The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster

“Doesn’t that make him your boss?”

“Not necessarily,” Loo-Macklin replied. “It makes him my employer. ‘Boss’ has a different connotation.”

“‘Connotation,'” murmured the smiling owner. “Oh, I get it. He sends along two idiots with alumin bars to try and beat me into submission and when that doesn’t work, he decides to send a semanticist to try and talk me into it.” He leaned forward over the screen, his expression turning nasty.

“Well, I’m not interested in your spiel, I’m not afraid of your _boss_, and I’m not worried about however many ghits he decides to have visit me! He can send along fools to talk or strike and it won’t make me pay him a half-credit.

“The security arrangements for this shop are very elaborate, the best available in Cluria and the equal of anything that can be brought in from Terra itself. So I’ll run my business, thank you, without your boss’s ‘protection.’ Tell him to fibble off and go bully someone else. He doesn’t frighten me. I’ve got friends, too. Legals. They buy a lot of merchandise from me and they’d be damned upset if anything happened to their source of supply.”

Loo-Macklin waited until the owner had finished, then said patiently, as if speaking to a child, “You owe Hyram Lal one hundred credits back insurance and another hundred for the remainder of this year.”

The owner shook his head slowly. “A deaf semanticist he sends, no less.”

Loo-Macklin extended his right hand. “You can pay in cash or by transfer, but please pay now. You are overdue.”

The joke seemed to be wearing thin on the other man. “Oh, come on, I’ve got to lock up. Why don’t you just leave while you’re still in one piece and go tell the ghit you work for it will be a hell of a lot cheaper for him to just leave me alone.”

“If you don’t pay me right now,” Loo-Macklin told him, “I’m going to have to kill you.” This declaration was made in such a calm, utterly emotionless tone that the shop owner’s expression twisted. He lost half his smile, replaced it with half a frown, and ended up only looking baffled.

“Really?” His hands tensed ever so slightly. “You killed many people?”

Loo-Macklin shook his head. “I’ve never killed anyone … before now.”

“Well, I have something to tell you, young man. Why I bother I don’t know, except that you’re obviously so unsuited to what you’re here for I suppose I feel a smidgen of pity for you. You notice the position of my hands?”

Loo-Macklin’s eyes didn’t move from the other man’s face. “I noticed them when I walked in. So?”

“So you cannot have a very large-caliber explosive weapon in either of the pockets where your hands have been since you came in. For the last couple of minutes, both of my hands have been resting on specially keyed portions of the fake display screen that stands between us.

“This keyed screen runs directly into the power control, which operates this store, which in turn is linked to Tube Power Central. If you’re holding a ray weapon on me, it won’t have sufficient power to knock me aside, either. Should I fall forward and my hands thereby come in contact with the lower portion of this screen, with any part of it, the metal meshing which underlies the entire aisle on which you are currently standing will instantly become electrified. Very strongly electrified, I might add.” He peered downward.

“I see that you are not wearing insulated footwear.” The nasty grin returned. “You may kill me, but you’ll end up just another cinder on the floor, just like the other two your boss sent after me. Only you’ll dance longer. So why don’t you just leave?”

One hand edged slightly downward toward the activated portion of the display screen.

“Because if I slip, or if I get tired of this little conversation, you won’t have the chance to leave.”

“What makes you think,” asked Loo-Macklin curiously, “that I don’t have an explosive or projectile weapon of sufficient power in my pockets?”

“Amateurs,” the owner snorted. “That’s all I should expect of Lal, I suppose. Amateurs. You poor ghit, even I can see that your hands aren’t clenched around anything. Even if one of them was, I don’t think the pockets on that cut of trousers are large enough to hold a decent-sized weapon.

“To top it off, you’re not directly facing me. You could turn quickly, I’m sure. Physical dexterity is usually present where mental agility is not. But I could fall forward faster. Want to put it to the test?”

“No,” said Loo-Macklin with a half smile, “I don’t think so. It wouldn’t do me any good, because you’re quite right. I don’t have a projectile weapon in either pocket.”

“I thought so,” said the owner, exuding self-satisfaction. “More’s the pity for you, though, you silly ignorant little ghit.” His wrist tendons bulged against the skin as he prepared to slide his hands forward.

There was a small but sharp explosion. Everything happened very quickly.

The owner’s hands never moved a centimeter downward. One moment he was standing there, leaning over the invisible proximity field emanating from the display screen and the next he was half imbedded in the fiberstone wall screen behind him, sandwiched in among projections of necklaces and tiaras. Smoke rose from the black cavity that had been his chest, where the twelve-centimeter-long rocket had blown up.

The rocket had come out of the hollow, thick sole of Loo-Macklin’s right shoe, which had been pointing at the owner ever since his visitor had entered the shop. It was only natural for a shortish fellow to wear lifters on his footgear.

A very difficult shot, guessing the angle from the floor upward. Loo-Macklin was a very precise person and he practiced hard. He believed one should know the tools of his trade.

He walked around the display screen and examined the body of the jeweler. The man’s eyes were wide open. Arms and legs were spread-eagled and the wall cupped the body indenting it like an expensive contour couch would.

Loo-Macklin checked out the hole in the man’s chest. He knew there would be a large cavity on the other side, as well as a sizable gap in the wall. The little rocket was _very_ powerful.

There was no need to pry the body out of the wall to check the rocket’s progress beyond. There was no point in touching the dead man.

The syndicate computer was well versed in the techniques of protection used by individuals and shopkeepers. Loo-Macklin had studied what was known of the store’s system for days before deciding on the right weapon to counter it with.

He could have simply walked in and fired, of course, but he felt obligated to make one last try to obtain Lal’s money. Lal hadn’t insisted on that, wanting to make an example of the arrogant jeweler. “Good advertising,” he’d called it. But Loo-Macklin was thorough, and it seemed to him he ought to try to collect just the same.

It hadn’t worked. Now there were things to do, procedures to follow. He turned and left the store, careful to close the door behind him. A double glance showed a deserted street. It paid to be cautious. The store owner was right when he’d said that the police in this district were notoriously honest.

The thick walls of the store had muffled the brief explosion the rocket’s charge had made. The street stayed empty.

Loo-Macklin strolled casually down the street, found an idling marcar, and eased into the back seat. No one appeared to challenge him as he slipped his credit card into the waiting slot and punched in the address of his apartment. It lay in tube twelve, some four kilometers distant, tube twelve of the forty that marched in orderly worm-rows across the smothered terrain of this part of the northern continent of Evenwaith.

As the car sped smoothly along the Center Street, guided by the sensors in its belly, he reflected on the murder he had committed. It was inevitable in the line of work that society had forced him into that someday he’d be compelled to kill.

He felt no different, nor had he expected to. He’d thoroughly researched the psychological aspects and decided that his own profile fell among those who would not be affected by such an act. He was mildly gratified that his research was now supported by fact.

It had simply been another job, this taking of a life. He had performed it with his customary efficiency. The accomplishment would be entered into and duly noted by the master underworld computer system on Terra and it, in turn, would probably direct that his status be raised at least ten levels. Perhaps he would even jump into the sixties, status-wise. A successful murder was a considerable achievement.

All he had to do now was get away with it, and that seemed to him no more complicated than calculating the angle at which to fire the foot rocket.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster