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A World by the Tale

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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....