The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster

“Hello, Prax,” said the counselor, extending a hand in greeting. He was not smiling, but neither did he appear particularly upset. As usual, Prax couldn’t figure him. The syndicate ruler hesitated, finally shook the proffered hand.

“Just got the word myself. Haven’t had time to fine-tune the details.”

He gestured for Prax to follow as he walked across the room and activated one of several small screens. His fingers worked the simple keyboard with skill. A familiar face appeared on the screen. Prax recognized one of the United Technologic Worlds’ more popular information dispensers. Privately, Prax thought the man a pompous ghit.

“They’ve been cycling this broadcast at the standard half-hour intervals,” explained Momblent, “interspersed with updated weather. I’ve run it forward to the section of off-world news we’re concerned with.”

The article was right at the beginning. It roused no special interest in the announcer, provoked no unusual adjectives. It was simply another piece of provincial news … but not to the pair of powerful men watching it in the luxurious office.

“…Meanwhile, in fourth quad developments, police on the industrial world of Evenwaith have announced the shattering of the dominant criminal organization on their planet. More than two hundred illegals employed by the vicious underworld syndicate known as the Enigman have been tallied and charged.

“Police Commissioner Welworth al-Razim declared that he has evidence of sufficient depth and detail to put every one of the arrested under a truth detector to the point where they’ll be forced to pledge themselves to lives of good works.

“The syndicate’s operations included the running of illegal pharmaceuticals and other forbidden substances onto Evenwaith, as well as the perpetration of elaborate insurance frauds and the skimming of profits from legalized gambling.”

As he spoke, images flashed on a screen behind him. At the moment it showed a rather stolid-looking individual shaking hands with a beaming Police Commissioner. The shorter man did not look into the camera.

“All this,” the announcer droned on, “was due to the heroic efforts of long-time undercover police operative Kees vaan Loo-Macklin, who has been functioning in close association with Commissioner al-Razim’s office for nearly ten years.” The journalist cleared his throat.

“Loo-Macklin was finally forced to surface, according to the Commissioner, when powerful off-world interests attempted to force him into selling the vast syndicate he supposedly was directing. In reality, all instructions were emanating from the police board computer, a fact, which the underworld never learned.

“In addition to multiple prosecution at the local level, these revelations are expected to lead to indictments of a number of high-level off-world illegals, a blow which is expected to rock the UTW underworld as nothing has since the advent of the truth detector.”

“Hyperbole,” murmured the counselor, turning artificial eyes with lenses of glass on his companion. “You’re covered, Prax.”

“I’m not worried about my mobility,” the man snapped. “I’m worried about my money. The money I contributed to buying out that phlembo.”

Momblent tried to calm him. “I’m out a considerable sum myself, remember. Don’t dwell on it. It’s done, and you’ll survive the loss without breathing hard.”

“It’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing,” growled the syndicate chief, his hands clenching and unclenching as he stared at the screen.

“Nonsense, Prax. I know you better than that. We both know that principle has no place in this. It’s the money. We have contracted a common cold, not pneumonia. There is no need for surgery of any kind.”

“Who knew?” said Prax, whirling and beginning to pace energetically between couch and screen. “Who knew the guy was a police agent? Before I went into this business, I had him traced back as far as his personal records ran. He’s been functioning in the underworld for fifteen years. Since he was a kid. Nobody can operate as an agent for that long without making a mistake or being traced. Nobody. We would have found out if he’d been recruited. My tracers always find that sort of thing, always!”

“I’ve been supporting a little research of my own,” Momblent informed him. “He’s not a police agent.”

Rage and fury suddenly forgotten, Prax gaped at the counselor. “What do you mean, he’s not an agent?” He nodded toward the screen. “That Commissioner…”

Momblent smiled. “I know a few people on Evenwaith. Legals, of course. They did some work for me. Favors.

“They tell me that not only are there no records in the police storage bank referring to this Loo-Macklin as an undercover agent, there are no legal references on him at all. According to my information, he is only what he appeared to be to us from the first, namely, the director of a modest syndicate.

“Furthermore, my sources say that up until a few weeks ago, this Commissioner al-Razim only knew of him as we did.”

“But he just said…” The flabbergasted Prax could only gesture toward the screen, where the announcer was continuing to mouth platitudes.

“That performance reflected part of the deal Loo-Macklin made with the Evenwaith Police Computer. Apparently he found a way to converse directly with it, bypassing its board of operators. The computer then contacted al-Razim who, even if he’d been of a different frame of mind, had no choice but to accept _a fait accompli_ when it was shoved under his fat ass.

“This ludicrous story of Loo-Macklin being a long-time police agent was fabricated to save al-Razim’s skin, not Loo-Macklin’s. In return for turning over all his records and computer files on his syndicate’s Evenwaith operations, our enterprising young friend has acquired for himself not only immunity but a sizable cash reward.

“The Commissioner will probably get an undeserved promotion out of it, from city to world police council, plus the admiration of his colleagues, who have never believed him capable of such deviousness. Of which he is not, of course.

“All of the indicted people, naturally, were until a few days ago Loo-Macklin’s own close associates and employees. Many of them have worked for him for years. They’re half convinced he was a police agent, too.”

“Casting of the offal,” muttered Prax.

“Quite so,” agreed the counselor. “Apparently Loo-Macklin had the entire betrayal set up to go for some time, even before we ‘offered’ to buy him out. His insurance policy, in case people like ourselves eventually did make trouble for him. All he had to do was key the necessary computer interfaces.

“As to our money, which despite my seeming calm I have been very much concerned about, it has vanished into a thousand different accounts and shielding businesses. He has so thoroughly dispersed it, we could attempt recovery and end up stealing from ourselves. The man must have interfaces in his own skull. He is more than merely clever, this Loo-Macklin.”

“He won’t think he’s so clever,” said Prax dangerously, “when he can’t spend his money. Maybe we can’t get that back, but we can sure as hell get satisfaction. I’ll send some people after him who’ll cut him up so bad there’ll be a piece for each of the UTW worlds and enough left over for the Nuel.”

“Sure you want to do that?”

Prax frowned. He could tell when the counselor was toying with him, and he didn’t like it. “What do you mean?”

“Look at him. Watch the broadcast for a few minutes.” Momblent gestured at the screen, where local Clurian officials were being shown congratulating the prodigal son. All wore expansive smiles, despite the fact that several probably had underworld dealings of their own. Expediency is the hallmark of the political survivor.

“The man’s now not only a local but an interstellar hero,” Momblent explained. “The Evenwaith government has already voted him all kinds of honors, and others are coming in to him from several off-world service organizations, morality syndicates, and so on. You can’t just send over a couple of bullywots to vape him. Can you imagine what the repercussions would be? I’ve already had calls from worried associates more interested in swallowing their losses than heightening their profiles.”

“But he’s not a hero!” Prax blurted in frustration.

“Indeed. He’s a smart young punk who got lucky. He not only sold us out, he sold out his own people. All except a few who’ve been transferred to legal activities and have applied for status change. Some hero.

“But to the public he’s Kees vaan Loo-Macklin, long-suffering and ever-vigilant police agent, who sacrificed his youth to preserve their interests from the insidious and malignant encroachment of a powerful illegal organization. You can’t just vape somebody like that. It’s how he’s perceived that’s critical, not how he is, Prax.

“Wait. Be patient. After a few years the notoriety he’s wrapped protectively around him will have faded. Although by that time,” and he glanced back at the screen almost admiringly, “he may have himself so firmly entrenched in legal society and commerce it will be impossible to touch him.”

“What are you talking about?” Prax’s tone turned wary. “Don’t you want your revenge?”

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster