The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster

“What … hey … there he is!” the newly arrived attendants yelled as they arrived in the chaos which had been the eating room. They started for the window.

Kees turned and heaved the helpmate at them, slowing them for the necessary second or two. Then he threw himself out the window, leaving behind the wreckage of the moment as well as that of his early childhood.

It was the only time in his life he’d completely lost his temper….

His hair was graying now but the memory of that burning, humiliating, stinging helpmate stick was still fresh in his brain. Poor Cairns had never understood the source of Loo-Macklin’s violent reaction that day at QED. Neither had Basright.

Loo-Macklin did not yet have interests on every one of the eighty-three worlds of the UTW. Not yet.

The decisions he’d made as head of QED had led to innovations in entertainment, which had rocked the industry. The money, which they generated, had been put to good use, leading to expansion in other areas of commerce. Little of this was evident to observers, so tightly held was the design and detail of his financial empire, so intricately dispersed were his manifold interests.

Only Loo-Macklin himself, Basright, and three top assistants knew how the forty-four companies were actually tied together in mutual support of each other. Even the operators who ran the financial computers, which handled the economics of the individual worlds of the UTW, had only a suspicion that of the hundred largest companies in the human sphere, the one listed as thirty-third in assets actually ranked number one.

When a company entered the top ten, it became a target for intense competition by many smaller companies, which would temporarily combine to try to reduce its power and influence. Many such immense combines came crashing down of their own weight, for it is difficult enough to manage a diversified business on a single world, let alone many.

No one had Loo-Macklin’s ability to juggle figures and facts, nor his peculiar genius for organization, nor, even less, his magic with computers. Information bound his secretive interests together, interests whose common director was able to supply a mental glue no competitor could match.

Of all the giants of industry and government, there was only one who studied Loo-Macklin’s seemingly innocuous operations from afar and suspected. That was Counselor Momblent, now retired Counselor Momblent. He was still Loo-Macklin’s superior in experience, but not in much else. Not anymore.

He said nothing of his suspicions to anyone else, held his silence, smiled, and observed. He was on his way to a hundred years of life, still vital and alert, still toying with his private interests more out of paternal concern than real desire.

Counselor (retired) Momblent had seen a great deal in his near century of existence and had grown jaded and indifferent to many things early in life. Little aroused him any more. Of all the new kinds of entertainment, which Loo-Macklin’s enterprises had developed for the population, none gave Momblent as much delight as Loo-Macklin’s own devious machinations.

From solid bases in entertainment and transportation, communications and light manufacturing, Loo-Macklin’s concerns reached out acquisitive fingers to buy interests in food processing and shipping, in education and decorative horticulture. His plants built the equipment, which supplied the great computer networks. His schools trained the operators and programmers. His utilities ran the fusion plants that lit the cities of two dozen worlds, cities, which Loo-Macklin’s construction corps had helped to build.

All apart from each other, of course. All independent. As their own employees would have testified under truth machines, because they truly knew no different.

Loo-Macklin was not the only industrialist to practice such deviousness in order to avoid the attentions of rapacious competitors, but he was by far the most skillful and subtle in devising unusual methods of obfuscation. After a while, however, some of his individual holdings became so powerful that they themselves attracted the nervous attention of many people.

Not all of that attention arose from legal sources. In at least one field, that of entertainment, potential profits had caused Loo-Macklin to acquire through his underlings interests in some of the less reputable and most degrading varieties of personal amusement. Loo-Macklin did not hold moral opinions regarding them, of course. Only society at large did that. To him they were simply services he was providing. Supply and demand were his arbiters of conscience.

As far as he was concerned, every thinking individual had the choice to go to hell in his or her own way. He had no intention of standing in the way of anyone who wished to do so. In fact, for a few credits, he didn’t mind helping you along your chosen path, be it healthful or destructive. Most citizens had started out in life with far more advantages than he, so who was he to rise up and say what an individual should or should not do? No, no, not Kees vaan Loo-Macklin.

His services were available freely and without prejudgment or, for that matter, without caring. He did not create the demand for such services, he merely filled the needs, much as he did the salted fernal nuts requested by the Inner Six Worlds of the Orischians or the giant cargo ships needed by the bulk hauling concerns of the Three-Ring Giants.

All the same to him: product. Whether sex or steel, bread or bitugle building compound. Commodities all, supplied with equanimity to all.

From time to time, individuals within Loo-Macklin’s organizations spoke out against his unwillingness to draw a sharp line between the legal and the illegal, the moral and the not. These people soon found themselves quietly demoted, or shunted to minor posts, or otherwise removed from positions where their concerns might be noted. Loo-Macklin had neither the time nor room for such people and he kept watch on his personnel as carefully as he did on his computers.

In truth, he saw no difference between them. All were circuits in the vast machine he was building. If they did not integrate properly, he excised them.

Not every decision he made was right, not every acquisition profitable. There were reversals and setbacks. Sometimes he went against the advice of his employees and they turned out to be right.

In such cases these prescient individuals were always promoted. Loo-Macklin rewarded nothing so lavishly as correctness, punished nothing as severely as failure. He did not like being wrong when someone else was right. Not ever. But he had no ego. Right was right, to be acclaimed no matter who the perpetrator.

He did not live ostentatiously, considering his accomplishments. Nor did he give the appearance or put on the airs of one who has acquired both great wealth and great power.

In fact, he was not nearly as personally wealthy as he could have been. There were many high-level employees who had grown far wealthier from his efforts and would have been startled to learn that their personal incomes were greater than his own.

Wealth had no real attraction for Loo-Macklin. The vast sums he amassed were put back into this or that new enterprise, new business venture. Many of these speculations never paid back what he put into them, but enough did to make even more money for him, which in turn fueled still additional expansion and development.

Only rarely did he take note of anything affecting him personally. His concern was wholly for his businesses, in fulfilling the grand schematic he’d designed so many years ago. Once in a great while something did pique his interest, though.

He didn’t see Basright much anymore, both men being too busy for personal contact. They communicated largely by machine, by the intricate electronic communications system Loo-Macklin had designed to facilitate private conversation with his most important personnel.

When Basright arrived, he was surprised at how little the office on Evenwaith had changed during the past decade. Once impressive, it now seemed empty and spartan. His own office on Restavon was far larger, the decor far grander. To have seen both, an outsider would have instantly assumed it was Basright who was the master and Loo-Macklin the employee, and not a particularly important employee at that.

“What is it?” Loo-Macklin asked him.

“I had business in Nekrolious, on the south continent…” Basright began.

“I know.”

“…and I thought I’d bring this by personally.” He set a sheet of printed plastic down in front of Loo-Macklin. “It’s the recent printout from the Board of Operators on Terra, Social Census Section, Individual Status.” He tapped the sheet. “Check the sixteenth column under the viewer.”

Loo-Macklin slipped the sheet into an enlarger. Each dot on the sheet contained thousands of letters, and there were thousands of dots on the sheet.

“Look under the _L_s,” Basright urged him.

And there it was, Loo-Macklin’s name among the rest of the elevated legals, raised to the rarified domain of eighth class.

“You’ve broken the tenth level, sir. My congratulations on your accomplishment.”

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster