“Should by some chance of fortune he be found, however, we will at least have the satisfaction of dealing with him in person. Perhaps the humans can be convinced to turn him over to us. Our plans for him would be more suited to his treachery, his death more intimate.” He put all four tentacles around the psychologist.
“Whether we are successful or not, the Families and the humans as well owe you apologies and a debt. Will you remain here to advise us? I will not restrain you if you wish to leave.”
“I’ve already told you everything I know,” Chaheel replied, “about these Tremovan. About Kees vaan Loo-Macklin I can tell you a good deal more, but he seems not so important now.”
“We still do not know for certain if the aliens crewing the approaching vessels are these mysterious Tremovan,” the subambassador pointed out, “any more than we are certain they are warships bent on mischief.”
Both Chaheel and the ambassador regarded the younger Nuel with compassion….
Two days later the storm descended, and from a totally unexpected source. The Board of Operators had been consulting overtime with the Master Computer on a detailed plan of information dissemination. With the call-up of reserves and the vast movement of ships, the general population was becoming aware something more than the usual maneuvers was going on, and it would be important to prevent panic. The Families were experiencing similar problems, though not as great. The Nuel were less inclined to mindless reactions.
It was neither military nor civilian sources, which released the information to the public, however. Instead, a transmission roared through the ether overriding the general signal employed by the media services of the UTW. It was picked up and rebroadcast by the Nuel back to their own worlds.
Chaheel was wandering through the Operations Center in the Board of Operators building when the subambassador slid close to him and beckoned him anxiously toward a screen. It was a commercial monitor, half an inch thick and far smaller than the gigantic displays, which dominated the many-storied chamber. A few technicians had left their positions to gather in front of it. Most of them were human, though a single Orischian stood politely behind the rest, craning its three-foot neck for an over-the-top view.
Around the little screen soldiers and programmers swarmed to and fro, unaware that all their efforts were in the process of being rendered superfluous.
“Where’s the ambassador?” Chaheel asked the subambassador.
“In conference with several members of the Board of Operators and with the first father and first mother recently arrived from Segren-al-faw.” He turned an eye on the knot of technicians. “According to one of these bipeds, something peculiar is happening.”
One of the techs overheard. He spoke a little Nuel and did his best to explain.
“There’s been an interruption in normal news information services.” He sounded as puzzled as he looked, Chaheel thought. “I didn’t think the military and the government planned to release the information about the Tremovan assault for a couple of days yet.”
“They have not,” the subambassador assured him. He turned an eye on the screen.
A human stood before a globe twice his height. It was a three-dimensional map of this section of the galaxy. He wore simple white coveralls. Chaheel didn’t recognize him but apparently several of the humans did. He heard one woman mention the well-known broadcaster’s name several times.
“…extraordinary occurrences,” the human was saying. “All are advised to remain calm. There is no reason to panic. We bring you now the realtime feed from Soltech Research Vessel _Tarsis_ on station somewhere in space between Restavon and the Galactic Center.”
One of the technicians fiddled with the monitor’s controls. “Feed’s going direct to Restavon,” he explained, “then being sent by relay to Terra and the other worlds.”
“I thought the _Tarsis_ was supposed to keep quiet about all this and let the government handle the formal release,” commented another.
“Somebody’s going to catch hell,” said a third with confidence.
Suddenly the broadcaster and his globe vanished and there was a distorted, fuzzy face visible on the screen. Chaheel let out an inarticulate gurgle. The subambassador and one or two of the humans turned to stare at him, but most kept their attention on the screen.
“Greetings,” said the face. It was smiling. Of the billions who must be watching the broadcast, only one knew how false or real that smile was likely to be, and he wasn’t human.
“My name is Kees vaan Loo-Macklin. I’m speaking to you realtime delay from the bridge of the Solar Technological Institute’s research vessel _Tarsis._”
“Frank, put this on all the screens,” another technician mumbled softly. Another man nodded, touched controls. Suddenly the big screens dropped their columns of figures and their complex graphics and that enigmatic face dominated the entire chamber.
Everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at that multiple portrait.
“Behind me,” said the steady, measured voice which Chaheel knew so well, “is a viewscreen.” He moved to his left. Human technicians came into view, scattered around a miniature of the massive screens, which filled the Operators’ chamber.
“On that screen in graphic representation is the war fleet of a race none of you has heard of but are soon to be familiar with. They are called the Tremovan. There are approximately four thousand eight hundred and twenty warships in this armada of which the breakdown by type is as follows: fast pursuit vessels, three hundred forty. Heavier medium duty craft with landing capacity, four hundred eighty-six. Light high speed…”
Off to his right Chaheel overheard a Nuel officer whispering in crude terranglo to his human counterpart. “Are you recording all this, Wan-lee?” The diminutive human made a sign of assent, turned to check with several coworkers.
Loo-Macklin droned on until he’d finished reading his list, then turned full-faced to the pickup again, blocking out the screen behind him.
“Some twenty years ago,” he began, “an exploration vessel employed by one of my companies accidentally made contact with a ship of the Temovan.” There was a bright, violet flash and the image on the screen shook and blurred out for a moment. There was only white. The humans railed at their instruments but the reason for the interruption lay elsewhere.
“Excuse that, please,” said Loo-Macklin, no longer smiling. “That was caused by a blast from one of the lead Tremovan ships. They’ve been aware of the _Tarsis_’s presence among them but until now had no reason to worry about it. I’ll make the reasons for their unconcern clear, if I’m given enough time.”
Light flared in the background again but this time the image held steady. “As I was saying, all this began some time ago. Further contact revealed that the Tremovan occupy an impressive number of worlds toward Shapely Center.
“They are a powerful and technologically advanced race and have been expanding for hundreds of years, gobbling up all smaller systems and peoples within their circumfluence. They are, however, also extremely conservative and quite reluctant to go to war with any peoples they cannot mass an overwhelming strength of firepower against.
“Those of you within range of my voice will recall, and this may seem odd to my younger listeners, that twenty years ago this portion of the galaxy was combat ground for two other powerful peoples. Circumstance set a virulent mankind and its allied races such as the Orischians and the Athabascans against the worlds dominated by the Families of the Nuel. There was constant fighting, albeit usually on a small scale, between these two burgeoning spheres of influence. Such conflict diverted strength and energy away from expansion in science and other fields.
“My private studies of the Nuel mass mentality indicated that their racial shape-paranoia had made them adept and resourceful politically as well as technologically. It was clear to me how the Tremovan would proceed once they also became aware of these facts. They would ally themselves with the Nuel against humanity and the United Technologic Worlds. Racial antagonism would blind the opportunistic Nuel to the real intent of the Tremovan, who would eventually swallow up the worlds of the Families as well as the UTW.
“The converse was also possible: that the Tremovan would join with mankind against the Nuel.” Another explosion shook the image. It went blank white again. When the picture finally recovered it was no longer clear and sharp. Loo-Macklin hauled himself into pickup range from the deck where he’d been thrown. The view wavered and broke unpredictably, giving the industrialist a surreal look. His voice was strained when he resumed speaking, whether from tension or injury the watchers could not tell, and he spoke faster.
“It was evident that should I present my knowledge of the Tremovan to either government, human or Nuel, both would scramble to be the first to ally with this new race against a traditional enemy.” There were mutterings of dissent from both human and Nuel onlookers.