People don’t often misplace battleships – especially enormous, space-going battleships.
The Misplaced Battleship is a short story written by Harry Harrison that features a recurring character of Harrison’s called DiGriz, also known as the Stainless Steel Rat.
The story opens with DiGriz waking up another character called Innskip and telling him how he discovered the secret construction of an enormous space-going battleship. It takes a lot for DiGriz to convince Innskip that the cargo ship blueprints he was showing him were actually for the biggest class of battleship that the populated worlds had ever seen, but convince him he does, and Innskip sends DiGriz out on a reconnaissance mission to find out more about this mysterious ship.
DiGriz arrives on the planet Cittanuvo, where the battleship is being built. He infiltrates the private study of the President, finding evidence of petty scandal and corruption, as well as the blueprints for the ship being built. DiGriz interrogates the President, but the President knows nothing about the warship. He insists it is designed to be a cargo ship. They rush to the shipyard where this enormous vessel is being built, but arrive too late as the ship is gone. Missing. Stolen. They talk to the Chief in charge there, named Rocca.
Again, Rocca knows nothing about a warship, he’s convinced they’re building a cargo vessel. After just a little research into construction change orders, DiGriz convinces Rocca that they are indeed building a battleship.
In poring over the records of production changes and revisions, DiGriz notices a pattern. He deduces that the whole thing was pulled off by one man, Pepe Nero, and his female assistant, Angelina. Two people could easily steal this battleship, since its own immensity required that just about everything on board be automated.
DiGriz’s mission has just changed, from simple recon and information gathering to the recovery of a stolen battleship. His strategy was to wait. Since Cittanuvo is a planet fairly central to everything else, this was a good point from which he could quickly respond just about anywhere in a reasonable radius. Di Griz was waiting for a Naval ship, which did not take long to arrive. DiGriz was also waiting for news. News of an attack that fit the battleship.
After a short while, one report comes in that catches their eye. A cargo vessel carrying plutonium fuel had a hole blasted in its hull, and its fuel payload taken. Now DiGriz knew where they were, he just had to catch them. Di Griz took off in command of his Naval vessel to give pursuit.
Does DiGriz capture the missing battleship? Is it Pepe and Angelina as DiGriz suspected?
Harrison has a long and varied history in science fiction, starting in illustration, moving to writing and then editing. Harrison’s artwork has appeared in EC Comics. In the 50s and 60s he was the main writer of the Flash Gordon newspaper strips. Later, he became known for his novels, including a classic called “More Room! More Room!” which became the inspiration for the film Soylent Green. The Misplaced Battleship is one story in Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series. At 31 pages long, this story takes about an hour to read. The Misplaced Battleship (published in 1960) and The Stainless Steel Rat (published in 1957) were combined and reworked into the first few chapters of a 1961 novel titled “The Stainless Steel Rat”
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Listen to The Misplaced Battleship read by Barny Shergold at LibriVox (58:53)
Listen to The Misplaced Battleship read by Phil Chenevert in four parts at LibriVox (71:41 total)