeda galaxy. In all my travels I've only seen humans. I've never traveled through time. Maybe this is not only an all-human galaxy, but also an all-human universe. Due to their loneliness, humans must invent aliens...."
"That's one hypothesis." Mahasvin pointed to the cover illustration, "Look at this Sedronite... big eyes, big ears and pointy teeth... do you really think that she's a human?"
Asimov shrugged, "If humans have been living on various planets then I'd expect them to diverge and develop unique morphological features that are suited to each world. And just so you know, I've read chapter one and Qaz is not a 'she'... Qaz is an hermaphrodite."
"Well, this should be interesting for you, Isaac. I hope that the Overseers can convince you of the existence of past Realities and time travel." She looked at a few pages in the book.
Asimov dropped back into his chair, "This is like a nightmare. The Thomas nightmare..." He added with a dismal tone of dejection in his voice, "Apparently the Overseers want to make use of me."
Mahasvin handed The Qaz Nanotropy back to Asimov. "That looks like an interesting book. I've heard of Karol Kidd, but I've never read any of her work." She glanced at the shelves that held the works of Jack Vance and took two steps in their direction along the shelves. "In order to get in here, I had to promise Sachiz that I would not interrupt your reading."
Asimov rather dutifully opened the book and found the page where he had been reading. "Just tell me this... what do the Overseers expect me to do for them?"
Mahasvin pulled a copy of Wyst: Alastor 1716 off of the shelf and turned to face Asimov. "The Overseers want your help. They consider it their duty to prevent the people of Earth from learning the truth about alien visitors and time travel." She settled into a chair and opened her book. "Now, let's read for a while so that I don't get myself in the dog house."
Asimov shook his head, "We're already in the dog house." Then he muttered under his breath, "We're in deep dog poop." He resumed his reading.
Asimov was a fast reader, but The Qaz Nanotropy was quite a long book. Several times Mahasvin left the library to get a drink or a snack or to empty her bladder. Finally Asimov closed the book and stood up. "There, I read the silly book."
Mahasvin was not quite done reading Wyst, but she closed her book and stood up. She stretched and asked, "Well?"
"Well, what? Do I now believe in time traveling alien invaders of Earth?" He tossed The Qaz Nanotropy into the chair that he had been sitting in. He asked Mahasvin, "Did you know that the Retrofuturians also existed in the previous Reality?"
Mahasvin replied, "So I've been told, but I did not know that the Overseers were aware of that." She frowned and her brow was furrowed. "I wonder how they got their hands on this copy of The Qaz Nanotropy. Still, I'm glad to hear that you now believe in the existence of the Ekcolir Reality."
"That's what we call the previous Reality. And the Reality before that is known as the 'Asimov Reality'."
Asimov shrugged, "They use a different nomenclature for Realities in The Qaz Nanotropy. Anyhow, I'm willing to discuss these past Realities as hypotheticals, however that does not mean I believe in them as anything more than fiction."
"Well, the Overseers view the Retrofuturians as their chief adversaries. In this Reality, first there were the Dead Widowers, who for a time operated on Earth. The Overseers put an end to that. When I took you to Earth the Overseers freaked out... they fear that the Dead Widowers are planning some nefarious invasion of Earth, an attempt to resurrect their past schemes."
Right then, Sachiz and Dockmon came into the library, wearing what looked like silk bathrobes and looking like they had just risen from sleep. Dockmon asked Asimov, "Did you enjoy The Qaz Nanotropy?"
Asimov growled, "If you like, I'll write a book review."
Mahasvin said, "Asimov was trained as a scientist. You can't make him change his world view by forcing him to read a science fiction story."
Sachiz nodded glumly, "We had hoped that this particular story might trigger some latent memories."
Asimov laughed gleefully. "That it did! Memories of how Thomas badgered me for years with his stories about aliens and time travel."
Dockmon wondered, "Which is a better story, Miners of Earth or The Qaz Nanotropy?"
Asimov replied, "I never read Miners of Earth. I was repulsed by the disgusting cover art."
