“Nevertheless,” her multicrinkled skirt rippled as she shifted her position, “we serve first the Families. No personal feelings can be allowed to interfere with the greater purpose which places us here.”
“No, but such emotion has weight. That’s part of my job here,” he lied faultlessly, “to keep watch on your feelings and attitudes.”
“On behalf of the Families,” she asked him, “or on behalf of our mutual employer?”
“You should know the answer to that,” he replied without giving her an answer. Let her stay a little uncertain, a tiny bit in the dark.
“How I envy you for having actually met him. For a mere human he seems truly to be the most remarkable individual.”
“Tired I am of hearing that,” said Chaheel exasperatedly. “He is not more than a single successful sentient. There is nothing unique about him. He has merely shown himself to be unusually adept at commerce.”
Full of large lies today, aren’t you, psychologist? Angry at himself, he elected to kill the idle bantering and get to the reason for this little meeting. He reached into a top pocket and removed a solido reproduction, which had been cast from the information received a year ago on the Nuel monitor ship orbiting Evenwaith.
“Tell me,” he asked her, handing it over, “in all your workings for Lewmaklin’s businesses, have you ever encountered an alien or representation of an alien that looked anything like this?”
She studied the casting briefly, said with assurance as she handed it back to him, “No. Never. Peculiar-looking creature. Where is it from?”
“I don’t know.” He returned the solido to the empty pocket. One of the _el_ busily remodeling his attire promptly sewed it shut.
“Is it important?”
“Not really,” he assured her. “Just something of personal interest.”
They discussed items of no importance, which would be of interest only to another Nuel. Then Chaheel left Purel Manz and returned to his station.
Another year passed. Another year on an alien world, another year of home-longing.
Though he would not have said Loo-Macklin was becoming an obsession with him, he had, as corollary to his formal assignment, begun studying the human’s early history, researching his rise in human society and the development of his commercial empire all the way up to the present.
Most of the material available for general review was excruciatingly boring. He supposed an economic historian would have found it all fascinating, but for him there was nothing of interest in the long lists of figures and recordings of mergers and takeovers. Credit shuffling gave him no insight into the workings of the man’s mind.
Then he stumbled across a peculiar entry in the section of company history, which dealt with Loo-Macklin’s extensive and historic interests in mining. He paid a little more attention to the words rolling up on the screen. It was all in human script, of course, which Chaheel could now read more fluidly than most humans.
One of Loo-Macklin’s exploration vessels, the _Pasthinking_, had discovered massive deposits of cobalt and related minerals on the distant world of a star designated NRGC 128. While the crew was mapping the location of the deposits, the ship’s automatic monitoring system had picked up a subspace transmission. The frequency of the transmission was noted.
Chaheel leaned forward, made his own note of the frequency. That was the end of the entry.
In his own quarters that night, he ran the notation through his private unit. Translated into Nuel terms, the frequency became one he recognized instantly: it was the same that Loo-Macklin had employed for his mysterious conversation with the unknown alien some two years earlier.
Breakthrough. Maybe, he cautioned himself. He now was in possession of a subspace communications frequency. That was all. Frequency plus suspicion did not equal revelation. That would require additional digging.
Months passed before his probing at the company computers yielded a cross-reference for the frequency designation. It was a minuscule entry, one impossible to locate without knowledge of the precise frequency itself.
Anxiously, Chaheel keyed the necessary code information into the computer. It responded efficiently.
Subsequent to the completion of mineralogical survey of NRGC 28-4, contact had been made by the exploration vessel _Pasthinking_ with a new sentient race. Initial development classification Class One. No information available on type of government, no information available on population, no information available on number of worlds inhabited by, no information, no information…
At the end of a long file whose entries were universally marked with the designation “no information” were figures giving the coordinates of signal together with estimation of coordinates for origination of broadcast. Somewhere toward the galactic center, Chaheel noted. That was rather more nonspecific than he’d hoped for.
The only solid information the officers and crew of the _Pasthinking_ had been able to obtain was the name of the new race, which called itself the Tremovan. Survey followed of NRGC 128-5 and 28-6, whereupon the ship moved on to the star designated in the catalog as NRGC 1046 … and moved on, and moved on.
That was the sum of the entry. Coordinates for the beam, estimated coordinates for its source, phonetic rendering of an alien name, and a great deal of dull geology.
Tremovan. Chaheel thought again of the golden-scaled, multiocular alien of Loo-Macklin’s conversation. Did this new name and unknown creature match up? Likely, but still not a certainty. There were no remarks in the report of the _Pasthinking_ to indicate there was anything remarkable about the strength of the subspace communications beam they’d intercepted. Had the officers of the Nuel monitor ship floating somewhere on the other side of Evenwaith miscalculated its strength? And did that mean he’d spent over two years on this dreadful world for nothing?
He checked and, as expected, found no reference in any human scientific journal to a people called the Tremovan. As he’d told the Commander of the monitor ship, it was the right of any discoverer like Loo-Macklin to keep knowledge private for purposes of commerce.
And yet … and yet, it had been many years now since the _Pasthinking_ had made its contact. Over twenty. A long time to keep knowledge of a new species from the rest of society. What commercial advantages did Loo-Macklin hope to gain by maintaining such secrecy? The scientific community, at least, was entitled to such information. Overdue to receive it, in fact.
He rechecked the literature. The Tremovan might as well not exist. Two years ago, he might have seen Loo-Macklin conversing with one of them. Come to think of it, how long had Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin been cooperating with the Nuel? Certainly not twenty years. Yet he’d never mentioned them to his Nuel associates. Of course, if it was only a matter of private business, a commercial secret of no importance to the Plan of the Families, there was no need to say anything.
But … twenty years of secrecy. If indeed the Tremovan and the golden-scaled alien were one and the same.
And if they were, did it mean anything? Chaheel’s mind churned. Here was a human whose dealings with the Nuel were unsuspected by his own kind. The depth of such dealings was known only to a few high officials within the Families.
Could an individual like Lewmaklin, who had negotiated and carried out in utter secrecy complex plans made with an alien people, forge a similar pact with a third race and keep it secret both from his own kind and from the Nuel? Or worse, might these Tremovan be known to the inner circles of UTW government? Was there something quietly, smoothly developing there that could pose a danger not only to the Plan but to the worlds of the Families?
Nonsense, Chaheel told himself. His thoughts were turning to mush. And yet he dare not let go of this thing until he’d searched it through.
Suppose he reported his suspicions to the Families and none of them turned out to have a basis in fact. His career would not be ruined, but his professional competency would be forever in question. The Si, certainly, would suspect no ill of Lewmaklin and would question everything Chaheel might say. Without _facts,_ he was in a hopeless position.
Of course, there was one way to resolve everything, clear away the network of secrecy and concealment. He could request an audience with Lewmaklin and ask him straight out.
Pardon me, Kee-yes, but these mysterious Tremovan … who are they, what about your dealings with them these past twenty years, and just how do they fit into your workings for the Families?
Such questions might get him some interesting answers. They might also get him dead. There was still the _lehl,_ living in the back of the human’s brain. But in the years he’d spent observing Kee-yes vain Lewmaklin, Chaheel had come to believe nothing was beyond the human’s abilities. He did not see how a _lehl_”s programming could be subverted, but he no longer had the confidence in it his superiors seemed to have.