The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster

Loo-Macklin rose slightly. “Is it safe to leave now?”

Naras Sharaf took a last look at the pool. The mother had been removed to a place of resting, where she could recover and contemplate her thirty-eight offspring in peace. Only a few attendants remained, bustling around the pool and tidying up.

“Yes, it is.”

The supervisor, the Nuel with the inflexible attire and pointed cap, came to see them off. They thanked her profusely and Loo-Macklin exchanged substance with both her and the young psychologist Chaheel Riens. Then he and Naras Sharaf retraced their route up the painted tunnel.

Behind them, the supervisor chatted idly with Chaheel Riens. “What did you think of this? It truly troubles me still to permit a human so intimate a knowledge.”

“The Council of Eight itself passed on the decision to allow the human attendance,” the psychologist replied. “He is bound to us tightly, I was told.”

“Truly, I suppose I worry overmuch. It is a characteristic of my work.” Her expression lightened somewhat. “I am sure there is naught to be concerned about. I have heard he carries a _lehl_ implant sensitized to prevent his doing anything contrary to Nuel interests. No surer bind could be placed on his actions.”

“All truth, all truth.” Chaheel Riens paused, then said conversationally, “You know, I have made some small study of this race called mankind, both on my own out of personal interest and also on commission for the war department. I have never before encountered a specimen quite like this Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin, either physically or mentally. His physiognomy compares with that of far more primitive human types, but his mind is clearly highly developed. The first does not trouble me, but the actions of the latter give me cause for concern.”

The supervisor turned one eye up the tunnel, which had swallowed the human and his guide, while the other remained attentive on the psychologist.

“I must truly confess I see no real reason for worry. Why should we trouble our sleepings on his account when he has been passed by our own Intelligence service?”

“His interest in the commercial aspects of Birthing worries me.”

“He is apparently a creature of commerce,” remarked the supervisor, “a type not unknown among our own kind. I would say he has more in common with Naras Sharaf than many of his own people. It is only natural that he would be interested in such aspects of Birthing, or of anything else.”

“But why Birthing?”

“Perhaps because it was unknown to him. He strikes me as an intensely curious individual, though quiet in manner and speech.”

“Too quiet, perhaps truly,” muttered Chaheel Riens. “Why Birthing I ask still?”

“As Naras Sharaf observed, the human sees profit in everything. Of such dedication are great fortunes raised. Besides, everything he does which involves family commerce binds him to us from a business standpoint much as the _lehl_ does from a physical. So long as he aids us against his own kind, what matters how much money he amasses? Surely his interest, therefore, is all to our benefit.”

“Surely,” mumbled Chaheel Riens.

The supervisor seemed satisfied that she had soothed the thoughts of her young visitor and scuttled away to assist in the naming of the new offspring, always a pleasant task.

Chaheel Riens stood by the entrance to the pool cavern, thinking. After awhile he removed the tiny unit, part organic, part solid-state, that he carried concealed in a fold of his clothing and murmured into it.

Family work had provided him with enough money to have some spare time. He had been planning to devote it to a study of the minterfin war rituals of the ancient Uel family on Nasprinkin. His professors looked forward to the resultant report, for Chaheel Riens was a brilliant student.

Now a new project had come to mind. He had studied humanity in general and, occasionally, free or captured individuals. Something about this Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin intrigued him in a way none of the other alien bipeds had.

Wasting your time, he argued with himself. Better to devote it to the Uel study, as the fatherminds suggest. Si intelligence has checked this one out for years, almost more years than you have been alive. Who are you to second-guess them?

And he carries a _lehl_ implant. Not even all Nuel would voluntarily submit to that. Yet this member of an antagonistic race has done so of free will, truly, truly.

If nothing else, our knowledge of his traitorous acts has tied him to the Nuel as securely as any _lehl_ could do. Should he betray us, his own people would dismember him. Mankind is a vengeful race.

What so troubled Chaheel Riens and what apparently had escaped the good people of the Si in their eagerness to recruit so valuable a human agent was not the fact that Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin was overly interested in the Nuel, but that the man gave the impression of not being interested in anything. An ideal state of mind for a traitor, perhaps, but troubling to Chaheel.

Lewmaklin was interested only in himself. Again, a good sign in a traitor. Such individuals are more easily bought, truly.

I worry too much, truly, the psychologist thought. That’s why my matings seem dull and why intellectual exercise is the only thing that gives me pleasuring. Do I therefore identify with this joyless human? Is that why I am so interested in him?

Regardless, it had to prove more interesting than the somewhat dry study of the Uel rituals. If not, well, he could always drop it.

But Chaheel Riens did not drop his new interest, because the more he learned about Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin, about the incredibly intricate web of commercial and political ties the human had spun among both the eighty-three worlds of the UTW and the worlds of the Families, the more the psychologist resolved to press on. And the more he pressed on, the more frightened he became.

Yes, frightened, though there seemed no overt reason for such an extreme reaction. True to his word, the human seemed to have done nothing contrary to the best interests of the Nuel. Many members of the Great Families had become wealthy beyond imagining thanks to Lewmaklin’s assistance. Nuel beliefs and attitudes had worked themselves ever deeper into human society, laying the groundwork for the day when the Nuel would seek to gain control of the UTW government.

Naturally, Lewmaklin also benefited by such activities. He’d made huge investments in many family businesses, most notably in those concerned with supplying the vast range of products utilized during Birthing. A good profit he truly turned, but his interest in the process of Birthing still worried Chaheel Riens. No one else he consulted with seemed concerned, however. Birthing was merely one business in which the human was involved.

But such interest … or so it seemed to Chaheel. There were other family businesses where his investment could have brought him a greater return. Why then did he not enter into them?

“Who can fathom the human mind? He must have his reasons. His successes speak for themselves.” The replies to his worried questions ran along those lines. “And besides,” they would inevitably say, “he has the implant, and it is checked on periodically. The man cannot do harm to us.”

“Is a _lehl_ so final, then?” he would ask. “Do we know that much about human biology? True, it was tested on human prisoners. True, it cannot be removed or affected by external factors such as irradiation or sound. But what about slow poisoning, carried out under the supervision of human doctors? Couldn’t that kill the _lehl_ or render it insensitive?”

And he was told, “The _lehl_ is too sensitive for that. Any hostile activity, however gradual or subtle, would be detected immediately. There is no chance for the human to experiment, either, for a false move would result in his death. Even a slow poisoning attempt would be detected by our sensors during the man’s regular checks. The _lehl_ is always healthy, shows no signs of tampering.”

“For an individual supposedly dedicated only to profits,” Chaheel had argued, “to forgo other investment opportunities to concentrate on a lesser industry like Birthing does not make sense in light of what I have built up of his psychological profile.”

“Obviously the human sees commerce differently than you,” they had chided him. “He clearly senses a chance for greater profit still. There is nothing evil in his obtaining control of any family business, so long as he is carefully monitored. He could not do anything malign even if he so wished, because all the employees close to actual Birthing or production of related material are Nuel. They owe their allegiance to family and their own race, not to their employer. Truly — especially as he is a human.”

Chaheel’s arguments availed him nothing. His persistent pessimism made him unwelcome at many government offices. Even his professors turned from him. He grew morose and lost eye color.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster