The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster

Only one person would be alerted by the security system to the fact than an intruder was inside: himself.

As he entered, the red warning light on the console came to life. His means of concealing this alert from any wandering guards involved far less than the months he’d spent supervising the design of the Moebius circuit for the admittance card. He put a handkerchief over the light.

Then he took the right-hand chair, activated the console, and fiddled with programming for a while in case some hidden monitor he hadn’t detected during his earlier excursions chanced to be focused on him. He learned nothing, since he knew none of the proper call-up codes, but to any casual observer he would have appeared appropriate.

It didn’t matter that the information that was locked in the computer was sealed away from his gaze. He wasn’t interested in stealing information, just as he wasn’t interested in stealing the codes. Everyone thought that to gain access to computer storage you had to know the right call-up codes. But you didn’t _have_ to know the existing codes. They were hard to steal.

When he was certain he wasn’t under surveillance he slid the backpack off his shoulders. It yielded tiny cartridges and long, thin cylinders that looked like black pencils. He touched a few contact switches. Tiny doors and panels obediently sprang open above the console.

He studied the exposed circuitry intently, then began removing components and replacing them with selected items from his pack. It took him over an hour, not because he was unsure of location or method but because he wanted to ensure no hidden alarms were built into the fabric of the storage bank itself.

In the event that he missed such an alarm and guards came running down the corridor with guns to see who had illegally entered dome sixty-three, he would use the last device in his pack. It was a small, rectangular blue gadget about the size of a peach pit. Flipped into one of the open panels, it would make an awful mess of the storage bank, not to mention the entire interior of the little dome.

It would also make an awful mess of himself, but that was a necessary risk.

However, no one bothered him, no anxious faces showed themselves at either end of the aisle. Five minutes after the hour he’d entered the dome he gathered up his clutch of substituted components and modules, slipped them into the backpack, and left. Once outside the dome he closed the door and removed the forged admit card. There was no alarm, of course, since the dome was now properly sealed and protected. With the removal of the card and its integrated Moebius circuit the alarm system was free to sound once again: only now there was no reason to. No intruder trespassed within range of the alarm.

Loo-Macklin retraced his steps. Two citizens appeared as he was unlatching the cover to the air conditioning duct. They didn’t spare him a glance. Why should they? People sometimes attempted to imitate famous people, or guards, or politicians, but no one had any reason to imitate a maintenance worker. There were always maintenance personnel in the basement, keeping it functioning smoothly.

It had been an enlightening if busy night, Loo-Macklin thought. He’d particularly enjoyed the session in the basement. He enjoyed working with computers.

Many a pleasant hour had passed in his apartment while he’d absorbed all the information the city university had to impart concerning his personal computer unit, others both large and small, even up to and including the massive, incredibly complex units which formed the basis of every city and planetary government.

He’d earned more than one master’s certificate in both repair and programming — talents, which Lal had not been aware of.

Perhaps someday he might even have the opportunity to make legal use of such abilities. That would be nice. Machines were easy to get along with. They were always reasonable, never subject to human foibles or emotions.

Not that Loo-Macklin wished that he was a machine; robot or computer. He enjoyed being human. It gave you a flexibility no mechanical could ever hope to possess. It was a silly thought, anyway. Might as well be content with the condition you’re born into.

But it would have been much easier on Kees vaan Loo-Macklin if he’d been born a machine ….



They came for him late the next evening. There were twelve of them and they had trouble all fitting in his modest living room. One was sent to hunt him out while the others waited tensely. There were as many different types of weapons in the living room as there were people.

The plethora of devices was unnecessary, since he didn’t intend to give them the slightest excuse to shoot him. He knew that wasn’t their intent or instructions or they’d all have piled into his bedroom, blazing away. The fact that eleven waited on one was proof they had other ideas.

He relaxed on his bed and changed the channel on the video monitor from the closed-circuit survey of the living room to an entertainment show. The antics of its performers left him puzzled, as usual.

The door whispered and he glanced to his right as the hunter entered. Huntress, he corrected himself. She was very young. He smiled unconsciously. Typical of the crew in the living room to send the youngest to see how he’d react.

She was attractive, in a hard sort of way, with flat cheeks and her hair done up in a short braid. She carried a spraygun in both hands and was sweating noticeably. A girl, he thought. Not all that much younger than himself, in years. Decades younger in other ways. He kept his attention on her trigger finger and thought how best to relax her. He was more worried about her nerves than abilities.

“I’ve been expecting you,” he told her pleasantly, “though not quite so many.”

She stiffened slightly, wondering how he knew that. “Now you just shut up,” she said bravely. “You just shut up and come along quietly. There’s people wants to talk to you.” She gestured with the gun.

Loo-Macklin swung his legs off the bed, continued smiling at her. “I expected that, too. I’m ready. You just take it easy with that vaper because I don’t intend to cause you any trouble. I don’t like to cause people trouble, especially people as pretty as you.”

“That’s not the way I hear it.”

“Sometimes people cause me trouble, however. I won’t try anything. I know why you’re in here alone. I don’t imagine you volunteered. It’s the nature of the kind of organization we work for.”

“_I_ work for,” she corrected him. “From what I’m told, you don’t work for it anymore.”

“I guess not. Please ease your finger off that trigger. Even if you tried to fire a warning shot with that sprayer, you couldn’t aim anywhere in this room without hitting me. A sprayer’s not a selective weapon, and it’s messy. Your employers would be upset if I happened to get dead before they could talk with me. Besides, why should I try anything? You’ve got eleven overarmed backups behind you.”

“Am I supposed to be surprised you know that?”

“No.” He smiled wider. It was a very pleasant smile. He knew it was … he’d practiced it often enough in front of the mirror and had critiqued its effectiveness as ruthlessly as he did the technique for quietly breaking a man’s neck or programming a recalcitrant computer.

Some of the tension seemed to ebb out of her and her finger did ease off the trigger.

“There now,” he told her, holding out both hands, “that’s much better. Come on, why don’t you put a binder on me? It’s bound to get you a promotion. Maybe even raise your status a notch.”

She took a step toward him, hesitated. “They told me you weren’t to be trusted.”

“That’s one thing they’ve got wrong. I always keep my word. Always. I’m just careful not to give it in situations where I know I won’t be able to keep it. It’s simpler than lying and makes for fewer complications later on.” He gestured with his clenched hands at her. “Go on.”

She considered a moment longer, then reached into a pocket while still keeping the muzzle of the sprayer pointed toward him and took out the thin strip of flexible glass. Carefully she wrapped it once around his wrists, pulling the figure eight tight. Then she flicked the tips off the open ends and touched them together. They fused instantly. A special cutting torch would be required now to free him. No human, not even Loo-Macklin, could break free of that transparent grip.

She stepped back. “There,” he told her, “now, wasn’t that easy?”

“You’re awfully calm about this.” She was holding the gun loosely, now that he was effectively restrained. “Especially for someone who’s probably gonna be dead within the hour.”

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster