The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol I Part 15

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"On January twelve, nineteen-ninety, I was offered a job by certain citizens of the Galactic Civilization. These citizens of the Galactic Civilization wanted to take a s.h.i.+pload of Terrestrial animals to their own planet, Gelakin. They knew almost nothing about the care and feeding of Terrestrial animals. They needed an expert. They should have taken a real expert--one of the men from the Bronx Zoo, for instance. They didn't; they requested a zoologist. Because the request was made here in America, I was the one who was picked. Any one of seven other men could have handled the job, but I was picked.

"So I went, thus becoming the first Earthman ever to leave the Solar System.

"I took care of the animals. I taught the Galactics who were with me to handle and feed them. I did what I was paid to do, and it was a hard job. None of them knew anything about the care and feeding of elephants, horses, giraffes, cats, dogs, eagles, or any one of the other hundreds of Terrestrial life forms that went aboard that s.h.i.+p.

"All of this was done with the express permission of the Terrestrial Union Government.

"I was returned to Earth on July seventeen, nineteen-ninety-one.

"I was immediately taken to U.B.I. headquarters and subjected to rigorous questioning. Then I was subjected to further questioning while connected to a polyelectro-encephalograph. Then I was subjected to hearing the same questions over again while under the influence of various drugs--in sequence and in combination. The consensus at that time was that I was not lying nor had I been subjected to what is commonly known as 'brain was.h.i.+ng'. My memories were accurate and complete.

"I did not know then, nor do I know now, the location of the planet Gelakin. This information was not denied me by the Galactics; I simply could not understand the terms they used. All I can say now--and all I could say then--is that Gelakin is some three point five kilopa.r.s.ecs from Sol in the general direction of Saggitarius."

"You don't know any more about that now than you did then?" Jackson interrupted, suddenly and quickly.

"That's what I said," McLeod snapped. "And that's what I meant. Let me finish.

"I was handsomely paid for my work in Galactic money. They use the English word 'credit', but I'm not sure the English word has exactly the same meaning as the Galactic term. At any rate, my wages, if such I may call them, were confiscated by the Earth Government; I was given the equivalent in American dollars--after the eighty per cent income tax had been deducted. I ended up with just about what I would have made if I had stayed home and drawn my salary from Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History.

"Please, Mr. Jackson. I only have a little more to say.

"I decided to write a book in order to make the trip pay off. 'Interstellar Ark' was a popularized account of the trip that made me quite a nice piece of change because every literate and half-literate person on Earth is curious about the Galactics. The book tells everything I know about the trip and the people. It is a matter of public record. Since that is so, I refused to answer a lot of darn-fool questions--by which I mean that I refuse to answer any more questions that you already know the answers to. I am not being stubborn; I am just sick and tired of the whole thing."

Actually, the notoriety that had resulted from the trip and the book had not pleased McLeod particularly. He had never had any strong desire for fame, but if it had come as a result of his work in zoology and the related sciences he would have accepted the burden. If his "The Ecology of the Martian Polar Regions" had attracted a hundredth of the publicity and sold a hundredth of the number of copies that "Interstellar Ark" had sold, he would have been gratified indeed. But the way things stood, he found the whole affair irksome.

Jackson looked at his notebook as if he expected to see answers written there instead of questions. Then he looked back up at McLeod. "All right then, professor, what about this afternoon's conference. That isn't a matter of public record."

"And technically it isn't any of your business, either," McLeod said tiredly. "But since you have the whole conversation down on tape, I don't see why you bother asking me. I'm well aware that you can pick up conversations in my apartment."

Jackson pursed his lips and glanced at another of the agents, who raised his eyebrows slightly.

McLeod got it in spite of the fact that they didn't intend him to. His place was bugged, all right, but somehow the Galactic had managed to nullify their instruments! No wonder they were in such a tizzy.

McLeod smiled, pleased with himself and with the world for the first time that afternoon. He decided, however, that he'd better volunteer the information before they threatened him with the Planetary Security Act. That threat would make him angry, he knew, and he might say something that would get him in real trouble.

It was all right to badger Jackson up to a certain point, but it would be foolish to go beyond that.

"However," he went on with hardly a break, "since, as you say, it is not a matter of public record, I'm perfectly willing to answer any questions you care to ask."

"Just give us a general rundown of the conversation," Jackson said. "If I have any questions, I'll ... uh ... ask them at the proper time."

