“It’s true that I did consider the results of war at one time. As you point out, though, it was important to encourage peace and alliance.” Something strange, Chaheel thought. Something strange in that always enigmatic smile-expression of his. Missing something important am I?
“This honor you accept, this posture as savior of both races, is all sham. I had your psychological profile correct from the beginning, from that day when you witnessed the Birthing.”
“I always thought you did, Chaheel. Worried about you from that same day. ‘There,’ I recall telling myself, ‘is one mighty dangerous and smart Nuel.'”
“Tell me,” said the psychologist, “what would you have done if someone had believed my story of suspicious transactions between you and the Tremovan, had acted on it years before you were ready to betray them and thus force the alliance?”
“Ah, the Tremovan,” the industrialist/killer laughed softly.
A genuine laugh, I believe, Chaheel thought. Over the years he had become acutely sensitive to human mannerisms.
“Yes. You betrayed them as you threatened to betray us. Three races at one time or another betrayed. The character of our savior!”
“I can’t say for certain what I would have done, Chaheel. Had you killed, I suppose.”
“I thought as much.”
“Nothing personal. I like you, Chaheel Riens.”
“I am not flattered. None of your murders are personal. You may have emotions, but they do not involve themselves in those slaughterings you deem necessary.”
“Why recriminate based on events passed? Everything worked out as planned. I would truly have missed you. You were the pin around which a great deal pivoted, Chaheel Riens. I needed you alive and suspicious. It was the timing, which was important. I wanted your story believed, at the proper moment.”
Chaheel’s thoughts stumbled, forced him to backpedal mentally. “You … you wanted my story believed? Then that means that you wanted…”
“You to have the information. Truly. You remember the voluble computer programmer who first piqued your interest, the one who so kindly supplied you with the proof of your suspicions about me? The one who told you about the additive plot?”
Chaheel Riens searched his memory. “Thomas Lindsay. But there was no additive plot. You had him killed to protect your plan to deceive the human government on the Families behalf.”
“Yes, but he was no renegade from my company. He was sent to seek you out and give you that information.”
“And still you had him killed.”
“It was necessary to maintain the fiction.”
“But that means that you wanted me to come to you and try to kill you.”
Loo-Macklin nodded. “Then it was necessary that you return to your ship, uncertain of my true motives but persuaded that I was still working on the Families’ behalf. Then the message your commander intercepted arrived and you were compelled to return to Evenwaith and take a position where you could keep watch on me.”
“You had the commander and the others killed.”
Loo-Macklin said nothing.
“The information on the Tremovan which I ‘discovered’?”
“You have discovered many things, Chaheel Riens. You are persistent.”
“All arranged, all planned by you. For why?”
“Isn’t that obvious? So that when the Tremovan fleet was detected, your previously ignored accusations and suspicions would lend validity to their presence.”
“That means you had to know well in advance when the Tremovan were going to attack. But at the time…”
He stopped. Kees vaan Loo-Macklin was laughing. Chaheel had never seen him laugh before and he was fascinated and appalled all at once. No one else had ever seen Loo-Macklin laugh long and hard either. No one ever would again.
“Always the Tremovan! I thought you would have it by now, Chaheel. Your instincts were always correct, always! It was your range which let you down.”
“I do not understand, Kees.”
“You will. I promise you. I owe you that much. I’ve used you for too many years.”
He turned and touched several contacts in sequence. A whirring noise filled the huge room as somewhere large motors came to life. Chaheel tensed.
Across the room to his left a panel was sliding upward into the wall. Behind it stood a large, globular body some twelve feet tall. Its golden scales glistened in the light that poured in through the window-wall and multiple black eyes gleamed like cabochons of malevolent onyx. It stepped out into the room, the weight of it clicking against the polished wood floor at the terminus of the carpet.
Chaheel Riens started to back away from that towering, threatening shape. Then something caught his eye and he hesitated. The Tremovan had stopped. It balanced on the floor, utterly motionless, turning neither right nor left and showing no sign of life.
He looked with one eye toward the desk, keeping the other on the massive alien form in case he’d guessed wrongly. Loo-Macklin was still smiling at him.
“Yes, it’s a mechanical simulacrum. You’ve forgotten, a lot of people have forgotten, that both as legal and illegal I was deeply involved with the business of entertainment. It was the foundation of my legal fortune. I’m still heavily tied to the interworld entertainment industry, with interests in nearly every subfield.
“My engineers have become very sophisticated. Nuel bioengineering added a completely new aspect to the business.” He gestured at the Tremovan. “This imposing fellow was built by my people thinking it was intended for one of the many amusement parks I operate throughout the eighty-three worlds.”
“But surely you didn’t plan to kill…” Chaheel cut himself off. How many people had actually seen a Tremovan? There were reports, many reports, but…
I’m the only one, he thought dazedly. I, and those officers on my monitoring ship.
No wonder he had them all killed.
“Then there was no Tremovan ship, no transmission between you and them?”
“Of course not, Chaheel. I was talking to my toy here, sequestered far out in free space where he couldn’t be easily traced.” He touched contacts and the huge alien form promptly tipped over and executed a headstand. It remained in that position while Chaheel Riens gaped at it.
“What if all these elaborate falsehoods had failed to provoke me properly?” he finally asked, feeling not like an experienced scientist but like a laboratory animal. “What if I’d failed to return to Evenwaith to study your actions, for example, and had returned home instead?”
Loo-Macklin shrugged. “I had backups in mind, other ways and means. But I was counting on your personal drive and intelligence, your intense curiosity, not to mention your suspicions about me and my motives, to drive you to seek further. You didn’t disappoint me, Chaheel Riens. The success of the Human-Nuel alliance is partly due to your efforts, even if you didn’t know what you were doing.”
“Used. You have used me truly, Loo-Macklin. My whole life has been toyed with in your service.”
“Consider the end results, though. Your part in all this will be made known some day. Your family will be proud of your accomplishments, of the important events of history you played a part in. Even if you were something less than an active participant in planning those accomplishments.
“I used the Nuel. I used my own race. Why shouldn’t I use a single brilliant psychologist?”
“Confirmation,” Chaheel was muttering. “You needed someone to give confirmation.” He switched both eyes to the human. “This Tremovan-thing is false. What of the Tremovan armada?”
“Oh, that,” Loo-Macklin said easily. His fingers touched other controls.
The alien resumed its feet and backed up into its cubbyhole. The panel slid down, concealing it once again. Nearby, a screen lowered from the ceiling, came to life. It was vibrant with stars against which distant flecks of bright light moved slowly, traveling from right to left. The outlines of tiny ships slowly became discernible.
“With a little imagination it’s not hard to build an alien,” he explained. “If you can do that, why not an entire fleet of aliens? When you’re talking about detection over distances that are in parsec multiples, it’s possible to fool a lot of people in a lot of ways.
“Put a small but hot engine in a multiplier envelope of opaque mylarmer and to long-range detection equipment it will give the appearance of a ship. Expensive, but workable. Four thousand and several odd are much more expensive, equally workable.
“The components were manufactured in separate plants on different worlds. Final assembly took place out in space, by a small crew of very loyal engineers.”
“I didn’t think you trusted anyone.”
“I had holds of one sort or another on every one of them.
It’s not necessary to voice threats when the subject is already aware of them. That sort of thing’s for illegals fond of dramatics.”
Chaheel let one eye favor the panel, which concealed the Tremovan simulacrum. “So the whole business was truly faked. Fleet and threat as well as the original transmission. There never was a Tremovan attack. There was no reason for human and Nuel fleets to mobilize together.”