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The story is about an astronaut who went to some distant planet and inadvertently collected a rock or pebble that knew the answer to every possible question that anyone could come up with. So the government decided to turn it into a business and allowed anyone to ask it any question for a very expensive fee. The astronaut was assigned to be the rock's guardian and caretaker.

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  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. When and where did you read this story?
    – DavidW
    Jan 27 at 17:31

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This is "The Sack" (1950) by William Morrison.

You've described it well, with one small difference: the custodian is not the actual astronaut that found the creature. As you say, the main theme is that the government charges large sums to ask questions. A memorable scene involves a Senator (or equivalent) trying to ask the Sack if he will be reelected, for free.

I've always liked the part where the custodian asks what questions people should be asking and gets the reply:

"They should be asking whether my answering questions will do good or harm."

"Which is it?"

"Harm, great harm."

and the subsequent discussion.

Also the answer to this old question: Short story about alien that could answer any question and eventually tells how to steal itself

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    Nice! The story can be read in Astounding, September 1950 at the Internet Archive.
    – DavidW
    Jan 27 at 21:43
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    Is anyone else disturbed by the similarities between the Sack and StackOverflow/StackExchange? Jan 28 at 4:53
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    @MarkRansom you mean Sack Exchange? Jan 28 at 5:00
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    @Tom: The original "When the Yogurt Took Over" short story was inspired by a metaphor from a rant about Ayn Rand's writing (in short: a world run by her Objectivist heroes is about as realistic as one in which we're ruled by sentient yogurt). I'm not sure if John Scalzi has ever mentioned "The Sack" as another inspiration (and the animated adaptation may have borrowed yet more inspirations from other works).
    – Blckknght
    Jan 28 at 22:59
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    @Tom: No worries, I mostly just wanted to point out the short story, which is very fun. Many stories have many influences, so I wouldn't rule out your theory, even if there's no evidence of it.
    – Blckknght
    Jan 31 at 17:49

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