Equinimity (Horse Race)

The punchline is from a very old Feghoot, probably from the 1970s. I have not been able to locate the original, so the reconstruction from memory is mine. The blame belongs to Reginald Bretnor, of course.

We are now familiar with the current representation of denizens from Centauri Prime because of the hair hats they wear (cf. Londo Mollari). However, you should be *aware* that this is not the way that it is. Actually, the sapients from Centaurus have bodies, the lower portions of which are four legged, and the upper portion of which resembles a human upper torso. Yes, they are Centaurs, as one might expect. Those who knew them well, or who were out of reach of their missiles called them “horses,” not exactly an insult, but close.

It was necessary to be very careful when making comments, because one might actually find out how aggressive and war-like the horses really were. These creatures perfected the art of war on their home planet, and soon this activity spilled over to the rest of their solar system. The primary bone of contention was land. The horses were born with a large and active territorial imperative. In fact, all the more useful pieces of property were snatched up, and the rush was on to claim the largest of the many asteroids and planetoids within the system. Each entity could claim and occupy one, and only one, asteroid.

Because of the drive for land, cheating became rampant. Ferdinand Feghoot, that sage, that time traveler, and that judge of fine horse-flesh was called to investigate the problem. He found bogus claims galore. In fact, he summarized the problem in the question he asked the Equine Congress of 2276, “Why are there more horses’ asteroids, than horses?”

It is true that sometimes memory does not serve well. The original was not a feghoot, at all, but a short story by Fredric Brown. That may be why I have not been able to locate or verify the original. I didn’t miss the original sense of the pun by much, however.

Alf Stokes (www.lonesomedogbluesband.co.uk) of the UK set me straight following a conversation about the meaning of the term “horses’ asteroids.” Thank you, Sir.


Thanks for your speedy response. I am familiar with the term “horse’s ass”. I remember Rod Steiger saying it in a movie, though it’s not an expression that we use over here. Also, we use the old English spelling and pronunciation of “arse”, as in the somewhat uncomplimentary term “The last time I saw an arse that big it was on a horse”.

I vaguely remember once hearing somebody say “Why are there more horses’ asses than horses?” (probably in another movie) but I didn’t think of it when I read the story. So thanks again, I’d been puzzling over it for a few days which is why I decided to search on the internet and found your fascinating site via Google.

Anyway, as promised, here is Fredric Brown’s (thankfully) short story. I first read the book in 1966 and have since searched all the way across the USA for a copy. I picked one up last month on e-Bay.

by Fredric Brown

Garn Roberts, also known – but only to the Galactic Federation’s top security officers – as Secret Agent K-1356, was sleeping in his one-man spaceship which was coasting at fourteen light-years an hour on automatics two hundred and six light years from Earth. A bell rang, instantly awakening him. He hurried to the telecon and turned it on. The face of Daunen Brand, Special Assistant to the President of the Federation, sprang onto the screen, and Brand’s voice came from the speaker.

“K-1356, I have an assignment for you. Do you know the sun called Novra, in the constellation–”

“Yes,” Roberts said quickly; communication at this distance was wasteful power, especially on tight beam, and he wanted to save the Special Assistant all the time he could.

“Good. Do you know its planetary system?”

“I’ve never been there. I know Novra has two inhabited planets, that’s all.”

“Right. The inner planet is inhabited by a humanoid race, not too far from ours. The outer planet is inhabited by a race who are outwardly similar to terrestrial horses except that they have a third pair of limbs which terminate in hands, which has enabled them to reach a fairly high state of civilization. Their name for themselves is unpronouncable for Earthmen, so we simply call them the Horses. They know the derivation of the name, but don’t mind; they’re not sensitive that way.”

“Yes, sir,” said Roberts, as Brand paused.

“Both races have space travel, although not the faster-than-light interstellar drive. Between the two planets – you can look up the names and co-ordinates in the star guide – is an asteroid belt similar to that of the solar system, but even more extensive, the residue of the break-up of a large planet that had once had its orbit between the orbits of the two inhabited planets.

“Neither inhabited planet has much in the way of minerals; the asteroids are rich with them and are the major source of supply for both planets. A hundred years ago they went to war over this, and the Galactic Federation arbitrated the war and ended it by getting both races, the Humanoids and the Horses, to agree that one individual of either race could stake claim, for his lifetime, to one asteroid and only one asteroid.”

“Yes, sir, I remember reading about it in Galactic history.”

“Excellent. here is the problem. We have a complaint from the Humanoids claiming that the Horses are breaking this treaty, claiming asteroids under false names of non-existant Horses in order to get more than their share of the minerals.

“Your orders: Land on the Horses’ planet. Use your trader identity; it will not be suspect since many traders go there. They are friendly; you’ll have no trouble. You’ll be welcome as a trader from Earth. You are to prove or disprove the assertion of the Humanoids that the Horses are violating the treaty by staking claims to more asteroids than their numbers justify.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You will report back to me by tight beam as soon as you have accomplished your mission and left the planet.” The screen went blank. Garn Roberts consulted his guides and charts, reset the automatic controls and went back to his bunk to resume his interrupted sleep.

A week later, when he had accomplished his mission and was a safe ten light-years from the Novra system, he sent a tight-beam signal to the Special Assistant to the President of the Galactic Federation, and in minutes Daunen Brand’s face appeared on the screen of the telecom.

“K-1356 reporting on the Novra situation, sir,” Garn Roberts said. “I managed to get access to the census statistics of the Horses; they number a little over two million. Then I checked the claims of the Horses to asteroids; they have filed claims on almost four million of them. It is obvious that the Humanoids are right and that the Horses are violating the treaty.

“Otherwise, why are there so many more Horses’ asteroids than there are Horses?”

(It really does say telecon the first time and telecom the second time – don’t know which is right!)

Previous Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *