"I wish you would begin by doing something about the climate," Narli thought. It was stupid of him not to have realized how hot it would be on Earth. He was really going to suffer in this torrid climate; especially in the tight Terrestrial costume he wore over his fur for the sake of conformity. Of course, justice compelled him to admit to himself, the clothes wouldn't have become so snug if he hadn't eaten quite so much on board ship.
Purrington indicated the female beside him. "May I introduce my wife?"
"Ohhh," the female gasped, "isn't he cute!"
The President and Narli stared at her in consternation. She looked abashed for a moment, then smiled widely at Narli and the press photographers.
"Welcome to Earth, dear Professor Gzann!" she exclaimed, mispronouncing his name, of course. Bending down, she kissed him right upon his fuzzy forehead.
Kissing was not a Saturnian practice, nor did Narli approve of it; however, he had read enough about Earth to know that Europeans sometimes greeted dignitaries in this peculiar way. Only this place, he had been given to understand, was not Europe but America.
"I am having a cocktail party in your honor this afternoon!" she beamed, smoothing her flowered print dress down over her girdle. "You'll be there at five sharp, won't you, dear?"
"Delighted," he promised dismally. He could hardly plead a previous engagement a moment after arriving.
"I've tried to get all the things you like to eat," she went on anxiously, "but you will tell me if there's anything special, won't you?"
"I am on a diet," he said. He must be strong. Probably the food would be repulsive anyhow, so he'd have no difficulty controlling his appetite. "Digestive disorders, you know. A glass of Vichy and a biscuit will be...."
He stopped, for there were tears in Mrs. Purrington's eyes. "Your tummy hurts? Oh, you poor little darling!"
"Gladys!" the President said sharply.
There were frismil nuts at Mrs. Purrington's cocktail party and vilbar and even slipnis broogs ... all imported at fabulous expense, Narli knew, but then this was a government affair and expense means nothing to a government since, as far as it is concerned, money grows on taxpayers. Some of the native foods proved surprisingly palatable, too--pate de foie gras and champagne and little puff pastries full of delightful surprises. Narli was afraid he was making a zloogle of himself. However, he thought, trying not to catch sight of his own portly person in the mirrors that walled the room, the lean days were just ahead.
Besides, what could he do when everyone insisted on pressing food on him? "Try this, Professor Gzann." "Do try that, Professor Gzann." ("Doesn't he look cunning in his little dress suit?") They crowded around him. The women cooed, the men beamed, and Narli ate. He would be glad when he could detach himself from all this cloying diplomacy and get back to the healthy rancor of the classroom.
At school, the odor of chalk dust, ink and rotting apple cores was enough like its Saturnian equivalent to make Narli feel at home immediately. The students would dislike him on sight, he knew. It is in the nature of the young to be hostile toward whatever is strange and alien. They would despise him and jeer at him, and he, in his turn, would give them long, involved homework assignments and such difficult examinations that they would fail....
Narli waddled briskly up to his desk which had, he saw, been scaled down to Saturnian size, whereas he had envisioned himself struggling triumphantly with ordinary Earth-sized, furniture. But the atmosphere was as hot and sticky and intolerable as he had expected. Panting as unobtrusively as possible, he rapped with his pointer. "Attention, students!"
Now should come the derisive babble ... but there was a respectful silence, broken suddenly by a shrill feminine whisper of, "Oooo, he's so adorable!" followed by the harsh, "Shhh, Ava! You'll embarrass the poor little thing."
Narli's face swelled. "I am your new professor of Saturnian Studies. Saturn, as you probably know, is a major planet. It is much larger and more important than Earth, which is only a minor planet."
The students obediently took this down in their notebooks. They carefully took down everything he said. Even a bout of coughing that afflicted him half-way through seemed to be getting a phonetic transcription. From time to time, they would interrupt his lecture with questions so pertinent, so well-thought out and so courteous that all he could do was answer them.
His antennae lifted to catch the whispers that from time to time were exchanged between even the best-behaved of the students. "Isn't he precious?" "Seems like a nice fellow--sound grasp of his subject." "Sweet little thing!" "Unusually interesting presentation." "Doesn't he remind you of Winnie the Pooh?" "Able chap." "Just darling!"
After class, instead of rushing out of the room, they hovered around his desk with intelligent, solicitous questions. Did he like Earth? Was his desk too high? Too low? Didn't he find it hot with all that fur? Such lovely, soft, fluffy fur, though. "Do you mind if I stroke one of your paws--hands--Professor?" ("So cuddly-looking!") He said yes, as a matter of fact, he was hot, and no, he didn't mind being touched in a spirit of scientific investigation.
He had a moment of uplift at the teachers' cafeteria when he discovered lunch to be virtually inedible. The manager, however, had been distressed to see him pick at his food, and by dinner-time a distinguished chef with an expert knowledge of Saturnian cuisine had been rushed from Washington. Since the school food was inedible for all intelligent life-forms, everyone ate the Saturnian dishes and praised Narli as a public benefactor.
