A World by the Tale

by Randall Garrett

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: This is about the best-hated author on Earth. Who was necessarily pampered and petted because of his crime against humanity....

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

And waited.


They came for him, eventually, as McLeod had known they would.

But they came long before he had expected. He had given them six months at the least. They came for him at the end of the third month.

It was Jackson, of course. It would have to be Jackson. He walked into the cheap little room McLeod had rented, followed by his squad of men.

He tossed a peculiar envelope on the bed next to McLeod.

“Letter came for you, humorist. Open it.”

McLeod sat on the edge of the bed and read the letter. The envelope had already been opened, which surprised him none.

It looked very much like an ordinary business letter--except that whatever they used for paper was whiter and tougher than the paper he used.

He was reminded of the time he had seen a reproduction of a Thirteenth Century manuscript alongside the original. The copy had been set up in a specially-designed type and printed on fine paper. The original had been handwritten on vellum.

McLeod had the feeling that if he used a microscope on this letter the lines and edges would be just as precise and clear as they appeared to the naked eye, instead of the fuzziness that ordinary print would show.

The way you tell a synthetic ruby from a natural ruby is to look for flaws. The synthetic doesn’t have any.

This letter was a Galactic imitation of a Terran business letter.

It said:

Dear Mac,

I am happy to report that your book, “Interstellar Ark,” is
a smash hit. It looks as though it is on its way to becoming
a best seller. As you already know by your royalty
statement, over a billion copies were sold the first year.
That indicates even better sales over the years to come as
the reputation of the book spreads. Naturally, our
advertising campaign will remain behind it all the way.
Congratulations.

Speaking of royalty checks, there seems to be some sort of
irregularity about yours. I am sorry, but according to
regulations the check must be validated in the presence of
your Galactic Resident before it can be cashed. Your
signature across the back of it doesn’t mean anything to our
bankers.

Just go to your Galactic Resident, and he’ll be happy to
take care of the matter for you. That’s what he’s there for.
The next check should come through very shortly.

All the best,

Clem.

[Illustration]

Better and better, McLeod thought. He hadn’t expected to be able to do anything until his next royalty check arrived. But now--

He looked up at Jackson. “All right. What’s next?”

“Come with us. We’re flying to Hawaii. Get your hat and coat.”

McLeod obeyed silently. At the moment, there was nothing else he could do. As a matter of fact, there was nothing he wanted to do more.

It was no trouble at all for Professor McLeod to get an audience with the Galactic Resident, but when he was escorted in by Jackson and his squad, the whole group was halted inside the front door.

The Resident, a tall, lean being with a leathery, gray face that somehow managed to look crocodilian in spite of the fact that his head was definitely humanoid in shape, peered at them from beneath pronounced supraorbital ridges. “Is this man under arrest?” he asked in a gravelly baritone.

“Er ... no,” said Jackson. “No. He is merely in protective custody.”

“He has not been convicted of any crime?”

“No sir,” Jackson said. His voice sounded as though he were unsure of himself.

“That is well,” said the Resident. “A convicted criminal cannot, of course, use the credits of society until he has become rehabilitated.” He paused. “But why protective custody?”

“There are those,” said Jackson, choosing his words with care, “who feel that Professor McLeod has brought disgrace upon the human race ... er ... the Terrestrial race. There is reason to believe that his life may be in danger.”

McLeod smiled wryly. What Jackson said was true, but it was carefully calculated to mislead.

“I see,” said the Resident. “It would appear to me that it would be simpler to inform the people that he has done no such thing; that, indeed, his work has conferred immense benefits upon your race. But that is your own affair. At any rate, he is in no danger here.”

He didn’t need to say anything else. Jackson knew the hint was an order and that he wouldn’t get any farther with his squad.

McLeod spoke up. “Subject to your permission, sir, I would like to have Mr. Jackson with me.”

The Galactic Resident smiled. “Of course, professor. Come in, both of you.” He turned and led the way through the inner door.


Nobody bothered to search either of them, not even though they must know that Jackson was carrying a gun. McLeod was fairly certain that the gun would be useless to Jackson if he tried to assert his authority with it. If Clem had been able to render the U.B.I.’s eavesdropping apparatus inoperable, it was highly probable that the Galactic Resident would have some means of taking care of weapons.

“There are only a few formalities to go through,” the Resident said pleasantly, indicating chairs with a gesture. The room he had led them to didn’t look much different from that which would be expected in any tastefully furnished apartment in New York or Honolulu.

McLeod and Jackson sat down in a couple of comfortable easy-chairs while the Resident went around a large desk and sat down in a swivel chair behind it. He smiled a little and looked at McLeod. “Hm-m-m. Ah, yes. Very good.” It was as though he had received information of some kind on an unknown subject through an unknown channel, McLeod thought. Evidently that was true, for his next words were: “You are not under the influence of drugs nor hypnotic compulsion, I see. Excellent, professor. Is it your desire that this check be converted to cash?” He made a small gesture. “You have only to express it, you see. It would be difficult to explain it to you, but rest assured that such an expression of will--while you are sitting in that chair--is impressed upon the structure of the check itself and is the equivalent of a signature. Except, of course, that it is unforgeable.”

“May I ask a few questions first?” McLeod said.

“Certainly, professor. I am here to answer your questions.”

“This money--is it free and clear, or are there Galactic taxes to pay?”

If the Galactic Resident had had eyebrows, it is likely that they would have lifted in surprise. “My dear professor! Aside from the fact that we run our ... er ... government in an entirely different manner, we would consider it quite immoral to take what a man earns without giving services of an exact kind. I will charge you five credits for this validation, since I am rendering a service. The bank will take a full tenth of a percent in this case because of the inconvenience of shipping cash over that long distance. The rest is yours to do with as you see fit.”

Fifty-five credits out of fifty thousand, McLeod thought. Not bad at all. Aloud, he asked: “Could I, for instance, open a bank account or buy a ticket on a star-ship?”

“Why not? As I said, it is your money. You have earned it honestly; you may spend it honestly.”

Jackson was staring at McLeod, but he said nothing.

“Tell me, sir,” McLeod said, “how does the success of my book compare with the success of most books in the galaxy?”

“Quite favorably, I understand,” said the Resident. “The usual income from a successful book is about five thousand credits a year. Some run even less than that. I’m not too familiar with the publishing business, you understand, but that is my impression. You are, by Galactic standards, a very wealthy man, professor. Fifty thousand a year is by no means a median income.”

“Fifty thousand a year?”

“Yes. About that. I understand that in the publishing business one can depend on a life income that does not vary much from the initial period. If a book is successful in one area of the galaxy it will be equally successful in others.”

“How long does it take to saturate the market?” McLeod asked with a touch of awe.

“Saturate the--? Oh. Oh, I see. Yes. Well, let’s see. Most publishing houses can’t handle the advertising and marketing on more than a thousand planets at once--the job becomes too unwieldy. That would indicate that you sold an average of a million copies per planet, which is unusual but not ... ah ... miraculous. That is why you can depend on future sales, you see; over a thousand planets the differences in planetary tastes averages out.

“Now if your publishers continue to expand the publication at the rate of a thousand planets a year, your book should easily last for another century. They can’t really expand that rapidly, of course, since the sales on the planets they have already covered will continue with diminishing success over the next several years. Actually, your publishers will continue to put a billion books a year on the market and expand to new planets at a rate that will balance the loss of sales on the planets where it has already run its course. Yes, professor, you will have a good income for life.”

“What about my heirs?”

“Heirs?” The Galactic Resident blinked. “I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you.”

“My relatives. Anyone who will inherit my property after my death.”

The Resident still looked puzzled. “What about them?”

“How long can they go on collecting? When does the copyright run out?”

The Galactic Resident’s puzzlement vanished. “Oh my dear professor! Surely you see that it is impossible to ... er ... inherit money one hasn’t earned! The income stops with your death. Your children or your wife have done nothing to earn that money. Why should it continue to be paid out after the earner has died? If you wish to make provisions for such persons during your lifetime, that is your business, but the provisions must be made out of money you have already earned.”

“Who does get the income, then?” McLeod asked.

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