The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster

“Revenge does not translate well into profit, my friend. I don’t like being hurt financially, and I don’t like being made a fool of. It happens but rarely. But a good fighter absorbs a blow and waits for clarity. He doesn’t walk angrily back into another punch. If he’s too badly hurt, he surrenders and recovers to fight again.”

“You’re the one who told me to buy him out,” said Prax accusingly.

The counselor’s lips tightened. “You’re a big boy, Prax. You made your own decision. Need I remind you again that I’ve lost credit in this business, too?”

“Nothing compared to me.” Then the syndicate chief seemed to shift mental gears. “I’m damned if I’m going to slink quietly out of sight and let him get away with this. Not only does he sell us out, sell his own people out, but he ends up a public hero because of it.”

“Admirable, wouldn’t you say?”

Prax looked at the counselor as though he’d suddenly gone mad. He’d always respected the older man, always relied on him for legal world advice. Not any longer … not after this.

“I’ll be damned. You do admire him!”

“He has accomplished a great deal that is to be envied,” said Momblent quietly. “He’s outwitted some very smart people, you and me among them. It may be his pinnacle of achievement. He is now a rich young man with seventy-third legal status. We may hear no more of him. He may be satisfied with the comfortable security he has achieved.

“On the other hand, he may elect to try working his way upward through the legal world. That will be interesting to watch. He won’t find it as easy as he did the underworld. Legal enterprises are differently constructed, much harder to betray, the managerial class far more duplicitous.”

“That sounds funny, coming from a counselor to the Board of Operators to the Central Computer.”

Momblent shrugged. “A pity we have not the ethics of our machines.”

On the screen, a handsome woman in her early forties was being led off under restraint by several Clurian police. She was ranting and screaming obscenities. The announcer offered a disapproving comment.

“If nothing else,” Momblent continued, “he has investment capital. Ten million from us, another million in rewards from the government of Evenwaith.”

“He’ll have to go legal now,” said Prax. “Even if he wanted to he’d never be allowed back in the underworld. Never.”

“I’m sure he’s aware of that,” Momblent agreed. He smiled slightly. “We’ve none to blame for what has happened, save ourselves, you know. It was we who forced him to do what he’s done. I’m not sure it wasn’t worth the price to you. He could have caused you and your colleagues trouble.”

“What, that punk?” Prax snorted. “I know he beat us out of some money, but…”

“I’ve always said it was only money, not principle,” Momblent said, interrupting him. “I’m pleased you finally admit to that truth. So you don’t send your people after him. You accept your loss gracefully, though I realize it will be difficult for you, as is anything smacking of gracefulness. Be glad you have a potentially dangerous rival out of the way. I suggest we simply leave this peculiar young man alone and let him go about his life as he wishes. We will watch him, and that is sufficient.

“He was an abandoned child. It’s quite possible that having come into such a sum of money and having been exposed in his short lifetime to so many pleasures both common and radical, he will elect to erect himself a small palace somewhere and retire quietly to a life of ease.”

“Maybe so,” admitted Prax grudgingly. “Maybe you’re right. You talked about fighting. Your reaction is to dance and wave. Mine’s to hit back as hard as I can.” He seemed, finally, to accept what had happened. Momblent breathed a silent sigh of relief.

“Can’t do much about it now in any event, if what you say is right.”

“That’s correct, we can’t,” said the counselor approvingly.

Prax started for the door, thinking hard.

“There is one other thing, though, Counselor. I think this Loo-Macklin’s just a punk. Clever, sure, but still just a punk. But if I’m wrong about him and you’re right, and I have had a potentially dangerous adversary and competitor eliminated, and if he doesn’t choose to retire quietly, well … he’ll be operating in the world of legals now. In your world, not mine.” For the first time since he’d come storming into the office the syndicate chieftain smiled.

“He’s gonna be your problem now.”

“I’m not terribly concerned,” replied Momblent. His artificial gaze turned back to the screen, where the story was playing itself out against a background of distant hosannas. Evenwaith was very far away.

“In fact, I’m rather looking forward to seeing which choice the young man makes.”

“He’d better cover himself well,” Prax muttered darkly. He was at the doorway now. “Because I still have in mind what you said a few minutes ago about the notoriety surrounding him dying down. When it does, if he gets lazy, I’m gonna see to it that he gets a nice anniversary visit from some of my people.”

He departed, the door closing softly behind him. Momblent sighed, relieved the interview was finally over. He despised dealing with things like Prax. Sometimes it was necessary, however. Sometimes it was profitable.

He turned his gaze back to the screen. The names of the arrested on Evenwaith were being paraded across the plastic.

Clever, clever are you, young Loo-Macklin. He studied the names carefully. Might be a familiar one or two on the list of the accused. In that case there’d be quiet work to do, depending on whom he owed favors to and whom he might want favors from.

Yes, it would pay to keep a watch on this strange fellow. From a distance. Nothing heavy. Just a pin-watch. He was mindful of Prax’s words, for despite his low opinion of the syndicate chieftain’s personality, he respected the man’s primitive instincts.

“He’s gonna be your problem now,” Prax had said.



“Sir, I don’t know if I can cope with being legal.”

“Oh, come on, Basright,” Loo-Macklin chided him.

“Really, sir. Remember that I’ve been illegal my whole life.”

“So have I.” Loo-Macklin thoughtfully regarded the ceiling of his office. Images of fish and crustaceans drifted there, three-dimensional images born of clever electronics: an upside-down ocean. He’d always had a fondness for the sea, having never seen it.

“It’s not all that difficult, Basright. It’s not all that different. You just don’t shoot people … as often. You murder them with lawyers and accountants.”

The slim old man leaned back in the chair fronting the wide computer screen, puffed on his dopestick and looked uncertain.

“If you’ll excuse my saying so, sir, I’d rather shoot than argue. It’s cleaner. I’ve never had much use for lawyers, nor accountants.”

“That’s because you’ve always handled the illegal analogs yourself. I’m not slighting you, Basright. I’m saying you’re going to need their help. We have to go legal now. We have to deal with a new set of rules. It’ll be hard at first, sure, but not impossible. I have confidence in you. The underworld wouldn’t let us back in now even if we wanted in.”

“I can’t imagine why not, sir,” said Basright dryly.

“Besides which it simply wouldn’t do for my new public image.”

“Hardly, sir. You’re quite the hero of the day.” He frowned a moment, the wrinkles crinkling in his deceptively kind face. “It’s a shame about Khryswhy, though. We go back a long ways.”

“Almost as far as I do.” Loo-Macklin gave no evidence of sympathy for the indicted lady. “She had her chance to make a choice, just like you and a hundred other key people. She made it.”

“I know that, sir, but don’t you think she might have chosen differently if you’d explained your plans to her? She was choosing sort of blind.”

“No.” Loo-Macklin could take that simple, two-letter declaration of negativity and make it sound as final as the Last Judgment. “I couldn’t take that risk. Not with her, not with anyone. You know that. She had the same chance everyone else did, yourself included.”

“Myself included,” murmured Basright.

“I trust no one. That keeps everyone equal in my eyes.”

_Are we really?_ thought Basright. _What do you really think of me, of anyone? Will I ever know?_

_Not your business, old fool,_ said a cautionary part of his mind. The part that had kept him healthy during a long life in the underworld.

Loo-Macklin’s gaze fell from the ceiling, settled half-lidded on Basright. The younger man was wearing a dark umber suit with a high collar open at the neck. The vee ran down to his belt, exposing a chest of thick, golden curls. The computer screen filled the room with color-coded patterns and soft background music.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster