“Ah. Something in addition to the agreed-upon shipment.” The alien seemed uncertain. “Well, ask. I suppose the Families would grant you a bonus now and again. They owe you much.”
“It’s nothing involving Family expenditure; no credit or instrumentation or pharmaceuticals. Nothing like that, at least not directly.” He leaned back in his chair and regarded the ceiling, his voice assuming a falsely wistful tone.
“You see, I’ve made it possible these past years for the Nuel to participate extensively in the commerce of the eighty-three worlds of the UTW. What I want, Naras Sharaf, is the right to do the same on the worlds of the Families. There are already a few human firms who’ve managed to gain access to your markets.”
“Little things,” said Naras Sharaf nervously. “Minor trading at specified and restricted interworld ports. They run no products directly to Family worlds.”
“Well, I want to.” Loo-Macklin looked hard at the alien.
“You say what a student of human culture you are. I’ve not been idle these past years. I’ve studied you, Naras, and everything I could obtain about the Nuel.” He made a gargling sound.
Naras Sharf twitched and his eyes performed acrobatics. “I did not know you could do that, Lewmaklin!”
“A difficult language,” Loo-Macklin confessed, “but not an impossible one to learn, if one persists. It would be easier with water in my lungs, but I can’t drown and speak at the same time the way you can.”
“But that was the calling for converse,” muttered the astonished Naras Sharaf. “I understood you clearly.”
“There’s a way of compensating that my own linguists have been working on for some time,” Loo-Macklin told him. “It wasn’t as difficult to accomplish as some would think. The main block was the fact that electronic translators do a perfectly adequate job of translating human and Nuel words. Also there’s not much call to master a language when there’s little opportunity to use it. Contact between our peoples remains minimal.”
He leaned over, sipped at a drink and added some new words. “It’s an intimate way of speaking and it takes care and practice,” he told Naras Sharaf. “But if I concentrate, keep a glass of water or some other liquid close at hand, and learn how to form the tones properly, I can reproduce almost any sound in the language of the Families.”
“A remarkable accomplishment, Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin,” said Naras Sharaf honestly. “Such efforts convince me you truly wish to do commerce directly with the Family worlds.”
“Truly,” gargled Loo-Macklin, adding in terranglo, “I think it’s only fair. I’ve made it possible for the Nuel to do it on numerous human worlds. I ask only the same privilege. It’s not as though you’d be opening the Family worlds to general commerce. Only my people would have the right, a right you know I won’t abuse because our interests are the same. I’ll screen everyone chosen, from the ship pilots down to the factors.”
“A powerful request,” Naras mumbled. “Naturally, I have not the authority to grant it.”
“But you’ll put it to the Council of Eight on my behalf?”
“Well, to the Si and Orlymas, at least. Those are the families that regulate commerce.”
“Tell them it’s not something only I would benefit from,” Loo-Macklin urged him. “Any trading families involved will likewise benefit. I’d think they’d jump at the chance to trade directly for UTW products on their home ground. It would mean my people would be absorbing some of the transportation expense and troubles.”
“I know, I know. There have been many who secretly if not openly have wished for such a thing. But continuing hostilities between our peoples…”
“That won’t be a problem because you’ll be dealing strictly with my companies,” Loo-Macklin reminded him impatiently. “The Families already know me, know what I’ve done for them and will continue to do. It’s only that I don’t see any reason why all concerned can’t increase their profits while the Nuel increase their penetration of the UTW.”
“So simple you make it sound; simple and inevitable.” Naras seemed to be gaining confidence in the idea. “Yes, possible this may be. Truly will I communicate your request to the Orlymas, though the Si must clear it first. I think it may take a full vote of the Eight to make it happen, however.” He paused, then asked curiously, “Tell me, my friend, why have you waited this long to make this request? I suspect it is not a new thought with you.”
“I can’t hide anything from you, can I, Naras Sharaf? No, it’s not a new thought. I had it in the back of my mind on the day we first met outside Cluria.”
“Then this is the end you have been working toward all along.” Loo-Macklin nodded. “It makes great sense. An interesting place to visit must be the back of your mind, Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin.”
Loo-Macklin shrugged. “Not really. Crowded, certainly. But not especially interesting. My desires are quite basic, really. Uncomplicated.”
Naras Sharaf made a sound the man could not interpret. Then, “I admire your patience. You have so firmly insinuated yourself into the intelligence network of the Si Family that I suspect they could not do without you. I think the Eight will grant your request. Once you begin, there are many small trading families who will swarm to do business with you.”
“Think of the propaganda benefits to be gained by the Families, too,” Loo-Macklin hastened to point out. “You’ll be able to make a grand pronouncement over UTW channels that after many years the Nuel, as a gesture of friendship between our peoples, are opening up their internal trade to human entrepreneurs.”
“Of course, that means only those companies owned or controlled by you,” said Naras.
“Of course. But it will look excellent in the human journalistic channels. The Families will gain in ways other than commercially by granting my favor.”
“Of myself, would I grant it this moment,” said Naras Sharaf, now positively enthusiastic about the idea, “but as mentioned, I have not the authority.”
“That’s all right.” Loo-Macklin dialed himself a nonalcoholic drink from his own dispenser. “I’ve waited years for this. I can always wait a little while longer ….”
There was much debate among the Eight Great Families over Loo-Macklin’s extraordinary request. The more insular among the Nuel were opposed. But Loo-Macklin, via Naras Sharaf, assured the heads of the Families that there would be no flood of humans, of potential intelligence agents, traveling among the sixty worlds of the Nuel. There would be only Loo-Macklin’s chosen representatives, chosen ones on whom he would keep a close personal watch to make certain no UTW government agents infiltrated their number.
When they asked for reassurances, he informed them that several agents for the Board of Operators’ covert activities bureau had already approached him for permission to work with his trading factors on the Nuel worlds. Instead of turning down the request, he’d agreed.
Now he supplied their names and likenesses to representatives of the Si, so that a close watch could be kept upon them. The Si were delighted, pronouncing Lewmaklin almost as devious as themselves, and almost voting to make him an honorary member of the family.
That would have been too much, however. After all, a _human._
Loo-Macklin was not troubled by the slight. Honorary family status meant no more to him than the Second Class status he’d achieved among his own kind.
At any rate, the Council of Eight was convinced, and Loo-Macklin was granted his trading privileges.
Within three years, he had thirty different trading establishments on twenty of the major Nuel worlds. As he had predicted, the propaganda victory for the Families was considerable, and they were able to insinuate themselves ever more deeply into human affairs. Profits exceeded the expectations of Loo-Macklin and Nuel trading families alike.
It was when he was making a personal inspection trip to Molraz, one of the largest Nuel worlds, that his guide, Naras Sharaf, drew him away from a just-concluded business meeting and conducted him to a place of privacy.
When he was certain they were alone, the alien turned both vast eyes on the man. “If you are still so inclined, Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin, I have a special treat for you.”
“Still inclined? What are you talking about, Naras?”
“Something you mentioned to me a number of years ago. Something which I naturally ignored at the time and never remarked upon again, but which I did not forget. My mental file is almost as large as the one I employ for food.” He caressed his protruding abdomen. His skirt almost hid his cilia now, dragging on the floor. A handsome specimen of mature Nuel maleness.
“I wonder if your interest remains.” He glanced around the circular room once more. “There are those who would think it heresy and have my skirt for it, but I feel that as friend as well as associate, I owe you this chance.”