“The being is of no known type. It is not one allied to us, to the humans, the Athabascans, or any other civilized race. The light-emitting wall the alien stands in front of is as unique as its probable builder.”
Chaheel considered a moment, said, “Lewmaklin has apparently contacted a new sentient race and is keeping the discovery private until he concludes some no doubt highly profitable business with it. Perhaps he is doing this because they are technologically advanced but commercially unsophisticated. I would not put it past him to cheat an entire race if he thought he could get away with it.”
On screen the strange creature continued to dance and whistle, the sounds rising and falling in intensity. After a while the performance concluded and the screen went to black. Dim light returned to the conference room.
“I see not your reason for concern,” muttered Chaheel, afraid of what might be coming. “Lewmaklin is a devious individual. His private commercial transactions are not a matter of concern to the Families.”
“They are when they involve an entirely new and apparently more efficient method of deepspace communication,” the commander argued. “The military applications should be obvious even to a nonwarrior such as yourself. I can assure you that the war family of the Marouf is extremely interested in this.”
_They would be,_ Chaheel grumbled to himself. He had almost resigned himself to the expected request.
_So tired am I of all this,_ he thought. He longed for the mental cleanliness of pure academia, for a chance to study history set in time and rock, whose surprises are almost always pleasant.
But it was not to be.
“You wish me to continue my surveillance of this Lewmaklin so that I might discover the location of these whistlers and thereby make it possible for the Families to have access to this new transmission methodology, is that it, Commander?”
He looked greatly uncomfortable. “The Marouf have requested it. I merely pass along the directive.”
Chaheel thought of boldly confronting Loo-Macklin and simply asking for the technology. That wouldn’t work, he knew. The human aided the Nuel, but kept his business and politics separate. This was a business decision some Family heads had forced on the Marouf, he was certain.
But he could do nothing about it except get it over with. A refusal would make unhindered research impossible.
“Ship’s staff concurs in the decision,” the commander added.
“Boil the ship’s staff!” _I am getting old,_ Chaheel thought. _I should fight this._ But he knew it would be better to comply, and probably easier.
“I will strike a bargain with the Marouf, Commander. I will remain on this miserable world and do my best to learn the location of these whistling aliens with the long reach. I will do this for one year only. If at the end of that time I have not succeeded in learning anything, I will be permitted to return to my private studies.”
“I believe the Marouf will agree to that,” the commander murmured, most unhappy at the position he’d been placed in.
“I have been offered the chance to work for this Lewmaklin. I will accept. That will put me in a position to probe. I should like a copy of this,” and he gestured with a tentacle toward the floor screen, “in solid form, so that I may study it also.”
“Anything you wish, psychologist.”
“Anything but my freedom. Anything but the chance to go home. The Families demand much.” The officer said nothing. There was nothing to say.
“Very well then. It is settled. I will work to soothe the anxious minds of the Marouf, a paranoid Family if ever there was one. There are a few observations I left incomplete. This will give me time to tidy them up.
“But woe to the Marouf, Commander, if certain members of the Si should learn of this, for they have made of this Lewmaklin one of their own, and they don’t enjoy anyone spying on a member of their family unless he’s a relative….”
Chaheel Riens did not see Loo-Macklin when he returned to Evenwaith. Undoubtedly the great man was too busy. But word of his open offer to the Nuel psychologist had been placed in record, and Chaheel was immediately offered a choice of positions.
He selected an important one, in a department in the metropolis of Cluria, which was responsible for monitoring trade details between the UTW and the worlds of the Families. As an alien well versed in human psychology, he offered advice that was welcomed by his human colleagues.
Somewhat to his surprise, though he should have anticipated it, he also encountered other Nuel who’d been hired to serve Loo-Macklin’s enterprises in similar capacities. There were enough of them in Cluria to have formed a tight little community of their own. Chaheel did not try to hide his pleasure at finding members of his own kind to visit with. Constant human company depressed him.
Rather more of a surprise was the discovery that Loo-Macklin had provided many facilities for his Nuel employees and that they mingled quite freely with their human associates. Chaheel had been so involved in his own studies that the lessening of tension between other Nuel and the humans they worked with had escaped his notice.
One Nuel, an elderly female named Purel Manz, had been working for Loo-Macklin’s family interests for nearly fifteen years.
“I was one of the first,” she told Chaheel. “It was hard and lonely in the beginning, but I persevered. The pay was very remarkable.
“Over the years I have watched some of the human’s prejudice toward us fade, and I in turn have lost much of my shape-paranoia. Even before the arrival of fellow Nuel such as yourself the insults had ceased to trouble me. You grow inured.”
“Even though such execrations have not disappeared from human society entirely?”
“By no means, young one.” She was being funny. Chaheel was nearly her age. Maternal humor, the psychologist mused. “But truly has the volume lessened. There are times when I think the Orischians, for example, now loathe us more than the humans.”
“Of course,” Chaheel reminded her, “the lessening of tension has taken place primarily among humans who have regular contact with us or who are accustomed to our presence here in large metropolitan centers.”
“I suppose that’s so,” she said. “You still hear of violent incidents taking place on outlying worlds. Restavon, Terra, and Evenwaith are the only places where we have been truly accepted.” Her voice dropped to a guttural whisper. “That will matter no longer when we assume control of their government.”
Chaheel expressed surprise. “So you know about that.”
“I am senior functionary here,” she informed him pridefully. “It would be impossible for me to function properly without knowing the true intentions of the Families.”
Her aura of professionalism faded and she asked with sudden interest, “I understand you have actually met Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin himself.”
“Twice.” He was a touch put off by the admiration in her voice. “Once quite recently when he offered me my present position here. That was barely a year ago.” Have I been in this place another entire year, he mused? The home-longing bit at his soul once again.
“The other time was many years ago on one of our own worlds. I was instructed to monitor him while he witnessed a Birthing.”
Purel Manz was shocked. “That is difficult for me to believe. Did it not come from so respected an individual as yourself, I should not believe it.”
“It’s true. I found it hard to accept at the time myself. Permission was granted him.”
“Well, he is such an important person,” she murmured. You’ve no idea how important, Purel Manz, he thought. “I suppose exceptions must be made.” But the shock still showed in the contractions of her eyelids.
“Tell me,” Chaheel asked her, “how many others on the Nuel staff here know that their commercial work is only part of a greater plan to infiltrate and subvert human government and commerce?”
“Only my personal assistant. The rest believe only that they participate in interworld commerce, which is of itself beneficial to the worlds of the Families. Most tolerate the drawbacks of working on a UTW planet in return for the remuneration, which benefits their immediate families and which is considerable. Lewmaklin pays his employees well.
“And as I told you, it has become much easier here these past few years, much more tolerant than it was for those of us who had to be first. It will be a gentle takeover when it finally comes. Humans are not so bad after all, when they can be disabused of some of their more primitive, deeply ingrained prejudices.”
“You almost sound as though you’re becoming fond of the race,” Chaheel suggested.
“When you work with certain individuals, no matter what their shape or attitudes, for as long as twelve years, it is hard not to form some sort of attachment. Occasionally the feeling is reciprocated.