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The Star Beast

Robert A. Heinlein

  The STAR


  by Robert A. Heinlein

  Jacket, title page, and endpapers


  Robert Heinlein’s “space zoo” is unique—there is an unusual animal in each of his books. Lummox, whose story is told in this book, is an extraordinary creature that endears itself to us in the first chapters.

  The creature is—we believe as we read—the pet of John Thomas Stuart XII—a good many years from now. At the end we discover Lummox has quite different ideas about the relationship. What is Lummox? It is some time before the reader really finds out.

  Robert A. Heinlein

  Robert Heinlein is one of the outstanding science-fiction writers of today, and his stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. Willy Ley has said of him: “In science-fiction circles it has become customary to use Robert A. Heinlein as the standard; unfortunately for most writers that standard is too high.”

  Heinlein wanted first to become an astronomer and this interest in stars persisted through his training at Annapolis and his service in the Navy. And now that he is writing science-fiction, the stars are in their proper places and his space flight formulas are mathematically correct.

  Books by Robert A. Heinlein

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  REVOLT IN 2100



  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without the permission of Charles Scribner’s Sons



  Some excerpts from this book were first published in THe Magazine of Fantasy and Science-Fiction under the title “Star Lummox.”







  The Department of Spatial Affairs


  “—An Improper Question”


  The Prisoner at the Bars


  A Matter of Viewpoint


  “Space Is Deep, Excellency”


  “Mother Knows Best”


  The Sensible Thing To Do


  Customs and an Ugly Duckling


  The Cygnus Decision


  “It’s Too Late, Johnnie”


  Concerning Pidgie-Widgie


  “No, Mr. Secretary”


  “Destiny? Fiddlesticks!”


  Undiplomatic Relations


  “Sorry We Messed Things Up”


  Ninety-Seven Pickle Dishes



  LUMMOX was bored and hungry. The latter was a normal state; creatures of Lummox’s breed were always ready for a little snack, even after a full meal. Being bored was less usual and derived directly from the fact that Lummox’s chum and closest associate, John Thomas Stuart, had not been around all day, having chosen to go off somewhere with his friend Betty.

  One afternoon was a mere nothing; Lummox could hold his breath that long. But he knew the signs and understood the situation; John Thomas had reached the size and age when he would spend more and more time with Betty, or others like her, and less and less time with Lummox. Then there would come a fairly long period during which John Thomas would spend practically no time with Lummox but at the end of which there would arrive a new John Thomas which would presently grow large enough to make an interesting playmate.

  From experience Lummox recognized this cycle as necessary and inevitable; nevertheless the immediate prospect was excruciatingly boring. He lumbered listlessly around the back yard of the Stuart home, looking for anything—a grasshopper, a robin, anything at all that might be worth looking at. He watched a hill of ants for a while. They seemed to be moving house; an endless chain was dragging little white grubs in one direction while a countermarching line returned for more grubs. This killed a half hour.

  Growing tired of ants, he moved away toward his own house. His number-seven foot came down on the ant hill and crushed it, but the fact did not come to his attention. His own house was just big enough for him to back into it and was the end building of a row of decreasing size; the one at the far end would have made a suitable doghouse for a chihuahua.

  Piled outside his shed were six bales of hay. Lummox pulled a small amount off one bale and chewed it lazily. He did not take a second bite because he had taken as much as he thought he could steal and not have it noticed. There was nothing to stop him from eating the entire pile—except the knowledge that John Thomas would bawl him out bitterly and might even refuse for a week or more to scratch him with the garden rake. The household rules required Lummox not to touch food other than natural forage until it was placed in his manager; Lummox usually obeyed as he hated dissension and was humiliated by disapproval.

  Besides, he did not want hay. He had had hay for supper last night, he would have it again tonight, and again tomorrow night. Lummox wanted something with more body and a more interesting flavor. He ambled over to the low fence which separated the several acres of back yard from Mrs. Stuart’s formal garden, stuck his head over and looked longingly at Mrs. Stuart’s roses. The fence was merely a symbol marking the line he must not cross. Lummox had crossed it once, a few years earlier, and had sampled the rose bushes…just a sample, a mere appetizer, but Mrs. Stuart had made such a fuss that he hated to think about it even now. Shuddering at the recollection, he backed hastily away from the fence.

  But he recalled some rose bushes that did not belong to Mrs. Stuart, and therefore in Lummox’s opinion, did not belong to anybody. They were in the garden of the Donahues, next door west. There was a possible way, which Lummox had been thinking about lately, to reach these “ownerless” rose bushes.

  The Stuart place was surrounded by a ten-foot concrete wall. Lummox had never tried to climb over it, although he had nibbled the top of it in places. In the rear there was one break in it, where the gully draining the land crossed the property line. The gap in the wall was filled by a massive grating of eight-by-eight timbers, bolted together with extremely heavy bolts. The vertical timbers were set in the stream bed and the contractor who had erected it had assured Mrs. Stuart that it would stop Lummox, or a herd of elephants, or anything else too big-hipped to crawl between the timbers.

  Lummox knew that the contractor was mistaken, but his opinion had not been asked and he had not offered it. John Thomas had not expressed an opinion either, but he had seemed to suspect the truth; he had emphatically ordered Lummox not to tear the grating down.

  Lummox had obeyed. He had sampled it for flavor, but the wooden timbers had been soaked in something which gave them a really unbearable taste; he let them be.

  But Lummox felt no responsibility for natural forces. He had noticed, about three month
s back, that spring rains had eroded the gully so that two of the vertical timbers were no longer imbedded but were merely resting on the dry stream bed. Lummox had been thinking about this for several weeks and had found that a gentle nudge tended to spread the timbers at the bottom. A slightly heavier nudge might open up a space wide enough without actually tearing down the grating…

  Lummox lumbered down to check up. Still more of the stream bed had washed away in the last rain; one of the vertical timbers hung a few inches free of the sand. The one next to it was barely resting on the ground. Lummox smiled like a simple-minded golliwog and carefully, delicately insinuated his head between the two big posts. He pushed gently.

  Above his head came a sound of rending wood and the pressure suddenly relieved. Startled, Lummox pulled his head out and looked up. The upper end of one eight-by-eight had torn free of its bolts; it pivoted now on a lower horizontal girder. Lummox clucked to himself. Too bad…but it couldn’t be helped. Lummox was not one to weep over past events; what has been, must be. No doubt John Thomas would be vexed…but in the meantime here was an opening through the grating. He lowered his head like a football linesman, set himself in low gear, and pushed on through. There followed several sounds of protesting and rending wood and sharper ones of broken bolts, but Lummox ignored it all; he was on the far side now, a free agent.

  He paused and raised up like a caterpillar, lifting legs one and three, two and four, off the ground, and looked around. It was certainly nice to be outside; he wondered why he had not done it sooner. It had been a long time since John Thomas had taken him out, even for a short walk.

  He was still looking around, sniffing free air, when an unfriendly character charged at him, yapping and barking furiously. Lummox recognized him, an oversized and heavily muscled mastiff that ran ownerless and free in the neighborhood; they had often exchanged insults through the grating. Lummox had nothing against dogs; in the course of his long career with the Stuart family he had known several socially and had found them pretty fair company in the absence of John Thomas. But this mastiff was another matter. He fancied himself boss of the neighborhood, bullied other dogs, terrorized cats, and repeatedly challenged Lummox to come out and fight like a dog.

  Nevertheless Lummox smiled at him, opened his mouth wide and, in a lisping, baby-girl voice from somewhere far back inside him, called the mastiff a very bad name. The dog gasped. it is likely that he did not comprehend what Lummox had said, but he did know that he had been insulted. He recovered himself and renewed the attack, barking louder than ever and raising an unholy ruckus while dashing around Lummox and making swift sorties at his flanks to nip at Lummox’s legs.

  Lummox remained reared up, watching the dog but making no move. He did add to his earlier remark a truthful statement about the dog’s ancestry and an untruthful one about his habits; they helped to keep the mastiff berserk. But on the dog’s seventh round trip he cut fairly close to where Lummox’s first pair of legs would have been had Lummox had all eight feet on the ground; Lummox ducked his head the way a frog strikes at a fly. His mouth opened like a wardrobe trunk and gobbled the mastiff.

  Not bad, Lummox decided as he chewed and swallowed. Not bad at all…and the collar made a crunchy tidbit. He considered whether or not to go back through the grating, now that he had had a little snack, and pretend that he had never been outside at all. However, there were still those ownerless rose bushes…and no doubt John Thomas would make it inconvenient for him to get out again soon. He ambled away parallel to the Stuart’s rear wall, then swung around the end onto the Donahue land.

  John Thomas Stuart XI got home shortly before dinner time, having already dropped Betty Sorensen at her home. He noticed, as he landed, that Lummox was not in sight, but he assumed that his pet was in his shed. His mind was not on Lummox, but on the age-old fact that females do not operate by logic, at least as logic is understood by males.

  He was planning to enter Western Tech; Betty wanted them both to attend the state university. He had pointed out that he could not get the courses he wanted at State U.; Betty had insisted that he could and had looked up references to prove her point. He had rebutted by saying that it was not the name of a course that mattered, but who taught it. The discussion had fallen to pieces when she had refused to concede that he was an authority.

  He had absent-mindedly unstrapped his harness copter, while dwelling on the illogic of the feminine mind, and was racking it in the hallway, when his mother burst into his presence. “John Thomas! Where have you been?”

  He tried to think what he could have slipped on now. It was a bad sign when she called him “John Thomas”…“John” or “Johnnie” was okay, or even “Johnnie Boy.” But “John Thomas” usually meant that he had been accused, tried, and convicted in absentia. “Huh? Why, I told you at lunch, Mum. Out hopping with Betty. We flew over to…”

  “Never mind that! Do you know what that beast has done?”

  Now he had it. Lummox. He hoped it wasn’t Mum’s garden. Maybe Lum had just knocked over his own house again. If so, Mum would level off presently. Maybe he had better build a new one, bigger. “What’s the trouble?” he asked cautiously.

  “‘What’s the trouble?’ What isn’t the trouble? John Thomas, this time you simply will have to get rid of it. This is the last straw.”

  “Take it easy, Mum,” he said hastily. “We can’t get rid of Lum. You promised Dad.”

  She made no direct answer. “With the police calling every ten minutes and that great dangerous beast rampaging around and…”

  “Huh? Wait a minute, Mum, Lum isn’t dangerous; he’s gentle as a kitten. What happened?”


  He gradually drew out of her some of the details. Lummox had gone for a stroll; that much was clear. John Thomas hoped without conviction that Lummox had not got any iron or steel while he was out; iron had such an explosive effect on his metabolism. There was the time Lummox had eaten that second-hand Buick…

  His thoughts were interrupted by his mother’s words. “…and Mrs. Donahue is simply furious! And well she might be…her prize roses.”

  Oh oh, that was bad. He tried to recall the exact amount in his savings account. He would have to apologize, too, and think of ways to butter up the old biddy. In the meantime he would beat Lummox’s ears with an ax; Lummox knew about roses, there was no excuse.

  “Look, Mum, I’m awfully sorry. I’ll go right out and pound some sense into his thick head. When I get through with him, he won’t dare sneeze without permission.” John Thomas started edging around her.

  “Where are you going?” she demanded.

  “Huh? Out to talk with Lum, of course. When I get through with him…”

  “Don’t be silly. He isn’t here.”

  “Huh? Where is he?” John Thomas swiftly rearranged his prayers to hope that Lummox hadn’t found very much iron. The Buick hadn’t really been Lummox’s fault and anyhow it had belonged to John Thomas, but…

  “No telling where he is now. Chief Dreiser said…”

  “The police are after Lummox?”

  “You can just bet they are, young man! The entire safety patrol is after him. Mr. Dreiser wanted me to come downtown and take him home, but I told him we would have to get you to handle that beast.”

  “But Mother, Lummox would have obeyed you. He always does. Why did Mr. Dreiser take him downtown? He knows Lum belongs here. Being taken downtown would frighten Lum. The poor baby is timid; he wouldn’t like…”

  “Poor baby indeed! He wasn’t taken downtown.”

  “But you said he was.”

  “I said no such thing. If you’ll be quiet, I’ll tell you what happened.”

  It appeared that Mrs. Donahue had surprised Lummox when he had eaten only four or five of her rose bushes. With much courage and little sense she had run at him with a broom, to scream and belabor him about the head. She had not followed the mastiff, though he could have managed her with one gulp; Lummox had a sense of prope
rty as nice as that of any house cat. People were not food; in fact, people were almost invariably friendly.

  So his feelings were hurt. He had lumbered away from there, pouting.

  The next action report on Lummox was for a point two miles away and about thirty minutes later. The Stuarts lived in a suburban area of Westville; open country separated it from the main part of town. Mr. Ito had a small farm in this interval, where he hand-raised vegetables for the tables of gourmets. Mr. Ito apparently had not known what it was that he had found pulling up his cabbages and gulping them down. Lummox’s long residence in the vicinity was certainly no secret, but Mr. Ito had no interest in other people’s business and had never seen Lummox before.

  But he showed no more hesitation than had Mrs. Donahue. He dashed into his house and came out with a gun that had been handed down to him from his grandfather—a relic of the Fourth World War of the sort known affectionately as a “tank killer.”

  Mr. Ito steadied the gun on a potting bench and let Lummox have it where he would have sat down had Lummox been constructed for such. The noise scared Mr. Ito (he had never heard the weapon fired) and the flash momentarily blinded him. When he blinked his eyes and recovered, the thing had gone.

  But it was easy to tell the direction in which it had gone. This encounter had not humiliated Lummox as had the brush with Mrs. Donahue; this frightened him almost out of his wits. While busy with his fresh green salad he had been faced toward a triplet of Mr. Ito’s greenhouses. When the explosion ticked him and the blast assailed his hearing, Lummox shifted into high gear and got underway in the direction he was heading. Ordinarily he used a leg firing order of 1,4,5,8,2,3,6,7 and repeat, good for speeds from a slow crawl to fast as a trotting horse; he now broke from a standing start into a double-ended gallop, moving legs 1 & 2 & 5 & 6 together, alternated with 3 & 4 & 7 & 8.