The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster

“The Board of Operators is convinced that within fifty years they’re going to face a race of pliable, drugged Nuel who’ll do exactly as they’re told.”

“Fifty years, human scale,” mumbled Chaheel. “Do you think that will hold back the Board of Operators’ more warlike members long enough for you to deliver on your promises to the Council of Eight Families?”

“I don’t know. I’m doing all I can. Push too hard and the entire effort will be uncovered. Patience is all that will make my efforts on behalf of the Families work. The Si, at least, understand that.”

“I’d heard, but not believed, that they had finally made you an honorary family member. Such an honor is unprecedented.”

“So I was told,” said Loo-Macklin.

Chaheel Riens tried to unknot his thoughts. “Truly would you give me the name of the firm among the families which is aware of and has tested this supposedly subverting additive?”

“Truly, Chaheel.”

“But could you not somehow…”

Loo-Macklin cut him off impatiently. “You forget the _lehl,_ psychologist. It sits where it was placed, monitoring my thoughts, protecting the interests of the Nuel.”

“Then this whole elaborate structure you’ve put in place, the entire plan to insert this additive in our food supplies, is simply a deception, a means to ensure the human government of your loyalty to them while in truth you are helping the Families?”

Loo-Macklin nodded, a gesture Chaheel recognized easily. “It should never have come out. That damn technician stumbled across it and then had the brains, and the guts, to get in touch with you.”

“What would you have done if I had conveyed this knowledge to my superiors?”

“That could’ve meant trouble. Of course, the leaders of the Great Families are entirely aware of what I’ve been doing.” He chuckled. “They would have been very upset by your actions.

“Since you are not privy to the decisions of the Great Family Heads, you are as unaware of the plan as most of your kind. The less who know of it, the better, even among the Nuel. You have your own dissatisfied, your own mentally unstable. Your own Thomas Lindsays.”

Chaheel was too confused to think straight. He’d come to this place with the avowed intention of killing this man and then dying in a rain of fire. Now he was about to be shooed on his way, leaving behind a greater ally than the Nuel had ever had, along with much of his self-respect.

“Why should I believe you? How do we know that this additive you are going to put in our offspring’s food, ostensibly to fool your own intelligence people, will not recombine at some later stage of growth to cause all the harm you say it cannot?”

“You should hear yourself.” Loo-Macklin was still amused. “I told you that your own biologists checked it out.” He touched a hidden floor switch. Another metal cylinder rose out of the floor. It was more massive than the simple drink dispenser. Chaheel recognized the shine of an impervious eutectic alloy.

The man ran his fingertips over one side of the safe and a single information storage chip slid out. He handed it to the psychologist. It was blank, of course, the information contained inside stored along lines of light.

“Here are the names and codes for some of your less widely publicized but most brilliant scientific research families. Contact them. This chip will serve as your entry. You’ll be able to study the test procedures and results for yourself, thus saving yourself the embarrassment of going before some high Family official and insulting me to a friend.”

“I suppose,” Chaheel’s bulging eyes both focused on the transparent chip, “I suppose I owe you an apology, Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin.”

“Nonsense.” The human touched him in a comradely fashion, trying to reassure him. “Your instincts were good. Based on what you knew, or rather what you didn’t know, you acted like a true scion of a Great Family.”

“I could have killed you before you had the chance to tell me all this. When I entered and we exchanged body fluids, for example.”

“Perhaps.” Loo-Macklin shrugged, indifferent to death as ever. “Physically you are stronger than I, yes. But I’m quite strong for a human. Quite strong. You would have had to finish me quickly. My own protection machines,” and he gestured widely, encompassing the entire immense room, “would have had time to come to my assistance. Would’ve been a waste of a sharp mind, psychologist.”

“But one that you would have been prepared to live with. Why let me come here in person and let me risk my life, when you could have informationed me thus on the mainland?”

“Because I felt it would carry more conviction if I told you in person,” was the reply. “Considering your dedication and all the trouble you’d gone to, I thought I owed you that much. Besides,” he flexed massive arms, “life grows stale for me. Small risks are really not risks at all, but spice.”

Chaheel thought of something else. “What of the technician, Thomas Lindsay?”

“As soon as I was informed of what he’d done, I had him disposed of. Fortunately, you were the only one he’d gotten to. He could have ruined everything. No chance of that now. You might keep in mind the fact that his death was required to protect Nuel interests.”

“I understand,” whispered the now thoroughly numbed psychologist.

“Now that that’s all finished with,” Loo-Macklin clapped his hands together, his expression cheerful once again, “can I persuade you to take food with me? I have an extensive food supply system, which can conjure up the delicacies of many races, including your own. I would also enjoy showing you around my little home. There are a great many things within, which I think you would find of interest. I have a collection of primitive art, which is somewhat famous. It includes, you might be surprised to know, a modest section devoted to the Nuel.”

“That’s not pos…” Chaheel started to say, then shut up. For one as valued by the Great Families as this human, nothing was impossible.

“There are other entertainments also,” Loo-Macklin added coaxingly.

“No … thank you, no. Feeling am I most awkward and uncomfortable. I would like mostly to return to my work as quickly as possible.”

“If that’s the way you feel.” The human appeared genuinely disappointed. “I wish I could convince you to come and work for me. I have many Nuel working for me on the worlds of the Families, but not many in the UTW. Not many can cope with the shape-prejudice, which still lingers like a cancer among my people. I could use you, and you would learn much.”

“No, no.” Chaheel’s cilia began backing him toward the door. He’d been fooled, badly fooled. That frightened him. This smiling, pleasant-voiced soulless human frightened him. Get away from him, his instincts screamed at him. Get out, get away, before he uses you the way he’s used his own government.

What he said politely, was, “I’d rather pursue my own research. That has always been my dream. I desire election to the Family of Academissionaries. I have hopes of eventually maturing to medical research.”

“I understand,” murmured Loo-Macklin sympathetically, “though I won’t try to hide my disappointment. You’re a bright helmzin,” he added, using the word for highly intelligent adult. “But I defer to your own desires, which clearly differ from my own. I wish you farewell and good luck with your work.” He gestured toward the distant door, seemingly miles away across the polished matrix floor.

“And should you ever actually have any questions involving human/Nuel commercial interactions and their psychological effects, please don’t hesitate to contact any of my company supervisors if I’m not available myself. I’m quite busy these days.”

“Sure am I that you are.” He hurried for the exit as rapidly as was decent.

And that’s how he left Kees vaan Loo-Macklin, his mind adrift on a sea of confusion. Part of him admired the human and the intricacy of the plan he’d devised to fool his own intelligence service and government.

Fool, he admonished himself! You leapt to an assumption because it fit your private, preconceived notions. You should have checked out this Lindsay’s information further before considering action, let alone murder.

Oh, he wouldn’t take Lewmaklin’s word, of course. He would take transport home, process the information chip the human had given him, check it with other sources. He would truly locate and talk with those Nuel who had worked on the development of the additive. Only then could he relax, safe in the knowledge that Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin was still a trusted ally of the Nuel, and Chaheel Riens a paranoid idiot.

The marcar cramped him unmercifully as it sped back across the emerald sea. It was fortunate Lewmaklin had agreed to assist the Families. Any mind, which could construct and then manipulate such an intricate framework of deception and lies would have made a terribly dangerous enemy.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster