The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster

Beyond lay a panoramic view of setting sun, endless ocean, and the curving point of headland known as the Mare’s Eyes. Evening approached and the lights of expensive bluffside homes began to wink on, sprinkling illumination on the edge of the continent.

He flowed on relaxed cilia across a floor of richly polished wood composed of millions of hardwood chips gleaned from all of the eighty-three worlds. Probably some from the worlds of the families as well, he thought bitterly.

At the far end of this cathedral-like office, a man sat on either a very small couch or very large cushion. He sat motionless until the psychologist had drawn quite near. Then he rose, smiled, and extended a hand.

_Patience, patience,_ the psychologist warned himself. _It_’_s too early, too soon. Now is when his protective devices will be most alert. Relax this monster, relax his shields, relax the conversation. Then slay him._

“Chaheel Riens, it’s been many years.” The monster’s hand touched a tentacle and exchanged liquid with the psychologist. Chaheel felt unclean but forced himself to handle the exchange calmly.

Then he took a moment to study Loo-Macklin. The body appeared unchanged, unusual for a human of his age. It looked very much as he’d seen it years ago in the Birthing cavern. Some skull fur was missing, however, mostly in front of the head. It had not been artificially replaced, a crude bioengineering technique the humans clumsily practiced. The most noticeable change was in fur color, which had faded from gold to white.

There were a few additional wrinkle lines in the face, comparable to the changes that took place in a Nuel’s skirt as it aged. And that was all. He measured himself carefully against the human. It would have to be quick. He doubted Loo-Macklin’s security personnel would permit two attacks. The human was very strong for his kind, but Chaheel had weight and two extra limbs on his side. There should be no difficulty.

“Good to see you again,” Loo-Macklin was saying cheerily. He turned his back on the Nuel and waved toward the sky. A large cylindrical metal cylinder rose from the floor. It was brightly lit in changing patterns. Tiny spigots encircled its upper section. “Can I offer you some liquid or near-liquid refreshment?”

“No, thank you,” Chaheel said. “I will take up but little of your time.”

Loo-Macklin shrugged and waved emptiness again. The floor obediently swallowed the cylinder.

“I was told you wanted to question me for some report you’re preparing. Something on the psychological effects of human/Nuel commercial interaction, I believe. I’ve always been interested in stuff like that. Be glad to answer any questions I can.”

Truly you will, thought Chaheel. He was examining the room for the location of the expected surveillance machinery. It was well-hidden and he couldn’t locate so much as a spyeye.

Well, no matter. It would only take a second to slip all four tentacles around that fragile human neck. Then it wouldn’t matter how many cameras or weapons were trained on him. Only an instant. A little pressure and he and Loo-Macklin would experience the last moment of life together.

All my work, he brooded. All the research, all the old desire to found a family of teachers, lost in the need to slay a single alien biped. How ironic are the workings of the universe.

If Loo-Macklin suspected Chaheel’s intent he’d given no indication of it.

“Now, what is it you wish to know?” He turned from the ocean wall. “How may I help you?”

_You can come just a little closer,_ Chaheel thought. What he said was, “There are certain aspects of trade in luxury goods which I find especially interesting. It’s a question of perception on the part of both races. Neither seems certain what the other regards as luxury versus necessity.”

“Which, do you think, my imagined plan to poison the food of your now-unborn falls under?” asked Loo-Macklin casually, hands folded behind his back.

Chaheel nearly jumped for him at that moment, except that the Nuel are not constructed for jumping. They move slowly and tirelessly on their hundreds of thick cilia, but always they move close to the ground. The Nuel record for the high jump was somewhere under ten inches.

“You know. A thousand curses on your family line, monster, if you know.”

“Just found out recently,” Loo-Macklin informed him. “Good thing, too. The man could have ruined everything. Fortunately, he drinks a lot. Alcoholic stimulants make humans voluble. But I’m sure you, as a student of our culture, are aware of that.