McLeod did the best he could to give a clear picture of what the Galactic had wanted. There was really very little to it. The Galactic was a member of a race that McLeod had never seen before: a humanoid with red skin--fire-engine, not Amerindian--and a rather pleasant-looking face, in contrast to the rather crocodilian features of the Galactic resident. He had introduced himself by an un-p.r.o.nounceable name and then had explained that since the name meant "mild" or "merciful" in one of the ancient tongues of his planet, it would be perfectly all right if McLeod called him "Clement." Within minutes, it had been "Clem" and "Mac."

McLeod could see that Jackson didn't quite believe that. Galactics, of whatever race, were aloof, polite, reserved, and sometimes irritatingly patronizing--never buddy-buddy. McLeod couldn't help what Jackson might think; what was important was that it was true.

What Clem wanted was very simple. Clem was--after a manner of speaking--a literary agent. Apparently the Galactic system of book publis.h.i.+ng didn't work quite the way the Terrestrial system did; Clem took his commission from the publisher instead of the author, but was considered a representative of the author, not the publisher. McLeod hadn't quite understood how that sort of thing would work out, but he let it pa.s.s. There were a lot of things he didn't understand about Galactics.

All Clem wanted was to act as McLeod's agent for the publication of "Interstellar Ark."

"And what did you tell him?" Jackson asked.

"I told him I'd think it over."

Jackson leaned forward. "How much money did he offer?" he asked eagerly.

"Not much," McLeod said. "That's why I told him I'd think it over. He said that, considering the high cost of transportation, relaying, translation, and so on, he couldn't offer me more than one thousandth of one per cent royalties."

Jackson blinked. "One what?"

"One thousandth of one per cent. If the book sells a hundred thousand copies at a credit a copy, they will send me a nice, juicy check for one lousy credit."

Jackson scowled. "They're cheating you."

"Clem said it was the standard rate for a first book."

Jackson shook his head. "Just because we don't have interstellar s.h.i.+ps and are confined to our own solar system, they treat us as though we were ignorant savages. They're cheating you high, wide, and handsome."

"Maybe," said McLeod. "But if they really wanted to cheat me, they could just pirate the book. There wouldn't be a thing I could do about it."

"Yeah. But to keep up their facade of high ethics, they toss us a sop. And we have to take whatever they hand out. You will take it, of course." It was more of an order than a question.

"I told him I'd think it over," McLeod said.

Jackson stood up. "Professor McLeod, the human race needs every Galactic credit it can lay its hands on. It's your duty to accept the offer, no matter how lousy it is. We have no choice in the matter. And a Galactic credit is worth ten dollars American, four pounds U.K., or forty rubles Soviet. If you sell a hundred thousand copies of your book, you can get yourself a meal in a fairly good restaurant and Earth will have one more Galactic credit stashed away. If you don't sell that many, you aren't out anything."

"I suppose not," McLeod said slowly. He knew that the Government could force him to take the offer. Under the Planetary Security Act, the Government had broad powers--very broad.

"Well, that isn't my business right now," Jackson said. "I just wanted to find out what this was all about. You'll hear from us, Professor McLeod."

"I don't doubt it," said McLeod.

The six men filed out the door.

Alone, McLeod stared at the wall and thought.

Earth needed every Galactic credit it could get; that was certain. The trouble came in getting them.

Earth had absolutely nothing that the Galactics wanted. Well, not absolutely, maybe, but so near as made no difference. Certainly there was no basis for trade. As far as the Galactics were concerned, Earth was a little backwater planet that was of no importance. Nothing manufactured on the planet was of any use to Galactics. Nothing grown on Earth was of any commercial importance. They had sampled the animals and plants for scientific purposes, but there was no real commercial value in them. The Government had added a few credits to its meager collection when the animals had been taken, but the amount was small.

McLeod thought about the natives of New Guinea and decided that on the Galactic scale Earth was about in the same position. Except that there had at least been gold in New Guinea. The Galactics didn't have any interest in Earth's minerals; the elements were much more easily available in the asteroid belts that nearly every planetary system seemed to have.

The Galactics were by no means interested in bringing civilization to the barbarians of Earth, either. They had no missionaries to bring new religion, no do-gooders to "elevate the cultural level of the natives." They had no free handouts for anyone. If Earthmen wanted anything from them, the terms were cash on the barrelhead. Earth's credit rating in the Galactic equivalent of Dun & Bradstreet was triple-Z-zero.

A Galactic s.h.i.+p had, so to speak, stumbled over Earth fifteen years before. Like the English explorers of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, the Galactics seemed to feel that it was necessary to install one of their own people on a new-found planet, but they were not in the least interested in colonization nor in taking over Earth's government. The Galactic Resident was not in any sense a Royal Governor, and could hardly even be called an amba.s.sador. He and his staff--a small one, kept more for company than for any necessary work--lived quietly by themselves in a house they'd built in Hawaii. n.o.body knew what they did, and it didn't seem wise to ask.

The first Galactic Resident had been shot and killed by some religious nut. Less than twenty-four hours later, the Galactic s.p.a.ce Navy--if that was the proper term--had come to claim the body. There were no recriminations, no reprisals. They came, "more in sorrow than in anger," to get the body. They came in a s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p that was easily visible to the naked eye long before it hit the atmosphere--a sphere three kilometers in diameter. The missiles with thermonuclear warheads that were sent up to intercept the s.h.i.+p were detonated long before they touched the s.h.i.+p, and neither Galactics nor Earthmen ever mentioned them again. It had been the most frightening display of power ever seen on Earth, and the Galactics hadn't even threatened anyone. They just came to get a body.

Needless to say, there was little danger that they would ever have to repeat the performance.

The national governments of Earth had organized themselves hurriedly into the Terrestrial Union. Shaky at first, it had gained stability and power with the years. The first thing the Union Government had wanted to do was send an amba.s.sador to the Galactic Government. The Galactic Resident had politely explained that their concept of government was different from ours, that amba.s.sadors had no place in that concept, and, anyway, there was no capital to send one to. However, if Earth wanted to send an observer of some kind....

Earth did.

Fine. A statement of pa.s.senger fares was forthcoming; naturally, there were no regular pa.s.senger s.h.i.+ps stopping at Earth and there would not be in the foreseeable future, but doubtless arrangements could be made to charter a vessel. It would be expensive, but....

If a New Guinea savage wants to take pa.s.sage aboard a Qantas airliner, what is the fare in cowrie

As far as McLeod knew, his book was the first thing ever produced on Earth that the Galactics were even remotely interested in. He had a higher opinion of the ethics of the Galactics than Jackson did, but a thousandth of a per cent seemed like pretty small royalties. And he couldn't for the life of him see why his book would interest a Galactic. Clem had explained that it gave Galactics a chance to see what they looked like through the eyes of an Earthman, but that seemed rather weak to McLeod.

Nevertheless, he knew he would take Clem's offer.

Eight months later, a s.h.i.+pload of Galactic tourists arrived. For a while, it looked as though Earth's credit problem might be solved. Tourism has always been a fine method for getting money from other countries--especially if one's own country is properly picturesque. Tourists always had money, didn't they? And they spend it freely, didn't they?


Not in this case.

Earth had nothing to sell to the tourists.

Ever hear of baluts? The Melanesians of the South Pacific consider it a very fine delicacy. You take a fertilized duck egg and you bury it in the warm earth. Six months later, when it is nice and overripe, you dig it up again, knock the top off the sh.e.l.l the way you would a soft-boiled egg, and eat it. Then you pick the pinfeathers out of your teeth. Baluts.

Now you know how the greatest delicacies of Earth's restaurants affected the Galactics.

Earth was just a little too picturesque. The tourists enjoyed the sights, but they ate aboard their s.h.i.+p, which was evidently somewhat like a Caribbean cruise s.h.i.+p. And they bought nothing. They just looked.

And laughed.

And of course they all wanted to meet Professor John Hamish McLeod.

When the news leaked out and was thoroughly understood by Earth's population, there was an immediate reaction.

Editorial in Pravda: The stupid book written by the American J. H. McLeod has made Earth a laughingstock throughout the galaxy. His inability to comprehend the finer nuances of Galactic Socialism has made all Earthmen look foolish. It is too bad that a competent Russian zoologist was not chosen for the trip that McLeod made; a man properly trained in the understanding of the historical forces of dialectic materialism would have realized that any Galactic society must of necessity be a Communist State, and would have interpreted it as such. The petty bourgeois mind of McLeod has made it impossible for any Earthman to hold up his head in the free Socialist society of the galaxy. Until this matter is corrected....

