The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster

Loo-Macklin removed the sheet and handed it back to Basright. Then he turned his attention back to the computer viewer he’d been studying when the older man had walked in.

“Means nothing to me.”

“Nothing, sir? Are you sure?” Basright had been with Loo-Macklin long enough to tease, though he knew it would probably have no effect on his boss. That never prevented him from trying, however.

“I doubt if there is another citizen of the UTW who has risen from illegal status to eighth-class legal in as short a time as yourself. A mere twenty years, sir.”

“Twenty years.” Loo-Macklin glanced away from the screen. “Has it been that long?”

“It has, sir,” said Basright, knowing the question to be rhetorical.

Loo-Macklin turned to stare at him, his eyes wide open. Basright could take that stare now. No one else could.

“We’ve done quite a lot in twenty years, haven’t we, Basright?”

“No, sir, we haven’t. You have. Me, I’ve just been along for the ride.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you, Basright,” Loo-Macklin said appreciatively.

“Yes you could have, sir. Quite easily, I think.”

“I don’t flatter myself half as much as you do.” He gestured at the sheet of microdots. “I don’t need that. Status isn’t what I’m after, be it eighth class or first.”

“I know that, sir, but I still thought you’d be curious to know.” He sounded slightly hurt.

“I suppose I was,” said Loo-Macklin placatingly. “It might prove useful.” He leaned back and thought aloud.

“E. G. Grange, president and principle shareholder in Polpoquel Tool Making. They have seven large plants on Zulong. He refuses to even talk with anyone less than tenth class and he won’t talk to representatives at all. Shrewd old bullyprimewot. That’s why I’ve never tried to buy him out before now. Yes, eighth status could prove useful. Thank you for bringing it to my notice, Basright.”

“You’re welcome, sir.” The older man stood waiting a moment longer, then turned and walked out of the room. There was business to attend to in Nekrolious, and then on Restavon and Matrix. There was much traveling, and he was weary of traveling. But it was necessary. There was no one else to handle the sensitive work, and you could only accomplish so much by relay and computer. Sometimes a man’s presence was still required.

He glanced back, saw Loo-Macklin once again staring intently into the small viewer, and realized he was no nearer understanding that hard-faced, soft-voiced manipulator of worlds and men than he’d been twenty years ago.

The land had been cleansed and scrubbed. Loo-Macklin enjoyed taking strolls through the parks that had multiplied outside the tubes of Cluria. He derived as much pleasure from the ironic developments, which had accompanied the cleanup of the landscape and atmosphere as he did from the solitude and exercise.

Although it had been many years since his companies had initiated the washout of Cluria’s pollution, there were citizens of the city who still were not used to the idea of walking around outside the tubes without protection. They still carried breathing masks and safety goggles attached to their belts, just in case.

It was mostly the younger people, the children and adolescents who’d been raised without preconceived fears subsequent to the washout, whom he encountered on his long walks.

They didn’t recognize him, of course, though an occasional attentive adult might. That suited him just fine. It offered him the opportunity to study the always interesting antics of the young of the species, whose frivolous activities he found of consuming interest, never having had the chance to partake of them himself. Loo-Macklin had never been young.

Irony, he thought again to himself. Oh, the medals and praise and honors they’d showered on him during and after the washout! Savior of the good life, cleanser of Cluria they called him. The man who benevolently made the valley of the great industrial city safe to walk through once again, to walk through as men were meant to walk, without the appurtenances of plastic and metal which gave them the appearance of insects.

Of course, there had been nothing in the least benevolent about his intentions.

He recalled the growls and angry missives he’d received from his fellow Clurian industrialists, none of whom realized the extent of his off-world interests. Loo-Macklin had caused to have made a number of extensive and expensive studies of worlds such as Terra and Restavon where pollution had been eliminated or at least substantially brought under control. The results were interesting.

In every case, research revealed that the productivity of individual workers was much higher than on such poisoned worlds as Evenwaith and Photoner. Studies revealed a simple equation: clean air and clean water results in greater productivity, hence greater profits.

So the grand, much-acclaimed washout and cleanup of Cluria, which he’d instigated, had been done not out of any desire to make Cluria a better place to live, not out of any civic pride or philanthropic interest, but simply out of a desire to increase profits through greater productivity. A healthy happy worker is a harder worker, the statistics showed. The increased production would more than offset, in time, the cost of the washout.

That was not what he told the Cluria Society of Journalists when asked to speak to their annual gathering. Nor was it what he said in response to the honors and praise public officials and civic-minded organizations heaped upon him. Combined with his earlier work in the field of crime control, this new accomplishment firmly entrenched him in the public mind as a powerful force for the general good, a perception which by now had spread well beyond the provincial boundaries of Evenwaith.

Those few industrialists who knew better kept tight rein on their cynicism and joined in the praise. They admired Loo-Macklin’s duplicity all the more because they understood it better than the public. A few took the lead and commenced their own pollution-cleanup programs on other worlds, and reaped corresponding benefits.

Through it all Loo-Macklin kept as low a profile as possible. He borrowed from his powerful image as freely and astutely as he would from any bank, when he needed a piece of legislation changed in his favor or a concession on mining rights. You couldn’t influence the computers, of course, or even the members of the boards of operators. But you could always influence people who could influence the board members who could occasionally influence programming.

It was all a great game to Loo-Macklin.

He turned around a flowering locust tree and started down toward a favorite creek. In addition to giving him the chance to watch children, he enjoyed these walks because they got him out of the city and away from the press of humanity. His wealth and fame had made him a target for those whose business it was to solicit contributions for various organizations and charities.

Not that he didn’t give a reasonable amount. He was very generous with truly needy or helpful groups. In addition to the publicity, which resulted from the giving of such gifts and which further enhanced his image in the public eye, it put such powerful pressure groups as the Interstellar Family for the Aid to the Poor or The Society for Universal Literacy permanently in his debt. Sometimes when liberal offerings of credit or pressure tactics failed with a certain politician, a word from such highly respected organizations could work wonders.

Getting Things Done, he’d long ago learned, whether through threats of physical violence, bribery, or political pressure, could all be grouped under the heading of Leverage. Leverage ran the universe, and Loo-Macklin was becoming a master of Leverage.

He reached the creek and stood contemplating the frenetic actions of the water beetles who dwelt within. The little iridescent green and black bugs scudded to and fro across the surface in search of small insects to devour. Occasionally a water whit, that peculiar bird which carries an air supply trapped in thick feathers grouped around its nostrils, emerged from its hiding place beneath a rock to snatch this beetle or that from the glassy surface.

A few adults, mostly young couples, strolled along the opposite shore. They ignored him, as did the children.

His close assistants continually remonstrated with him about his solo forays into the parks between the tubes. It was dangerous for a man of his status and importance to take off on long walks into the countryside.

“Really, sir,” Basright had scolded him on more than one occasion, “you could at least have several members of the Bodyguards Guild follow you at a discreet distance. They would remain well out of view and not interfere with your meditations.”

“It’s good of you to worry about me, old friend,” Loo-Macklin had responded, “but out of sight is not the same as out of mind. I’d know they were following me, and it would bother me.” He gestured around at the tiny office. It had not expanded much in past years, but the computer network which enveloped virtually the entire building now had grown to such a size that a new and larger building had been erected just outside the tube wall in order to house the special power supply required to run it.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster