Months slid by, time infected with a droll normalcy. Nothing was heard of the Tremovan though the watch was maintained vigorously by tireless robotic eyes and ears. Commerce flourished in the heady atmosphere of interworld peace. Nuel and mankind drew ever tighter together.
Despite his protests, Kees vaan Loo-Macklin, one-time bullywot and apprentice vaper, was chosen to a second five-year term as Arbiter. When at last at the healthy but advanced age of eighty-seven he refused to stand for yet another term, his retirement from public life was noted by celebration, the bestowing of great honors, and much acclaim. They would have made his birthday a holiday, save that no one knew when it was, the proposed honoree included.
Chaheel Riens had retired to a mildly rarified position within the Nuel Academy of Mental Sciences. He had reached Nuel late middle-age when he put in his request to see the Great Man. Somewhat to his surprise, it was granted. But then, he thought, Loo-Macklin should have plenty of free time on his tentacles these days.
He had not changed his home. An entire moon had once been offered him for a residence, but he’d chosen to remain on his little island off the coast of Evenwaith’s southern continent.
The sea has not changed at all either, Chaheel thought as the marcar whisked him across the marching breakers. At least some things are constant.
The island’s security system was somewhat less in evidence than it had been those many years earlier when he’d first visited the sanctuary. He doubted it was less efficient for being less visible. The island still lived, in the sense that traffic in both directions was busy and constant. Although he had “retired” from public life, Loo-Macklin’s commercial interests were basically intact and still had to be seen to.
Even the meeting room was basically the same: the furnishings, the sweeping window that overlooked the ocean, the well-polished wood mosaic floor.
Then he was facing Kees vaan Loo-Macklin once again. He was not shocked by the human’s appearance. After all, he’d been a familiar figure on the media screens of both the UTW and the worlds of the Families for nearly half a century now.
The massive upper torso seemed to have shrunk slightly. The muscled arms were thinner and the flesh beneath the clothing perceptibly looser. Still, the man moved about energetically, if a little slower than years ago. The artificial skin covering the metal fingers of his artificial left hand and arm reflected slightly more light than the other arm. That was the only thing to hint that his arm was beryllium up to the shoulder.
Loo-Macklin extended a hand to exchange fluids and Chaheel responded. Beyond the signs of surface wasting, the man looked to be in excellent health. His hair was more than half gray now. Another ten years would see it all turned only slightly brighter than a Nuel’s skin.
“Do you remember,” Chaheel Riens said quietly, “when I last stood before you in this same room, Kees vaan Loo-Macklin?”
“I would think that of the whole race of the Nuel, you at least have the right to call me by my familiar name alone, Chaheel Riens. That was quite some time ago.”
“Do you remember it, Kees?”
“Of course I remember.” The human’s voice had not shrunk in tandem with the body. It remained as sharp and distinctive as ever, as did those half-closed turquoise eyes. Sleepy, always he feigns sleep and disinterest, Chaheel thought.
Loo-Macklin smiled slightly. “As I recall, you had come here to kill me. You left feeling differently about me.”
“Truly.” Chaheel slid toward the window-wall, squatted and regarded the constant movement of the ocean. “So many webs and deceits had you enveloped yourself with that truth was hidden from both the families and your own kind. And from myself also, of course.”
“All those elaborate fabrications were needed, Chaheel. I explained why many years ago. You saw why it was necessary, at the same time as everyone else.”
“Did I? Sometimes I wonder.”
“As you are a psychologist, it should be more obvious to you than anyone else. Our two races are now bound together in peace and by the strings of mutual alliance in order to counter any threat from outside the UTW or the Family Worlds.”
“Truly are they tightly tied together. Many years I’ve spent considering why.”
Another man might have grown exasperated with the psychologist’s obstinate refusal to accept the obvious. Not Loo-Macklin.
“Do you deny that the alliance has been of benefit to both peoples?”
“No. Nor can anyone deny it has been a boon in particular to a single individual named Kees vaan Loo-Macklin.”
“Why should I deny it? War is bad for business, despite what a few primitives of both our races might think.”
“Oh, business, yes, truly!” Chaheel gurgled with bitter delight. “You have spent several terms as the Arbiter of the Council of Ten, overseeing the course of government for both races. Through this you have been able to cement your position as not only the most powerful and wealthy single entity in this part of the galaxy, but the most respected and honored as well.
“It strikes me more strongly than most, because our family-oriented government differs from those of human history, Kees. Differed, I suppose I must say. We have never been ruled by the equivalent of what you call emperors and dictators.”
“I’m no dictator,” insisted Loo-Macklin. “I’ve never exercised nor demanded absolute power.”
“Naturally, not. That would be bad for your public image. For your perceived altruism. The term is perhaps invalid: the reality is not. You have as much power as you choose to exercise.”
“Not any more. I retired, gave up the post of Arbiter years ago.”
Chaheel enjoyed the throw rug’s struggles with his cilia. The material was designed to respond to the weight of human feet and cushion them accordingly. It was having difficulty with the Nuel’s hundreds of supporting appendages. He pressed down savagely.
“Reality, Kees. I am something of a student of reality. You say you have no more power, yet I know for a fact that Karamantz, the Nuel first mother who is the current Arbiter, owes her office to the influence of your commercial interests.”
“I have no control over Karam. She’s a fine administrator. One of your own kind. She makes her own decisions.”
“And occasionally calls on you for ‘advice,'” added Chaheel sarcastically.
Loo-Macklin moved to his desk, sat down behind it and folded his hands across his lower abdomen. He had not developed an abdominal skirt, as some older humans did. Such extra flesh was not a mark of beauty among Homo sapiens.
“I’d be wasting my experience and shirking my duty to both races if I selfishly turned down requests for advice. I have a lot of accumulated knowledge to share.”
“Oh, the proportions of the farce!” Chaheel muttered in Nuel, turning in an irritated circle. “End this, Kees. Have yourself declared Emperor of the Human-Nuel alliance and dispose of the sham! Think not to fool me, I’ve watched you for too long. The government makes many decisions you have no say in, because you choose not to. It does nothing you do not approve of. Why hide behind this veil of false modesty? It fits not your character.”
“It pleases me,” the industrialist said in response to the psychologist’s accusing outburst, “to keep out of the public eye.”
“Truly? Tell me, Kees, what if I were to take my conclusions, my sociographics and computer results, to the board responsible for monitoring government activities? To the moralists and lovers of freedom?”
“Wouldn’t make any difference,” Loo-Macklin replied calmly. “Even if they believed you and you roused them to action, they couldn’t do anything. You might find a few allies among other social scientists, but the inhabitants of over a hundred worlds have come to think of me as sort of a father figure. I have a hundred and sixty billion friends, Chaheel. I don’t think your theoretical course of action would bring you anything but grief.”
“You’re still nothing but a professional vaper, a killer,” said Chaheel. “You’re acknowledged a legal, but that’s superficial. That doesn’t change what you are inside. You’ve killed whenever necessary to protect your interests. Now you’ve murdered the freedom of two races.”
“My, the grandiose gesture. It fits not your character,” he said mockingly. “On the contrary, human and Nuel have greater freedom now than ever. The freedom to move between the worlds of their neighbors without trailing fear behind them or pushing prejudice before them.”
“Tell me, Kees vaan Loo-Macklin, does that mean anything to you? Does that matter, or is it just an incidental by-product of your personal ambitions? It’s power and control you’ve always sought. If you could have accomplished your ends by having human and Nuel war against one another, would you not have incited such a war? The Tremovan forced you to impose peace. It became necessary for ‘business,’ not necessarily desirable.”