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Title: Helpfully Yours
Author: Smith, Evelyn E., 1927-2000
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 "Helpfully Yours" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                                     HELPFULLY YOURS

                                    By EVELYN E. SMITH

                                   Illustrated by EMSH

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction
February 1955. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



[Illustration]

[Sidenote: _"Come down to Earth--and stay there!" is a humiliating order
for somebody with wings!_]

Tarb Morfatch had read all the information on Terrestrial customs that
was available in the _Times_ morgue before she'd left Fizbus. And all
through the journey she'd studied her _Brief Introduction to Terrestrial
Manners and Mores_ avidly. Perhaps it was a bit overinspirational in
spots, but it had facts in it, too.

So she knew that, since the natives were non-alate, she was not to take
wing on Earth. She had, however, forgotten to correlate the knowledge of
their winglessness with her own vertical habits. As a result, on leaving
the tender that had ferried her down from the Moon, she looked up
instead of right and narrowly escaped death at the jaws of a raging
groundcar that swerved out onto the field.

She recognized it as a taxi from one of the pictures in the handbook.
It was a pity, she thought sadly as she was knocked off her feet, that
all those lessons she had so carefully learned were to go to waste.

But it was only the wind of the car's passage that had thrown her down.
As she struggled to get up, hampered by her awkward native skirts, the
door of the taxi flew open. A tall young man--a Fizbian--burst out, the
soft yellowish-green down on his handsome face bristling with fright
until each feather stood out separately.

"Miss Morfatch! Are you all right?"

"Just--just a little shaky," she murmured, brushing dirt from her rosy
leg feathers. _Too young to be Drosmig; too good-looking to be anyone
important, she thought glumly. Must be the office boy._

To her surprise, he didn't help her up. Probably it would violate some
native taboo if he did, she deduced. The handbook hadn't mentioned
anything that seemed to apply, but, after all, a little book like that
couldn't cover everything.

       *       *       *       *       *

She could see the young man was embarrassed--his emerald crest was
waving to and fro.

"I'm Stet Zarnon," he introduced himself awkwardly.

The Managing Editor! The handsome young employer of her girlish dreams!
But perhaps he had a wife on Fizbus--no, the Grand Editor made a point
of hiring people without families to use as a pretext for expensive
vacations on the Home Planet.

As she opened her mouth to say something brilliantly witty, to show she
was no ordinary female but a creature of spirit and fire and
intelligence, a sudden cacophony of shrill cries and explosions arose,
accompanied by bursts of light. Her feathers stood erect and she clung
to her employer with both feathered legs.

"If these are the friendly diplomatic relations Earth and Fizbus are
supposed to be enjoying," she said, "I'm not enjoying them one bit!"

"They're only taking pictures of you with native equipment," he
explained, pulling away from her. What was the matter with him? "You're
the first Fizbian woman ever to come to Terra, you know."

She certainly did know--and, what was more, she had made the semi-finals
for Miss Fizbus only the year before. Perhaps he had some Terrestrial
malady he didn't want her to catch. Or could it be that in the four
years he had spent in voluntary exile on this planet, he had come to
prefer the native females? Now it was her turn to shrink from him.

He was conversing rapidly in Terran with the chattering natives who
milled about them. Although Tarb had been an honors student in Terran
back at school, she found herself unable to understand more than an
occasional word of what they said. Then she remembered that they were
not at the world capital, Ottawa, but another community, New York.
Undoubtedly they were all speaking some provincial dialect peculiar to
the locality.

And nobody at all booed in appreciation, although, she told herself
sternly, she really couldn't have expected them to. Standards of beauty
were different in different solar systems. At least they were picking up
as souvenirs some of the feathers she'd shed in her tumble, which showed
they took an interest.

Stet turned back to her. "These are fellow-members of the press."

She was able to catch enough of what he said next in Terran to
understand that she was being formally introduced to the aboriginal
journalists. Although you could never call the natives attractive, with
their squat figures and curiously atrophied vestigial wings--_arms_, she
reminded herself--they were very Fizboid in appearance and, with their
winglessness cloaked, could have creditably passed for singed Fizbians.

Moreover, they seemed friendly; at any rate, the sounds they uttered
were welcoming. She began to make the three ritual _entrechats_, but
Stat stopped her. "Just smile at them; that'll be enough."

It didn't seem like enough, but he was the boss.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Thank the stars we're through with that," he sighed, as they finally
were able to escape their confrères and get into the taxi. "I suppose,"
he added, wriggling inside the clumsy Terrestrial jacket which, cut to
fit over his wings, did nothing either to improve his figure or to make
him look like a native, "it was as much of an ordeal for you as for me."

"Well, I am a little bewildered by it all," Tarb admitted, settling
herself as comfortably as possible on the seat cushions.

"No, don't do that!" he cried. "Here people don't crouch on seats. They
sit," he explained in a kindlier tone. "Like this."

"You mean I have to bend myself in that clumsy way?"

He nodded. "In public, at least."

"But it's so hard on the wings. I'm losing feathers foot over claw."

"Yes, but you could...." He stopped. "Well, anyhow, remember we have to
comply with local customs. You see, the Terrestrials have those things
called arms instead of legs. That is, they have legs, but they use them
only for walking."

She sighed. "I'd read about the arms, but I had no idea the natives
would be so--so primitive as to actually use them."

"Considering they had no wings, it was very clever of them to make use
of the vestigial appendages," he said hotly. "If you take their physical
limitations into account, they've done a marvelous job with their little
planet. They can't fly; they have very little sense of balance; their
vision is exceedingly poor--yet, in spite of all that, they have
achieved a quite remarkable degree of civilization." He gestured toward
the horizontal building arrangements visible through the window. "Why,
you could almost call those streets. As a matter of fact, the natives
do."

At the moment, she could take an interest in Terrestrial civilization
only as it affected her personally. "But I'll be able to relax in the
office, won't I?"

"To a certain extent," he replied cautiously. "You see, we have to use a
good deal of native help because--well, our facilities are limited...."

"Oh," she said.

Then she remembered that she was on Terra at least partly to demonstrate
the pluck of Fizbian femininity. Back on Fizbus, most of the _Times_
executives had been dead set against having a woman sent out as
Drosmig's assistant. But Grupe, the Grand Editor, had overruled them.
"Time we broke with tradition," he had said. He'd felt she could do the
job, and, by the stars, she would justify his faith in her!

"Sounds like rather a lark," she said hollowly.

Stet brightened. "That's the girl!" His eyes, she noticed, were emerald
shading into turquoise, like his crest. "I certainly hope you'll like it
here. Very wise of Grupe to send a woman instead of a man, after all.
Women," he went on quickly, "are so much better at working up the human
interest angle. And Drosmig is out of commission most of the time, so
it's you who'll actually be in charge of 'Helpfully Yours.'"

She herself in charge of the column that had achieved interstellar fame
in three short years! Basically, it had been designed to give guidance,
advice and, if necessary, comfort to those Fizbians who found themselves
living on Terra, for the Fizbus _Times_ had stood for public service
from time immemorial. As Grupe had put it, "We don't run this paper for
ourselves, Tarb, but for our readers. And the same applies to our
Terrestrial edition."

With the growing development of trade and cultural relations between the
two planets, the Fizbians on Earth were an ever-increasing number. But
they were not the only readers of "Helpfully Yours." Reprinted in the
parent paper, it was read with edification and pleasure all over Fizbus.
Everyone wanted to learn more about the ancient and other-worldly Terran
culture.

The handbook, _A Brief Introduction to Terrestrial Manners and Mores_,
owed much of its content to "Helpfully Yours." A grateful, almost
fulsome, introductory note had said so. But the column truly deserved
all the praise that had been lavished upon it by the handbook. How well
she had studied the thoughtful letters that filled it and the excellent
and well-reasoned advice--erring, if it erred at all, on the side of
overtolerance--that had been given in return. Of course, on Earth,
spiritual adjustment apparently was more important than the physical;
you could tell that from the questions that were asked. A number of the
letters had been reprinted in an appendix to the manual.

     _New York_

     _Dear Senbot Drosmig:_

     _When in contact with Terrestrial culture, I find myself constantly
     overawed and weighed down by the knowledge of my own inadequacy. I
     cannot seem to appreciate the local art forms as disseminated by
     the juke box, the comic strip, the tabloid._

     _How can I help myself toward a greater understanding?_

     _Hopefully yours,_

     _Gnurmis Plitt_

       *       *       *       *       *

     Dear Mr. Plitt:

     Remember, Orkv was not excavated in a week. It took the
     Terrestrials many centuries to develop their exquisite and esoteric
     art forms. How can you expect to comprehend them in a few short
     years? Expose yourself to their art. Work, study, meditate.

     Understanding will come, I promise you.

     Helpfully yours,

     Senbot Drosmig

       *       *       *       *       *

     _Paris_

     Dear Senbot Drosmig:

     _To think that I am enjoying the benefits of Terra while my wife
     and little ones are forced to remain on Fizbus makes my heart ache.
     Surely it is not fair that I should have so much and they so
     little. Imagine the inestimable advantage to the fledgling of even
     a short contact with Terrestrial culture!_

     _Why cannot my loved ones come to join me so that we can share all
     these wonderful spiritual experiences and be enriched by them
     together?_

     _Poignantly yours,_

     _Tpooly N'Ox_

       *       *       *       *       *

     Dear Mr. N'Ox:

     After all, it has been only five years since Fizbian spaceships
     first came into contact with Terra. In keeping with our usual
     colonial policy--so inappropriate and anachronistic when applied to
     a well-developed civilization like Terra's--at first only males are
     allowed to go to the new world until it is made certain over a
     period of years that the planet is safe for mothers and future
     mothers of Fizbus.

     But Stet Zarnon himself, the celebrated and capable editor of the
     Terran edition of _The Fizbus Times_, has taken up your cause, and
     I promise you that eventually your loved ones will be able to join
     you.

     Meanwhile, work, study, meditate.

     Helpfully yours,

     Senbot Drosmig

       *       *       *       *       *

     _Ottawa_

     _Dear Senbot Drosmig:_

     _Having just completed a two-year tour of duty on Earth as part of
     a diplomatic mission, I am regretfully leaving this fair planet.
     What books, what objects of art, what, in short, souvenirs shall I
     take back to Fizbus which will give our people some small idea of
     Earth's rich cultural heritage and, at the same time, serve as
     useful and appropriate gifts for my friends and relatives back
     Home?_

     _Inquiringly yours,_

     _Solgus Zagroot_

       *       *       *       *       *

     Dear Mr. Zagroot:

     Take back nothing but your memories. They will be your best
     souvenirs.

     Out of context, any other mementos might convey little, if
     anything, of the true beauty and advanced spirituality of
     Terrestrial culture, and you might cheapen them were you to use
     them crassly as souvenirs. Furthermore, it is possible that you, in
     your ignorance, might unwittingly select some items that give a
     distorted and false idea of our extrafizbian friends.

     The Fizbian-Earth Cultural Commission, sponsored by _The Fizbian
     Times_, in conjunction with the consulate, is preparing a vast
     program of cultural interchange. Leave it to them to do the great
     work, for you can be sure they will do it well.

     And be sure to tell your fellow-laborers in the diplomatic
     vineyards that it is wiser not to send unapproved Terran souvenirs
     back Home. They might cause a fatal misunderstanding between the
     two worlds. Tell them to spend their time on Earth in working,
     studying and meditating, rather than shopping.

     Helpfully yours,

     Senbot Drosmig

       *       *       *       *       *

And now she--Tarb Morfatch--herself was going to be the guiding spirit
that brought enlightenment and uplift to countless thousands on Terra
and millions on Fizbus. Her name wouldn't appear on the columns, but the
reward of having helped should be enough. Besides, Drosmig was due to
retire soon. If she proved herself competent, she would take over the
column entirely and get the byline. Grupe had promised faithfully.

But what, she wondered, had put Drosmig "out of commission"?

The taxi drew up before a building with a vulgar number of floors
showing above ground.

"Ah--before we--er--meet the others," Stet suggested, twitching his
crest, "I was wondering whether you would care to--er--have dinner with
me tonight?"

This roused Tarb from her speculations. "Oh, I'd love to!" _A date with
the boss right away!_

Stet fumbled in his garments for appropriate tokens with which to pay
the driver. "You--you're not engaged or anything back Home, Miss
Morfatch?"

"Why, no," she said. "It so happens that I'm not."

"Splendid!" He made an abortive gesture with his leg, then let her get
out of the taxi by herself. "It makes the natives stare," he explained
abashedly.

"But why shouldn't they?" she asked, wondering whether to laugh or not.
"How could they help but stare? We are different." _He must be joking._
She ventured a smile.

He smiled back, but made no reply.

The pavement was hard under her thinly covered soles. Now that walking
looked as if it would present a problem, the ban on wing use loomed more
threateningly. She had, of course, walked before--on wet days when her
wings were waterlogged or in high winds or when she had surface
business. However, the sidewalks on Fizbus were soft and resilient. Now
she understood why the Terrestrials wore such crippling foot armor, but
that didn't make her feel any better about it.

A box-shaped machine took the two Fizbians up to the twentieth story in
twice the time it would have taken them to fly the same distance. Tarb
supposed that the offices were in an attic instead of a basement because
exchange difficulties forced the _Times_ to such economy. She wondered
ruefully whether her own expense account would also suffer.

But it was no time to worry about such sordid matters; most important
right now was making a favorable impression on her co-workers. She did
want them to like her.

Taking out her compact, she carefully polished her eyeballs. The man at
the controls of the machine practically performed a ritual _entrechat_.

"Don't do that!" Stet ordered in a harsh whisper.

"But why not?" she asked, unable to restrain a trace of belligerence
from her voice. He hadn't been very polite himself. "The handbook said
respectable Terran women make up in public. Why shouldn't I?"

He sighed. "It'll take time for you to catch on, I suppose. There's a
lot the handbook doesn't--can't--cover. You'll find the setup here
rather different from on Fizbus," he went on as he kicked open the door
neatly lettered _THE FIZBUS TIMES_ in both Fizbian and Terran. "We've
found it expedient to follow the local newspaper practice. For
instance--" he indicated a small green-feathered man seated at a desk
just beyond the railing that bisected the room horizontally--"we have a
Copy Editor."

"What does he do?" she asked, confused.

"He copies news from the other papers, of course."

"And what are _you_ doing tonight, Miss Morfatch?" the Copy Editor
asked, springing up from his desk to execute the three ritual entrechats
with somewhat more verve than was absolutely necessary.

"Having dinner with me," Stet said quickly.

"Pulling rank, eh, old bird? Well, we'll see whether position or
sterling worth will win out in the end."

As the rest of the staff crowded around Tarb, leaping and booing as
appreciatively as any girl could want, she managed to snatch a rapid
look around. The place wasn't really so very much different from a
Fizbian newsroom, once she got over the oddity of going across, not up
and down, with the desks--queerly shaped but undeniably desks--arranged
side by side instead of one over the other. There were chairs and
stools, no perches, but that was to be expected in a wingless society.
And it was noisy. Even though the little machines had stopped clattering
when she came in, a distant roaring continued, as if, concealed
somewhere close by, larger, more sinister machines continued their work.
A peculiar smell hung in the air--not unpleasant, exactly, but strange.

She sniffed inquiringly.

"Ink," Stet said.

"What's that?"

"Oh, some stuff the boys in the back shop use. The feature writers," he
went on quickly, before she could ask what the "back shop" was, "have
private offices where they can perch in comfort."

He led the way down a corridor, opening doors. "Our drama editor." He
indicated a middle-aged man with faded blue feathers, who hung head
downward from his perch. "On the lobster-trick last night writing a
review, so he's catching fifty-one twinkles now."

"Enchanted, Miss Morfatch," the critic said, opening one bright eye. "By
a curious chance, it so happens that tonight I have two tickets to--"

"Tonight she's going out with me."

"Well, I can get tickets to any play, any night. And you haven't laughed
unless you've seen a Terrestrial drama. Just say the word, chick."

Stet got Tarb out of the office and slammed the door shut. "Over here is
the office of our food editor," he said, breathing hard, "whom you'll be
expected to give a claw to now and then, since your jobs overlap. Can't
introduce you to him right now, though, because he's in the hospital
with ptomaine poisoning. And this is the office you'll share with
Drosmig."

Stet opened the door.

Underneath the perch, Senbot Drosmig, dean of Fizbian journalists, lay
on the rug in a sodden stupor, letters to the editor scattered thickly
over his shriveled person. The whole room reeked unmistakably of
caffeine.

Tarb shrank back and twined both feet around Stet's. This time he did
not repulse her. "But how can a--an educated, cultured man like Senbot
Drosmig sink to such depths?"

"It's hard for anyone with even the slightest inclination toward the
stuff to resist it here," Stet replied somberly. "I can't deny it; the
sale of caffeine is absolutely unrestricted on Earth. Coffee shops all
over the place. Coffee served freely at even the best homes. And not
only coffee ... caffeine is insiduously present in other of their
popular beverages."

Her eyes bulged sideways. "But how can a so-called civilized people be
so depraved?"

"Caffeine doesn't seem to affect them the way it does us. Their nervous
systems are so very uncomplicated, one almost envies them."

Drosmig stirred restlessly under his blanket of correspondence. "Go
back ... Fizbus," he muttered. "Warn you ... 'fore ... too late ... like
me."

Tarb's rose-pink feathers stood on end. She looked apprehensively at
Stet.

"Senbot can't go back because he's in no shape to take the interstel
drive." The young editor was obviously annoyed. "He's old and he's a
physical wreck. But that certainly doesn't apply to you, Miss Morfatch."
He looked long and hard into her eyes.

"Few years on planet," Drosmig groaned, struggling to his wings, "'ply
to anybody."

His feathers, Tarb noticed, were an ugly, darkish brown. She had never
seen any one that color before, but she'd heard rumors that too much
caffeine could do that to you. At least she hoped it was only the
caffeine.

"For your information, he was almost as bad as this when he came!" Stet
snapped. "Frankly, that's why he was sent here--to get rid of his
unfortunate addiction. Grupe had no idea, when he assigned him to Earth,
that there was caffeine on the planet."

The old man gave a sardonic laugh as he clumsily made his way to the
perch and gripped it with quivering toes.

