A WORLD BY THE TALE
This is about the best-hated author on Earth. Who was necessarily pampered and petted because of his crime against humanity....
BY SEATON McKETTRIG
ILLUSTRATED BY LEO SUMMERS
Exactly three minutes after the Galactic left the New York apartment of Professor John Hamish McLeod, Ph.D., Sc.D., a squad of U.B.I. men pushed their way into it.
McLeod heard the door chime, opened the door, and had to back up as eight men crowded in. The one in the lead flashed a fancily engraved ID card and said: "Union Bureau of Investigation. You're Professor Mac-Lee-Odd." It was a statement, not a question.
"No," McLeod said flatly, "I am not. I never heard of such a name." He waited while the U.B.I. man blinked once, then added: "If you are looking for Professor MuhCloud, I'm he." It always irritated him when people mispronounced his name, and in this case there was no excuse for it.
"All right, Professor McLeod," said the U.B.I. agent, pronouncing it properly this time, "however you want it. Mind if we ask you a few questions?"
McLeod stared at him for half a second. Eight men, all of them under thirty-five, in top physical condition. He was fifteen years older than the oldest and had confined his exercise, in the words of Chauncey de Pew, to "acting as pallbearer for my friends who take exercise." Not that he was really in poor shape, but he certainly couldn't have argued with eight men like these.
"Come in," he said calmly, waving them into the apartment.
Six of them entered. The other two stayed outside in the hall.
Five of the six remained standing. The leader took the chair that McLeod offered him.
"What are your questions, Mr. Jackson?" McLeod asked.
Jackson looked very slightly surprised, as if he were not used to having people read the name on his card during the short time he allowed them to see it. The expression vanished almost instantaneously. "Professor," he said, "we'd like to know what subjects you discussed with the Galactic who just left."
McLeod allowed himself to relax back in his chair. "Let me ask you two questions, Mr. Jackson. One: What the hell business is it of yours? Two: Why do you ask me when you already know?"
Again there was only a flicker of expression over Jackson's face. "Professor McLeod, we are concerned about the welfare of the human race. Your ... uh ... co-operation is requested."
"You don't have to come barging in here with an armed squad just to ask my co-operation," McLeod said. "What do you want to know?"
Jackson took a notebook out of his jacket pocket. "We'll just get a few facts straight first, professor," he said, leafing through the notebook. "You were first approached by a Galactic four years ago, on January 12, 1990. Is that right?"
McLeod, who had taken a cigarette from his pack and started to light it, stopped suddenly and looked at Jackson as though the U.B.I. man were a two-headed embryo. "Yes, Mr. Jackson, that is right," he said slowly, as though he were speaking to a low-grade moron. "And the capital of California is Sacramento. Are there any further matters of public knowledge you would like to ask me about? Would you like to know when the War of 1812 started or who is buried in Grant's Tomb?"
Jackson's jaw muscles tightened, then relaxed. "There's no need to get sarcastic, professor. Just answer the questions." He looked back at the notebook. "According to the record, you, as a zoologist, were asked to accompany a shipment of animals to a planet named ... uh ... Gelakin. You did so. You returned after eighteen months. Is that correct?"
"To the best of my knowledge, yes," McLeod said with heavy, biting sarcasm. "And the date of the Norman Conquest was A.D. 1066."
Jackson balled his fists suddenly and closed his eyes. "Mac. Loud. Stop. It." He was obviously holding himself under rigorous restraint. He opened his eyes. "There are reasons for asking these questions, professor. Very good reasons. Will you let me finish?"
McLeod had finished lighting his cigarette. He snapped his lighter off and replaced it in his pocket. "Perhaps," he said mildly. "May I make a statement first?"
Jackson took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then exhaled slowly. "Go ahead."
"Thank you." There was no sarcasm in McLeod's voice now, only patience. "First—for the record—I'll say that I consider it impertinent of you to come in here demanding information without explanation. No, Jackson; don't say anything. You said I could make a statement. Thank you. Second, I will state that I am perfectly aware of why the questions are being asked.
"No reaction, Mr. Jackson? You don't believe that? Very well. Let me continue.
"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 shipload 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 ship.
"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 washing'. 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 kiloparsecs 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