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Authors: Alan Dean Foster

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BOOK: Man Who Used the Universe
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"It's not," he told her. "I wasn't frightened into selling. I was persuaded, convinced. These are intelligent, knowledgeable people, these emissaries from Restavon. They made it plain they knew they couldn't scare me. They simply laid out all the fiscal and commercial ramifications. Given the figures, selling was clearly the more sensible course than not selling.

"Besides, their offer was more than adequate. The profit is substantial."

"Profit to you, maybe," she said tartly. "What about me? I'm no more than an employee." When he didn't contradict her, she continued. "What happens to Basright and me and all the others who've followed your orders so carefully?"

"Not always carefully," he corrected her. "You are all welcome to stay in my service. I have established some headway in the legal world."

She let out a derisive laugh. "What headway? That tiny food-service-supply business on Matrix? The environmental design consultancy on Helhedrin? All your legal interests together don't contribute a twentieth of your income."

"I know that, but one must grab a foothold wherever one can. I never had the capital to expand my legal interests properly. I will now." He smiled. "I expect to obtain an additional million very shortly."

"You can never make as much, do as well, in the legal world as you have in the illegal. You ought to know that."

"I disagree with you, Khryswhy. Regardless, there are things just as important as making money."

There was something in his voice, something that momentarily made her forget her anger and frustration to look at him curiously.

"Is there really? What else could you be interested in, Loo-Macklin? Don't try to tell me you're hiding some secret obsession, because an obsession is a weakness and you're never weak."

"That's not necessarily true," he replied, neither confirming nor contradicting her. "An obsession can be a powerful motivating force. Which is not to say that I have one. I wish you would remain with me. Basright has already agreed to do so, by the way."

"That's typical." She gave him a thin smile. "That old relic positively slobbers in your presence. He'd be happy to be your pet, if nothing more."

"He's efficient, very good at what he does. I admire that. No one's forcing you to do anything you don't want to do, Khryswhy. If you choose to remain with the syndicate, you'll find yourself operating under the aegis of some very powerful illegals. That can cut both ways, if you're not careful. I'd rather you stay with me."

"I'll bet you would, but why? Because I'm 'efficient'? I didn't think you thought that highly of me. Deity knows I've tried to interest you these past ten years."

"I'm aware of that. I'm not a complete social idiot, you know. But I'm afraid it is because of your efficiency, because you dedicate yourself totally to whatever project you're responsible for. I'll need people like you, in the world of legal commerce."

"You'll need more than that. In a year you'll need loans, and in another year you'll be begging. You're not the type, Loo-Macklin, to make it as a legal. Your background is wholly illegal. You're used to having people broken when they get in your way. The legal world's rules are stricter. There's no camaraderie among its leaders, no unwritten codes of conduct and friendship, of mutual respect. It's a rotten, corrupt, evil place. Give me the clean underworld any day."

"I take it, then, that you will be leaving?"

"You can take it and shove it you know where, Loo-Macklin, because I'm damned if I'm going to airlock out of a two-million-credit-per-year syndicate to go and work in food services or kiddy entertainment or any other pedestrian legal business." She turned from him and headed toward the exit.

"I don't give a damn who's buying you out. I know this syndicate's workings inside and out. I think they'll appreciate what I can do. It will be in their interests to."

"I can't argue that," he admitted. "I still wish you'd cross over with me."

"Blow it out the orifice of your choice." She opened the door, turned to face him. "I never thought I'd see you frightened, Kees vaan Loo-Macklin, but that's obviously what's happened, no matter how often or strongly you choose to deny it. I'd have thought you'd have fought them."

"I am making ten million credits," he told her calmly.

She spat on the floor. "Maggot food. You can make that much in less than ten years here, and still be a young man. And that's not assuming any expansion of syndicate business."

"Expansion can be opposed."

"So you work with them."

He shook his head. "The people I've had to deal with made it clear they covet the business I've built up here, not my personal services. Not that it would matter. I wouldn't work beneath another syndicate. And there's something else very peculiar about it, but I had the impression they were worried about me."

"That's peculiar, all right," she snorted, "because in selling out you've proved just how stupid you really are. You keep your offer and your quick profit. I'll take my chances with my new bosses."

"Last chance to reconsider," he said quickly.

"Forget it. Good luck with your fast-food services, Loo-Macklin. It's going to be quite a shock for you, dealing with the legal world for a change. And you won't find a quick route to the top the way you did here."

"You forget that I made my own 'route.' I will do whatever's necessary to get what I want. The legal world is no different from the underworld. Only the conventions differ, and I think I can cope with them. I'm very adaptable."

"Except when force is applied," she said. "Good-bye, Loo-Macklin. You had me fooled for a long time."

The door closed quietly behind her, humming shut on cushioned rails. He paused a moment, still staring after her, before turning back to the patient computer monitor.

A shame to lose Khryswhy, he thought. She'd done such a fine job for him. But he'd given his word to the new buyers that he wouldn't compel a single key person to cross out with him. Those who chose to stay with him, like Basright, were all the more valuable because they did so of their own free will. They would form the nucleus of his new organization.

The first thing that had changed following confirmation of the sale and divestiture of all his illegal assets was his official status. He'd fallen all the way from twentieth illegal to seventy-third legal. That didn't bother him. He expected those ratings to change again, shortly.

He studied the figures displayed on the screen. Ten million credits was a great deal of money. He'd been poised to make the necessary crossover to the legal world for several years now, in case it became necessary, but he'd been reluctant to divert income from the syndicate to finance legal operations.

Well, now he had plenty of income to divert and no syndicate to worry about. His expansion into legal commerce could commence in earnest.

Khryswhy was right about the difficulties inherent in such a switch. Society didn't accept such transitions gracefully. But he thought he'd found a way to manage it. Events were already in motion to smooth his emergence from the underworld into "polite" society. And there would be side benefits.

It was time for the next step. He touched a control on the desk console. The figures were replaced by pleasantly shifting abstract patterns and a fluid voice.

"You desire outcall, sir?"

"Yes. I wish to speak to Welworth al-Razim, Commissioner of Police for the city of Cluria."

"Noted, sir. I will enter your call. I should add that such officials rarely reply to unsolicited personal calls."

"Give my full identity code and name," Loo-Macklin told the machine. "He'll reply. And while you're active, check on the progress of my new business on Restavon and my concurrent application for commercial status there."

"Very well, sir," said the smooth mechanical voice. "Anything else for now?"

Loo-Macklin leaned back in the pneumatic chair and regarded the ceiling. "No. I think we'll be safe for awhile . . . ."

The big, florid-faced man in the shimmering gray jumpsuit burst unhesitatingly into the outer office and confronted the receptionist there. She was human, which was unusual in itself, but then everything about the office was unusual, from the glittering walls dusted with ruby XL to its location on the 230th floor of Manaus's largest office building.

"I'm sorry," she told him, unfazed by his explosive entrance, "the counselor is not seeing . . ."

"Oh, he'll want to see me," said the visitor, staring past her toward the distant doorway. "He'd damn well better want to see me."

Prax controlled his temper while the puzzled receptionist buzzed for instructions on how to proceed. There was no point in trying to force his way farther. The door ahead was protected by security devices as lethal as they were complex. He'd come for explanations, not martyrdom.

There were a number of other people and two aliens, a tall birdlike Orischian and a celibate Athabascan, waiting in the lounge. They gaped at the stranger, muttered among themselves. One did not act that way in the outer offices of a counselor.

I've reason to, he rumbled to himself. He recognized a couple of the supplicants. That one there, she was a famous surgeon. Another represented the Board of Operators who programmed the master government computer that ran Terra itself.

All were here to pay homage to Momblent and to try and get something from him. There wasn't anything lower than a fifth-class legal in the room. Prax was the only illegal, though you couldn't tell by looking at him, despite what some people said.

The receptionist was conversing in low tones with the business end of a communicator. Eventually she put it back in its holder and looked up with a startled expression on her pretty face.

"The counselor will see you, sir." She waved toward the beckoning door. "You can go right in."

"Thanks," he said curtly, striding past her.

The door opened automatically at his approach. He stalked into an office paneled in richly carved wood inlaid with semiprecious stones cut in strips, all brought up from the gem state of Minas Geraes.

To his right, a broad rhomboidal window provided a view of the thick cloud cover currently smothering the Amazon basin. It was the rainy season, and the clouds were rejuvenating the vast rain forest preserve that stretched off toward the distant Andes.

Two other office buildings poked tapering spires through the fluffy gray mass, along with the Jorge Amado Memorial. The latter structure, a towering cylinder of native metallic glass, was covered with bas-reliefs of muscular men, voluptuous women, ancient recipes for spicy local dishes, and every word the great native writer ever put to paper. Amado would have approved of the women and the recipes, would have found the scale of the monument and waste of resources that went into its construction appalling. Unfortunately the dead cannot protest their canonization by the future.

Momblent wore a blue and maroon suit, open at the neck, with a ruffled shirt showing beneath. He was standing next to a surprisingly small desk. Both looked lost in the huge, vaulted room.

None of it impressed Prax. His own offices were considerably more elaborate. He supposed a politician needed to affect a little false modesty. Prax had no constituents to worry about.

"Hello, Prax," said the counselor, extending a hand in greeting. He was not smiling, but neither did he appear particularly upset. As usual, Prax couldn't figure him. The syndicate ruler hesitated, finally shook the proffered hand.

"Just got the word myself. Haven't had time to fine-tune the details."

He gestured for Prax to follow as he walked across the room and activated one of several small screens. His fingers worked the simple keyboard with skill. A familiar face appeared on the screen. Prax recognized one of the United Technologic Worlds' more popular information dispensers. Privately, Prax thought the man a pompous ghit.

"They've been cycling this broadcast at the standard half-hour intervals," explained Momblent, "interspersed with updated weather. I've run it forward to the section of off-world news we're concerned with."

The article was right at the beginning. It roused no special interest in the announcer, provoked no unusual adjectives. It was simply another piece of provincial news . . . but not to the pair of powerful men watching it in the luxurious office.

". . . Meanwhile, in fourth quad developments, police on the industrial world of Evenwaith have announced the shattering of the dominant criminal organization on their planet. More than two hundred illegals employed by the vicious underworld syndicate known as the Enigman have been tallied and charged.

"Police Commissioner Welworth al-Razim declared that he has evidence of sufficient depth and detail to put every one of the arrested under a truth detector to the point where they'll be forced to pledge themselves to lives of good works.

"The syndicate's operations included the running of illegal pharmaceuticals and other forbidden substances onto Evenwaith, as well as the perpetration of elaborate insurance frauds and the skimming of profits from legalized gambling."

As he spoke, images flashed on a screen behind him. At the moment it showed a rather stolid-looking individual shaking hands with a beaming Police Commissioner. The shorter man did not look into the camera.

"All this," the announcer droned on, "was due to the heroic efforts of long-time undercover police operative Kees vaan Loo-Macklin, who has been functioning in close association with Commissioner al-Razim's office for nearly ten years." The journalist cleared his throat.

"Loo-Macklin was finally forced to surface, according to the Commissioner, when powerful off-world interests attempted to force him into selling the vast syndicate he supposedly was directing. In reality, all instructions were emanating from the police board computer, a fact, which the underworld never learned.

"In addition to multiple prosecution at the local level, these revelations are expected to lead to indictments of a number of high-level off-world illegals, a blow which is expected to rock the UTW underworld as nothing has since the advent of the truth detector."

BOOK: Man Who Used the Universe
5.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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