Sachiz seemed tired and she picked up the copy of The Qaz Nanotropy and sat down in the chair that Asimov had been reading in. "In any case, I believe that The Qaz Nanotropy makes an important point, even if you view it as only a work of fiction. In the previous Reality, Earth suffered through global warming and catastrophic sea level rise. When the alien Fru'wu arrived, the people of Earth made use of alien hierion-based technology in an attempt to save the planet."
Asimov asked, "What exactly are these hierions?"
Dockmon explained, "Your artificial body is composed of hierions, a form of matter not yet known to the people of Earth. And we must keep it that way."
Asimov nodded. "So, your goal is technology suppression. You want to keep the people of Earth from obtaining knowledge of hierions."
Sachiz nodded and tapped the cover of The Qaz Nanotropy. "You read how knowledge of hierions led to disaster for Earth. Earthlings are not ready for the advanced technologies that Interventionists are all too eager to provide."
Mahasvin quietly went to put the copy of Wyst back on the shelf. Asimov gestured towards Mahasvin and asked Sachiz, "You view Mahasvin as an Interventionist?"
Sachiz replied, "The Retrofuturians, and the members of the Dead Widower Society before them, keep trying to reveal to the people of Earth that aliens have long been visiting and manipulating human cultural development."
Mahasvin spoke rather heatedly, "The people of Earth should at least know that you tryp'At are interfering with the natural development of Earth's civilization."
Dockmon fired back pointedly, "No, it is you Interventionists who are trying to interfere and force your dangerous vision of the future on the defenseless people of Earth."
Asimov held up his hands. "Okay, I get it." He looked back and forth between Mahasvin and Dockmon. You two represent competing and conflicted sides in a political argument. Why should I help either one of you?"
"You must do what is best for the people of Earth." Dockmon pointed at Mahasvin, "You can't allow these misguided Interventionists to push Earthlings towards the use of dangerous technologies."
Mahasvin stepped close to Asimov and said, "There are only seventeen of these tryp'At Overseers here, trying to lord their beliefs over Earth. Isaac, you know me. I'm not advocating anything dangerous. It is time for the people to be made aware of the truth so that they can start making their own path into the future."
Asimov said to Sachiz, "Mahasvin wanted me to have the chance to talk to a few Earthlings. Is there harm in that? What is that you would have me do?"
Sachiz rose from her seat and went to stand beside Asimov. She showed him a small glass vile. "We need your help, Isaac." She handed him the vial and explained, "We want to put these tracking nanites into your body and then send you back to Earth."
Asimov looked at the vial: it seemed to be filled with a twisting gray vapor cloud. "That's all?"
Mahasvin warned, "No, that's not all. They know that Yōd and Zeta are in contact with their replicoids in the Hierion Domain. Sachiz wants to use you like a Trojan Horse, to penetrate the hidden base of operations being used by the Retrofuturians. Once you get in, the tracking nanites will allow the Overseers to follow and exterminate the Retrofuturians."
Dockmon said, "We don't exterminate. We protect Earth."
"If you could, you'd imprison all of the Retrofuturians here."
Dockmon shouted, "As we should. They have all violated the Rules of Intervention!"
Mahasvin got right in Dockmon's face and yelled, "No we haven't!"
Dockmon crossed her arms and turned away from Mahasvin. She asked Asimov, "What can you tell us about the Retrofuturians?" She glanced at Sachiz and said, "Maybe Asimov can tell us how to find the lair of the Retrofuturians."
Asimov slipped the vial of nanites into his pocket and shrugged, "I know far less than you imagine. And besides, why should I trust you? Why do you Overseers hide here? Why not speak to the people of Earth and let them make an informed decision about the future?"
Sachiz took Dockmon's hand and pulled her towards the doorway. "Let's give Isaac time to think. I believe he will make the correct decision."
Sachiz and Dockmon exited from the Library.
Asimov looked at Mahasvin and chuckled, "I thought you and Dockmon might come to blows."
Mahasvin yawned. "She's a fanatic. She thinks that were you allowed to be on Earth with Yōd, soon Earthlings would discover that your body is composed of hierions. In Dockmon's fantasies, the following week Earth would be destroyed by misapplied hierion-based technology." She yawned again. "Well, I should probably get some sleep." She took a step towards the doorway, then turned back and asked, "Would you actually help these Overseers?"
