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´╗┐Title: An Elephant for the Prinkip
Author: Stecher, L.J.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "An Elephant for the Prinkip" ***

                      An Elephant For the Prinkip

                         BY L. J. STECHER, JR.

                      Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                     Galaxy Magazine August 1960.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

                      A Delta class freighter can
                      carry anything--maybe more
                      than its skipper can bear!

A delta class freighter isn't pretty to look at, but it can be adapted
to carry most anything, and occasionally even to carry it profitably.
So when I saw one I didn't recognize sitting under the gantry at
Helmholtz Spaceport, I hurried right over to Operations.

It looked as if I might be able to get my Gasha root off-planet before
it started to spoil, after all.

It was the _Delta Crucis_, they told me. She was a tramp, and she
hadn't yet been signed for a cargo. The skipper was listed as his own
agent. They told me where they thought I could find him, so I drifted
over to the Spaceport bar, and looked around.

I found my man quickly enough. He had the young-old look of a deep
spacer. He wore a neat but threadbare blue uniform, with the four broad
gold rings of command--rather tarnished--on each sleeve. He had a glass
of rhial--a liquor that was too potent for my taste--in front of him at
ten o'clock in the morning, and that wasn't a good sign. But he looked
sober enough.

So I picked up a large schooner of beer at the bar and strolled over to
his table in the far corner away from the window.

"Mind if I join you?" I asked casually. "I hate to drink alone."

He stared at me for a minute out of those pale-blue spacer's eyes of
his, until I figured he thought he had me catalogued.

Then he motioned me to the chair across from his at the small table. We
sat for a few minutes in silence, sizing each other up.

"That's a mighty nice looking freighter out there on pad seven," I said
at last. "Yours?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He uncapped his glass, took a sip of rhial, snicked the cover back, and
let the heady stuff evaporate in his mouth. He breathed in sharply in
the approved manner, but he didn't even shudder. He just nodded slowly,

That appeared to pass the conversational ball back to me. "I might
have a cargo for you, if you can handle it," I said. "I hear these
Delta class ships can manage almost anything, but this is a rough one.
The _Annabelle_ is the only ship in the area built to take my stuff,
and she's grounded with transposer troubles."

He cocked one sandy eyebrow at me. I interpreted this to be a request
for the nature of my cargo, so I told him, and let him ponder about it
for a while.

"Gasha root," he said at last, and nodded once. "I can handle it.
That'll be easy, for _Delta Crucis_. Like you said, she can handle
anything. Her last cargo was a live elephant."

We completed our deal without much trouble. He drove a hard bargain,
but a fair one, and he had plenty of self-confidence. He signed a
contingent-on-satisfactory-delivery contract, and that's unusual for a
ship that's handling Gasha. Hadn't thought I'd be so lucky. Gasha is
tricky stuff.

We went over to the Government office to complete the deal--customs
arrangements, notarizations, posting bonds and so forth--but we finally
signed the contract, all legal and binding. His name turned out to be
Bart Hannah.

Then, by unspoken consent, we went back to the bar.

It was after noon, by that time, so I had a Scotch, and then I had
another. I was so relieved to have found a ship for my cargo that I
didn't even think about lunch.

       *       *       *       *       *

I got more and more mellow and talkative as time went by, but the
skipper just sat there, breathing rhial. He didn't seem to change a bit.

Something had been bothering me, though, and I finally figured out
what it was. So I stopped talking about my farming troubles, and asked
Captain Hannah a direct question.

"You say you carried an _elephant_?" I asked. "A _live_ elephant? In a
_space ship_?"

He nodded. "It's an animal," he said. "A very large animal. From Earth."

"I know all about that," I said. "We're civilized here. We're not just
a bunch of back-planet hicks, you know. We study all about the Home
Planet at school. But why--and how--would anyone take an elephant into

He stared at me for a while, then took a deep breath, and let it out
slowly. "I'll tell you," he said. "After all, it's nothing to be really
ashamed of." He pondered for a full minute. "It all started just a few
standard months ago, on Condor--over in Sector Sixty-four W."

"Sixty-four W?" I broke in. "That's clear over on the other side of the

He looked at me for awhile, and then went on just as if I hadn't spoken.

"I'd been doing all right with _Delta Crucis_," he said, "and salting
away plenty of cash, but I wasn't satisfied. It was mostly short-haul
stuff--ten or twenty light years--and it was mostly run-of-the-mill
loads. Fleeder jewels, kharran, morab fur--that sort of thing, you
know. I was getting bored. They said a Delta class freighter could
carry just about anything, and I wanted to prove it. So when I heard
that a rich eccentric, one planet out, on Penguin, might have an
interesting job for me, I flitted right over.

"The Prinkip of Penguin wasn't just rich. He was _rich_ rich. Penguin
has almost twice the diameter of this planet, but it's light enough
to have about the same surface gravity. To give you an idea, its two
biggest bodies of water are about the size of the Atlantic Ocean, back
on the Earth you've studied so much about. On Penguin they call them
lakes. And the Prinkip owns the whole planet--free and clear. I should
be so lucky with _Delta Crucis_.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The Prinkip is a little skinny man, but that doesn't keep him from
having a large-size hobby to go with his large-size planet. The Prinkip
collects animals--one from each planet in his sector. He had a zoo
with nearly three hundred monsters in it--always a sample of the
largest kind from whatever planet it came from.

"He showed me around. It was the damndest sight you ever saw. He had
one animal called a pfleeg. It was almost two hundred feet long; it
walked around on two legs and sang like a bird. He had another one that
had two hundred and thirty-four legs on a side. I counted them. It had
four sides. Didn't care which one was up. He had animals under glass
that didn't breathe at all. He had one animal under a microscope that
was about a thousandth of an inch long, but he told me that it was the
biggest one on Fartolp. He had a big satellite stuck up overhead in a
one-revolution-a-day orbit for animals that needed light gravity. He
had thirty-seven more beasts in that. All in all, he had one animal
from every planet in Sector Sixty-four W that had life. He figured that
he needed just one more animal to complete his collection. He wanted a
sample of a creature from the Home Planet; one live and healthy sample
of Earth's biggest animal. And he wanted to know if I could ship it to

"Well, I didn't give the matter too much thought. After all,
I said to myself, if somebody had managed a three hundred ton
monster almost two hundred feet long, I ought to be able to
manage a little bitty elephant. So I said yes, and I gave him a
contingent-on-satisfactory-delivery contract, for one adult specimen of
Earth's largest animal, male or female, in good condition.

"It wasn't until about that time that the Prinkip told me how that
biggest monster had been shipped. It had arrived in a cardboard box,
wrapped in cotton. It seems that pfleeg eggs weigh just a little under
three ounces. Well, I'd been done but I still figured I could make

       *       *       *       *       *

He lapsed into silence for a moment, thinking deeply. "Did you know
that there are two kinds of elephants on Earth, the African and the
Indian, and that they aren't exactly the same size?" he asked.

I shook my head. "Our schools don't go that far," I said.

He nodded. "Neither do ours. So I immediately bought an Indian
elephant. They're the kind, back on the Home planet, that you can find
tame and easy to handle. They're also the wrong kind. The only reason
I didn't head right back with it is that I was having trouble figuring
out how to carry it in the _Crucis_. Even an Indian elephant weighs
about six tons. At least, mine did. In itself, that's not a very big
load, but the trip back would take a good many months of subjective
time, and of course elephants eat on subjective time. And how they eat!
The food I carried would weigh the same as the elephant.

"I wondered how elephants would like weightlessness, so I took my
Indian elephant up on a little jaunt around Earth's satellite. The
Moon, they call it. Elephants don't like weightlessness at all." He
paused, and signaled the bartender for another drink. "I hope you never
have to clean up after a space-sick elephant," he said darkly.

"That meant that I'd have to put spin on the _Crucis_ for the entire
trip back to Penguin. It's hard enough to try to navigate in hyperspace
with spin on your ship, but that wasn't the worst of it. An elephant is
a tremendous amount of off-center load for a ship with a large fraction
of a one-gee spin on it. Too much load even to think about handling.
Even though I couldn't come up with an answer, right off hand, I went
ahead and turned in my Indian elephant on an African model. Beulah was
her name, and she was a husky girl. She weighed in at just a little
more than eight tons."

I waved my whisky glass at Captain Hannah. "But I don't see your
problem," I said. "If you put the elephant on one side and his food on
the other, there wouldn't be any off-balanced load, would there?"

"Not until the food was eaten, anyway," said the skipper witheringly,
and I subsided with a fresh drink.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Beulah was kind of cute, for all of her tonnage," said the skipper.
"She had two enormous tusks, and a pair of ears like wings, and a nose
that was longer than her tail. But she was mighty friendly, after she
got to know me. She'd pick me up and carry me around, if I asked her
to. And she'd eat right out of my hand. She turned out to be even tamer
than the Indian elephant. All I had to do was figure out how to carry

"For a starter, I figured like you said, to have Beulah on one side of
the cargo compartment, and her chow on the other. Then I calculated
to have my own supplies on the other two sides of the space, so that
I could move them away from her as her food stocks got smaller, and
hold the balance that way. That wasn't enough, of course, so I built a
couple of water tanks on the opposite side of the ring from Beulah.

"As you know, not much can be done about moving water around in a space
ship--it's got its own cooling chores to perform--but every little
bit helped. Finally, I jockeyed the master computer and the auxiliary
computer down and ran them on tracks, so I could slide them around
to compensate for Beulah's appetite. Some lead slugs brought the
auxiliary's weight up equal to the master's, and they also brought my
total load up to the absolute maximum that I could carry.

"It was almost enough. But a miss is as good as a mile, for a space
ship. I was stuck, and there didn't seem to be a thing I could do about
it. Even if I could have carried more weight it wouldn't have helped.
Any more mass in the cargo compartment would have thrown the c.g. too
far aft." He beckoned for more rhial.

"So what did you do?" I prompted. "You did say that you carried the
elephant, didn't you?"

"Sure. Like I said, a Delta class freighter can do almost anything.
Beulah gave me the answer herself. If you've ever lived with an
elephant, one thing becomes clear mighty fast. They're a mighty
efficient machine for converting fodder into elephant droppings. So I
made a bin on the opposite side of the compartment from Beulah, and
let her gradually fill it while she ate me out of balance. The weight
of the--what's a nice word for it?--was just enough to let me keep the
whole setup in dynamic balance."

"Compost heap?" I suggested dreamily, picturing the arrangement in my
mind. There was poetry in it. Or was it poetic justice that I had in

       *       *       *       *       *

"That's it," said Captain Hannah. "Compost heap. Well, I started the
journey with the ship full and Beulah and the compost heap empty. I
finished pretty much the other way around. I suppose it sounds easy,
but it wasn't.

"I started off with Beulah chained down in the middle of the
compartment, and everything stacked around her. She didn't want me
to leave when I went up to the bridge to take off, and hollered
as piteously as you can imagine. But I couldn't have a nurse for
her--mahout, they call them. I couldn't spare the weight. Or the
salary, for that matter. She was chained down, so she couldn't move
around and upset the balance.

"After chemical take off, we slid into parking orbit as sweet as you
please. I hurried down to shift the load around. I didn't want to stay
weightless any longer than I had to, because I remembered that sick
Indian elephant--and Beulah outweighed him by almost two tons, and had
a larger stomach to match. Of course, the Indian elephant had gone into
orbit on a full belly, and I hadn't let Beulah have a bite to eat for
hours. It made a difference, let me tell you.

"Beulah made trouble in her own way, though. As soon as I got within
reach, she grabbed me with that long nose of hers, and wouldn't let
go. She didn't hurt me or anything like that; she just wanted company
in her misery. I couldn't coax her with food. The very thought of food
made her shudder.

"I couldn't reach her chains to cut her loose, and I couldn't reach the
radio to call for help. If it hadn't been for the Ionosphere Guard, I
might have starved to death. I'd hired the parking orbit for twelve
hours, and when I was still in it after that time, Port Control started
to holler. I could hear them on my loud speaker, but I couldn't answer
them. So the Ionosphere Guard finally sent up a small craft with a
lieutenant and a three-man crew in it to see what was wrong.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Those sailors were good. They didn't even look surprised; they just
went to work as if they handled elephants in space every day. They
drove four lines through the ring bolts I'd welded in the spin-deck,
cast Beulah loose and hauled her over to her new spot as neat as you

"Then, no nonsense, the lieutenant ordered Beulah to let loose of me.
She did, too.

"After that they left, stopping for just one drink of my good bourbon.
I didn't drink rhial then.

"I wirelessed Port Control my penalty fees and another twelve hour's
hire in the orbit, and started shifting the load. I was working on
an empty stomach, and Beulah still didn't feel hungry, so she didn't
remind me that I hadn't eaten. I almost collapsed before I got the job

"Then I put spin on, which made Beulah comfortable at last, and tried
to juggle the ship into a hyper-trajectory, still without stopping for
food or sleep. It didn't take long before Beulah started squalling for
supper. After I fed her I had to adjust balance all over again. By that
time I was pushing my new twelve-hour limit, and I didn't give much
of a damn any more. I just counted to ten and pushed the button. Then
I turned in and slept until Beulah started squalling for breakfast. I
ignored her until I ate about three squares in a row, then I fed her
and adjusted balance. After that I checked my trajectory.

"It was the best I've ever made in twenty-four years of jumping. It was

"So I turned back in again and slept until Beulah woke me for lunch.
I didn't know it at the time, but Beulah was eating for two. That
possibility probably should have occurred to me earlier, what with the
name 'Beulah', but you can't think of everything, and there I was, the
first man to go into hyperspace with an elephant. Anyway, it didn't
even worry me, even when I found out about it. I checked the contract.
Everything seemed to be well covered. And according to my book on
elephants, Beulah should still be only a potential mother when we
reached Penguin. As a matter of fact, the whole idea made me feel just
a little bit proud. Like a father, you know?

"What with having to shift weights after every meal, and Beulah setting
the schedule for meals, I was kept mighty busy. My self-winding
wristwatch overwound itself and stopped, in spite of the advertisements
about it, and I didn't find out for almost two weeks, subjective, that
Beulah's stomach ran fast. What's more, I think she knew it. Because
when I finally woke up to what was going on, and started to run her
schedule by the clock, she didn't fuss a bit. Beulah's a clever girl.

"I was so worn out when we finally reached Penguin that I just slid
into orbit, kept spin on, laid out a couple of extra meals for Beulah
and slept the clock around. The Prinkip was mighty mad about it when
I finally turned on my radio, but I told him I had my cargo ready for
delivery and where did he want me to put it? So he calmed down and gave
me the coordinates.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Of course, I had to take off the spin and shift Beulah back to the
landing deck, and there wasn't any Ionosphere Guard around to help me
if I got into any kind of trouble. So I was mighty careful. I put the
chains on Beulah again, and then set up trip ropes so I could cut her
loose without getting inside of reach of that nose of hers. Then I ran
lines back to the first set of ring bolts, so I could drag her back,
weightless, without any trouble. Beulah looked a little unhappy, but
didn't make any fuss about it all. I started to take spin off, giving
the orders to the angle jets through the computer right down in the
cargo compartment, so the old girl wouldn't worry about where I was.

"Beulah didn't squall as her weight came off this time. She just
reached down and tripped loose the chains around her ankles. Did I tell
you that she was mighty clever?"

I nodded.

"Well, she started around that spin deck after me. I punched into the
computer the maximum order for spin reduction, and started around the
spin deck to keep away from her. Beulah grabbed hold of the computer
with her nose--for support, I guess--when she got over there. She
yanked the whole thing clear off the deck, breaking its cable. _Crucis_
lurched once.

"And I ended up in the compost heap.

"With Beulah way off center, and with that last wild burst from the
jets before they cut off, the ship was gyrating in a way that made
_my_ stomach uneasy. It didn't seem to bother Beulah, though. She just
wanted to be near me. I got out of there fast, and went up onto the

"The main computer was out, of course. I couldn't interrogate the
auxiliary computer remotely, so I had to fly that wobbling ship to a
stop by the seat of my pants. I did it, too.

"Then I went back to the cargo compartment and hauled Beulah into the
center. She didn't make any more trouble--she was sorry for what she
had done.

"The coordinates the Prinkip had given me looked almighty close to a
big pond that I didn't recall having seen before, but I was too busy
making a landing with minimum fuel to ask him about it. I finally
fought her down safely with one leg of my tripod actually in the pond,
and clouds of steam rising up around _Delta Crucis_. I call it a pond.
But on a normal-size planet it would be a good big lake.

"Anyway, I had made it safely to Penguin, and my elephant was alive and
healthy. I congratulated Beulah when I untied her, and then I took her
outside to meet the Prinkip. I think I was a little proud of myself,
and of Beulah, and of _Delta Crucis_, too."

       *       *       *       *       *

I was so stirred by hearing about this successful conclusion of Captain
Hannah's mission that I shook his hand warmly and ordered a round of
drinks for everyone in the room. Fortunately, it was not very crowded
at the time.

"That's not quite the end of the story," said the skipper. "You see,
the Prinkip had built the pond to keep Beulah in. He had somehow gotten
the idea that I was bringing him a whale."

I looked blank.

"An Earth mammal. It lives in the oceans, and runs to maybe seventy or
eighty tons."

I sat down slowly, and then made a sudden dive for my contract for the
use of the _Delta Crucis_.

The skipper nodded. "I had a contingent contract with the Prinkip,
too," he said, "and I hadn't delivered. I still haven't figured out how
to make delivery of a whale, but I will some day.

"And if you're looking for that part of our contract where you agree to
store any residual cargo I may be carrying, it's all legal and binding.
Until I get back from hauling your Gasha root, you'll have to care for
one adult female African elephant. But I'm sure you'll get to like
Beulah as much as I have. She's a mighty clever elephant."

I called the waiter over and ordered a beaker of rhial.

"But you're lucky at that," said Hannah. "Check subparagraph f of
paragraph 74 of our contract: Incidental accrual. When Beulah has her
baby, the little tyke will be all yours."

Now I know why Captain Hannah drinks rhial in the morning.

So do I.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "An Elephant for the Prinkip" ***

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