Oxford Swift digested this silently. He was of middle age, with long black hair tied back in a single fall. Thin puce suspenders held up blue and white trousers. His wife glanced curiously into the room from the food preparation area, vanished hastily when Chaheel turned a single huge eye on her.
“I expect you have an explanation for this subterfuge,” Swift murmured. He thought about the little ceremony with the strange device. “Let’s go out on the porch. It’s a nice place to chat.”
At least this individual is perceptive, Chaheel thought. Perhaps I have made a lucky choice.
“My reasons are of the utmost importance,” he told the man. “I was informed that you were more honest than most.” The man made a little gesture with his head, which Chaheel knew to signify modesty.
“What I have to tell you is possibly vital to both my own people and to mankind. I will tell you truly that my government ignores my pleas. I am hoping that your own will prove more receptive.”
“Why come to me?” Swift wanted to know. “Surely not because I have the reputation of being an honest man?”
“Partially that, and because of your position. You have access, albeit limited, to the highest level of UTW government. That is more than I could hope to gain in the short time I believe may remain to us.”
“You’re afraid of something.”
“Yes, truly. I fear the intentions of a man named Keeyes…” he struggled with the syllables, “Kees vaan Loo-Macklin.”
“Loo-Macklin.” Swift did not have to think long. “The one who opened commerce with the worlds of the Families?” Chaheel indicated assent. “That’s a man many people are probably afraid of. I take it your reasons are more than petty.”
“I will tell them to you.” He eyed the opposite bank of the river and its string of half-concealed expensive homes uneasily. “Is there still a safer place where we might talk?”
“Come downstairs.” Swift looked toward the kitchen. “We’re going into the den, honey. Be a few minutes.”
The woman looked out of the area. “I have to be at the airport in a couple of hours, but I’ve time to fix you something if you want it.” She hesitated, forced herself to face Chaheel. “Can I prepare anything for you, sir?”
“Thank you, I have already eaten this morning.” He allowed for her obvious ignorance. To the Nuel the majority of human food, consisting largely of dead animal parts, was inedible.
They descended a staircase. It required all Chaheel’s courage and skill to negotiate the descent. Cilia were not adapted to steps.
Downstairs was barely above river level. A large glass window shaded by the porch they’d been standing on earlier opened onto a screened-in swimming area. Without waiting for an invitation, Chaheel divested himself of his attire and slid gratefully through the arched entrance into the warm water. After a moment’s uncertainty, Swift copied him.
Chaheel did not worry about parasites. As for other waterdwellers, he was sure the man had the area screened in for a reason, and stayed carefully within the protected area. Outside, a few piranhas watched his gray bulk hungrily.
“What sort of information is so important that you have to hide it from your own people, Chaheel Riens?” the man asked him.
The psychologist considered how to begin, staring curiously at the human. He’d never seen one in water before. They moved awkwardly but did not sink as he suspected they might.
Now that his chance had arrived he was unsure how to proceed. He’d been unable to convince his own kind. How could he convince these bipeds?
This particular human, this Oxford Swift, seemed receptive enough. If he failed with him he would have to try another human, perhaps in a different branch of the government.
Might as well begin, truly, he told himself, and see what happens. “It began, Oxford Swift, some years ago. At that time I was…”
He was interrupted before he could say anything of importance by a noise from above. Both man and Nuel turned in the water to look toward the stairs. The man’s wife was standing there, looking disheveled and concerned.
Flanking her and rapidly filing into the den were a considerable number of heavily armed humans. They wore legal uniforms. To Chaheel’s surprise they wore complexion armor in addition to their weapons. The thin mylar flashed in the dim light of the den.
Too late, forever too late, he told himself in despair. Loo-Macklin had discovered his return to the UTW, penetrated his carefully concocted disguisings, and tracked him down.
I shall be escorted to some quiet section of wild jungle where I will meet an accidental and carefully engineered death, Chaheel told himself grimly. It should not be too hard to cover up. Nuel psychologist traveling under alias meets unfortunate termination in the wilds of Terra. Or perhaps they would simply report Mazael Afar’s death.
After a while, the Science Registry of his home world would wonder what had happened to the brilliant psychologist Chaheel Riens. They would list him as missing. And of course he would be difficult to trace. He’d seen to that himself. I do hope Loo-Macklin appreciates how easy I’ve made this for him, he thought bitterly.
One eye swiveled to study the metal net barring access to the open river. He was a better swimmer than any human and not burdened by weapons or armor. If he could get over the net…
Alas, the Nuel are not constructed for climbing any more than they are for jumping. He could probably pull himself over the metal mesh, but not quickly enough.
Actually, the only real surprise was that he’d managed to get this far without being discovered. He noted the look of puzzlement and mild fear on the face of his human host. Have a thought for this poor human who might have helped you, he ordered himself.
“They are here for me,” he told Oxford Swift.
The leader of the clustered invaders stepped into the water’s edge, stared at him. “Are you the psychologist Chaheel Riens?”
“You know that I am as truly as I know the reason for your presence here.”
The man seemed surprised.
“I had been expecting you, in fact,” Chaheel continued. Now Oxford Swift’s momentary fear had given way to bewilderment.
“They just broke in,” his wife said from atop the stairs. “I tried to tell them you were in conference, darling, but they just pushed past me.”
Oxford Swift was beginning to recover some of his aplomb. He was an eighth-status citizen, after all.
“This is outrageous, whoever you are. Unless you have a warrant for entry I suggest you take your pack of armed monkeys and…”
The officer in charge frowned but held his temper. “My armed monkeys and I are operating on an Interworld Government Priority class Over-A. Until this morning I didn’t even know there _was_ such a thing, sir.” He looked back and up at the unhappy Ms. Swift.
“I apologize for all this, ma’am, but you’ll know the reason for it soon enough.” He looked back toward Swift. “You too, sir.” He turned a puzzled look on Chaheel, who bobbed easily in the water.
“I’m glad that we found you, visitor, but how did you know to expect us?”
“Don’t play word-games with me, human,” snorted Chaheel. “I am a student long-time of your culture, in case they did not tell you that. It’s obvious that even though you wear the trappings of officialdom you are here at the direction of Kee-yes vain … Kees vaan Loo-Macklin. You are to see that I have an accident before I can unburden myself of certain information. Truly.”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re raving about, slimeskin,” said the obviously upset officer. “All I know is that Caracas Intelligence received word you might be in this area. We’ve been scouring the whole Orinoco Basin trying to locate you. Apparently someone remembered processing your communications with Mr. Swift here,” he gestured toward the human, who had left the water and was dressing himself, “and so we came straight away to check out the possibility you might be with him.
“We’re to escort you to Caracas immediately where you’re to be put on a suborbital transport for Sao Paulo. There’s some kind of emergency brewing down there.”
Now it was Chaheel’s turn to suffer bewilderment. “You mean you are truly not here by order of Loo-Macklin? You are not to kill me?”
“Hell, no. I don’t even know the guy you’re babbling about.”
“Sao Paulo is headquarters for the Board of Operators.”
“Our orders have that seal,” the officer admitted, “but didn’t come from them. The request for your presence was put out by the Nuel ambassador to Terra.”
The officer paused as one of his subordinates whispered to him. He nodded once, looked toward Swift.
“I think you’d better come along too, sir.”
“Me?” The programmer took a step backward. “I haven’t done anything. I haven’t even been told anything.” He looked askance at his alien visitor. Chaheel felt sorry for him. “He came here saying he had some information he wanted to give me. You broke in on us before…”