That night, alone in the quiet confines of his small room at the Men's Faculty Club, Narli had spread out his notes and was about to start work on his history when there was a knock at the door. He trotted over to open it, grumbling to himself.
The head of his department smiled brightly down at him. "Some of us are going out for a couple of drinks and a gabfest. Care to come along?"
Narli did not see how he could refuse and still carry the Saturnian's burden, so he accepted. Discovering that gin fizzes and Alexanders were even more palatable than champagne and more potent than vilbar, he told several Saturnine locker-room stories which were hailed with loud merriment. But he was being laughed at, not with, he knew. All this false cordiality, he assured himself, would die down after a couple of days, and then he would be able to get back to work. He must curb his intellectual impatience.
In the morning, he found that enrollment in his classes had doubled, and the room was crowded to capacity with the bright, shining, eager faces of young Terrestrials athirst for learning. There were apples, chocolates and imported frismil nuts on his desk, as well as a pressing invitation from Mrs. Purrington for him to spend all his weekends and holidays at the White House. The window was fitted with an air-conditioning unit which, he later discovered, his classes had chipped in to buy for him, and the temperature had been lowered to a point where it was almost comfortable. All the students wore coats.
When he went out on the campus, women--students, teachers, even strangers--stopped to talk to him, to exclaim over him, to touch him, even to kiss him. Photographers were perpetually taking pictures, some of which turned up in the Student Union as full-color postcards. They sold like Lajl out of season.
Narli wrote in Saturnian on the back of one: "Having miserable time; be glad you're not here," and sent it to Slood.
There were cocktail parties, musicales and balls in Narli's honor. When he tried to refuse an invitation, he was accused of shyness and virtually dragged to the affair by laughing members of the faculty. He put on so much weight that he had to buy a complete new Terrestrial outfit, which set him back a pretty penny. As a result, he had to augment his income by lecturing to women's clubs. They slobbered appallingly.
Narli's students did all their homework assiduously and, in fact, put in more work than had been assigned. At the end of the year, not only did all of them pass, but with flying colors.
"I hope you'll remember, Professor Gzann," the President of the University said, "that there will always be a job waiting for you here--a non-exchange professorship. Love to have you."
"Thank you," Narli replied politely.
Mrs. Purrington broke into loud sobs when he told her he was leaving Earth. "Oh, I'll miss you so, Narli! You will write, won't you?"
"Yes, of course," he said grimly. That made two hundred and eighteen people to whom he'd had to promise to write.
It was fortunate he was traveling as a guest of the North American government, he thought as he supervised the loading of his matched interplanetary luggage; his eight steamer baskets; his leather-bound Encyclopedia Terrestria, with his name imprinted in gold on each volume; his Indian war-bonnet; his oil painting of the President; and his six cases of champagne--all parting gifts--onto the liner. Otherwise the fee for excess luggage would take what little remained of his bank account. There had been so many expenses--clothes and hostess gifts and ice.
Not all his mementoes were in his luggage. A new rare-metal watch gleamed on each of his four furry wrists; a brand-new trobskin wallet, platinum key-chain, and uranium fountain pen were in his pocket; and a diamond and curium bauble clasped a tie lovingly handpainted by a female student. The argyles on his fuzzy ankles had been knitted by another. Still another devoted pupil had presented him with a hand-woven plastic case full of frismil nuts to eat on the way back.
"Well, Narli!" Slood said, his face swelling with joy. "Well, well! You've put on weight, I see."
Narli dropped into his old chair with a sigh. Surely Slood might have picked something else to comment on first--his haggardness, for instance, or the increased spirituality of his expression.
"Nothing else to do on Earth in your leisure moments but eat, I suppose," Slood said, pushing over the nut tray. "Even their food. Have some frismils."
"No, thank you," Narli replied coldly.
Slood looked at him in distress. "Oh, how you must have suffered! Was it very, very bad, Narli?"
Narli hunched low in his chair. "It was just awful."
"I'm sure they didn't mean to be unkind," Slood assured him. "Naturally, you were a strange creature to them and they're only--"
"Unkind?" Narli gave a bitter laugh. "They practically killed me with kindness! It was fuss, fuss, fuss all the time."
"Now, Narli, I do wish you wouldn't be quite so sarcastic."
"I'm not being sarcastic. And I wasn't a strange creature to them. It seems there's a sort of popular child's toy on Earth known as a--" he winced--"teddy bear. I aroused pleasant childhood memories in them, so they showered me with affection and edibles."
Slood closed his eyes in anguish. "You are very brave, Narli," he said almost reverently. "Very brave and wise and good. Certainly that would be the best thing to tell our people. After all, the Terrestrials are our allies; we don't want to stir up public sentiment against them. But you can be honest with me, Narli. Did they refuse to serve you in restaurants? Were you segregated in public vehicles? Did they shrink from you when you came close?"
Narli beat the desk with all four hands. "I was hardly ever given the chance to be alone! They crawled all over me! Restaurants begged for my trade! I had to hire private vehicles because in public ones I was mobbed by admirers!"