“Anyway, I found out about your little meeting. I don’t expect you came here to chat about commercial interactions or psychology, did you?”

“No.” Chaheel saw no reason to prolong a failed deception. “What I do not understand is how you managed to neutralize the _lehl,_” he said, sorry only that he’d failed and certain now he didn’t stand a chance of getting within grasping distance of the man before some hidden weapon cut him down.

Loo-Macklin grinned narrowly. An honest and rare grin. “Who said it had been neutralized?” He rubbed the back of his skull.

“It has to have been,” muttered the psychologist, “or it would have killed you long before now, because you have contradicted the thought it was sensitized to.”

“Who says I’m contradicting it?”

Chaheel’s well-ordered mind was coming apart. He wanted to scream. This human’s dealings were more complex than the maze of coming-of-age tunnels on Merenwha.

When he could not find a response, Loo-Macklin gently tried to help him form one.

“You met with this Lindsay, the programmer. He told you certain things, supplied you with certain stolen information.”

“A great deal of information,” Chaheel finally said. “I had it all checked prior to processing. Everything he gave me is truth.” A glimmer of confused hope began to rise within him. “Can you deny that?”

“No. Not the meetings, the discussions. Those all took place. The only thing that’s missing is the fact that I’m not going to do anything contrary to the best interests of the Nuel.” He tapped his head again. “Wouldn’t want to upset my little passenger.”

“You say that poisoning the minds of our children is not contrary to our best interests?” the psychologist replied sarcastically.

“I have no intention of poisoning anyone. But my government thinks otherwise. I will supply you with some of the ‘additive.’ It does indeed seem to produce the gradual softening of competitiveness the stolen information talks about. But what the government scientists I’ve been working with do not know, because they have no access to Nuel patients, is that upon introduction into the Nuel system the chemical bonds holding the additive together are broken down in about ten months time by your body’s enzymes. The resulting three components are harmless. They remain in the Nuel bloodstream for several years, but affect nothing. Certainly not the minds and motivations of your children.”

Chaheel felt dizzy. A Nuel could faint, but it could not fall over. Nevertheless, he wished for some support.

“I … I understand this not, Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin. Why would you go to such elaborate lengths to prepare a false attack that can avail you nothing?”

“Who says it avails me nothing? Truly are you full of misconceptions, Chaheel Riens.” He seemed to be enjoying his visitor’s confusion.

“Here I am,” he gestured widely with massive arms on which the hair had also turned white, “a single human being, working closely with mankind’s most dangerous enemies. I visit the Nuel worlds, ostensibly on missions devoted only to commerce. I talk with the heads of families, Families, Great Families. I have tightly bound myself to the Nuel by business dealings.

“Don’t you think, psychologist, observer of human culture, that among the Board of Operators who run the government of the eighty-three worlds there might be at least one as suspicious of my motives as you? Wouldn’t it be sensible for one or two among them to wonder if I might not be doing more for the Nuel than merely facilitating their business activities within the UTW? Are they less observant than yourself?

“Come now, Chaheel. Exchange positions with me truly. How long did you think I could keep the intelligence agents of the UTW fooled? They are not stupid, as your own people of the family Si know. I had to do something to put their minds at ease.

“Now, as a psychologist, what method would you suggest? How might I relax them utterly?”

“By concocting a plan,” Chaheel said slowly, reluctantly, “that would make them believe you were working for the interests of humanity.”

“I live in a universe of amoebas,” Loo-Macklin murmured to himself. Then, to his guest, “You see it now. It was not meant to be easily seen. Of course that’s what I did.

“This mysterious ‘additive’ that Lindsay told you about was truly created by my own chemists. The testing on it was done by a tiny staff working directly under my supervision and instructions. It was then turned over to Nuel bioengineers working for a firm I control, to make certain of its harmlessness. I will give you the name of that family firm if you wish, so you can check for yourself.” He laughed. “If the Si functionaries guarding its privacy will admit you, that is.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster