“Computer crisis mathematics clearly indicated that if either race was to retain any chance of keeping its independence, they would have to combine forces against the Tremovan. Given the Tremovan’s adeptness at diplomacy and what I knew of those humans and Nuel then in power, I knew that any contact would kill that chance for independence through cooperation as surely as I’d squash an ant.
“I therefore constructed a dangerous scenario, but the only one which I believed had any chance of success. I have been playing out that scenario for twenty years of my life.
“I warned the Tremovan of the dangers they faced in an attempted takeover of either the UTW or the worlds of the Families. Both were on a constant war footing, impossible to surprise. I persuaded them to allow me enough time to weaken both sides from within, to make them less ready to fight. Perhaps a race like mankind or Nuel would not have agreed to that, but as I said, the Tremovan are excessively cautious. Their successes have reinforced that caution.
“I then promised the Families that in return for commercial considerations and eventual political power I would help them to subvert mankind, reducing the Board of Operators to impotence. I convinced the Board that I was working closely with the Nuel only in order to gain admittance to their Birthing-related industries so that I might slowly poison the minds of their young.
“While thus keeping both sides from engaging in anything more damaging than minor incidents, my true purpose was slowly being achieved. Both races were learning to live peacefully with one another, in expectation of eventual conquest of course, but peacefully nonetheless.
“Without realizing it, the past twenty years have seen a passing of the older, more inflexible and antagonistic rulers of both sides. A certain amount of trust has blossomed between human and Nuel, so much so that even as I speak, a joint Human-Nuel military network is being formed at the Board of Operators building in Sao Paulo, on Terra. A network, which is preparing to direct joint UTW-Family forces against the incoming Tremovan armada.
“I am hoping, praying, and willing to bet,” Loo-Macklin continued as another explosion turned the image to jelly, “that, given the highly conservative nature of the Tremovan, who have come intending to strike a surprise alliance with one race or the other, finding a joint force of near equal strength waiting for them, they will immediately turn around and begin the long retreat back toward their own empire. They will expand in other directions and await a more propitious time to grab for this section of space.
“No such chance will occur, however. Having been presented with this threat, the Human-Nuel alliance should only grow stronger.” The slight smile widened. “I assure you all that compared to the differences between human and Nuel, those between the Tremovan and any other sentient being are shocking and extreme.”
He moved aside. The viewscreen behind him had a section missing, damaged during one of the recent near misses, but it still functioned, still displayed the massed vessels of the Tremovan armada.
“There is the threat. I managed to stall the Tremovan for more than twenty years. Their impatience finally outgrew their caution, but it’s too late for them now. Reason has come to this part of the galaxy, and it will not be easily duped.
“Unfortunately,” he added, “the Tremovan have intercepted and are decoding this message even as I send it. At such close range it is of course impossible to hide a long-range communication even by use of tightbeam. They know how and by whom they have been tricked. The _Tarsis,_ however, is no ordinary research vessel and I am hopeful that with a little luck and careful maneuvering it will be possible for us to make…”
There was another bright flare accompanied by a roar of static. The screen went to white briefly, and then, for the first time, to black. You could hear a man breathe at the other end of the immense chamber.
A technician seated in the depression that marked Central Control said into the silence, a silence so deep even those on the upper catwalks could hear him clearly, “Transmission interruption. Signal not restored.”
The officer he was addressing himself to nodded. Slowly, activity resumed in the newly christened war room. Nuel and human officers debated with grim determination as graphics on towering screens depicted the almost completed gathering of the joint UTW-Family forces.
Chaheel heard the subambassador murmuring. “A remarkable individual, even for a human being. I was told he’d been made an honorary member of the Si Family. Truly remarkable, think you not?” He got no response, reached out a tentacle and prodded a sensitive spot below Chaheel’s mouth. “Think you not?”
“I suppose that’s as good a word for what he was as anything,” the psychologist responded noncommittally.
“How he fooled us all, human and Nuel alike,” the assistant ambassador murmured, not without admiration. “What was that he was saying about a plan to poison our offspring?”
“A false plan designed to fool human intelligence services, as he said. It involved food additives.”
“Spirals within spirals, plans within plans.” The subambassador kept one eye focused on the nearest viewscreen as he spoke. “All these years when it was thought he was working on behalf of the Families, and when the humans believed he was working for them, he was in truth risking himself on behalf of both races. Not Nuel to conquer man nor man to conquer Nuel, but so that we might conquer our fears of one another in order to be able to face a greater threat from outside.”
The psychologist remained strangely silent. He is overcome by the loss of one with whom he has been so closely associated for so long, the subambassador thought compassionately. Though he was suspicious of this Lewmaklin’s motives, one does not devote so much of one’s life to studying an individual solely out of fear.
“It also explains,” he continued, “why the _lehl_ implant has not harmed its host. The _lehl_ knew even when certain men or Nuel did not that its host was truly doing nothing against the best interests of the Nuel.” His voice turned reverent.
“And truly has he given his own life by revealing these intricate plannings of his to us in such a way that we cannot but believe them. Will I regret forever upon my children that I was never to meet him and that so great a sentient should perish without being able to receive the acclaim due him for his efforts on our behalf.”
“Oh truly,” said Chaheel so softly the subambassador did not hear him. Oddly enough he found himself thinking about the human Oxford Swift and his mate. He hoped they had been decently treated and released. What must they be thinking now, if they had been returned to their riverine home? What must he think of Chaheel Riens and his hysterical, accusatory opinions concerning one Kees vaan Loo-Macklin?
The Nuel ambassador was gliding toward them. “You all saw, you all heard?”
They both made signs of assent.
“I have more news. This Solar Technological Institute ship, the _Tarsis,_ departed Restavon several months ago. Before vanishing into deep space it made a short stop at Evenwaith. I think you both truly can guess the name of the passenger it picked up there.
“That is why we were unable to locate Lewmaklin. He has been on this _Tarsis_ for some time. He planned everything from the beginning and everything has worked for him.” He hesitated, made a multitentacular sign of distress. “Everything except his hopes for escape, that is.
“I only wish I had some way of expressing to him the gratitude of the Families. Not only has he enabled us to save ourselves from these marauding and voracious Tremovan, he managed to do it in such a way as to allow us to save ourselves from ourselves. The hate that existed between Nuel and human was ten times more dangerous to our survival than any alien invaders.
“What a kind, benign, self-sacrificing individual this Keeyes vain Lewmaklin must have been!” He glanced concernedly at the psychologist nearby.
“Why, Chaheel Riens, you look ill!”
Anxious days followed Loo-Macklin’s final broadcast. Chaheel spent his hours roving about the vast structure that was the center of UTW government, marveling at the use of metal where the Nuel would have used organic polymers, enjoying the views of the city, luxuriating in the special quarters which had been prepared for the use of very important Nuel visitors. He was constantly seen in the company of the Nuel ambassador himself, and so no one commented on his presence in sensitive places or questioned his right to be there.
Somewhere below the hundredth floor was buried the immense computational heart of the United Technologic Worlds, the final, inorganic arbiter of all government arguments and decisions. Working in conjunction with it, were the much smaller but far more numerous semiorganic computers which helped the intricate networks of families govern the Nuel worlds. Together they mapped strategy and considered options.