"That is, I don't _think_ he knew," Stet said dubiously.

Tarb reached over and picked a letter off the floor. The Fizbian
characters were clumsy and ill-made, as if someone had formed them with
his feet. Could there be such poverty here that individuals existed who
could not afford a scripto? The letter didn't read like any that had
ever been printed in the column--at least none that had been picked up
in the Fizbus edition:

       *       *       *       *       *

     _New York_

     _Dear Senbot Drosmig:_

     _I am a subaltern clerk in the shipping department of the FizbEarth
     Trading Company, Inc. Although I have held this post for only three
     months, I have already won the respect and esteem of my superiors
     through my diligence and good character. My habits are exemplary: I
     do not gamble, sing, or take caffeine._

     _Earlier today, while engaged in evening meditation at my modest
     apartments, I was aroused by a peremptory knock at the door. I
     flung it open. A native stood there with a small case in his hand._

     _"Is the house on fire?" I asked, wondering which of my few humble
     possessions I should rescue first._

     _"No," he said. "I would like to interest you in some brushes."_

     _"Are the offices of the FizbEarth Trading Company, Inc., on
     fire?"_

     _"Not to my knowledge," he replied, opening his case. "Now I have
     here a very nice hairbrush--"_

     _I wanted to give him every chance. "Have you come to tell me of
     any disaster relative to the FizbEarth Trading Company, to myself,
     or to anyone or anything else with whom or with which I am
     connected?"_

     _"Why, no," he said. "I have come to sell you brushes. Now here is
     a little number I know you'll like. My company developed it with
     you folks specially in mind. It's--"_

     _"Do you know, sir, that you have wantonly interrupted me in the
     midst of my meditations, which constitutes an established act of
     privacy violation?"_

     _"Is that a fact? Now this little item is particularly designed for
     brushing the wings--"_

     _At that point, I knocked him down and punched him into
     insensibility with my feet. Then I summoned the police. To my
     surprise, they arrested me instead of him._

     _I am writing this letter from jail. I do not like to ask my
     employers to get me out because, even though I am innocent, you
     know how a thing like this can leave a smudge on the record._

     _What shall I do?_

     _Anxiously yours,_

     _Fruzmus Bloxx_

       *       *       *       *       *

"What should he do?" Tarb asked, handing Stet the paper. "Or is the
question academic by now? The letter's five days old."

Stet sighed. "I'll find out whether the consulate has been notified.
Native police usually do that, you know. Very thoughtful fellows. If
this Bloxx hasn't been bailed out already, I'll see that he is."

"But how will we answer his letter? Advise him to sue for false arrest?"

Stet smiled. "But he has no grounds for false arrest. He is guilty of
assault. The native was entirely within his rights in trying to sell him
a brush. Now--" he put out a foot--"brace yourself. Privacy violation is
not a crime on Terra. It is perfectly legal. In fact, it does not exist
as such!"

At that point, everything went maroon.

When Tarb came to, she found herself lying upon Drosmig's desk. A
skin-faced native woman was offering her water and clucking.

"Are you all right, Tarb--Miss Morfatch?" Stet demanded anxiously.

"Yes. I--I think so," she murmured, raising herself to a crouch.

"Better ... have died," Drosmig groaned from his perch. "Fate
worse ... death ... awaits you."

Tarb tried to smile. "Sorry to have been so much trouble." She stuck out
her tongue at both Stet and the native.

The woman drew in her breath.

"Miss Morfatch," Stet reminded Tarb, "sticking out the tongue is not an
apology on Terra; it is an insult. Fortunately, Miss Snow happens to be
perhaps the only Terran who would not be offended. She has become
thoroughly acquainted with us and our odd little customs. She even--" he
beamed at the Terran female--"has learned to speak our language."

"Hail to thee, O visitor from the stars," Miss Snow said in Fizbian.
"May thy sojourn upon Earth be an incessant delight and may peace and
plenty shower their gifts in abundance upon thee."

Tarb put her hand to her aching head. "I'm very glad to meet you," she
said, glad she did not have to get up to make the ritual _entrechats_.

"Miss Snow is my right foot," Stet said, "but I'm going to be noble and
let her act as your secretary until you can learn to operate a
typewriter."

"Secretary? Typewriter?"

"Well, you see, there are no scriptos or superscriptos on Earth and we
can't import any from Home because the natives--" Miss Snow
smiled--"don't have the right kind of power here to run psychic
installations. All prosifying has to be done directly on prosifying
machines or--" he paused--"by foot."

"Catch her!" Miss Snow exclaimed in Terran.

Everything had gone maroon for Tarb again. As she fell, she could hear a
sudden thump. It was, she later discovered, Drosmig falling off his
perch again--the result of insecure grip, she was given to understand,
rather than excessive empathy.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I didn't mean, of course, to give you the impression that we actually
produce the individual copies of the papers ourselves," Stet explained
over the dinner table that night. "We have native printers who do that.
They've turned out some really remarkable Fizbian type fonts." "Very
clever of them," Tarb said, knowing that was what she was expected to
say. She glanced around the restaurant. In their low-cut evening
garments, the Terrestrial females looked much less Fizboid than they had
during the day. All that naked-looking skin; one would think they'd want
to cover it. Probably they were sick with jealousy of her beautiful
rose-colored down--what they could see of it, anyway.

"Of course, our real problem is getting proofreaders. The proofing
machines won't operate here either, of course, and so we need human
personnel. But what Fizbian would do such degrading work? We had thought
of convict labor, but--"

"Why mustn't I take off my wrap?" Tarb interrupted. "No one else is
wearing one."

Stet coughed. "You'll feel much less self-conscious about your wings if
you keep it on. And try not to use your feet so conspicuously. I'm sure
everyone understands you need them to eat with, but--"

"But I'm not in the least self-conscious about my wings. On Fizbus, they
were considered rather nice-looking, if I do say so myself."

"It's better," he said firmly, "not to emphasize the differences between
the natives and ourselves. You didn't object to wearing a Terrestrial
costume, did you?"

"No, I realize I must make some concessions to native prudery, but--"

"Matter of fact, I've been thinking it would be a good idea for you to
wear a stole or a cape or something in the daytime when you go to and
from the office. You wouldn't want to make yourself or the _Times_
conspicuous, I'm sure.... No, waiter, no coffee. We'll take champagne."

"I want to try coffee," Tarb said mutinously. "Champagne! You'd think I
was a fledgling, giving me that bubbly stuff!"

He looked at her. "Now don't be silly, Miss Morfatch ... Tarb. I can't
let you indulge in such rash experiments. You realize I am responsible
for you."

Tarb muttered darkly into her _coupe maison_.

Stet raised his eyebrows. "What did you say?"

"I was only wondering whether you'd remembered to check on whether that
young man--Bloxx--ever did get out of jail."

Stet snapped his toes. "Glad you reminded me. Completely slipped my
mind. Let's go and see what happened to him, shall we?"

       *       *       *       *       *

As they rose to leave, a dumpy Earthwoman rushed up to them,
enthusiastically babbling in Terran. Seizing Tarb's foot, she clung to
it before the Fizbian girl could do anything to prevent her. Tarb had to
spread her wings wide to retain her balance. Her cloak flew off and an
adjoining table of diners disappeared beneath it.

[Illustration]

Stet and the headwaiter rushed to the rescue with profuse apologies,
Stet's crest undulating as if it concealed a nest of snakes. But Tarb
was too much frightened to be calmed.

"Is this a hostile attack?" she shrieked frantically at Stet. "Because
the handbook never said shaking feet was an Earth custom!"

"No, no, she's a friend!" Stet yelled, leaving the diners still
struggling with the cloak as he sped back to her. "And shaking feet
isn't an Earth custom; she thinks it's a Fizbian one. You see.... Oh,
hell, never mind--I'll explain the whole thing to you later. But she's
just greeting you, trying to put you at your ease. It's Belinda Romney,
a very important Terrestrial. She owns the Solar Press--you must have
heard of it even on Fizbus--biggest news service on the planet.
Absolutely wouldn't do to offend her. Mrs. Romney, may I present Miss
Morfatch?"

The woman beamed and continued to gush endlessly.

"Tell her to let go my foot!" Tarb demanded. "It's getting so it feels
carbonated."

He smiled deprecatingly. "Now, Tarb, we mustn't be rude--"

For the first time in her life, Tarb spoke Terran to a Terrestrial. She
formed the words slowly and carefully: "Sorry we must leave, but we have
to go to jail."

She looked to Stet for approval ... and didn't get it. He started to
explain something quickly to the woman. Every time she'd heard him speak
Terran, Tarb thought, he seemed to be introducing, explaining or
apologizing.

It turned out that, through some oversight, the usually thoughtful
Terran police department had neglected to inform the Fizbian consul that
one of his people had been incarcerated, for the young man had already
been tried, found guilty of assault plus contempt of court, and
sentenced to pay a large fine. However, after Stet had given his version
of the circumstances to a sympathetic judge, the sum was reduced to a
nominal one, which the _Times_ paid.

"But I don't see why you should have paid anything at all," Bloxx
protested ungratefully. "I didn't do anything wrong. You should have
made an issue of it."

"According to Earth laws, you did do wrong," Stet said wearily, "and
this is Earth. What's more, if we take the matter up, it will naturally
get into print. You don't want your employers to hear about it, do
you--even if you don't care about making Fizbians look ridiculous to
Terrestrials?"

"I suppose I wouldn't like FizbEarth to find out," Bloxx conceded. "As
it is, I'll have to do some fast explaining to account for my not having
shown up for nearly a week. I'll say I caught some horrible Earth
disease--that'll scare them so much, they'll probably beg me to take
another week off. Though I do wish you fellows over at the _Times_ would
answer your mail sooner. I'm a regular subscriber, you know."

       *       *       *       *       *

"But the same kind of thing's going to happen over and over again, isn't
it, Stet?" Tarb asked as a taxi took them back to the hotel in which
most of the _Times_ staff was domiciled. "If privacy doesn't exist on
Earth, it's bound to keep occurring."

"Eh?" Stet took his attention away from her toes with some difficulty.
"Some Earth people like privacy, too, but they have to fight for it.
Violations aren't legally punishable--that's the only difference."

"Then surely the Terrestrials would understand about us, wouldn't they?"
she asked eagerly. "If they knew how strongly we felt about privacy,
maybe they wouldn't violate it--not as much, anyway. I'm sure they're
not vicious, just ignorant. And you can't just keep on getting Fizbians
out of jail each time they run up against the problem. It would be too
expensive, for one thing."

"Don't worry," he said, pressing her toes. "I'll take care of the whole
thing."

"An article in the paper wouldn't really help much," she persisted
thoughtfully, "and I suppose you must have run at least one already. It
would explain to the Fizbians that Terrestrials don't regard invasion of
privacy as a crime, but it wouldn't tell the Terrestrials that Fizbians
do. We'll have to think of--"

"You're surely not going to tell me how to run my paper on your first
day here, are you?"

He tried to take the sting out of his words by twining his toes around
hers, but she felt guilty. She had been presumptuous. Probably there
were lots of things she couldn't understand yet--like why she shouldn't
polish her eyeballs in public. Stet had finally explained to her that,
while Terrestrial women did make up in public, they didn't scour their
irises, ever, and would be startled and horrified to see someone else
doing so.

"But I was horrified to see them raking their feathers in public!" Tarb
had contended.

"Combing their hair, my dear. And why not? This is their planet."

That was always his answer. _I wonder_, she speculated, _whether he
would expect a Terrestrial visitor to Fizbus to fly ... because, after
all, Fizbus is our planet._ But she didn't dare broach the question.

However, if it was presumptuous of her to make helpful suggestions the
first day, it was more than presumptuous of Stet to ask her up to his
rooms to see his collection of rare early twentieth-century Terrestrial
milk bottles and other antiques. So she just told him courteously that
she was tired and wanted to go to roost. And, since the hotel had a
whole section fitted up to suit Fizbian requirements, she spent a more
comfortable night than she had expected.

She awoke the next day full of enthusiasm and ready to start in on the
great work at once. Although she might have been a little too forward
the previous night, she knew, as she took a reassuring glance in the
mirror, that Stet would forgive her.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the office, she was, at first, somewhat self-conscious about Drosmig,
who hung insecurely from his perch muttering to himself, but she soon
forgot him in her preoccupation with duty. The first letter she picked
up--although again oddly unlike the ones she'd read in the paper on
Fizbus--seemed so simple that she felt she would have no difficulty in
answering it all by herself:

     _Heidelberg_

     _Dear Senbot Drosmig:_

     _I am a professor of Fizbian History at a local university. Since
     my salary is a small one, owing to the small esteem in which the
     natives hold culture, I must economize wherever I can in order to
     make both ends meet. Accordingly, I do my own cooking and shop at
     the self-service supermarket around the corner, where I have found
     that prices are lower than in the service groceries and the food no
     worse._

     _However, the manager and a number of the customers have objected
     to my shopping with my feet. They don't so much mind my taking
     packages off the shelves with them, but they have been quite
     vociferous on the subject of my pinching the fruit with my toes.
     Unripe fruit, however, makes me ill. What shall I do?_

     _Sincerely yours,_

     _Grez B'Groot_

Tarb dictated an unhesitating reply:

     Dear Professor B'Groot:

     Why don't you explain to the manager of the store that Fizbians
     have wings and feet rather than arms and hands?

     I'm sure his attitude and the attitudes of his customers will
     change when they learn that your pinching the fruit with your feet
     is not mere pedagogical eccentricity, but the regular practice on
     our planet. Point out to him that your feet are covered and,
     therefore, more sanitary than the bare hands of his other
     customers.

     And always put on clean socks before you go shopping.

     Helpfully yours,

     Senbot Drosmig

Miss Snow raised pale eyebrows.

"Is something wrong?" Tarb asked anxiously. "Should I have put in that
bit about work, study, meditate? It seems inappropriate somehow."

"Oh, no, not that. It's just that your letter--well, violates Mr.
Zarnon's precept that, in Rome, one must do as the Romans do."

"But this isn't Rome," Tarb replied, bewildered. "It's New York."

"He didn't make the saying up," Miss Snow replied testily. "It's a
Terrestrial proverb."

"Oh," Tarb said.

She resented this creature's trying to tell her how to do her job. On
the other hand, Tarb was wise enough to realize that Miss Snow,
unpleasant though she might be, probably did know Stet well enough to be
able to predict his reactions.

So Tarb not only was reluctant to show Stet what she had already done,
but hesitated about answering another and even more urgent letter that
had just been brought in by special messenger. She tried to compromise
by submitting the letters to Drosmig--for, technically speaking, it was
he who was her immediate superior--but he merely groaned, "Tell 'em all
to drop dead," from his perch and refused to open his eyes.

In the end, Tarb had to take the letters to Stet's office. Miss Snow
trailed along behind her, uninvited. And, since this was a place of
business, Tarb could not claim a privacy violation. Even if it weren't a
place of business, she remembered, she couldn't--not here on Earth.
Advanced spirituality, hah!

Advanced pain in the pinions!

Stet read the first letter and her answer smilingly. "Excellent, Tarb--"
her hearts leaped--"for a first try, but I'd like to suggest a few
changes, if I may."

"Well, of course," she said, pretending not to notice the smirk on Miss
Snow's face.

"Just write this Professor B'Goot that he should do his shopping at a
grocery that offers service and practice his economies elsewhere. A
professor, of all people, is expected to uphold the dignity of his own
race--the idea, sneering at a culture that was thousands of years old
when we were still building nests! Terrestrials couldn't possibly have
any respect for him if they saw him prodding kumquats with his toes."

"It's no sillier than writing with one's vestigial wings!" Tarb blazed.

"Well!" Miss Snow exclaimed in Terran. "Well, _really_!"

Tarb started to stick out her tongue, then remembered. "I didn't mean to
offend you, Miss Snow. I know it's your custom. But wouldn't you
understand if I typewrote with my feet?"

Miss Snow tittered.

"If you want the honest truth, hon, it would make you look like a
feathered monkey."

"If you want the honest truth about what you look like to me,
dearie--it's a plucked chicken!"

"Tarb, I think you should apologize to Miss Snow!"

"All right!" Tarb stuck out her tongue. Miss Snow promptly thrust out
hers in return.

"Ladies, ladies!" Stet cried. "I think there has been a slight confusion
of folkways!" He quickly changed the subject. "Is that another letter
you have there, Tarb?"

"Yes, but I didn't try to answer it. I thought you'd better have a look
at it first, since Miss Snow didn't seem to think much of the job I did
with the other one."

"Miss Snow always has the _Times'_ welfare at heart," Stet remarked
ambiguously, and read:

     _Chicago_

     _Dear Senbot Drosmig:_

     _I am employed as translator by the extraterrestrial division of
     Burns and Deerhart, Inc., the well-known interstellar mail-order
     house. As the company employs no other Fizbians and our offices are
     situated in a small rural community where no others of our race
     reside, I find myself rather lonely. Moreover, being a bachelor,
     with neither chick nor child on Fizbus, I have nothing to look
     forward to upon my return to the Home Planet some day._

     _Accordingly, I decided to adopt a child to cheer my declining
     years. I dispatched an interstellargram to a reliable orphanage on
     Fizbus, outlining my hopes and requirements in some detail. After
     they had satisfied themselves as to my income, strength of
     character, etc., they sent me a fatherless and motherless egg in
     cold storage, which I was supposed to hatch upon arrival._

     _However, when the egg came to Earth, it was impounded by Customs.
     They say it is forbidden to import extrasolar eggs. I have tried to
     explain to them that it is not at all a question of importation but
     of adoption; however, they cannot or will not understand._

     _Please tell me what to do. I fear that they may not be keeping the
     egg at the correct Fizbian freezing point--which, as you know, is a
     good deal lower than Earth's. The fledgling may hatch by itself and
     receive a traumatic shock that might very well damage its entire
     psyche permanently._

     _Frantically yours,_

     _Glibmus Gluyt_

"Oh, for the stars' sake!" Stet exploded. "This is really too much! Viz
our consul, Miss Snow. That egg must go back to Fizbus at once, before
any Terrestrials hear of it! And I must notify the government back on
the Home Planet to keep a close check on all egg shipments. Something
like this must certainly not occur again."

"Why shouldn't the Terrestrials hear of it?" Tarb asked, outraged. "And
I think it's mean of you to send back a poor little orphan egg like that
when it has a chance of getting a good home."

"An egg!" Miss Snow repeated incredulously. "You mean you really...?"
She gave me one mad little hoot of laughter and then stopped and
strangled slightly. Her face turned purple in her efforts to restrain
mirth. _Really_, Tarb thought, _she looks so much better that color_.

Stet's crest twitched violently. "I hope--" he began. "I do hope you
will keep this ... knowledge to yourself, Miss Snow."

"But of course," she assured him, calming down. "I'm dreadfully sorry I
was so rude. Naturally I wouldn't dream of telling a soul, Mr. Zarnon.
You can trust me."

"I'm sure I can, Miss Snow."

Tarb almost choked with indignation. "You mean you've been keeping the
facts of our life from Terrestrials? As if they were fledglings ... no,
even fledglings are told these days."

"One could hardly blame him for it, Miss Morfatch," Miss Snow said. "You
wouldn't want people to know that Fizbians laid eggs, would you?"

"And why not?"

"Tarb," Stet intervened, "you don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh, don't I? You're ashamed of the fact that we bear our children in a
clean, decent, honorable way instead of--" She stopped. "I'm being as
bad as you two are. Probably the Terrestrials' way of reproduction
doesn't seem dirty to them--but, since they do reproduce _that_ way,
they could scarcely find our way objectionable!"

"Tarb, that's not how a young girl should talk!"

"Oh, go lay an egg!" she said, knowing that she had overstepped the
limits of propriety, but unable to let him get away with that. "I hope
to be a wife and mother some day," she added, "and I only hope that when
that time comes, I'll be able to lay good eggs."

"Miss Morfatch," Stet said, keeping control of his temper with a visible
effort, "that will be enough from you. If common decency doesn't
restrain you, please remember that I am your employer and that _I_ set
the policies on _my_ paper. You'll do what you're told and keep a civil
tongue in your head or you'll be sent back to Fizbus. Do I make myself
clear?"

"You do, indeed," Tarb said. How could she ever have thought he was
charming and handsome? Well, perhaps he still was handsome, but fine
feathers do not make fine deeds. And, if it came to that, it wasn't his
paper.

"We have the same thing on Terra," Miss Snow murmured sympathetically to
Stet. "These young whippersnappers think they can start in running the
paper the very first day. Why, Belinda Romney herself--she's a distant
cousin of mine, you know--told me--"

"Miss Snow," Tarb said, "I hope for the sake of Earth that you are not a
typical example of the Terrestrial species."

"And you, hon," Miss Snow retorted, "don't belong on a paper, but in a
chicken coop."

"Ladies!" Stet said helplessly. "Women," he muttered, "certainly do not
belong on a newspaper. Matter of fact, they don't belong anywhere; their
place is in the home only because there's nowhere else to put them."

Both females glared at him.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the next fortnight, Tarb gained fluency in Terran and also
learned to operate a Terrestrial typewriter equipped with Fizbian
type--mostly so that she could dispense with the services of the
invaluable Miss Snow. She didn't like typing, though--it chipped her
toenails and her temper. Besides, Drosmig kept complaining that the
noise prevented him from sleeping and she preferred him to sleep rather
than hang there making irrelevant and, sometimes, unpleasantly relevant
remarks.

"Longing for the old scripto, eh?" one of the cameramen smiled as he
lounged in the open doorway of her office. Although she was fond of
fresh air, Tarb realized that she would have to keep the door shut from
now on. Too many of the younger members of the staff kept booing at her
as they passed, and now they had formed the habit of dropping in to
offer her advice, encouragement and invitations to meals. At first, the
attention had pleased her--but now she was much too busy to be bothered;
she was going to turn out acceptable answers to those letters or die
trying.

"Well, if the power can't be converted, it can't," she said grimly.
"Griblo, I do wish you'd be a dear and flutter off. I--"

He snorted. "Who says the power can't be converted? Stet, huh?"

She took her feet off the keys and looked at him. "Why do you say 'Stet'
that way?"

"Because that's a lot of birdseed he gives you about not being able to
convert Earth power. Could be done all right, but he and the consul have
it all fixed up to keep Fizbian technology off the planet. Consul's
probably being paid off by the International Association of
Manufacturers and Stet's in it for the preservation of indigenous
culture--and maybe a little cash, too. After all, those rare antique
collections of his cost money."

"I don't believe it!" Tarb snapped. "Griblo, please--I have so much work
to get through!"

"Okay, chick, but I warn you, you're going to have your bright-eyed
illusions shattered. Why don't you wake up to the truth about
Stet? What you should do is maybe eschew the society of all journalists
entirely, and a sordid lot they are, and devote yourself to
photographers--splendid fellows, all."

"Please shut the door behind you!"

The door slammed.

Tarb gazed disconsolately at the letter before her. Would she ever be
able to answer letters to Stet's satisfaction? The purpose of the whole
column was service--but did she and Stet mean the same thing by the same
word? Or, if they did, whom was Stet serving?

She was paying too much attention to Griblo's idle remarks. Obviously he
was a sorehead--had some kind of grudge against Stet. Perhaps Stet was a
bit too autocratic, perhaps he had even gone native to some extent, but
you couldn't say anything worse about him than that. All in all, he
wasn't a bad bird and she mustn't let herself be influenced by
rumormongers like Griblo.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tarb got up and took the letter to Stet. He was in his office dictating
to Miss Snow. _After all_, Tarb could not repress the ugly thought, _why
should he care about the scriptos? He'll never have to use a
typewriter._

And he was perfectly nice about being interrupted. The only thing he
didn't like was being contradicted. _I'm getting bitter_, she told
herself in surprise. _And at my age, too. I wonder what I'll be like
when I'm old._

This thought alarmed her and so she smiled very sweetly at Stet as she
murmured, "Would you mind reading this?" and gave him the letter.

"Run into another little snag, eh?" he said affably, giving her foot a
gentle pat with his. "Well, let's see what we can do about it."

     _Montreal_

     _Dear Senbot Drosmig:_

     _I am a chef at the Cafe Inter-stellaire, which, as everyone knows,
     is one of the most chic eating establishments on this not very chic
     planet. During my spare moments, I am a great amateur of the local
     form of entertainment known as television. I am especially
     fascinated by the native actress Ingeborg Swedenborg, who, in spite
     of being a Terran, compares most favorably with our own Fizbian
     footlight favorites._

     _The other day, while I am in the kitchen engaged in preparing the
     ragout celeste à la fizbe for which I am justly celebrated on nine
     planets, I hear a stir outside in the dining room. I strain my
     ears. I hear the cry, "It is Ingeborg Swedenborg!"_

     _I cannot help myself. I rush to the doorway. There, behold, the
     incomparable Ingeborg herself! She follows the headwaiter to a
     choice table. She is even more ravishing in real life than on the
     screen. On her, it does not matter that she has no feathers save on
     the head--even skin looks good. Overcome by involuntary ardor, I
     boo at her. Whereupon I am violently assailed by a powerfully built
     native whom I have not previously noticed to be escorting her._

     _I am rescued before he can do me any permanent damage, though, if
     you wish the truth, it will be a long time before I can fly again.
     However, I am given notice by the cold-hearted management. Now I am
     without a job. And what is more, if on this planet one is not
     permitted to express one's instinctive and natural admiration for a
     beautiful woman, then all I have to say is that it is a lousy
     planet and I wiggle my toes at it. How do I go about getting
     deported?_

     _Impatiently yours,_

     _Rajois Sludd_

"Oh, I suppose it serves him right," Tarb said quickly, before Stet
could comment, "but don't you think it would be a good idea if the
_Times_ got up a Fizbian-Terrestrial handbook of its own? It's the only
solution that I can see. The regular one, I recognize now, is more than
inadequate, with all that spiritual gup--" Miss Snow drew in her breath
sharply--"and not much else. All these problems are bound to arise again
and again. Frankly speaking, Stet, your solutions only take care of the
individual cases; they don't establish a sound intercultural basis."

He grunted.

"What's more," she went on eagerly, "we could not only give copies to
every Fizbian planning to visit Earth, but also print copies in Terran
for Terrestrials who are interested in learning more about Fizbus and
the Fizbians. In fact, all Terrans who come in contact with us should
have the book. It would help both races to understand each other so much
better and--"

"Unnecessary!" Stet snapped, so violently that she stopped with her
mouth open. "The standard handbook is more than adequate. Whatever
limitations it may have are deliberate. Setting down in cold print all
that ... stuff you want to have included would make a point of things we
prefer not to stress. I wouldn't want to have the Terrestrials humor me
as if I were a fledgling or a foreigner."

He leaped out of his chair and paced up and down the office. One would
think he had forgotten he ever could fly.

"But you are a foreigner, Stet," Tarb said gently. "No matter what you
do or say, Terrestrials and Fizbians are--well, worlds apart."

"Spiritually, I am much closer to the Terrestrials than--but you
wouldn't understand." He and Miss Snow nodded sympathetically at each
other. "And you might be interested to know that I happen to be the
author of all that 'spiritual gup.' I wrote the handbook--as a service
to Fizbus, I might point out. I wasn't paid for it."

"Oh, dear!" Tarb said. "Oh, _dear_! I really and truly am sorry, Stet."

He brushed her apologies aside. "Answer that letter. Ignore the question
about deportation entirely." He ran a foot through his crest. "Just tell
the fellow to see our personnel manager. We could use a chef in the
company dining room. Haven't tasted a decent celestial ragout--at a
price I could afford--since I left Fizbus."

"Would you want me to print that reply in the column?" she asked. "'If
you lose your job because you're unfamiliar with Terrestrial customs,
come to the _Times_. We'll give you another job at a much lower
salary.'"

"Of course not! Send your answer directly to him. You don't think we put
any of those letters you've been answering in the column, do you? Or any
that come in at all, for that matter. I have to write all the letters
that are printed--and answer them myself."

"I should have recognized the style," Tarb said. "So this is the service
the _Times_ offers to its subscribers. Nothing that would be of help.
Nothing that could prevent other Fizbians from making the same mistake.
Nothing that could be controversial. Nothing that would help
Terrestrials to understand us. Nothing, in short, but a lot of
birdseed!"

"Impertinence!" Miss Snow remarked. "You shouldn't let her talk to you
like that, Mr. Zarnon."

"Tarb!" Stet roared, casting an impatient glance at Miss Snow. "How dare
you talk to me in that way? And all this is none of your business,
anyway."

"I'm a Fizbian," she stated, "and it certainly is my business. I'm not
ashamed of having wings. I'm proud of them and sorry for people who
don't have them. And, by the stars, I'm going to fly. If skirts are
improper to wear for flying, then I can wear slacks. I saw them in a
Terrestrial fashion magazine and they're perfectly respectable."

"Not for working hours," Miss Snow sniffed.

"I have no intention of flying during working hours," Tarb snapped back.
"Even you should be able to see that the ceiling's much too low."

Stet ran a foot through his crest again. "I hate to say this, Tarb, but
I don't feel you're the right person for this job. You mean well, I'm
sure, but you're too--too inflexible."

"You mean I have principles," she retorted, "and you don't." Which
wasn't entirely true; he had principles--it was just that they were
unprincipled.

"That will be enough, Tarb," he said sternly. "You'd better go now while
I think this over. I'd hate to send you back to Fizbus, because
I'd--well, I'd miss you. On the other hand...."

Tarb went back to her office and drafted a long interstel to a cousin on
Fizbus, explaining what she would like for a birthday present. "And
send it special delivery," she concluded, "because I am having an urgent
and early birthday."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Tarb Morfatch!" Stet howled, a few months later. "What on Earth are you
doing?"

"Dictating into my scripto," Tarb said cheerfully. "Some of the boys
from the print shop helped fix it up for me. They were very nice about
it, too, considering that the superscriptos will probably throw them out
of work. You know, Stet, Terrestrials can be quite decent people."

"Where did you get that scripto?"

"Cousin Mylfis sent it to me for my birthday. I must have complained
about wearing out my claws on a typewriter and he didn't understand that
scriptos won't work on Earth. Only they do." She beamed at her employer.
"All it needed was a transformer. I guess you're just not mechanically
minded, Stet."

He clenched his feet. "Tarb, Terrestrials aren't ready for our
technology. You've done a very unwise thing in having that scripto sent
to you. And I've done a very unwise thing in keeping you here against my
better judgment."

"Maybe the Terrestrials aren't ready," she said, ignoring his last
remark, "but I'm not going to wear my feet to the bone if I can get a
gadget that'll do the same thing with no expenditure of physical
energy." She placed a foot on his. "I don't see how a thing like this
could possibly corrupt the Terrestrials, Stet. It's made a better,
brighter girl out of me already."

"Hear, hear!" said Drosmig hoarsely from his perch.

"Shut up, Senbot. You just don't understand, Tarb. If you'll only--"

"But I'm afraid I do understand, Stet. And I won't send my scripto
back."

"May I come in?" Miss Snow tapped lightly on the door frame. "Is what I
hear true?"

"About the scripto?" Tarb asked. "It certainly is. All you have to do is
talk into it and the words appear on the paper. Guess that makes you
obsolete, doesn't it, Miss Snow?"

"And high time, too," commented Drosmig. "Never liked the old biddy."

"Senbot...." Stet began, and stopped. "Oh, what's the use trying to talk
reasonably to either of you! Tarb, come back to my office with me."

She could not refuse and so she followed. Miss Snow, torn between
curiosity and the scripto, hesitated and then made after them.

"I've decided to take you off the column--for this morning, anyway--and
send you on an outside assignment," Stet told Tarb. "The consul's wife
is coming to Earth today. Once she heard there was another woman on
Terra, nothing could stop her. Consul seems to think it's my fault,
too," he added moodily. "Won't believe I had nothing to do with hiring
you. I told the Home Office not to send a woman, that she'd disrupt the
office, and you sure as hell have."

"But I thought you said in your letters that you were doing everything
in your power to bring Fizbian womenfolk to their men on Terra!" Tarb
pointed out malevolently.

"Yes," he confessed. "We must please our readers. You know that. Anyway,
all that's irrelevant right now. What I want you to do is go meet the
consul's wife. Nice touch, having the only other Fizbian woman here be
the one to interview her. Human interest angle for the Terrestrial
papers. Shouldn't be surprised if Solar Press picked it up--they like
items of that kind for fillers. Take Griblo along with you and make sure
he has film in his camera this time."

"Yes, sir," Tarb said. "Anything you say, sir."

He pretended not to notice her sarcasm. "I have a list of the questions
you should ask her." He fixed her with his eye. "You stick to them, do
you hear me? I don't want anything controversial." He rummaged among the
papers on his desk. "I know I had it half an hour ago. Sit down, will
you, Tarb? Stop hopping around."

"If I can't have a perch, I want a stool," Tarb said. "This is a private
office and I think it's a gross affectation for you to have those silly,
uncomfortable chairs in it."

"If you would have your wings clipped like Mr. Zarnon's--" Miss Snow
began before Stet could stop her.

"Stet, you _didn't_!"

His crest thrashed back and forth. "They'll grow back again and it's so
much more convenient this way. After all, I can't use them here and I do
have to associate with Terrestrials and use their equipment. The consul
has had his wings clipped also and so have several of our more prominent
industrialists--"

"Oh, _Stet_!" Tarb wailed. "I was beginning to think some pretty hard
things about you, but I wouldn't ever have dreamed you'd do anything as
awful as that!"

"Why should I have to apologize to you?" he raged. "Who do you think you
are, anyway? You're an incompetent little fool. I should have fired you
that first day. I've let you get away with so much only because you have
a pretty face. You've only been on Earth a couple of months; how can you
presume to think you know what's good and what's bad for the Fizbians
here?"

"I may not know what's good," she retorted, "but I certainly do know
what's bad. And that's you, Stet--you and everything you stand for. You
not only don't have the courage of your convictions, you don't even have
any convictions. You're ashamed of being a Fizbian, ashamed of anything
that makes Fizbians different from Terrestrials, even if it's something
better, something that most Terrans would like to have. You're a damned
hypocrite, Stet Zarnon, that's what you are--professing to help our
people when actually you're hurting them by trying to force them into
the mold of an alien species."

She brushed back her crest. "I take it I'm fired," she said more
quietly. "Do you want me to interview the consul's wife first or leave
right away?"

It took Stet a moment to bring his voice under control. "Interview her
first. We'll talk this over when you get back."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was pleasant to be away from the office, she thought as the taxi
pulled toward the airfield, and doing wingwork again, even if it proved
to be the first and last time on this planet. Griblo sat hunched in a
corner of the seat, too preoccupied with the camera, which, even after
two years, he hadn't fully mastered, to pay attention to her.

Outside, it was raining, the kind of thin drizzle that, on Fizbus or
Earth, could go on for days. Tarb had brought along the native umbrella
she had purchased in the hotel gift shop--a delightful contraption that
was supposed to keep off the rain and didn't, and was supposed to
collapse and did, but at the wrong moments. She planned to take it back
with her when she returned to Fizbus. Approved souvenir or not, it was
the same beautiful purple as her eyes. And, besides, who had made the
ruling about approved souvenirs? Stet, of course.

"No reason why we couldn't have autofax brought from Home," Griblo
suddenly grumbled.

Tarb pulled herself back from her thoughts. "I suppose Stet wouldn't let
you," she said. "But now that one scripto's here," she went on somewhat
complacently, "he'll have to--"

"Keep this planet charming and unspoiled, he says," Griblo interrupted
ungratefully. "Its spiritual values will be corrupted by too much
contact with a crass advanced technology. And, of course, he's got the
local camera manufacturers solidly behind him. I wonder whether they
advertise in the _Times_ because he helps keep autofax off Terra or
whether he keeps the autofax off Terra because they advertise in the
_Times_."

"But what does he care about advertising? He may talk as if he owned the
_Times_, but he doesn't."

Griblo gave a nasty laugh. "No, he doesn't, but if the Terran edition
didn't show a profit, it'd fold quicker than you can flip your wings and
he'd have to go back to nasty old up-to-date Fizbus as a lowly
sub-editor. And he wouldn't like that one bit. Our Stet, as you may have
noticed, is fond of running things to suit himself."

"But Mr. Grupe told me that the _Times_ isn't interested in money. It's
running this edition of the paper only as a service to--oh, I suppose
all that was a lot of birdseed, too!"

"Grupe!" Griblo snorted. "The sanctimonious old buzzard! He's a big
stockholder on the paper. Bet you didn't know that, did you? All they're
out for is money. Fizbian money, Terrestrial money--so long as it's
cash."

"Tell me, Griblo," Tarb asked, "what does 'When in Rome, do as the
Romans do' mean?"

Griblo grinned sourly. "Stet's favorite motto." He moved along the seat
closer to her. "I'll tell you what it means, chicken. When on Earth,
don't be a Fizbian."

       *       *       *       *       *

The consul's wife, an old mauve creature, did not seem overpleased to
see Tarb, since the younger, prettier Fizbian definitely took the
spotlight away from her. The press had, of course, seen Tarb before, but
at that time they hadn't been able to communicate directly with her and
they didn't, she now found out, think nearly as much of Stet as he did
of them.

Tarb couldn't attempt to deviate much from Stet's questions, for the
consul's wife was not very cooperative and the consul himself watched
both women narrowly. He was a good friend of Stet's, Tarb knew, and
apparently Stet had taken the other man into his confidence.

When the interviews were over and the consular party had left, Tarb
remained to chat with the Terrestrial journalists. Despite Griblo's
worried objections, she joined them in the Moonfield Restaurant, where
she daringly partook of a cup of coffee and then another and another.

After that, things weren't very clear. She dimly remembered the other
reporters assuring her that she shouldn't disfigure her lovely wings
with a stole ... and then pirouetting in the air over the bar to
prolonged applause ... and then she was in the taxi again with Griblo
shaking her.

"Wake up, Tarb--we're almost at the office! Stet'll have me plucked for
this!"

Tarb sat up and pushed her crest out of her eyes. The sky was growing
dark. They must have been gone a long time.

"I'll never hear the end of this," Griblo moaned. "Why, if only he could
get someone to fill my place, Stet would fire me like a shot! Not that I
wouldn't quit if I could get another job."

"Oh, it'll be mostly me he'll be mad at." Tarb pulled out her compact.
Stet had warned her not to polish her eyeballs in public, but the ground
with him! Her head hurt. And her feathers, she saw in the mirror, had
turned almost beige. She looked horrible. She felt horrible. And Stet
would probably think she was horrible.

"When Stet's mad," Griblo prophesied darkly, "he's mad at _everybody_!"

And Stet _was_ mad. He was waiting in the newsroom, his emerald-blue
eyes blazing as if he had not only polished but lacquered them.

"What's the idea of taking six hours to cover a simple story!" he
shouted as soon as the door began to open. "Aside from the trivial
matter of a deadline to be met--Griblo, _where's Tarb_? Nothing's
happened to her, has it?"

"Naaah," Griblo said, unslinging his camera. "She took a short cut,
only she got held up by a terrace. Snagged her umbrella on it, I
believe. I heard her yelling when I was waiting for the elevator;
I didn't know nice girls knew language like that. She should be up
any minute now.... There she is."

He pointed to a window, through which the lissome form of the young
feature writer could be seen, tapping on the glass in order to attract
attention.

[Illustration]

"Somebody better open it for her," the cameraman suggested. "Probably
not meant to open from the outside. Not many people come in that way, I
guess."

       *       *       *       *       *

Open-mouthed, the whole newsroom stared at the window. Finally the Copy
Editor got up and let a dripping Tarb in.

"Nearly thought I wouldn't make it," she observed, shaking herself in a
flurry of wet pink feathers. The rest of the staff ducked, most of them
too late. "Umbrella didn't do much good," she continued, closing it. It
left a little puddle on the rug. "My wings got soaked right away." She
tossed her wet crest out of her eyes. "Golly, but it's good to fly
again. Haven't done it for months, but it seems like years." Her eye
caught Miss Snow's. "You don't know what you're missing!"

"Tarb," Stet thundered, "you've been drinking coffee! _Griblo!_" But the
cameraman had nimbly sought sanctuary in the dark-room.

"You'd better go home, Tarb." When Stet's eye tufts met across his nose,
he was downright ugly, she realized. "Griblo can give me the dope and
I'll write up the story myself. I can fill it out with canned copy. And
you and I will discuss this situation in the morning."

"Won't go home when there's work to be done. Duty calls me." Giving a
brief and quite recognizable imitation of a Terrestrial trumpet, Tarb
stalked down the corridor to her office.

Drosmig looked up from his perch, to which he was still miraculously
clinging at that hour. "So it got you, too?... Sorry ... nice girl."

"It hasn't got me," Tarb replied, picking up a letter marked _Urgent_.
"I've got it." She scanned the letter, then made hastily for Stet's
office.

He sat drumming on his desk with the antique stainless steel spatula he
used as a paperknife.

"Read this!" she demanded, thrusting the letter into his face. "Read
this, you traitor--sacrificing our whole civilization to what's most
expedient for you! Hypocrite! Cad!"

"Tarb, listen to me! I'm--"

"Read it!" She slapped the letter down in front of him. "Read it and see
what you've done to us! Sure, we Fizbians keep to ourselves and so the
only people who know anything about us are the ones who want to sell us
brushes, while the people who want to help us don't know a damn thing
about us and--"

"Oh, all right! I'll read it if you'll only keep quiet!" He turned the
letter right-side up.

     _Johannesburg_

     _Dear Senbot Drosmig:_

     _I represent the Dzoglian Publishing Company, Inc., of which I know
     you have heard, since your paper has seen fit to give our books
     some of the most unjust reviews on record. However, be that as it
     may, I have opened an office on Earth with the laudable purpose of
     effecting an interchange of respective literatures, to see which
     Terrestrial books might most profitably be translated into Fizbian,
     and which of the authors on our own list might have potential
     appeal for the Earth reader._

     _Dealing with authors is, of course, a nerve-racking business and I
     soon found myself in dire need of mental treatment. What was my
     horror to find that this primitive, although charming, planet had
     no neurotones, no psychoscopes, not even any cerebrophones--in
     fact, no psychiatric machines at all! The very knowledge of this
     brought me several degrees closer to a breakdown._

     _Perhaps I should have consulted you at this juncture, but I admit
     I was a bit of a snob. "What sort of advice can a mere journalist
     give me," I thought, "that I could not give myself?" So, more for
     amusement than anything else, I determined to consult a native
     practitioner. "After all," I said to myself, "a good laugh is a
     step forward on the road to recovery."_

     _Accordingly, I went to see this native fellow. They work entirely
     without machines, I understand, using something like witchcraft. At
     the same time, I thought I might pick up some material for a jolly
     little book on primitive customs which I could get some unknown
     writer to throw together inexpensively. Strong human interest items
     like that always have great reader-appeal._

     _The native chap--doctor, he calls himself--was most cordial,
     which he should have been at the price I was paying him. One thing
     I must say about these natives--backward they may be, but they have
     a very shrewd commercial sense. You can't even imagine the trouble
     I had getting those authors to sign even remotely reasonable
     contracts ... which in part accounts for my mental disturbance,
     I suppose._

     _Well, anyway, I handed the native a privacy waiver carefully
     filled out in Terran. He took it, smiled and said, "We'll discuss
     this afterward. My contact lenses have disappeared; I suppose one
     of my patients has stolen them again. Can't see a thing without
     them."_

     _So we sat down and had a bit of a chat. He seemed remarkably
     intelligent for a native; never interrupted me once._

     _"You are definitely in great trouble," he told me when I'd
     finished. "You need to be psycho-analyzed."_

     _"Good, good," I said. "I see I've come to the right shop."_

     _"Now just lie down and make yourself comfortable."_

     _"Lie down?" I repeated, puzzled. I have an excellent command of
     Terran, but every now and then an idiom will throw me. "I tell the
     truth, sir, and when I am required by force of circumstances to
     lie, I lie up."_

     _"No," he said, "not that kind of lying. You know, the kind you do
     at night when you go to sleep."_

     _"Oh, I get you," I said idiomatically. Without further ado, I
     flung off my ulster and flew up to a thingummy hanging from the
     ceiling--chandelier, I believe, is the native term--flipped upside
     down, and hung from it by my toes. Wasn't the Presidential Perch,
     by any means, but it wasn't bad at all. "What do I do next?" I
     inquired affably._

     _"My dear fellow," the chap said, whipping out a notebook from the
     recesses of his costume, "how long have you had this delusion that
     you are a bird--or is it a bat?"_

     _"Sir," I said as haughtily as my position permitted, "I am neither
     a bird nor a bat. I am a Fizbian. Surely you have heard of
     Fizbians?"_

     _"Yes, yes, of course. They come from another country or planet or
     something. Frankly, politics is a bit outside my sphere. All I'm
     interested in is people--and Fizbians are people, aren't they?"_

     _"Yes, certainly. If anything, it's you who.... Yes, they are
     people."_

     _"Well, tell me then, Mr. Liznig, when was it you first started
     thinking you were a bat or a bird?"_

     _I tried to control myself. "I am neither a bird nor a bat! I am a
     Fizbian! I have wings! See?" I fluttered them._

     _He peered at me. "I wish I could," he said regretfully. "Without
     my glasses, though, I'm as blind as a bat--or a bird."_

     _Well, the long and the short of it is that the natives are
     planning to certify me as insane and incarcerate me, pending the
     doctor's decision as to whether my delusion is that I am a bird or
     a bat. They are using my privacy waiver as commitment papers._

     _Save me, Senbot Drosmig, for I feel that if I have to wait for the
     doctor's glasses to be delivered, I shall indeed go mad._

     _Distractedly yours,_

     _Tgos Liznig_

"I'll handle this myself," Stet said crisply. "I'll tell the consul to
advise the Terran State Department that this man should be deported as
an undesirable alien. That'll solve the problem neatly. We can't have
this contaminating the pure stream of Terrestrial literature with--"

"But aren't you going to explain to them that he's perfectly sane?" Tarb
gasped.

"No need to bother. He'll be grateful enough to get off the planet.
Besides, how do I know he is perfectly sane?"

"Stet Zarnon, you're perfectly horrid!"

"And you, Tarb Morfatch, are disgustingly drunk. Now you go right home
and sleep it off. I know I was too harsh with you--my fault for letting
you go out alone with Griblo in the first place when you've been here
only a few months. Might have known those Terran journalists would lead
you astray. Nice fellows, but irresponsible." He flicked out his tongue.
"There, I've apologized. Now will you go home?"

"Home!" Tarb shrieked. "Home when there's work to be done and--"

"--and you're not going to be the one to do it. Tarb," he said,
attempting to seize her foot, which she pulled away, "I was going to
tell you tomorrow, but you might as well know tonight. I've taken you
off the column for good. I have a better job for you."

She looked at him. "A better job? Are you being sarcastic? What as?"

"As my wife." He got up and came over to her. She stood still, almost
stunned. "That solves the whole problem tidily. An office is no place
for you, darling--you're really a simple home-girl at heart. Newspaper
work is too strenuous for you; it upsets you and makes you nervous and
irritable. I want you to stay home and take care of our house and hatch
our eggs--unostentatiously, of course."

"Why, you--" she spluttered.

He put his foot over her mouth. "Don't give me your answer now. You're
in no condition to think. Tell me tomorrow."

       *       *       *       *       *

It rained all night and continued on into the morning. Tarb's head
ached, but she had to make an appearance at the office. First she vizzed
an acquaintance she had made the day before; then she took her umbrella
and set forth.

As she kicked open the door to the newsroom, all sound ceased. Voices
stopped abruptly. Typewriters halted in mid-click. Even the roar of the
presses downstairs suddenly seemed to mute. Every head turned to look at
Tarb.

_Humph_, she thought, removing her plastic oversocks, _so suppose I was
a little oblique yesterday. They needn't stare at me. They never stare
at Drosmig. Just because I'm a woman, I suppose!_ The gate crashed
loudly behind her.

"Oh, Miss Morfatch," Miss Snow called. "Mr. Zarnon said he wanted to
see you as soon as you came in. It's urgent." And she giggled.

"Really?" Tarb said. "Well, he'll just have to wait until I've wrung out
my wings." Sooner or later, she would have to face Stet, but she wanted
to put it off as long as possible.

She opened the door to her office and halted in amazement. For, seated
on a stool behind the desk, haggard but vertical, was Senbot Drosmig,
busily reading letters and blue-penciling comments on them with his
feet.

"Good morning, my dear," he said, giving her a wan smile. "Surprised to
see me functioning again, eh?"

"Well--yes." She opened her dripping umbrella mechanically and stood it
in a corner. "How--"

"I realized last night that all that happened to you was my fault. You
were my responsibility and I failed you."

"Oh, don't be melodramatic, Senbot. I wasn't your responsibility and you
didn't fail me. Not that I'm not glad to see you up and doing again,
but--"

"But I did fail you!" the aged journalist insisted. "And, in the same
way, I failed my people. I shouldn't have given in. I should have fought
Zarnon as you, my dear, tried to do. But it isn't too late!" The fire of
the crusader lit up in his watery old eyes. "I can still fight him and
his sacred crows--his Earthlings! If I have to, I can go over his head
to Grupe. Grupe may not understand Stet's moral failings, but he
certainly will comprehend his commercial ones. Grupe owns stock in other
Fizbian enterprises besides the _Times_. Autofax, for example."

"Oh, Senbot!" Tarb wailed. "The whole thing's such an awful mess!"

"I don't think it'll be necessary to threaten that far," he comforted
her. "Stet is no fool. He knows which side of his breadnut is peeled."

"I'm sure you'll do a wonderful job," she exclaimed, impulsively giving
a ritual _entrechat_. "And I wish I could stay and help you, but...."

"I know, my dear."

"You do?" She was puzzled. "But how did the news get around so quickly?"

He shrugged. "The Terrestrial grapevine is almost as efficient as the
Fizbian. Didn't you notice any change in the--ah--atmosphere when you
came in?"

"Oh, was that the reason?" Tarb laughed merrily. "Somehow it never
occurred to me that they could have heard so soon."

"But the morning editions have been out for hours."

The door to the office was flung open. Stet stormed in, bristling with a
most unloverlike rage.

"Miss Morfatch--" he waved a crumpled copy of the _Terrestrial Tribune_
at her--"when I give an order, I expect to be obeyed! Didn't Miss Snow
tell you to report directly to my office the instant you came in?
Although that's a question I don't have to ask; I know Miss Snow, at
least, is someone I can trust."

"I was coming to see you, Stet," Tarb said soothingly. "Right away."

"Oh, you were, were you? And have you seen this?" Stet fairly threw the
paper at her. Smack in the middle of the front page was a picture of
herself in full flight over the airfield bar. Not a very good picture,
but what could you expect with Terrestrial equipment? When the autofax
came, perhaps she would be done justice.

                 FIZBIAN NEWSHEN GIVES EARTH A FLUTTER

         "Though No Mammal, I Pack a Lot of Uplift," Says
          Beautiful Fizbian Gal Reporter

     "I feel that you Terrans and we Fizbians can get along much
     better," lovely Tarb Morfatch, Fizbus _Times_ feature writer, told
     her fellow-reporters yesterday at the Moonfield Restaurant, "if we
     learn to understand each other's differences as well as appreciate
     our similarities.

     "With commerce between the two planets expanding as rapidly as it
     has been," Miss Morfatch went on, "it becomes increasingly
     important that we make sure there is no clash of mores between us.
     Where adaptation is impossible, we must both adjust. 'When in Rome,
     do as the Romans do' is an outmoded concept in the complex
     interstellar civilization of today. The Romans must learn to accept
     us as we are, and vice versa.

     "Forgive me if I've offended you by my frankness," she said,
     sticking out her tongue in the charming gesture of apology that is
     acquiring such a vogue on Earth, Belinda Romney and many other
     socialites having enthusiastically adopted it, "but you've violated
     our privacy so many times, I feel I'm entitled to hurt your
     feelings just a teeny-weeny bit...."

"Those Terran journalists," Tarb said admiringly. "Never miss a trick,
do they? Am I in all the other papers too, Stet? Same cheesecake?"

"You've made an ovulating circus out of us--that's what you've done!"

"Nonsense. Good strong human interest stuff; it'll make us lovable as
chicks all over the planet. Gee--" she read on--"did I say all that
while I was caffeinated? I ought to turn out some pretty terrific copy
sober."

"And to think you, the woman I had asked to make my wife, did this to
me."

"Oh, that's all right, Stet," Tarb said without looking up from the
paper. "I wasn't going to accept you, anyway."

"Good for you, Tarb," Drosmig approved.

"You're going back to Fizbus on the next liner--do you hear me?" Stet
raged.

She smiled sunnily. "Oh, but I'm not, Stet. I'm going to stay right here
on Earth. I like it. You might say the spiritual aura got me."

He snorted. "How can you possibly stay? You don't have an independent
income and this is an expensive planet. Besides, I won't let you stay on
Earth. I have considerable influence, you know!"

"Poor Stet." She smiled at him again. "I'm afraid the Fizbian press--the
Fizbian consul even--are pretty small pullets beside the Solar Press
Syndicate. You see, I came in this morning only to resign."

He stared at her.

"Yesterday," she informed him, "I was offered another position--as
feature writer for the SP. I hadn't decided whether or not to accept
when I reported back last evening, but you made up my mind for me, so I
called them this morning and took the job. My work will be to explain
Fizbians to Terrans and Terrans to Fizbians--as I wanted to do for the
_Times_, Stet, only you wouldn't let me."

"It's no use saying anything to you about loyalty, I suppose?"

"None whatsoever," she said. "I owe the _Times_ no loyalty and I'm doing
what I do out of loyalty to Fizbus ... plus, of course, a much higher
salary."

"I'm glad for you, Tarb," Drosmig said sincerely.

"Be glad for yourself, Senbot, because Stet will have to let you conduct
the column your way from now on. Either it'll supplement my work in the
Terrestrial papers or he'll look like a fool. And you do hate looking
like a fool, don't you, Stet?"

He didn't answer.

"Better give up, Stet." She turned to Drosmig. "Well, good-by,
Senbot--or, rather, so long. I'm sure we'll be seeing each other again.
Good-by, Stet. No hard feelings, I hope?"

He neither moved nor spoke.

"Well ... good-by, then," she said.

The door closed. Stet stared after her. The forgotten umbrella dripped
forlornly in the corner.





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