“Indeed there was,” Loo-Macklin shot back. “Unless you can get the military personnel of two groups working together, it doesn’t matter how many treaties and professions of friendship two governments concoct.” At a touch, the “fleet” of lights vanished from the screen, which promptly slid back up into the ceiling.
“All this sprang from your imagination, then?”
“Every bit of it.” The industrialist did not seem particularly proud of having created and carried off the greatest fraud in human history. “Every bit, except for one thing.”
“What’s that?” Chaheel Riens did not care much anymore.
“There _is_ a race called the Tremovan. My ship made the discovery of Tremovan frequencies. Their worlds do lie generally toward Shapely Center. They are completely and utterly dedicated to warring upon their neighbors.
“The difference is that they’re not nearly as powerful, yet, as my simulated fleet made them out to be. They’re not a danger to either human or Nuel, yet. But they can and likely will become powerful enough to pose such a danger. That’s why it was important to establish a UTW-Family alliance _now_. Now both races will be ready to deal with the Tremovan when they break out of the Center. There will be no war with the Tremovan for some time. When there is, the alliance will be capable of dealing with it.”
Chaheel was desperately trying to keep up, to keep truth and falsehood separated. “But when contact is finally made, the Tremovan will be treated as enemies because of this supposed earlier attack, when in fact they’ve made no such attack.”
“The computer analysis is clear, Chaheel. The Tremovan are incurably warlike. It was necessary to prepare human and Nuel for a war that’s inevitable. There could be no peace. But they are not suicidal. If defeated, they can be absorbed into the community of civilized worlds. Commerce will break down their love of combat. But they will have to be defeated first.
“In order to assure success, it may be necessary for the alliance to attack them first. The Board of Operators and the Council of Eight would never have ordered a preemptive attack. The new Council of Ten will be less hesitant, since they have already been ‘attacked.'”
“Of course, they can always turn to you if their consciences trouble them.”
Loo-Macklin did not bother to try to deny that. “It will be better for the Tremovan, just as the alliance I created by duplicity benefits both mankind and Nuel.”
“It will also truly be better for Kees vaan Loo-Macklin’s personal interests. So you will place the Tremovan, who are not even aware of what you’ve already done to them, under your domination as well. They’ll never know how it happened to them, nor why.”
Loo-Macklin said nothing.
“Tell me something, man,” wondered Chaheel aloud. “When your _Tarsis_ was found drifting and helpless after having been pursued by the nonexistent Tremovan fleet, half your crew was found dead or badly wounded.” He gestured with a tentacle. “You yourself had lost an arm.”
“My crew thought the attack, the fleet, was all quite real. I couldn’t trust the secret to them as well as to the engineers who assembled the false Tremovan ships. They had to act as if the attack was in earnest. I made provisions for a private warship, suitably disguised, to attack us. The explosions everyone saw while I was delivering my warning were real.”
“And how many of your own, trusting people did die?”
“No more than was necessary.”
“And your arm?”
“I was in a heavily shielded part of the _Tarsis_. The attacking warship had a schematic and did their best to avoid damaging that section. Verisimilitude was vital. I had one of my own people shoot me several times, carefully, while I was sufficiently narcotized to drown most of the pain. My wounds were as real as those received by the rest of the crew.” He looked thoughtful. “An old man did that, on my orders. He died soon afterwards. Of natural causes. His name was Nairn Basright and he was the closest thing to a friend I ever had. Funny. I once offered him the friendship I denied everyone else, and he declined it.” His thoughts returned from the place where they’d been lingering. He flexed his left hand.
“The artificial one works well enough. I don’t really miss the original.”
“Monster. I truly should have slain you when I had the chance. I could do so now.”
“I think not, Chaheel Riens. We are both older and slower and you could not get to me in time now as you might have those many years ago. It’s true I’ve been responsible for the deaths of many people. I killed my first man when I was twenty-two. I neither enjoyed nor disliked it. It was simply something, which had to be done. There have been many deaths since, none of which I enjoyed, nor disliked. All were necessary.”
“One such death to serve personal interests is too many,” Chaheel said, rejecting the argument. He moved close, not to kill but to try and learn. “Why, Kees vaan Loo-Macklin? Not to save humankind and Nuel from each other, surely.”
For the first time, for the last, Chaheel Riens saw something no one else had seen before or ever would again. He saw Kees vaan Loo-Macklin, effective emperor of the worlds of the Families, of the eighty-three worlds of the UTW and perhaps soon of the Tremovan as well, confused and uncertain.
“I think I know why, but even I’m really not positive. What motivates a man, truly? Greed? I care little for money, only for the convenience it bestows. Power? I told the truth when I said I never sought it. Ego? You will not believe me, but I have less ego than most men. Or Nuel.
“I’ve acted and reacted as I have all my life because something has driven me to do so. I remember when I was very young most of all. I did not have what you would call a…” he hesitated, “…a pleasant childhood. I was abandoned by a parent who was not ignorant. That I could have accepted. But she was intelligent, and wealthy. I was simply … an encumbrance on her life style. An object in the way, to be disposed of.
“Subsequent to that I was shunted from place to place. My physical appearance was abhorrent to most people. You should sympathize with that.” Chaheel said nothing, merely listened intently.
“What remains with me, what drove me from my earliest conscious years, was no quest for power, nor for revenge. Those are strong feelings, Chaheel Riens. I lost the ability to feel true emotions before I was seven. It was an emptiness inside me, a feeling of utter helplessness, of having nothing to say about my own destiny. I was treated like an object. So I turned myself into an object. My reactions were purely instinctive, physical.
“I resolved to do two things: to survive, and to ensure that no one, _no one_, could ever control my life again except myself.”
He went silent. It was quiet in the vast chamber for a long time. When Chaheel Riens spoke again it was without the anger he’d felt on entering. This man, this emperor, this unbelievably powerful individual, deserved his pity, not his hate. He’d lived without family. To a Nuel, no greater crime can be perpetrated on the young.
No wonder Kees vaan Loo-Macklin had evolved as he had. But the psychologist was wrong about one thing. The man was not warped inside. He was simply numb.
“So you’ve spent your whole life,” he said softly, “spent the lives of others, manipulated individuals and worlds and entire races, to ensure that only you would be in control of your destiny. I sympathize truly, Kees. Most truly. But I do not, cannot approve what you have done.
“I am not even certain I believe what you say of these Tremovan’s ‘incurable’ tendencies to war. Why should I? Why should anyone believe anything you say, knowing that whatever you do and say is ultimately because you are acting to protect yourself?
“Where will it cease, Kees? How long must you drag all of civilization along in your wake so that it will not make you feel helpless again? Must you control it in order to ensure that it cannot control you?”
Loo-Macklin’s expression was twisted. “I don’t know, Chaheel Riens. I’ve tried to change what I am. I cannot. I don’t know how. I am what my life has made of me. Wait until I die.”
“Is that supposed to mollify me? Not that that concerns you. What happens then? You are the glue that binds this still young alliance together, this new government you’ve imposed upon men and Nuel.”
“I’m sorry, but that doesn’t concern me. I’ll be finished with it. It will be left to those who live after me to keep it intact.”