Toryl pointed the small crypterpreter toward the wooden, horseshoe-shaped sign. The sign's legend was carved in bright yellow letters. Sartan, Toryl's companion, watched up and down the open highway for signs of life. In seconds the small cylindrical mechanism completed the translation.
The sign said: JUBILATION, U.S.A.!!.
The doggondest, cheeriest little town in America!
The two aliens smiled at each other. Unaccustomed to oral conversation, they exchanged thoughts.
"The crypterpreter worked incredibly fast. The language is quite simple. It would seem safe to proceed. The sign indicates friendliness," thought Toryl, the older of the two Capellans.
"Very well, Brother," replied Sartan, "though I still worry for the safety of the ship."
"Sartan, our instruments tell us that anyone who discovers the ship," Toryl explained, a trifle impatient, "will show a remarkable degree of curiosity before they display any hostility."
Sartan agreed to dismiss his worries and the two aliens began to walk along the barren highway. Before them, at a great distance, they could see a cluster of small frame buildings. When they had walked a hundred feet or more they encountered another sign.
WELCOME, STRANGER! See America first and begin with JUBILATION!
And several hundred feet further two more signs.
THE ROTARY CLUB of Jubilation welcomes and extends the warm hand of friendship to you!!!! You are now entering Paradise, brother!
HOWDY, STRANGER! COME RIGHT ON IN, STAY AWHILE AND MAKE YOURSELF TO HOME!.
--Jubilation Chamber of Commerce-- As members of a peaceful race, Toryl and Sartan naturally found the signs encouraging. They walked at a sprightly pace.
A whirring noise behind them brought the two to a halt. They turned to discover a pre-war Chevy choking its way along the road. The aliens edged their way to a gulley along the side of the road. They were confident of a friendly reception but, in the event their calculations had been wrong, they poised themselves to make a break in the direction of their ship.
The ancient Chevy sputtered by. The driver was almost as ancient as the car, a bearded fellow with a stogy stuck between his teeth and a crushed hat on his head.
The driver slowed down when he saw the aliens. "Howdy, strangers!" he yelled cheerily. "Say, ain't you fellers a mite warm in them coveralls?" He cackled merrily, put his foot to the floor and sped on by.
Sartan looked at his companion. "I am sorry, I should not have doubted you, Brother. You were right. These people will welcome our visit. They seem very cordial."
"Good, Sartan. Let us continue."
One hundred yards further they were confronted by still another brace of signs. They stopped once more.
CITY LIMITS (Gambling allowed) JUBILATION! WHERE TROUBLES never come due, 'cause the Good Lord takes a likin' to YOU!
Where gloom and doom are outlawed and there's never any sadness.
Where a smile lights up the midnight sky and gives off only gladness!
(Gambling allowed) The second sign was another in the shape of a horseshoe.
BEYOND THIS POINT YOU HAVE 4372 FRIENDS YOU NEVER HAD BEFORE!!!.
(Gambling allowed) Suddenly Toryl stopped and played with several switches and dials on the crypterpreter.
"What is wrong, Brother?" asked the puzzled Sartan.
"I receive no direct translation for the term 'gambling'."
"What is the closest term the machine gives?"
Sartan laughed. "Now it is you who fret, Toryl. According to the signpost legends 'fraternizing' would seem to be accurate."
A steady rolling sound of passionless one-armed bandits drowned out all other noise in Okie's Oasis Bar. As a result, Toryl and Sartan drew little attention when they entered. Except for their blue-metallic space suits they looked like and were ordinary humans.
They proceeded rather timidly toward the bar. Okie, the proprietor, was on duty readying the place for the night shift. Toryl held up his hand. The crypterpreter had already informed him that oral conversation was the manner of communication on the strange planet. Such conversation had long ago been abandoned on the planet Capella, but learned men such as Toryl and Sartan were familiar with how it was done, though when they spoke they sometimes had to halt between syllables.
"How-dy!" Toryl flashed a wide grin at the barkeep.
"Just hold your horses there, mister!" was Okie's sharp reply. "You ain't the only snake in this desert. There's four customers ahead of you!"
Sartan transmitted an admonishing thought to his companion. "Toryl, you should have noticed that the man was busy. He has only two hands."
"Forgive me, Brother, I was blinded by my own excitement."
The two Capellans waited and were soon attracted by the silver-handled machines that seemed to have most of the customers fascinated.
Sartan wandered over to where a small crowd of men was gathered around a single machine. A huge man, raw-boned and crimson-faced, wearing surplus army suntans, was operating the machine.
The big man dropped a large coin into a slot. He gave the silver handle a vicious snap. It made a discordant, bone-crushing sound. Three little wheels, visible under glass, spun dizzily. Anxious, screwed-up faces looked on as the first little wheel stopped. Bell Fruit.
A collective gasp came from the small crowd. The second little wheel stopped. Bell Fruit.
Sartan touched the arm of the man operating the gambling device. "I beg your pardon, but could you please tell me--"
The big man wheeled around like a bear aroused from hibernation. "Hands off, mister! You trying to jinx me?"
The third little wheel stopped. Lemon.
The crowd groaned. The big man turned on Sartan again, a wild and furious look in his eye. "You jinxed me! Damn you, I oughta' bust you one right in the snout!!"
"My humble apol-o-gies, sir," the bewildered Sartan began.
"I'll give you your humble apologies right back with my fist," roared the gambler.
Toryl quickly made his way through the small crowd which by now was itching to witness a fight. "Ex-cuse me, sir, but my friend did not real-ize--"
"The hell he didn't!" The gambler fumed. "He was trying to jinx me, by God! And I'm gonna teach him to keep his paws--"
"Okay, okay, you guys, break it up!!" It was Okie, massive and mean looking, using his barrel belly to push his way through to the two aliens and the unlucky gambler. "What's goin' on here, Smokey?" he inquired of the gambler.
"Okie, I had a jackpot workin' when this dumb jerk here ups and grabs my arm--"
Toryl interrupted with, "My friend is sorry for what he did, sir."
Okie stabbed a cigar into his mouth. "Who are you guys anyhow? Where'd you dig up them crazy coveralls?"
"Sure a queer way to dress in this heat," spoke a voice from the crowd.
This was the moment of pride that Toryl and Sartan had looked forward to. They both grinned confident grins. "We have come to you from Capella," he said with some exultation.
Okie's face went blank. "Capella! Where the hell is that?"
"Sounds like one of them damn hick towns in California," said Smokey, the gambler.
Toryl, somewhat deflated, but by no means defeated, hastened to elucidate. "Capella is lo-cat-ed in the con-stell-a-tion which you call Auriga."
"Anybody know what the hell he's talking about?" asked the annoyed saloonkeeper.
Toryl and Sartan exchanged troubled glances. Sartan took up the cudgel. "Auriga is a constellation, a star cluster, sir. It is forty-two million light years away."
"What in tarnation is a light year?" asked an old-timer in the group.
Another replied, "They must be from Alaska. They got light years up there, sometimes stays light the whole confounded year 'round."
"That must be it," agreed Okie, "and that's why they're wearin' them crazy suits." The saloonkeeper unloosed a grim laugh. "You can take them arctic pajamas off now, boys. Weather's kinda warm in these parts!"
"Hey, fellas!" a voice shot out, "didya bring any Eskimo babes down with you?"
The crowd roared approval at the witticism.
Toryl transmitted a depressing thought to his companion. "I fear they do not believe us, Sartan."
Sartan did not get the opportunity to answer immediately.
"Listen, you guys," Okie pounded his fat finger into Sartan's chest. "I want you to behave yourselves, understand? Now that means lay off the customers while they're at the games. You wanna gamble there is plenty of machines available. I got a respectable place, I wanna keep it that way!" He turned and addressed the other men. "All right, boys, fun's over! No fight today! Drink up and gamble your money away. Let's get back to the games."
It was necessary for Toryl to use the crypterpreter to translate the various signs along the bar. Okie saw the small cylindrical machine sitting on the bar. His curiosity bested him. He gave it a more thorough examination than a dog gives a fireplug.
Some of the signs read: "DOUBLE BOURBON--$2.10" "COOL GIN RICKEY--$1.25" "IN GOD WE TRUST, BUT NOBODY ELSE!" "RUM COLLINS--$1" "A FRIEND IN NEED IS A FRIEND INDEED" "NO INDIANS SERVED HERE" and "SCOTCH--IMPORTED, $1.50--DOMESTIC, $1.30."
"Cool gin rick-ey," said Toryl.
"Comin' right up," Okie mumbled, his attention still wrapped around the crypterpreter. "Say, what is this gadget anyway?"
"It is a cryp-terp-reter," Toryl beamed with pride. "It en-ables us to un-der-stand and speak your lan-guage."
"Aw, go on!" Okie managed a fainthearted grin, uncertain of whether his leg was being pulled. "Come on now, tell me what it is."
"But I have just told you, sir."
The barkeep cursed under his breath. "Two gin rickeys, did you say?"
Okie brought the drinks.
Sartan smiled broadly. "Thank you ex-ceed-ing-ly."
"That'll be two-fifty."
Toryl raised his glass as though making a toast. "Two-fif-ty!" he repeated.
Okie caught his arm and brought the glass down.
"Two-fifty!" the barkeep said with grim insistence.
Sartan pursed his lips comprehendingly. He removed a large pentagonal piece of metal from his pocket and gave it to Okie.
Okie took the piece between his fingers, examined it and frowned. "I give up. What is it?"
Sartan had to glance at Toryl for an answer. Toryl threw a switch on the crypterpreter.
"Money," Toryl silently advised him.
"Money," said Sartan to Okie.
"You guys hold on and don't drink up yet," growled the barkeep. He then yelled in the direction of the blackjack table. "Hey, Nugget! Get on over here, I need you!!"
A wiry little man with a full, unkempt beard, hustled over to the bar. "Nugget McDermott at yer service, Okie! What's yer pleasure?" he asked with a sunny smile.
"Take a look at this." Okie handed him the piece of metal.
The old prospector turned it over in his hands, bit it and then held it in his palm as though to judge its weight. His expert opinion was, "It's gold, Okie," and was uttered without a shred of modesty.
"Are you sure?"
The old-timer was highly insulted. "Am I sure!! Why you lop-eared, sun-stroked jackass, of course I'm sure!!! Nugget McDermott is drawed to gold like nails to a magnet! Why when this here town was nothin' but a patch of cactus--"
"All right, all right," Okie waved him off, "don't get your gander up! Go on back to the blackjack table and tell Sam to give you a drink on the house."
"Much obliged, Okie, much obliged," said Nugget, doffing his hat and trotting back to the blackjack table.