News item Manchester Guardian: Professor James H. McLeod, the American zoologist whose book has apparently aroused a great deal of hilarity in Galactic circles, admitted today that both Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History have accepted his resignation. The recent statement by a University spokesman that Professor McLeod had "besmirched the honor of Earthmen everywhere" was considered at least partially responsible for the resignations. (See editorial.) Editorial, Manchester Guardian: ... It is a truism that an accepted wit has only to say, 'Pa.s.s the b.u.t.ter,' and everyone will laugh. Professor McLeod, however, far from being an accepted wit, seems rather to be in the position of a medieval Court Fool, who was laughed at rather than with. As a consequence, all Earthmen have been branded as Fools....

Statement made by the American Senator from Alabama: "He has made us all look like in the eyes of the Galactics, and at this precarious time in human history it is my considered opinion that such actions are treasonous to the human race and to Earth and should be treated and considered as such!"

Book review, Literary Checklist, Helvar III, Bornis Cl.u.s.ter: "Interstellar Ark, an Earthman's View of the Galaxy," translated from the original tongue by Vonis Delf, Cr. 5.00. This inexpensive little book is one of the most entertainingly funny publications in current print. The author, one John McLeod, is a member of a type 3-7B race inhabiting a planet in the Outer Fringes.... As an example of the unwitting humor of the book, we have only to quote the following: "I was shown to my quarters shortly before takeoff. Captain Benarly had a.s.signed me a s.p.a.cious cabin which was almost luxurious in its furnis.h.i.+ngs. The bed was one of the most comfortable I have ever slept in."

Or the following: "I found the members of the crew to be friendly and co-operative, especially Nern Cronzel, the s.h.i.+p's physician."

It is our prediction that this little gem will be enjoyed for a long time to come and will be a real money-maker for its publishers.

They haven't hanged me yet, McLeod thought. He sat in his apartment alone and realized that it would take very little to get him hanged.

How could one book have aroused such wrath? Even as he thought it, McLeod knew the answer to that question. It wasn't the book. No one who had read it two and a half years before had said anything against it.

No, it wasn't the book. It was the Galactic reaction to the book. Already feeling inferior because of the stand-offish att.i.tude of the beings from the stars, the Homeric laughter of those same beings had been too much. It would have been bad enough if that laughter had been generated by one of the Galactics. To have had it generated by an Earthman made it that much worse. Against an Earthman, their rage was far from impotent.

n.o.body understood why the book was funny, of course. The joke was over their heads, and that made human beings even angrier.

He remembered a quotation from a book he had read once. A member of some tribal-taboo culture--African or South Pacific, he forgot which--had been treated at a missionary hospital for something or other and had described his experience.

"The white witch doctor protects himself by wearing a little round mirror on his head which reflects back the evil spirits."

Could that savage have possibly understood what was humorous about that remark? No. Not even if you explained to him why the doctor used the mirror that way.

Now what? McLeod thought. He was out of a job and his bank account was running low. His credit rating had dropped to zero.

McLeod heard a key turn in the lock. The door swung open and Jackson entered with his squad of U.B.I. men.

"Hey!" said McLeod, jumping to his feet. "What do you think this is?"

"Shut up, McLeod," Jackson growled. "Get your coat. You're wanted at headquarters."

McLeod started to say something, then thought better of it. There was nothing he could say. n.o.body would care if the U.B.I. manhandled him. n.o.body would protest that his rights were being ignored. If McLeod got his teeth knocked in, Jackson would probably be voted a medal.

McLeod didn't say another word. He followed orders. He got his coat and was taken down to the big building on the East River which had begun its career as the United Nations Building.

He was bundled up to an office and shoved into a chair.

Somebody shoved a paper at him. "Sign this!"

"What is it?" McLeod asked, finding his voice.

"A receipt. For two thousand dollars. Sign it."

McLeod looked the paper over, then looked up at the burly man who had shoved it at him. "Fifty thousand Galactic credits! What is this for?"

"The royalty check for your unprintably qualified book has come in, Funny Man. The Government is taking ninety-eight per cent for income taxes. Sign!"

McLeod pushed the paper back across the desk. "No. I won't. You can confiscate my money. I can't stop that, I guess. But I won't give it legal sanction by signing anything. I don't even see the two thousand dollars this is supposed to be a receipt for."

Jackson, who was standing behind McLeod, grabbed his arm and twisted. "Sign!" His voice was a snarl in McLeod's ear.

Eventually, of course, he signed.

"'Nother beer, Mac?" asked the bartender with a friendly smile.

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol I Part 15

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