I read this short story decades ago in a German translation in some anthology, but I believe the original was in English. Or was it in German? I'm not even sure. I'd like to find out the name of the story and who wrote it. (And the name of the fictitious device that plays an important role in it.) It's very likely that the story is from the 80s or earlier.

A human fighter pilot in an interstellar war is downed on a planet where some alien race lives that works for the enemy, but has had almost no contact with humans before. He is imprisoned and comes up with a plan. Out of old wire and wooden planks he starts to form little devices. Then he speaks through the wire, as if somebody else was there. The guards question him and he tells them that humans use these devices to communicate with their invisible spirit companions. He tells them that his companion is angry, and that he cannot control him, although he tries to. Something bad happens to one of the guards, and they get really anxious about their human prisoner. Anything bad that happens is swiftly attributed to the invisible spirit companion.

The pilot continues with his plan despite setbacks and complicated questioning. After a long back and forth, he finds that his plan has done more than grant him his freedom: the alien alliance has decided to end the war because invisible human spirit companions are too dangerous.

1 Answer 1


Eric Frank Russell - Next of Kin, 1959 (Expanded from an earlier novel called The Space Willies, which was an expansion of a novella called "Plus X".) A summary is available on Wikipedia.

The Hero (a typical Eric Frank Russell character: an individualist with a fine combat record but a disciplinary one that reads like a crime sheet) claims that all humans have an invisible companion or symbiote called a Eustace, who can wreak revenge if its human partner is harmed. Some coincidences lend plausibility to his story, and in the end his captors (minor allies of Terra's main enemy) send him home with an offer from themselves and other small fry to withdraw from the war.

It's a bit like Wasp, less credible but lots of fun to read.

  • Wow, that was a fast reply. Thank you so much! The German translation I've read must have been Plus X, the shorter version, and was called "Der X-Faktor". Jun 17, 2019 at 10:52
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    What is a "EFR character" in this context? I tried googling it but have found all sorts of irrelevant things, from webcomics about schoolgirls with fox ears to some sort of US department of defense parlance.... Jun 17, 2019 at 19:36
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    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas: That took me a second, too, before making the connection to the author's name (Eric Frank Russell). So a "typical EFR character" is one who is like other characters by that author.
    – ruakh
    Jun 17, 2019 at 19:54
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    Typically "an individualist afflicted with the fidgets" as one character puts in in NoK. Pilots of one-man scoutships pop up in Russell quite a bit,and "Wasp" is about a solitary secret agent sent to subvert a whole planet. Russell was a great believer in The Power of One. .
    – Mike Stone
    Jun 17, 2019 at 21:10

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