The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster

He turned to face her again. Only two of the fourteen who’d guarded him during the flight to this place remained with her in the room. They held their short, stubby rifles tightly and their attention was no longer on him. Everyone was frightened of something, and he didn’t think it was him. Not now.

He commented on the disappearance of the rest of his escort.

“They’re outside now,” she told him, gesturing with her head. “There’s only the one entrance to this room, so there’s no way you could break past them even if you could get past Dom, Tarquez, and myself.”

“Suppose I don’t try to break past you,” he said, testing her. “Suppose I managed to incapacitate you three.” He used the word delicately. “Suppose I just locked the four of us in here.” He gestured toward the blank computer screen. “If that goes outside, and I’d think it would, I would have my own people here inside an hour.”

“I wish you would not do that,” said a new voice. It sounded as though it was rising from the bottom of an old stone well, intensely vibrant, guttural, echoing.

Loo-Macklin turned to his left, noticing as he did so that Dom, one of Selousa’s backups, was edging toward the doorway. He was a big man, young and competent. Now he was sweating profusely, and he wore an expression of extreme unease and disgust.

One of the darkly draped pieces of furniture lifted the material from itself and tossed it to the floor.



Kees vaan Loo-Macklin was rarely taken by surprise. This time he was.

“I was hoping that,” the gurgling voice continued, “we might have a conversation.” A tentacle, gray and damp with mucus, gestured toward the nervous figure of Selousa. “Hence the need to bring you here quickly and in ignorance, lest you refuse the invitation or insist on having others accompany you.”

“This wasn’t necessary, but I understand the reasons for your actions. Not many people would agree willingly to such a meeting.”

“But you it troubles not?” the voice asked.

“No,” Loo-Macklin replied softly, “not in the least.”

A rich burbling sound that might have been a sigh came from the speaker. Enormous, bulging eyes flicked in opposite directions, gold flecks sparkling around slitted pupils.

“_Parum met mel noma,_” the alien rumbled. “I had hoped this might prove so. Thus far it appears.”

The representative of that exceptionally ugly race known as the Nuel turned on thick cilia and used a tentacle to pull another protective covering from a strange, horseshoe-shaped piece of furniture. It settled its gross body into the wedge thus proffered.

The Nuel ruled an unknown number of worlds farther out on the galactic disk than the eighty-three human worlds of the UTW. They had been pressing against the UTW’s borders for several hundred years, probing and testing, seeking weak points and withdrawing when none were found, instigating incidents and in general attempting to gain influence over the UTW’s citizens in any and all ways possible. They were aggressive yet cautious, paranoid yet willing to take chances.

Much of their drive derived from their shape, which was no less than repulsive to every other civilized race. The Nuel had therefore resolved, back when they first began to explore the stars around them, that they could insure their own safety only by taking control of everyone else. This end they had been pursuing for some time now with considerable success … until they came up against the powerful federation of peoples that formed the UTW. Their advance slowed and their paranoia increased proportionately.

They had reached the point where they were willing to try anything to gain a tentaclehold within UTW commercial or government circles. As they became desperate they grew more inventive.

Where confrontation had failed, perhaps a meeting might succeed.

The Nuel shifted in its peculiar chair. Slime dripped from the edges of the cupseat. One of Selousa’s assistants made a strangled sound, choking back the gorge rising in his throat.

The Nuel extended two of its four tentacles.

“A custom you have of shaking hands. Would you make the supreme sacrifice for a human and touch flesh with mine?”

Loo-Macklin strode over to the cupouch, studying the alien with intense interest, and unhesitatingly extended a hand. As his fingers were wrapped in a pair of slimy tentacle tips, the bullywot named Tarquez put his hand to his mouth and burst out the only door. Dom watched him retreat, then glanced anxiously at his boss.

Even the tall, self-assured Selousa appeared ready to break as the tentacles slipped away from Loo-Macklin’s fingers. Delicately, he wiped the residual ooze clean on one leg of his coveralls.

