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Authors: Alan Dean Foster

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BOOK: Man Who Used the Universe
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It would take quite a while to properly and completely dispose of the bodies, since the apartment's trashall couldn't handle any debris larger than a third of a meter square, but he would have to endure the odious task alone. No, he wouldn't trust any of Lal's counterparts. Loo-Macklin hadn't trusted a human being since he could remember. . . .

Chapter 2

His mother had been a voluntary whore, which is something quite different from an involuntary one. She enjoyed her work, or perhaps wallowed in it would be a better description. An intelligent woman who could have aspired to something more, she apparently savored the endless and inimitable varieties of degradation her clients subjected her to. It was an obvious case of a profession fully suited to a state of mind.

Loo-Macklin's father remained a permanent enigma, apparently by mutual choice of both parents. He had no brothers or sisters. When his mother had turned him over to the state for raising, at the age of six (just old enough to appreciate what was happening to him), she'd shrugged him off without a parting glance.

He had no idea where she was, if she was dead or alive, and he didn't much care. That day at the ward office was vivid in his memory, if for no other reason than that it was the first and last time he'd ever cried.

He had a very good memory and the conversation was clear in his mind.

"Are you sure, ma'am," the sallow-faced social clerk had asked her, "that you don't want to try and raise the boy yourself? You seem to have the capabilities, both mental and fiscal."

Loo-Macklin had been standing in a corner. That was his punishment for taking an expensive chronometer apart to see how it worked. The fact that he'd put it back together again in perfect working order hadn't mitigated his treatment. He could have turned his head to see his mother and the strange, tired little man talking, but that would result in another beating later on. So he kept his eyes averted and satisfied himself by listening closely, aware that something important relating to him personally was being decided.

"Look, I didn't want the little ghit," his mother was saying. "I don't know for sure why I've put up with him for this long. Anyway, I'm going off on a long trip and the gentleman friend I'm going to be traveling with doesn't want him along. Nor do I."

"But surely, ma'am, when you come back . . ."

"Yeah, sure, when I come back," she'd said in boredom, "then we'll see."

He remembered the perfume of her dopestick reaching him in his corner, rich and pungent and expensive.

"Besides, maybe somebody else can do something with him. I never was cut out to be no mother. When I found out I was past termination time I thought of suing the damn chemical company."

"If you were so against raising him why wait 'til now to hand him to the ward?"

"I think I was drunk at the time of decision-making," she said with a high laugh that Loo-Macklin could remember quite clearly. It was shrill and flutey, like an electronic tone but with less feeling.

"Doesn't matter anyway. He's here. I know I should've turned him over years ago, but I've been busy. Business, you know. Occupies most of my time. Anyway, I turned around one day and figured out he was always getting underfoot. Besides which I . . . well, look at him, just look at him. He looks like a little orangutan without the long hair."

The loathing in her voice did not trouble Loo-Macklin as he remembered it. It had been different then, in the office. He'd begun sobbing softly, a peculiar sensation, the warm tears running down his face.

The clerk had cleared his throat. "Naturally, this is your choice as a legal citizen, ma'am."

"Yeah, I know, and it is my choice. So let's get the forms together and let me imprint 'em. I've got a shuttle to catch and I'm damned if I'm going to be late."

They'd done so. Then she'd stood, said to the clerk, "He's all yours," and left.

Loo-Macklin blinked and studied the humming trashall. He was almost finished with the last of Gregor's body. Vascolin had gone first. There was only a leg left of the second assassin's body.

He used the tiny arcer, another instrument from his personal arsenal, to slice the leg in half below the knee. He fed the upper half into the efficient unit. There was a soft buzz as the meat was deboned and then the bone itself ground up and shoved into the city sewer system. The last piece followed, the fragments cascading down the ceramic opening in the kitchen chest.

There were dark spots on the counter nearby where Loo-Macklin's fingers had been gripping it. His hands were slightly numb. He forced himself to relax, regulated his breathing. Only rarely did he get so upset.

After concluding the gruesome job he cleaned both rooms and then allowed himself a leisurely hot shower. He put on a plain silver and blue checked jumpsuit with false epaulets and then opened a sealed cabinet by placing the five fingers of his right hand into the appropriate receptacles on it.

There was a click and the dual panels slid apart. Inside the cabinet, neatly stored and arranged, were the tools of his current trade. He'd been collecting them for several years now. They shone as brightly as any surgeon's instruments.

Choosing the one he thought most suitable to the task at hand, he closed and locked the cabinet. After spraying both rooms with deodorant he turned off the lights and exited. Loo-Macklin was as neat as he was thorough.

Lal was a small man, but relative physical size is important only to social primitives whose ignorance renders their opinions useless. The guaran lizard of Aelmos is only three inches long, but its bite can kill in two minutes.

The syndicate chief's hair was turning silver. It fit him, gave him a distinguished look, as did the electric velvet suit he wore, its shimmering black field rising a quarter centimeter above the surface of the charged material. The expensive electrostatic clothing bespoke wealth and position.

Lal was a twentieth-class illegal, quite high status for one from a world like Evenwaith. He couldn't expect to break into single number status in Cluria, but he had hopes.

His large private home consisted of many small domes connected to the tubes by security-monitored accessways. Gathered there that night were men and women of all statuses, from their sixties to their teens, legal and illegal alike.

Unlike some of his underworld colleagues, Lal affected a respectability he could not hope, as an illegal, to actually achieve. But appearances were important to him, and he'd long ago decided that if he couldn't have the real thing, he could at least possess the impression of it. Such grand parties were one way of doing so.

A hand was laid gently on his shoulder and he looked up and around into the face of Jenine, one of his current mistresses. She was a thirty-second-class illegal, a very sharp lady, but one of limited ambition. She was quite pleased with her present role. Her investments in legal corporations were making her wealthy.

In a few years she would probably leave Lal and retire to a life of ease and gentility. That didn't bother him. He understood her desires as clearly as he did his own. There would be other women around. Power and money are ever handsome.

"Something wrong, my dear?"

"No." She leaned over and he felt the warmth of lightly clad breasts against his shoulder, always a delightful sensation. "That elegant young gentleman over there . . ."

"The one with the mustache?"

"No, the one standing next to him."

"Ah, I believe that's Ao Tilyamet. His father is a twelve and President of the Coamalt Rare Metals Group, Cremgro. They operate out of Bourlt Terminus, down south. Want an introduction?"

A hand ran through his thinning hair. "I never have to tell you anything, do I, darling?"

"No, my dear. Because we understand each other."

"You don't mind, of course?"

"Of course not." He smiled up at her as they started toward the group of chatting young men. "I would if this were tomorrow night."

"Tomorrow night is yours, darling, and the night after, and so forth. But tonight, if you don't mind . . ."

"Enough said, lady." His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper as they neared the group. "I'll make you out to be the greatest discovery since the Morilio Screen."

"I am the greatest discovery since the Morilio Screen, darling," she said confidently.

"When you put your mind to it," he agreed.

"And other things." She smiled.

He performed the introduction and watched admiringly as she deftly drew the handsome young industrialist away from several other women. The legals had been fawning over young Tilyamet all evening, but they were badly outmatched against Jenine.

Clever girl, he mused. Has to be reminded of her true station from time to time, taken down a notch, but very good at what she does. Intelligent, too. He liked that, when he could relate to it.

As opposed to that insidious young fellow . . . what the devil was his name? Oh yes, Kees vaan Loo-Mickmin . . . no, Macklin, that was it. Too bad about him. Showed a lot of promise. But strange, strange . . . never got excited, never showed an ounce of emotion, nothing. Deadpanned as the land outside the tubes.

Couldn't tell for certain where a man's loyalty lay if he didn't grow a little impassioned once in a while. Whether he got angry at you or something else was irrelevant. Loo-Macklin never got angry at nothing, Lal thought. Never shouted, never got involved.

Robots acted like that, and at least they had the virtue of predictability. Lal found them more understandable than Loo-Macklin.

He checked his minichronometer, an exceedingly finely wrought instrument which he wore on his left pinky finger. It provided not only the time of day and related statistics but also the time on Terra and Restavon. Suitably instructed, it would also offer up computer readouts detailing the various workings of his syndicate.

He left his guests alone for a moment while he used the instrument to see how things were going with the expansion of his drug operations in the southern cities of Trey and Alesvale. Figures blinked at him: production up twenty-four percent, income up 132,000 credits for the first tenth of the year, south quadrant up five percent, north up six, western up sixty-three (have to see who was running western TreyAlesvale, he thought) and so on, each sector reporting in via the tiny computer link.

Eastern quad up forty-five percent . . . that was Miles Unmaturpa, he remembered. Good man. Production beginning locally was running a deficit of 42,000 credits for the first half year of operation . . . only normal, start-up was expensive, he knew. Bribes, construction costs running to some 20,000 credits . . . you're going to die, Hyram Lal . . . expansion to southern Alesvale tubes . . . .

He stopped the flow of information, frowning at the tiny screen, and backed the last series of statistics up, then ran them forward again at half speed. The pinkywink was linked directly to the master syndicate computer located in securitysealed A Tube. Either one of his programmers was playing a most humorless joke on the boss (in which case he might find himself suddenly as full of holes as an irradiated programming card) or else . . . .

He gestured across the floor. Two very large gentlemen who'd been admitting the guests left their positions flanking the single entryway and made their way unobtrusively through the milling crowd of laughing, sophisticated citizens. While he waited for them to arrive, Lal played back the insolent section of material a third time.

. . . costs running to some 20,000 credits . . . you're going to die, Hyram Lal . . . expansion to southern . . . .

No, he hadn't imagined it.

"Something wrong, sir?" said the dark man in the brown jumpsuit looming over him.

He held up his finger and showed them the screen, ran through the message for them. "What do you make of this, Tembya?" The two men exchanged a glance, shrugged.

"Beats me, sir. Some foul-up down in programming."

"Maybe something like that. Maybe a sick joke. I don't like sick jokes." He thought a moment, looked sharply at the other giant. "Olin, has Gregor reported back to you yet?"

"No, sir, not yet." The man checked his own information viewer, which was larger and not nearly as precise as Lal's. It blinked on his wrist.

"No. Nothing from him yet."

"That's your responsibility," said Lal. "Why haven't you notified me before now?"

The man shifted uncomfortably. "I didn't think the delay anything remarkable, sir. Gregor promised to notify me as soon as he'd finished the job."

"You think maybe he hasn't finished yet?"

"Excuse me, sir," said Tembya, "but the delay strikes me as excessive. It's hardly likely that this kid Loo-Macklin, if his habits are as predictable as I've heard, would suddenly up and vanish for a whole day. Still, I suppose it's possible. Especially on the day of his first kill.

"If that's the case then he's probably off somewhere collecting his guts. So maybe Gregor and his bullywot are still squatting there in the guy's apartment waiting for him to show his face. Loo-Macklin may be greenpussed somewhere after sizzling his veins."

"Not this guy, not this Loo-Macklin," murmured Lal. "He's not the type. Why d'you think I wanted him vaped?"

"I never thought about it," said Tembya dutifully. "That's not my job."

"I know, I know." Lal waved him off nervously. "I tell you, this kid's weird. Almost like he's not human, 'cept that I know for a fact that he is. I've been watching him for six years. Never saw him get involved in anything except himself. No drugs, no liquor, no stimulants of any kind. Keeps to himself. I think he's been with a woman once or twice. Straight current, no deviations, no aliens, but no involvements of any kind, either.

"He just gives me the shivers. He's too smart for his own good. Tries to hide that, but he can't. Not over six years he can't."

"If you say so, sir," said Olin quietly.

"Anyway," Lal told him, "you check up on Gregor. Find out where he is now, if he's stuck in the apartment or following this kid around the publicways. I want to know. Tell him no more subtlety. I'll worry about any consequences, witnesses, or stuff. But I want it done now."

BOOK: Man Who Used the Universe
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