"Such a short time," Slood murmured, "and already suspicious of even me, your oldest friend. But don't talk about it if you don't want to, Narli.... Tell me, though, did they sneer at you and whisper half-audible insults? Did they--"
"You're right!" Narli snapped. "I don't want to talk about it."
Slood placed a comforting hand upon his shoulder. "Perhaps that's wisest, until the shock of your experience has worn off."
Narli made an irritable noise.
"The Perzils are giving a vilbar party tonight," Slood said. "But I know how you feel about parties. I've told them you're exhausted from your trip and won't be able to make it."
"Oh, you did, did you?" Narli asked ironically. "What makes you think you know how I feel about parties?"
"There's an interesting saying on Earth: 'Travel is so broadening.'" He looked down at his bulges with tolerant amusement. "In more than one way, in case the meaning eludes you. Very sound psychologically. I've discovered that I like parties. I like being liked. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to inform the Perzils that I shall be delighted to come to their party. Care to join me?"
"Well," Slood mumbled, "I'd like to, but I have so much work--"
"Introvert!" said Narli, and he began dialing the Perzils.
By Jerry Sohl
From a feature writer to feature attraction--now there's a real booze-to-riches success story!
I never thought I'd like circus life, but a year of it has changed me. It's in my blood now and I suppose I'll never give it up--even if they'd let me.
This job is better than anything I could get in the newspaper racket. I work all summer, it's true, but I get the winter off, though some of the offers for winter work are mighty tempting. Maybe if I hadn't been kicked off the paper, I'd be city editor now, knocking my brains out. Who knows? But maybe I'd just be a rewrite man, or in the slot, writing heads, or copyreading. But the thought of newspaper work after all this appalls me.
Trlk, the Sybillian, should be thanked for the whole thing, I suppose, though it would be a grudging thank-you I'd give him, considering all the trouble he caused. Still....
I first saw him on a July morning at the beginning of the vacation schedule, when four of us on the local side were trying to do five people's work.
My first inkling anything was wrong came when I returned from the courthouse beat and stuck a sheet of paper in the typewriter to write the probate court notes.
I struck the keys. They wouldn't go all the way down. I opened the cover plate, looked in to see what was wrong. I saw nothing, so I tried again. Oscar Phipps, the city editor, was giving me the eye. I figured maybe he was pulling a trick on me. But then I knew he hadn't. He wasn't the type.
The back space, tabular, margin release, shift and shift lock worked perfectly. But the keys only went down a short way before they stopped. All except one key. The cap D.
I hit the D. It worked fine the first time, but not the second. I tried all the keys again. This time only the i worked. Now I had Di. I went ahead testing. Pretty soon I had Dimly Then came a space. A few letters more and it was Dimly drouse the dreary droves Phipps had one eyebrow raised. I lifted the cover plate again. Quickly.
There I saw a fuzzy thing. It whisked out of sight. I snapped the plate down and held it down. The party I had been on the night before hadn't been that good and I had had at least three hours' sleep.
I tried typing again. I got nothing until I started a new line. Then out came Primly prides the privy prose I banged up the plate, saw a blur of something slinking down between the type bar levers again. Whatever it was, it managed to squeeze itself out of sight in a most amazing way.
"Hey!" I said. "I know you're down there. What's the big idea?"
Fuzzy squeezed his head up from the levers. The head looked like that of a mouse, but it had teeth like a chipmunk and bright little black beads for eyes. They looked right at me.
"You go right ahead," he said in a shrill voice. "This is going to be a great poem. Did you get all that alliteration there in those two lines?"
"Listen, will you get out of there? I've got work to do!"
"Yes, I think I've hit it at last. It was that four-stress iambic that did it. It was iambic, wasn't it?"
"Go away," I said miserably.
Fuzzy pulled the rest of himself out of the bars and stood on hind feet. He crossed his forepaws in front of him, vibrated his long, furry tail, and said defiantly, "No."
"Look," I pleaded, "I'm not Don Marquis and you're not Archie and I have work to do. Now will you please get out of this typewriter?"
His tiny ears swiveled upward. "Who's Don Marquis? And Archie?"
"Go to hell," I said. I slammed the cover down and looked up into the cold eyes of Oscar Phipps who was standing next to my desk.
"Who, may I ask," he said ominously, "do you think you're talking to?"
"Take a look." I lifted the plate once again. Fuzzy was there on his back, his legs crossed, his tail twitching.
"I don't see anything," Phipps said.
"You mean you can't see Fuzzy here?" I pointed to him, the end of my finger an inch from his head. "Ouch!" I drew my hand away. "The little devil bit me."
"You're fired, Mr. Weaver," Phipps said in a tired voice. "Fired as of right now. I'll arrange for two weeks' severance pay. And my advice to you is to stay off the bottle or see a psychiatrist--or both. Not that it'll do you any good. You never amounted to anything and you never will."
I would have taken a swipe at Fuzzy, but he had slunk out of sight.