The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster

“Naturally I am interested in anything that pertains to my people, especially if, as you say, Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin is involved as well.”

“I’m getting to that,” muttered Thomas Lindsay with maddening deliberation. “What I saw shocked me. Truly. I suppose it shouldn’t have, but it did. I didn’t know what to do about it. I mean, some of those names … So I just packed it in, you know, kept it to myself, and went on about my business. One time I tried retrieving the code again. I couldn’t. Probably it was changed daily.

“Couple months after that I got fired.”

“Fired?” Chaheel had an image of the man going up in flames.

“Discharged. They threw me out. No job.”

“Oh.” Chaheel’s knowledge of human idioms was still imperfect. There were so many different ways of saying the same thing.

“Yeah. Five years of sweat and hard work. The thing that gets me is that it had nothing to do with the code I’d stumbled across. Far as I know nobody knows that I saw any of that stuff. Far as I know.

“No, it was because of my using excess capacity to make a little play money. Like I told you, everybody does it. They just don’t talk about it. Not only did they fire me,” he said angrily, “but they noted it in my resume file. I haven’t been able to get another job since. Nobody’ll touch me, even though most of ’em look the other way when the people they’ve got working for ’em now do the same damn thing.”

“Truly it sounds as though you have been unfairly singled out, Thomas Lindsay.” Privately Chaheel knew he would never have recommended hiring this thief either.

“Truly, yeah. Well, since nobody wants to buy my abilities — and I’m good at what I do — I thought I’d sell a little knowledge. I heard stories about you being interested in this Loo-Macklin … I’ll bet he approved firing me personally. I know what I know is valuable to the Nuel. Valuable, hell.” He took a long swallow of the liquid he’d ordered, then suddenly turned reticent.

“You can pay, of course?”

“If I think your information is worth knowing.” Chaheel went to great pains to affect a casual air. “I have a line of credit with various government and educational agencies.”

“Okay.” The man put his glass down. “I want a million UTW credits.”

Chaheel was glad the human was not well versed in Nuel expressions. “That … is a great sum of money.”

“How much is the survival of your race worth to you?”

The psychologist was beginning to think the human he was dealing with was loaded with intoxicants as well as delusions of persecution. He was wrong.

The human took his silence for indifference and hastened to follow up.

“Tell you what I’ll do. This information’s no good to anyone else. I hear the Nuel, even though they are the ugliest things in the universe, are honest business folk.”

“As honest as any human,” said Chaheel.

“Yeah, well, of course that ain’t good enough.” The man let out a nervous little chuckle. He knew enough about Nuel society to have Chaheel swear on his family line all the way back to his first father. “If you think the information is worth it, you pay me.”

“You have a great deal of confidence in what you learned by accident,” observed the psychologist.

“I ought to. You know, Loo-Macklin’s done a lot of business with you Nuel. Stuff about it on the newscasts all the time.”

“That is so.” He repeated the official line. “It binds him closely to us.”

“Particularly a lot of business with those outfits that deal in Birthing ceremonies.”

Chaheel wondered how the man had learned that, but kept silent. Talk, human. Let it spill out of you.

“What would you say,” whispered Thomas Lindsay the human, “if I told you that Loo-Macklin had been doing all that, insinuating himself into your commerce all these years, with the intention of betraying the entire race of the Nuel to the UTW government?”

“We are naturally concerned with protecting ourselves,” said Chaheel calmly. “Precautions truly have been taken with regard to Loo-Macklin especial.”

Would this unimpressive specimen understand the function of a _lehl_ implant? Probably not, the psychologist decided. He contented himself with a simpler explanation.

“If Lewmacklin does anything contrary to the best interests of the Nuel he will die instantly. There is no way he can prevent it.”

“I’ve heard the stories about the thing you guys put in his brain. But suppose he doesn’t give a damn about dying?”

“Every sentient is interested in self-preservation.”

“I understand that you actually met the guy.”

“A long time ago, though I have followed his activities with interest these past years.”

“Then you know he ain’t your average human being. He ain’t your average anything.”

“So I’ve been led to believe,” admitted Chaheel, trying to prod the man.

“Everybody knows his story. How he rose out of the underworld in Cluria, made himself legal, all that garbage. Privately I think it’s all mystmit put out by his PR people. But he’s got about everything a guy could want out of life. Suppose he wants more? Suppose he’d like to go out one of the greatest heroes in human history? A martyr to mankind’s expansion in the galaxy? D’you think he’d sacrifice his life for that?”

Chaheel considered thoughtfully. “I don’t know, but it’s an interesting idea. We the Nuel consider life sacrosanct. An individual’s life belongs not only to him but to his family. Survival is important to others besides oneself.”

“Yeah, well, we the Humans think different. Some of us do, anyway. Some of us are downright eager to give away our lives for something we believe in.”

“It does not matter.” He tried to explain to the man. “Lewmacklin would perish as soon as he _thought_ any inimical thoughts toward the Nuel. He would not have time to actually do anything.”

“Yeah, you think not? Well, tell me what you think of this.

“Among other things Loo-Macklin has control of the firms that supply the special food your newborn — Nueleens, I think you call ’em — is fed in the nurseries.” He grinned nastily. “See, I did my homework pretty good.”

Chaheel could not keep his tentacles from retracting this time. They curled up flat, tight against his gross body. “I know now all you say is truth, Thomas Lindsay. Or you would be dead by now.”

“Yeah, I know.” The cause of the human’s nervousness was now explained, the psychologist thought.

“This information could be false, designed to be discovered so that leaks in human security might be detected, contacts between Nuel and human friends discovered.”

The man shook his head violently. “I did my checking. This is for real, slimeskin. I saw the people’s names. It’s all been done real careful, real clever.

“They’ve developed a chemical that’s going to be inserted into the Nueleen food. It’s slow acting, no side effects. Every young Nuel will get some while it’s maturing. It’ll make them … mentally pliable, I guess is the best way to describe it. It won’t have any results until the individual matures. By then,” he shrugged, “the Nuel will do whatever mankind asks them to do. Racially, the Nuel will lose their competitive edge. All of you will be, well, anesthetized. Only you won’t be aware of it happening to you because your young will grow up acting that way. You’ll all become very content, very happy, and easily handled, which is what the UTW government wants.”

“Monstrous,” said Chaheel Riens huskily. “Why are you telling me this? Apart from your dislike of Lewmaklin, are you not betraying your own people in return for money?”

“Hell, no. I’m not going to cause anyone to be hurt. At worst, I’m just helping to maintain the status quo. I don’t give a damn about you slimeskins,” he added frankly, “and I’d never betray my own race. I’m not giving you information that’s going to help you overthrow mankind. I’m just keeping a bunch of alien brats from growing up lobotomized.

“You’ll want more proof.” He reached into a pocket and handed the Nuel a small plastic box.

Chaheel extended a shaky tentacle for it. “That’s full of chips, information storage chips,” the man told him. “I did some copying that day. You have access to human data processing machinery?”

The psychologist performed a gesture that the human could recognize.

“Okay, then. Run ’em yourself. Have your own experts check ’em out. They’re not fakes.”

“I will do so,” said Chaheel, “and if they are not, I shall arrange for the transfer of funds requested.”

“Here.” The man slipped him a code plate. “That’s my account. My special new one. It’s on Restavon, not Evenwaith, and don’t transfer everything at once. Do it a hundred thousand a year.”

“You trust me to do this?”

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster