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"Well, Tir, you think your plans for the humans are working?"
The Darhel Ghin waved a stick of incense through the air and placed the message to the Lords on the Altar of Communication. The background of melodiously chiming song-crystals and the mirrored silver colonnades aided his contemplation of the multitudinous alternate futures. At the moment he sorely needed the aid. Most of the futures looked bleak.
His Indowy body attendants lifted his robes as he rose and turned to the attendant Tir. The younger Darhel's foxlike face was the well-trained mien of a senior Darhel manager. He returned the Ghin's ear flick of polite query with total impassivity. In fact better than two-thirds of the overall plan was in total disarray, mostly because of the actions of a single lucky individual. Admitting that, however, was not a route to power. And there was little for this old fossil to pick apart. The entirety of the plan was known only to himself.
"No plan unfolds in perfection," the Tir said smoothly. "That is the purpose of management."
The elfin Ghin flicked his ears again. The gesture was deliberately ambiguous. It might have been polite agreement. Or it might have been polite disbelief. The difference was subtle. "We retain Diess."
The Ghin deliberately did not ascribe that as a positive or a negative trait. Destroying the allied human forces arrayed to defend the planet might or might not have been part of the young pup's plan. Leaving the statement ambiguous was a deliberate trap with overtones he doubted the Tir was aware of.
The Tir flared his nostrils in agreement and glanced at the gathered Indowy. "It is an important world." The corporations of Diess were entirely Darhel-controlled despite the billions of Indowy residents. The laborers of the Federation were as disposable as bacteria. "The revenue is significant."
The Ghin's nostrils flared. As expected the young fool had sidestepped. "And Barwhon as well."
"Regrettably the human loss there has been great." The expression he displayed now was one copied from humans, cat-pupilled vertical-lidded eyes opening wide. The wide mobile mouth turned down, exposing the edge of sharklike teeth. Even the ears drooped. It was a subtle and effective expression and one difficult to copy. Humans would have slumped in apparent defeat as well. Sorrow was not a Darhel emotion. Hatred, yes. Anger, definitely. Sorrow? No.
The Ghin took a moment to contemplate his own plans. The Ghin knew that the road to mastery was not one of plots alone. A clear understanding of reality was paramount. That the young fool had risen to his current place was a sign that the quality of the opposition had fallen off.
Or of a deeply laid plan.
The Ghin gave an internal flare to the nostrils. No. No deep plans here. His own plans had every path to the future open to his own designs, and every path shut to the young fool. There were no flaws in his approach. It was a warm feeling.
"Your plan will require further . . . adjustment? You were frustrated on Diess by the actions of a single human."
"Yes, Your Ghin," agreed the Tir. He had set the trap and the old fool had wandered right in. "I fear my presence on Earth will be required for the next phase."
"And that is?" The Ghin set the targan trap and waited for the quarry.
The Tir's face settled into even less readable lines. The next phase was obvious. Even to this old fool. "The humans must enter the path to enlightenment. Individuality is an obstacle to oneness that must be overcome."
"And you propose to do that how?" The Ghin flicked his ears again in that deliberately ambiguous manner.
"There are so many paths to success it would take days to describe. Suffice it to say that the humans must be pawns to the Path of Enlightenment. Their myth of individuality shall be crushed and with it their passion. The way of passion is not the way to success in our current endeavors. Nor is it the way to enlightenment."
The Tir paused, trembling slightly. "The time of heroes is past. And the time of certain individuals in particular is long past." The Tir was a master of facial control, but his control of body language was still spotty. The deep breath and rippling of muscles along the upper limbs spoke of surging anger.
The young fool was on the edge of lintatai! The Ghin schooled his face into immobility. The Tir had been reading his reports and analyses too long. He had forgotten that, hidden deep beneath the veneer of civilization, the heart of the Darhel was the heart of a frustrated warrior. This was the very urge that he now fought. And that heart told the Ghin that his opponent had seriously miscalculated. Humans would not be so easily vanquished as a threat to Darhel control.
"I am joyful that our people have such exquisite leadership," the Ghin said. Then he also copied a human expression as his lips drew back in a broad smile. The glittering teeth of a rending carnivore were exposed for all to see and the watching Indowy shut their eyes and turned away. None of them had the stupidity to actually run or otherwise embarrass the Darhel lords, but none of them would ever forget the sight. "Our future is in good hands."
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