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´╗┐Title: Off Course
Author: Reynolds, Mack, 1917-1983
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Off Course" ***

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[Illustration]


 _Shure and begorra, it was a great day for the Earth! The
 first envoy from another world was about to speak--that
 is, if he could forget that horse for a minute...._


         off course

      By Mack Reynolds

 Illustrated by Kelly Freas


First on the scene were Larry Dermott and Tim Casey of the State Highway
Patrol. They assumed they were witnessing the crash of a new type of Air
Force plane and slipped and skidded desperately across the field to
within thirty feet of the strange craft, only to discover that the
landing had been made without accident.

Patrolman Dermott shook his head. "They're gettin' queerer looking every
year. Get a load of it--no wheels, no propeller, no cockpit."

They left the car and made their way toward the strange egg-shaped
vessel.

Tim Casey loosened his .38 in its holster and said, "Sure, and I'm
beginning to wonder if it's one of ours. No insignia and--"

A circular door slid open at that point and Dameri Tass stepped out,
yawning. He spotted them, smiled and said, "Glork."

They gaped at him.

"Glork is right," Dermott swallowed.

Tim Casey closed his mouth with an effort. "Do you mind the color of his
face?" he blurted.

"How could I help it?"

Dameri Tass rubbed a blue-nailed pink hand down his purplish countenance
and yawned again. "Gorra manigan horp soratium," he said.

Patrolman Dermott and Patrolman Casey shot stares at each other. "'Tis
double talk he's after givin' us," Casey said.

Dameri Tass frowned. "Harama?" he asked.

Larry Dermott pushed his cap to the back of his head. "That doesn't
sound like any language I've even _heard_ about."

Dameri Tass grimaced, turned and reentered his spacecraft to emerge in
half a minute with his hands full of contraption. He held a box-like
arrangement under his left arm; in his right hand were two metal caps
connected to the box by wires.

While the patrolmen watched him, he set the box on the ground, twirled
two dials and put one of the caps on his head. He offered the other to
Larry Dermott; his desire was obvious.

Trained to grasp a situation and immediately respond in manner best
suited to protect the welfare of the people of New York State, Dermott
cleared his throat and said, "Tim, take over while I report."

"Hey!" Casey protested, but his fellow minion had left.

"Mandaia," Dameri Tass told Casey, holding out the metal cap.

"Faith, an' do I look balmy?" Casey told him. "I wouldn't be puttin'
that dingus on my head for all the colleens in Ireland."

"Mandaia," the stranger said impatiently.

"Bejasus," Casey snorted, "ye can't--"

Dermott called from the car, "Tim, the captain says to humor this guy.
We're to keep him here until the officials arrive."

Tim Casey closed his eyes and groaned. "Humor him, he's after sayin'.
Orders it is." He shouted back, "Sure, an' did ye tell 'em he's in
technicolor? Begorra, he looks like a man from Mars."

"That's what they think," Larry yelled, "and the governor is on his way.
We're to do everything possible short of violence to keep this character
here. Humor him, Tim!"

"Mandaia," Dameri Tass snapped, pushing the cap into Casey's reluctant
hands.

Muttering his protests, Casey lifted it gingerly and placed it on his
head. Not feeling any immediate effect, he said, "There, 'tis satisfied
ye are now, I'm supposin'."

The alien stooped down and flicked a switch on the little box. It
hummed gently. Tim Casey suddenly shrieked and sat down on the stubble
and grass of the field. "Begorra," he yelped, "I've been murthered!" He
tore the cap from his head.

His companion came running, "What's the matter, Tim?" he shouted.

Dameri Tass removed the metal cap from his own head. "Sure, an' nothin'
is after bein' the matter with him," he said. "Evidently the bhoy has
niver been a-wearin' of a kerit helmet afore. 'Twill hurt him not at
all."

       *       *       *       *       *

"You can talk!" Dermott blurted, skidding to a stop.

Dameri Tass shrugged. "Faith, an' why not? As I was after sayin', I
shared the kerit helmet with Tim Casey."

Patrolman Dermott glared at him unbelievingly. "You learned the language
just by sticking that Rube Goldberg deal on Tim's head?"

"Sure, an' why not?"

Dermott muttered, "And with it he has to pick up the corniest brogue
west of Dublin."

Tim Casey got to his feet indignantly. "I'm after resentin' that, Larry
Dermott. Sure, an' the way we talk in Ireland is--"

Dameri Tass interrupted, pointing to a bedraggled horse that had made
its way to within fifty feet of the vessel. "Now what could that be
after bein'?"

The patrolmen followed his stare. "It's a horse. What else?"

"A horse?"

Larry Dermott looked again, just to make sure. "Yeah--not much of a
horse, but a horse."

Dameri Tass sighed ecstatically. "And jist what is a horse, if I may be
so bold as to be askin'?"

"It's an animal you ride on."

The alien tore his gaze from the animal to look his disbelief at the
other. "Are you after meanin' that you climb upon the crature's back and
ride him? Faith now, quit your blarney."

He looked at the horse again, then down at his equipment. "Begorra," he
muttered, "I'll share the kerit helmet with the crature."

"Hey, hold it," Dermott said anxiously. He was beginning to feel like a
character in a shaggy dog story.

Interest in the horse was ended with the sudden arrival of a helicopter.
It swooped down on the field and settled within twenty feet of the alien
craft. Almost before it had touched, the door was flung open and the
flying windmill disgorged two bestarred and efficient-looking Army
officers.

Casey and Dermott snapped them a salute.

The senior general didn't take his eyes from the alien and the
spacecraft as he spoke, and they bugged quite as effectively as had
those of the patrolmen when they'd first arrived on the scene.

"I'm Major General Browning," he rapped. "I want a police cordon thrown
up around this, er, vessel. No newsmen, no sightseers, nobody without my
permission. As soon as Army personnel arrives, we'll take over
completely."

"Yes, sir," Larry Dermott said. "I just got a report on the radio that
the governor is on his way, sir. How about him?"

The general muttered something under his breath. Then, "When the
governor arrives, let me know; otherwise, nobody gets through!"

Dameri Tass said, "Faith, and what goes on?"

The general's eyes bugged still further. "_He talks!_" he accused.

"Yes, sir," Dermott said. "He had some kind of a machine. He put it over
Tim's head and seconds later he could talk."

"Nonsense!" the general snapped.

Further discussion was interrupted by the screaming arrival of several
motorcycle patrolmen followed by three heavily laden patrol cars.
Overhead, pursuit planes zoomed in and began darting about nervously
above the field.

"Sure, and it's quite a reception I'm after gettin'," Dameri Tass said.
He yawned. "But what I'm wantin' is a chance to get some sleep. Faith,
an' I've been awake for almost a _decal_."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dameri Tass was hurried, via helicopter, to Washington. There he
disappeared for several days, being held incommunicado while White
House, Pentagon, State Department and Congress tried to figure out just
what to do with him.

Never in the history of the planet had such a furor arisen. Thus far, no
newspapermen had been allowed within speaking distance. Administration
higher-ups were being subjected to a volcano of editorial heat but the
longer the space alien was discussed the more they viewed with alarm the
situation his arrival had precipitated. There were angles that hadn't at
first been evident.

Obviously he was from some civilization far beyond that of Earth's. That
was the rub. No matter what he said, it would shake governments,
possibly overthrow social systems, perhaps even destroy established
religious concepts.

But they couldn't keep him under wraps indefinitely.

It was the United Nations that cracked the iron curtain. Their demands
that the alien be heard before their body were too strong and had too
much public opinion behind them to be ignored. The White House yielded
and the date was set for the visitor to speak before the Assembly.

Excitement, anticipation, blanketed the world. Shepherds in Sinkiang,
multi-millionaires in Switzerland, fakirs in Pakistan, gauchos in the
Argentine were raised to a zenith of expectation. Panhandlers debated
the message to come with pedestrians; jinrikisha men argued it with
their passengers; miners discussed it deep beneath the surface; pilots
argued with their co-pilots thousands of feet above.

It was the most universally awaited event of the ages.

By the time the delegates from every nation, tribe, religion, class,
color, and race had gathered in New York to receive the message from the
stars, the majority of Earth had decided that Dameri Tass was the
plenipotentiary of a super-civilization which had been viewing
developments on this planet with misgivings. It was thought this other
civilization had advanced greatly beyond Earth's and that the problems
besetting us--social, economic, scientific--had been solved by the
super-civilization. Obviously, then, Dameri Tass had come, an advisor
from a benevolent and friendly people, to guide the world aright.

And nine-tenths of the population of Earth stood ready and willing to be
guided. The other tenth liked things as they were and were quite
convinced that the space envoy would upset their applecarts.

       *       *       *       *       *

Viljalmar Andersen, Secretary-General of the U.N., was to introduce the
space emissary. "Can you give me an idea at all of what he is like?" he
asked nervously.

President McCord was as upset as the Dane. He shrugged in agitation. "I
know almost as little as you do."

Sir Alfred Oxford protested, "But my dear chap, you've had him for
almost two weeks. Certainly in that time--"

The President snapped back, "You probably won't believe this, but he's
been asleep until yesterday. When he first arrived he told us he hadn't
slept for a _decal_, whatever that is; so we held off our discussion
with him until morning. Well--he didn't awaken in the morning, nor the
next. Six days later, fearing something was wrong we woke him."

"What happened?" Sir Alfred asked.

The President showed embarrassment. "He used some rather ripe Irish
profanity on us, rolled over, and went back to sleep."

Viljalmar Andersen asked, "Well, what happened yesterday?"