The two oversized eyes moved in that lumpy, silver-gray head. The supporting cilia were wrapped around the central pole that rose from the center of the cupouch seat and the tentacles spraddled loosely around the body. There were no visible ears or nostrils, only the serrated beak protruding from between the great, curving eyes.

“You may depart, Selousa-female,” the Nuel told her. She hesitated, glancing empathetically at her former captive. Loo-Macklin ignored her stare, fascinated by the sight of the Nuel. He could feel her relief, however, as she and her remaining assistant fled the room.

Turning, he searched until he settled on a chair fashioned of spiderweb steel, pulled it over, and sat down deliberately close to the alien. The Nuel regarded his action approvingly.

“Thus far comes the night, bringing with it everything we had hoped you might prove to be, Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin,” said the alien in that reverberating voice.

“How can you know this?” He shifted in the comfortable seat. “I haven’t done anything yet.”

“You touched flesh with me,” said the Nuel. “Few, oh few humans can do that. Fewer still without forming on their faces expressions of extreme displeasure, to mention not the reactions that overcome their physical functions. As did happen with that one male,” and a tentacle pointed toward the door.

“I don’t consider that I’ve reacted in any way remarkable,” Loo-Macklin told him honestly.

“All the more remarkable for that,” the alien replied. “You sit across from me, almost close enough for touch, and exhibit no evidence of distress. Can it be that unlike the majority of your kind you do not find the Nuel repulsive to look upon beyond imagining?”

“Now that’s an interesting thought,” Loo-Macklin informed him, for a him he thought it was. “You see, most human beings,” and he ran a hand down his Neanderthaloid body, “find me unpleasant to look upon.”

“Had not thought, had not hoped,” murmured the Nuel, “to find a physiological as well as psychological analog for facilitating communication between the two of us. You surpass my wildest expectation, Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin.”

“And I’m curious to know what those expectations are,” he told the alien. “Obviously you have high ones or you wouldn’t have gone to all this difficulty and expense. Not only that required to bring me here, but that required to slip yourself surreptitiously onto an intolerant human world like Evenwaith.”

The Nuel made a gesture with its tentacles, which Loo-Macklin hopefully read as a sign of agreement.

“We are not at war, human and Nuel. Not today, anyway. Tomorrow, perhaps.” It was watching Loo-Macklin closely for any hint of reaction to this pronouncement. When none was forthcoming, it continued.

“It is difficult but not impossible to arrange such things. Even a single world is a vast place. This one is a planet of large cities and many open spaces, easier to penetrate than most. By the way, I am called Naras Sharaf. Your calling I know already.”

“What is it you want of me, Naras Sharaf?” asked Loo-Macklin. “More than a casual early morning’s conversation and polite discussion of our mutual ugliness, I’m sure.”

The squat gray body shifted slightly, cilia rippling on seat and center pole. As it moved, the weak illumination drew forth an isolated flash of purple or maroon iridescence from the otherwise dull epidermis, a momentary redeeming spark of beauty too infrequent and isolated to much mitigate the extreme repulsiveness of the Nuel’s form.

“Indeed more than casual conversation, Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin. We have done much expensive and thorough research into your personal history and career.”

“There’s nothing in it that I’m ashamed of or would want to hide,” Loo-Macklin told him.

“Nevertheless, it was required. It is hard for us sometimes to obtain such information, although we have learned during our years of contact with your kind that with sufficient monies we can purchase a great many things supposedly not for sale.”

“Better to bribe than kill,” Loo-Macklin replied. “I’ve done both when necessary.”

“As have I,” the Nuel told him unthreateningly. “I too prefer to purchase rather than take through violent action. Though there are among my kind many who feel otherwise.

“However, I have been able to persuade sufficient of the Heads of the Families (from his studies, Loo-Macklin knew that in Nuel society, a “Family” might consist of several hundred thousand individuals, a Great Family of millions) to allow me to make this contact with you. We occasionally find the rare human with whom we can work.”

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster