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Title: When You Giffle

Author: L.J. Stecher

Illustrator: Bruno

Release Date: September 12, 2016 [EBook #53035]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at



[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of Tomorrow December 1963
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

They were like any other boys sporting in their
old swimming hole—in the depths of space!

I was a little bit worried when I saw Captain Hannah again. I thought he might have decided he wanted his elephants back, and I'd grown sort of attached to them. Although I couldn't break the baby of the habit of nibbling on Gasha leaves, in spite of the fact that they're not good for him.

A few months earlier, Captain Hannah had conned me into taking the elephants off his hands and out of his tramp spaceship. He had suffered from intellectual terrestrial zoological insufficiency—or in other words, he hadn't known whales are mammals, and had delivered the multi-ton Beulah instead, to the Prinkip of Penguin, as an adult sample of Earth's largest mammal.

The Prinkip had quite properly refused delivery, and Hannah had stuck me with her and her incipient progeny.

I needn't have worried. Captain Hannah didn't want her back. He just wanted to relax and talk to someone. I bought him a drink, but I refused one myself, remembering what had happened to me the times before, when I had listened to Captain Hannah with a glass in my hand.

Captain Hannah ran a leathery hand over his leathery face. He looked haggard. "I came here because I've got to talk to somebody," he said, "and you make a good listener.

"Do you remember after I completed my contract with you for the delivery of the gasha root, and after you had talked me into leaving Beulah with you for the sake of the little one, how we had a few drinks together to celebrate our mutual success, before I headed out?"

Well, my memory about who had talked whom into what about Beulah didn't agree with his, but I told him I remembered our last get-together, and he went on.

"Anyone who tries to set up an interstellar Jump with a hangover should be permanently barred from the spaceways," he said with some feeling. "I guess that the only reason they aren't, is that the ones who make a mistake are never heard from again." He paused and sipped. "Except me."

"When I left you that last time, and pushed Delta Crucis up into parking orbit, I was full of rhial and a grim determination to deliver a whale to the Prinkip. I must have made some mistake or other in setting up the Jump coordinates, because when I popped out of Limbo, alarm bells went off in all directions. The main computer told me it didn't have the faintest idea where we had arrived, and the auxiliary computer agreed noisily. I turned off the alarms and uncovered the viewports to check for myself, without much hope.

"The view from the ones on the starboard side didn't show me anything I recognized, so I pushed myself across the room and slid off the covers on the port side.

"The stars there were unfamiliar, too, but I'm afraid that I didn't notice for awhile. The foreground was taking up all of my attention. There were two towheaded kids—about eight or nine years old, I should judge—floating in empty space, with their noses flattened against the viewport glass. They were as brown as berries, and as naked as jaybirds, and as cute as chipmunks, and as alike as two peas, and as improbable as virtue.

"The one on the left—my left, that is—backed off enough so that his nose straightened out, smiled angelically and asked politely whether he and his twin brother might come in. That is, his lips moved and I heard the words, and they made sense. Only they didn't. Nothing made sense when somebody talking in a vacuum could be heard as if he were right beside you. Anyway, I nodded that they could come in.

"The two boys swam forward, using a sort of self-taught kind of a breast stroke, right through the solid glass of the viewport, until they were in the ship beside me, and then they stood up. That's no small feat in itself, standing up in a spaceship in the absence of gravity or spin."

Captain Hannah beckoned the waiter for a refill, and then asked me if I wouldn't change my mind and drink with him. The way this story of his was going, I figured I might as well, and he didn't start in talking again until we had both had a sip.

"They were skinny, and they looked explosively energetic, the way kids that age usually do. But they just stood quietly facing me side by side, giving out with cheerful gaptoothed small-boy smiles. Somehow or other it was reassuring to notice that they both had belly buttons. It was an indication to me—whether it made sense or not—that they were just human beings; that they had been born of women in the usual way—and that there must be some rational explanation for what looked like miracles.

"'Is there anything I can do for you two kids?' I asked, as politely as I knew how.

"'Well, sir,' said the one who had spoken before, 'please excuse us for barging in on you like this, with no clothes on and all....'

"The other boy picked up the conversation without a break, 'but you have materialized your spaceship right in the middle of our swimming hole ...'

"'... and it's muddying everything up something fierce,' finished boy number one.

"I glanced out through the view ports at the illimitable and untrammeled reaches of space, and then back at the boys.

"'We're afraid you'll just have to take our word for it, sir. This is our swimming hole,' said boy number one earnestly. 'There aren't many ...'

"'... spots like this in space,' number two picked up. 'It has something to do with gravity balances and radiation zones and thought-energy sumps and a lot of other ...'

"'... things like that that we don't understand either because we haven't had it in school yet. But we do know that it's the best place we can reach for space swimming, only ...'

"'... it's too far for us to get to and pull along our clothes too. Besides which, what boy would want to go swimming with his clothes on anyway?' They both came to a full stop.

"'The only thing wrong with it,' the speaker had shifted again, 'is, it's even too far to bring along any sandwiches and cookies and stuff.'

"I stopped swinging my head back and forth from one to the other as the speaker shifted, and shook myself awake. 'How about some chocolate cake and a bulb or two of milk? I've got plenty of both,' I told them."

"Oh, come now," I said to Captain Hannah, glancing at the row of rhial beakers in front of him. In spite of his space tan, I could see him blush.

"Well, I like chocolate cake," he said defensively. "And drinking milk when I'm in space gets my stomach back in shape for going ashore again with the likes of you. What's wrong with that, I'd like to know?"

I signified "Nothing at all," with an elaborate gesture, and he went back to his story after dipping his nose.

"Well, I gave each of them some cake and milk, and they sat down politely at my table to eat it ... and the plates stayed on the table and the cake stayed on the plates even though there wasn't any gravity and I didn't have any spin on the ship.

"'Now what's all this about my muddying up your swimming hole?' I asked, when they had finished eating all my cake and drinking three bulbs of milk each.

"'That's all there is to it, sir,' said the first boy. 'You have changed the gravity balance and the radiation pattern and everything else ...'

"'... and that's taken all the fun out of swimming. And when you have taken all the chances we have in playing hooky just because this is such a good place to swim ...'

"'... it's a shame to have it all spoiled. So would you please leave, sir?'

"'Oh, I'd be glad to Jump out of here, boys,' I told them. 'But you see, I've got a little problem. I'm lost. I don't have the faintest idea where in the Universe I am, so how can I set the right coordinates to Jump somewhere else?'

"'Oh!' said the two boys together. 'We didn't realize....' They stopped, and looked at each other. They acted as if they were carrying on an argument although their lips didn't move and I couldn't hear anything. At any rate, they soon reached some sort of agreement.

"'We'll have to get help,' said the first boy at last. 'We'd call Dad, except he'd warm both of us real good if he knew we were out here swimming when we're supposed to be in school. But....'

"'There's our big brother Jim. We've got enough on him so maybe he won't squeal. And he's grown up enough to know what to do.'

"'And he was real good at narking and giffling in school.'

"'He got an A in narking, and a B plus in giffling, but of course it wasn't advanced giffling.'

"'Still, he should be able to do the job, all right.'

"Their faces went blank and they both stared off into space as if they were concentrating as hard as they could. Suddenly, with no warning and no noise, a young man of about fifteen or so was standing beside them with his hands on his hips. He wore a kilt and a singlet of some soft, shiny material, but no shoes.

"'Well, if it isn't Mike and Aloysius,' he said conversationally. 'Boy, are you two going to get it when you show your faces around home. Dad's been looking for you.'

"'The older boy turned and stuck his hand out at me. 'Captain Hannah, sir,' he said. 'My name's Jim Monahan. I must apologize for the brats. They bother everybody. They have asked me to help get you out of your difficulties.'

"'I must have set the wrong Jump pattern,' I stammered. 'It's incredibly lucky that I came back out of Limbo in a place where I could ask for help. If you can give it to me, I would be most grateful.'

"'Well, sir,' said Jim, 'your appearing here isn't quite as incredible as you might think. Dad says that several of you Bumblejumpers....' He stopped and looked embarrassed. 'I'm sorry, sir. Several of you who have made errors in your Jump setting have ended up here.'

"'Not in our swimming hole,' asserted Aloysius.

"'In this general area of space. Dad calls it the delta of a psionic river. He says that we who are psionic adepts should stop bouncing back and forth between here and the established sectors so much, or we'll groove the psionic channels so much that everybody who goofs will end up here. And we may even increase the probability of goofing.'

"'I just want to get back to where I can recognize the stars,' I told the boy.

"'If you don't mind my saying so, sir, I nark the impression that you want something more. Something about getting a whale to the planet Penguin II?'

"I nodded. 'If these kid brothers of yours can run around mald-bottom in space without catching cold, then I guess you can probably send a whale from one planet to another by mind power—by psionics.'

"'But that's not really what you want?' the boy persisted.

"I nodded. 'Even psionics can't do what I really want. A Delta class freighter can do almost anything, but it can't transport an adult blue whale across space. Still, that's what I really want it to do, and it's that desire that you are apparently picking out of my mind.'

"Jim frowned for a couple of minutes in deep concentration while Mike and Aloysius nudged each other slyly, gradually got more rambunctious, and finally lost their tempers and started a half-wrestling, half-boxing tussle.

"Jim clapped his hands together sharply, twice. The kids quieted down abruptly, looking at Jim indignantly and rubbing their posteriors. At the same time, Jim picked a small box out of the air and handed it to me with a flamboyant gesture.

"Lettered on the box was the neatly printed instruction 'EAT ME'.

"'Shades of Lewis Carroll,' I said to myself, opening the box and looking at the little cakes inside.

"'Go ahead, sir,' chorused Mike and Aloysius, 'Don't be chicken!'

"I looked at the pill-sized cakes for a minute. Then I shrugged my shoulders and tossed them all down at once, like taking a shot of whiskey neat. For a few seconds nothing happened except for an odd sort of fizzling feeling inside, and then suddenly I started to shrink, just like Alice in Wonderland. I hardly had time to notice that the whole Monahan tribe was shrinking right along with me, before I found that I was having trouble breathing, and it was as if my insides were trying to climb up past my Adam's apple. I couldn't talk, so I tried hard to give Jim Monahan a dirty look before I passed out, which I promptly did.

"I couldn't have been unconscious for more than a few seconds. I woke up to find that I had shrunk to a height of maybe two feet, and that Jim was looking at me with a very worried expression.

"'Boy, was that a lousy job of giffling,' I heard Aloysius say, irreverently. At least, it was Aloysius unless the two boys had exchanged positions while I had been out.

"'Yup, you've got to be careful when you giffle,' agreed his twin sagely.

"'What happened?' I asked weakly. 'And why have you shrunk us down this way?'

"'Shrunk us down?' asked Jim blankly, and then he laughed. 'Oh, I didn't do anything like that to us. That sort of thing is too dangerous to try unless you're a Master Giffler. I don't think even Dad would try a thing like that with a human being. All I did was to enlarge the spaceship. At the same time, of course, I increased the strength of the intermolecular bonds, so that the ship is just as sturdy as it was before. Only now it's big enough to carry a whale.'

"'Only the big jerk forgot that with the space in this room suddenly increased to twenty-five or thirty times as big as it was before, there still wasn't any more ...'

"'... air in it, so you nearly suffocated.' I think it ended with Mike.

"'But he finally had sense enough to gather the air in a ball around your head, so you woke up all right, and I nark that now he had brought in enough air ...'

"'... to fill the room and all your tanks, so you'll be all right now.'

"'And now you can get yourself out of our swimming hole, sir,' Aloysius, I think, concluded.

"I was still a little dazed. But I tried to put my brain in gear, while I looked from one smiling, expectant Monahan face to another. 'I've got one question,' I said at last.

"'Yes, sir?' asked Jim, all eagerness to be helpful.

"'Does this psionic ability all of you are playing around with so freely make you basically any smarter than an ordinary untalented run-of-the-mill human of the same age?'

"'Well of course, sir,' said Jim, and then looked at the two brats, who were staring at him with their mouths open.

"'Well, of course, we have a lot more to learn than the Normals,' he began again. 'But then, I've studied hard instead of playing hooky like the imps here.'

"Now all three of us were staring at him.

"'Well, to be truthful, sir, Dad says that we've got about the same basic intelligence as the Normals, and that we shouldn't try to get uppity because of our special talents. But most Normals that I've seen usually don't act very bright.'

"'Then,' I asked with elaborate patience, 'all you did was to make my Delta Crucis bigger, and to increase the strength of the components to match? Nothing else?'

"Jim nodded warily. 'That's it, sir.'

"'It didn't occur to you, son, that while that might be all right for the hull and the Jumping equipment, you just don't change the size of a rocket motor to change its power rating? Don't you realize that if I turned on my landing rockets right now, I'd probably blow us all to Kingdom Come?'

"Jim thought for a minute. 'I nark it now, sir,' he said slowly. 'And the hull probably isn't right too, I'm afraid.'

"'You're probably right, son,' I answered him. 'Don't you think you had just better put things right back the way they were before?'

"I added hastily, 'Not forgetting to get rid of the extra air you giffled in.'

"'No, sir. I can't do that!' The boy's forehead was all wrinkled with his effort at thinking. 'Dad says that when you start in to giffling, you've got to carry through what you start.'

"'But it's my life you're giffling around with,' I protested. 'You don't have to worry. You can stay alive in the vacuum of space, or jump around without a ship, but I can't. Just leave me alone, why don't you? Just show me the way to go home and then leave me alone, like a good boy.'

"Jim shook his head. 'I'm just going to have to get help, sir,' he said.

"Mike and Aloysius both looked scared. 'Jim, why don't you just do like Captain Hannah says,' asked one of them.

"'If you get Dad into this,' said the other, 'he'll for sure give it to the two of us, but good. And we'll just bet that he won't think you're too old to get it, either.'

"Jim waved the argument aside. 'He'll probably be right, too,' he commented absently, acting as if he were listening to something the rest of us couldn't hear. Then he nodded decisively.

"'Your Delta Crucis is all fixed up right, now, sir,' he told me in positive tones. 'There's even a tank for you to keep the whale in. But I suggest you not waste any time in getting the beast to Penguin, because the ship won't stay this way too long. Then it'll revert to the way it used to be before you ran into us.'

"He noticed my expression of concentrated unhappiness.

"'Oh, not while you are carrying the blue whale,' he assured me. 'As soon as you finish the job, or in a couple of months if you don't get started on it. There is nothing to be worried about, sir.'

"Then he heaved a kind of deep, shuddering sigh, and said, 'We have got to go now. Good luck to you.'

"'The same to you,' I said automatically. The two brats gave me a withering look of scorn, apparently for expressing such impossible sentiments, and then all three Monahans disappeared."

Captain Hannah took another whiff of rhial and then stared at the beaker broodingly.

"Well," I asked. "Did you get the whale to Penguin? And was the Prinkip pleased? Or did you just sit around and drink rhial until your ship popped back to its normal size?"

"Oh, I couldn't pass up a chance like that," he said. "I delivered the whale all right. She turned out to be gravid, too. I seem to make a habit out of picking up pregnant cargoes. The Prinkip was very pleased, and gave me a bonus.

"Then Delta Crucis went back to being herself again. And I found this note, along with a small gift, in the Control room." He fished a sheet of paper out of the breast pocket of his blue uniform coat and passed it across the table to me.

It was an unsigned letter written in a beautiful flowing script. It said:

My dear Captain Hannah:

Congratulations to you on the success of your venture. All seems to have worked out well for you.

For three Monahans, things were less pleasant. For a considerable period of time they experienced difficulty in sitting down in comfort.

You are welcome at any time to pay a return visit to our remote sector of space and reestablish your acquaintance with the Adepts.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibilities that Normals can be taught to demonstrate our Psionic abilities.

Until you return then,


The note was unsigned.

"Well," I said, "You are going to take them up on it, aren't you? This is a chance in a lifetime. In a hundred lifetimes—it's a chance in a million years. What are you waiting for, man?"

Captain Hannah shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "But does that note sound as if it had been written by a mature Adept—by, say, the father of those boys?

"Doesn't it seem more like something written by a teenage boy? Or even by a precocious nine-year-old?"

"Well, what of it?" I asked. "Provided that it gets you back there, so that you will have the chance of talking with the father?"

"I'm afraid that one or more of the Monahan children may hold a grudge against me. After all, I apparently did cause the whole tribe of them considerable humiliation and pain, in the end. If they want to get even, they have a lot of power—whatever narking and giffling may be. So here's a present for you, and I advise you to throw it away, even if I can't bring myself to do so."

Captain Hannah slammed something down on the table, jammed his head, and stalked out of the bar.

I picked up his gift and examined it. It was a small bottle. On the tag attached to it, neatly and mockingly printed, were the words, "DRINK ME."

I stared at it for a long time, thinking of opportunity—and of snarks and of boojums.


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