Asimov shrugged, "I think we are trapped in tricky web... two opposed sides in a dispute with a serious case of distrust and mis-communication. These Overseers seem to think I know more than I do. I never imagined that I'd fall into such a web of intrigue upon returning to Earth."
At that moment, both Asimov and Mahasvin heard a voice: Nivsaham, here.
Glancing quickly around the library, Mahasvin asked, "Why are you here?"
Nivsaham spoke directly into their minds by technology-assisted telepathy: I just want to make sure that neither of you starts to improvise. Asimov, why haven't you told the Overseers that you you have been away from Earth?
Asimov looked at the book shelves and tried to guess where Nivsaham might be. He shrugged, "The matter never really came up. I'm sure that they've figured that out by now."
Nivsaham advised: You don't have to be so subtle. Don't underestimate the cluelessness of the Overseers. You should have just told them.
Mahasvin said, "When Sachiz and Dockman return, they'll get the decision that they asked for."
Nivsaham asked Mahasvin: And why did you even have to hint that Asimov might say 'yes' to their proposal?
Asimov replied, "Don't worry. If I must, I'll just explain to them that I've been off on my galactic journeys."
Nivsaham said: Fine. I'll stay here and make sure that you do. You know I'm counting on the two of you to put on a good show and keep the Overseers occupied while the other Asimov completes his mission.
Mahasvin said, "Yes, that's fine."
Mahasvin and Asimov heard no more from Nivsaham. Mahasvin went and pretended to sleep on a couch in the large living room of the house. Asimov spent the next four hours browsing through the collection of books in the library.
Finally, Sachiz and Dockman emerged from their bedroom where they had slept together inside a centrifuge. They ate a tense and mostly silent breakfast with Mahasvin. After she had eaten, Sachiz asked, "Where has Asimov been for the past twenty five years?"
Mahasvin replied, "I'd think that you might have asked that question before assuming that he had been here all that time."
Dockman heatedly made an accusation, "You tried to trick us."
Mahasvin said brutally, "You need no help in making poor choices."
Sachiz ordered Mahasvin, "Go get Asimov!"
Mahasvin went to the library and collected Asimov. He and Mahasvin came to the table where Sachiz and Dockman still sat with their dishes in front of them. Sachiz said, "Be seated."
Asimov and Mahasvin sat down and waited while Sachiz stared first at Asimov and then at Mahasvin. Dockman got up and carried away the dishes. Sachiz demanded, "Who were you two talking to after we left you alone in the library?"
Mahasvin replied, "Eh? I went to sleep for a few hours."
Dockman said accusingly, "We recorded your conversations. Before you slept there was a brief time when you were both looking around the library and speaking. You weren't looking at each other."
Asimov and Mahasvin remained silent. Sachiz said, "I must conclude that you are both using the Bimanoid Interface or telepathy. It does not matter who you were speaking to. Asimov, you've demonstrated that you cannot be trusted. Both of you will remain here, permanently. That is all. Now get out of my sight."
Mahasvin took hold of Asimov's hand and pulled him away from the table. Asimov demanded, "That's all? You just lock us up?"
Sachiz replied, "Think carefully about your options, Isaac. When you are ready to help us deal with the Retrofuturians, just let me know. We can quickly reach an agreement for your release, if you cooperate."
Mahasvin said with a sneer, "It will be a cold day in hell before either of us helps you." She led Asimov out of the house and took him through the quiet streets of Observer Base towards her home. She said to Asimov, "You seem to be taking your prison sentence well."
Asimov laughed, "It's my ego. I'm thrilled that someone is so interested in me that they must listen to on my private conversations."
Mahasvin growled, "Get used to being watched. They don't call this 'Observer Base' for nothing."
Asimov suggested, "Well, this seems like a great opportunity to study Earth's history. Jorge Borges suggested that heaven must be a kind of library..."
Next Chapter: the Asimov Reality
Table of Contents
A Search Beyond is copyright John Schmidt, but the text of the story is licensed for sharing under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) license.