The Nuel extended its pair of right-side tentacles and wrapped the flexible tips wetly around Loo-Macklin’s hand, the rubbery tips entwining with his fingers.
“That will suffice for me, Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin. You shall regret not the decision you have made.”
“I know that,” said the man matter-of-factly, “or I wouldn’t have made it.”
He withdrew his hand and, again, inconspicuously wiped it dry on the back of a pants leg.
“Now as to the details.” Naras Sharaf shifted the transparent plastic cube containing the organic recorder so it rested on the little table between them. “There are fees to be set for specific items, arrangements to be made for private communications, members of my own Family to contact. This is a great day for me.”
Turning, he activated a screen of a thinness Loo-Macklin had never seen before. As he would learn, it was composed of electrostatically charged chemophotic microbes, each one lightening or darkening and changing color on command to form a beautifully clear image.
The communications tightbeam Naras Sharaf employed was transmitted to a tiny, shielded satellite orbiting Evenwaith. From there it was relayed to a shielded vessel standing in far orbit and thence via concealed booster stations scattered carefully among the eighty-three worlds into a vast section of space that held the swirling of stars ruled by the Eight Great Families of the Nuel. The message was scrambled and extensive, but what Naras Sharaf in essence was saying to his brethren was this:
“The man has been bought.”
After Loo-Macklin had departed, sent on his way back to Cluria, Naras Sharaf allowed himself the pleasure of leisurely elaboration. Verily a great day for him as well as for the hopes of the Families.
The Nuel at the other end of the Long Talking had eyes flecked with azure instead of Naras Sharaf’s gold. His voice was weak with distance and crinkly with age. But his several whistles of astonishment reached through the speaker clearly enough.
“Truly,” it said.
“Truly, Fourth Father,” replied Naras Sharaf to the high-ranking Nuel, “has the man been purchased to us.” This Fourth Father was a member of both Sharaf’s personal family, which contained a modest 243,000 individuals, as well as the Fourth of the Great Families.
There was a pause at the other end. Then, “Why do you think he has done this thing? Tell me not it was only for the money, for by all reportings he has no need of it.”
“It is difficult to say,” replied Naras Sharaf thoughtfully. “For power, I think, but I am still not certain. I was never certain with him at any time during the interview. He is quite complex. For a mere human. I should say, without intending blasphemy, that in certain ways he is more Nuel than human.”
“That much alone is obvious,” agreed the voice at the other end of the stars, “or he would not have done this. Beware, beware, Naras Sharaf, that ‘mere human’ or not, this one does not deceive you.”
“I will become the name Caution,” Naras Sharaf assured him. “And the human has been warned of the consequences of betrayal. Naturally though, we will depend not on his word alone. We have sufficient operatives to keep watch on him. Pessimism becomes you not, Fourth Father,” he added with respect. “Better to be hopeful in this matter than not.”
“Concurrence,” admitted the elderly Nuel, “but the humans have attempted this business of double agents before.”
“And failed every time.”
“Yes, but this one seems so promising, both from the reports and from what you tell me yourself.” The eyes moved, oceans of blue, examining something out of range of the distant pickup.
“Great, great would the triumph be if this human were to deliver what he promises, if he truly has not the treasonfear, which is so prevalent among his kind.”
“From the little I have learned in my studies of human verbal inflection and face-body gestures,” Naras Sharaf said, “I have the impression that he was quite sincere in his wish to work with us.”
“I would still like a stronger rationale,” the elder persisted. “Generalizations make me nervous, especially in a matter as important as this.”
“Too early to say.” Naras Sharaf refused to be drawn into commitment or opinion. “I hold still to the power theory. Many humans live by it, though they admit it not even to themselves. Most of the bipeds would be more than sated with the power this man has already gained. Apparently, he is not. Power is the most addictive of narcotics, Fourth Father.”
“Nothing is said I would argue with.” He seemed to relax slightly, his skin flow increasing. The gel was opaque with age. “I worry overmuch when I should be overmuch joyed.”
“We will watch him constantly,” Naras Sharaf said placatingly, wishing for his Fourth Father to pleasure in this moment with equal fervor. “The man will be monitored. The information he supplies to us will from the beginning be most carefully checked to make certain that he feeds us no falsehoods.”
“Did you even mention the possibility of an implant?” inquired the elder. “That would finalize my happiness, for then I would worry no more.”
“I thought it premature, Fourth Father,” Naras Sharaf told him honestly. “I was wary unto stiffening that I might not secure his cooperation, and thought it best to do that alone this first meeting. You must know that humans have a particular horror of other creatures, however tiny, living within their own bodies.”
“And yet their own systems,” murmured the elder, “are alive with endemic parasites and all manner of independently functioning organisms.”
“That is so.” Naras Sharaf leaned back in his cupouch and idly cleaned one eye with a tentacle. The other remained focused on the screen. A Nuel could look in two directions simultaneously, like a chameleon — another trait, which did not endear them to races like mankind saddled with more conventional and restrictive vision.
“There seems to be a critical size. That which is invisible to sight is not offensive, nor is anything as large as a small nming. But if it is small enough to live within the body cavity, yet larger than microscopic, it is something to be abhorred.”
“How strange,” the elder muttered. “I would not know what to do without my plaaciate.”
“Nor would I.” Naras Sharaf patted his lower abdominal bulge where the tiny inch-long creature made a home, living off residual food consumed by the Nuel while filtering out dangerous poisons and rendering them harmless before they could damage its host’s body.
“You would think that something comparable engineered for the human system, which has no counterpart to the plaaciatoma, would be welcomed by them with great delight. Yet they are not only not interested in but are made ill by the thought of such products.”
“This man may be different, Fourth Father, but even he may need time to adjust to the idea.”
“It is very strange,” the elder mused. “We must change all that in the future.”
“Verily we must,” agreed Naras Sharaf. “Farewell, Fourth Father. Carry tidings of our great achievement to the Family Councils.”
“That I will do with the greatest of delightment,” said the elder.
“With the greatest of delightment, Fourth Father,” echoed Naras Sharaf as he ended the clandestine transmission. He touched a control, and the creatures who formed the broadcast screen gratefully went to sleep.
As the months traveled down to the vanishing point of time, neither Naras Sharaf nor his Fourth Father, nor any of the members of the Family Si, which was in charge of covert activities among non-Family worlds had any reason to regret the time and effort they had put into recruiting the human Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin.
The information that came from him in a steady stream was every bit as valuable as anyone could wish. Furthermore, he refused their offer to transmit the information through an intermediary because, as he said, of the danger of detection.
Thanks almost entirely to Loo-Macklin’s information, the Nuel were able to defeat UTW forces in three out of four small battles in free space, and to accomplish this with surprisingly light casualties.
These unusual successes, for usually the results were reversed, emboldened the more militant among the Families to call for the all-out war they had put off in favor of numerous small-scale skirmishes. They were voted down unanimously in the private chambers of the Council of Eight.
It was pointed out to the hotheads that the recent modest successes their forces had secured had been made possible in large part because of information obtained from a highly secret source. Expanded conflict would make the always-nervous humans extra wary, would jeopardize their source, and would make it unlikely he could supply enough information to assure the success of such a risky and dangerous enterprise.
Besides, there was no need to take such a chance. Patience was a strong Nuel virtue. An occasional defeat in combat might have a deleterious effect on human morale, but it would be slight at best. Most citizens of the huge UTW paid little or no attention to such news bulletins, repetition having long since inured them to the effects.