"We actually haven't had time to question him. Among other things,
there's been some controversy about whose jurisdiction he comes under.
The State Department claims the Army shouldn't--"

The Secretary General sighed deeply. "Just what _did_ he do?"

"The Secret Service reports he spent the day whistling Mother Machree
and playing with his dog, cat and mouse."

"Dog, cat and mouse? I say!" blurted Sir Alfred.

The President was defensive. "He had to have some occupation, and he
seems to be particularly interested in our animal life. He wanted a
horse but compromised for the others. I understand he insists all three
of them come with him wherever he goes."

"I wish we knew what he was going to say," Andersen worried.

"Here he comes," said Sir Alfred.

Surrounded by F.B.I. men, Dameri Tass was ushered to the speaker's
stand. He had a kitten in his arms; a Scotty followed him.

The alien frowned worriedly. "Sure," he said, "and what kin all this be?
Is it some ordinance I've been after breakin'?"

McCord, Sir Alfred and Andersen hastened to reassure him and made him
comfortable in a chair.

Viljalmar Andersen faced the thousands in the audience and held up his
hands, but it was ten minutes before he was able to quiet the cheering,
stamping delegates from all Earth.

Finally: "Fellow Terrans, I shall not take your time for a lengthy
introduction of the envoy from the stars. I will only say that, without
doubt, this is the most important moment in the history of the human
race. We will now hear from the first being to come to Earth from
another world."

He turned and gestured to Dameri Tass who hadn't been paying overmuch
attention to the chairman in view of some dog and cat hostilities that
had been developing about his feet.

But now the alien's purplish face faded to a light blue. He stood and
said hoarsely. "Faith, an' what was that last you said?"

Viljalmar Andersen repeated, "We will now hear from the first being ever
to come to Earth from another world."

The face of the alien went a lighter blue. "Sure, an' ye wouldn't jist
be frightenin' a body, would ye? You don't mean to tell me this planet
isn't after bein' a member of the Galactic League?"

Andersen's face was blank. "Galactic League?"

"Cushlamachree," Dameri Tass moaned. "I've gone and put me foot in it
again. I'll be after getting _kert_ for this."

Sir Alfred was on his feet. "I don't understand! Do you mean you aren't
an envoy from another planet?"

Dameri Tass held his head in his hands and groaned. "An envoy, he's
sayin', and meself only a second-rate collector of specimens for the
Carthis zoo."

He straightened and started off the speaker's stand. "Sure, an' I must
blast off immediately."

Things were moving fast for President McCord but already an edge of
relief was manifesting itself. Taking the initiative, he said, "Of
course, of course, if that is your desire." He signaled to the bodyguard
who had accompanied the alien to the assemblage.

A dull roar was beginning to emanate from the thousands gathered in the
tremendous hall, murmuring, questioning, disbelieving.

       *       *       *       *       *

Viljalmar Andersen felt that he must say something. He extended a
detaining hand. "Now you are here," he said urgently, "even though by
mistake, before you go can't you give us some brief word? Our world is
in chaos. Many of us have lost faith. Perhaps ..."

Dameri Tass shook off the restraining hand. "Do I look daft? Begorry, I
should have been a-knowin' something was queer. All your weapons and
your strange ideas. Faith, I wouldn't be surprised if ye hadn't yet
established a planet-wide government. Sure, an' I'll go still further.
Ye probably still have wars on this benighted world. No wonder it is ye
haven't been invited to join the Galactic League an' take your place
among the civilized planets."

He hustled from the rostrum and made his way, still surrounded by
guards, to the door by which he had entered. The dog and the cat trotted
after, undismayed by the furor about them.

They arrived about four hours later at the field on which he'd landed,
and the alien from space hurried toward his craft, still muttering. He'd
been accompanied by a general and by the President, but all the way he
had refrained from speaking.

He scurried from the car and toward the spacecraft.

President McCord said, "You've forgotten your pets. We would be glad if
you would accept them as--"

The alien's face faded a light blue again. "Faith, an' I'd almost
forgotten," he said. "If I'd taken a crature from this quarantined
planet, my name'd be _nork_. Keep your dog and your kitty." He shook his
head sadly and extracted a mouse from a pocket. "An' this amazin' little
crature as well."

They followed him to the spacecraft. Just before entering, he spotted
the bedraggled horse that had been present on his landing.

A longing expression came over his highly colored face. "Jist one
thing," he said. "Faith now, were they pullin' my leg when they said you
were after ridin' on the back of those things?"

The President looked at the woebegone nag. "It's a horse," he said,
surprised. "Man has been riding them for centuries."

Dameri Tass shook his head. "Sure, an' 'twould've been my makin' if I
could've taken one back to Carthis." He entered his vessel.

The others drew back, out of range of the expected blast, and watched,
each with his own thoughts, as the first visitor from space hurriedly
left Earth.


                                                           ... THE END



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _If Worlds of Science Fiction_ January
    1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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