DermPachyges is the pachyderm courier service which run on the least hospitable roads of Ghyll, carrying important messages, flowers, and darseed shipments from one part of the country to another. Although they will occasionally travel the Cataract Road and other major roads, they tend to stick to more direct routes, steering in straight lines by the stars.
The history of the service
The DermPachyges Courier Service has been in operation for at least 100 years, in one form or another.
Long before the DermPachyges corporation was officially formed, there had been pachyderm courier services along the routes between major cities. In fact, it is believed that most major roads, with the exception of the Cataract Road, were initially created by the passage of these big beasts.
Prior to the formation of DermPachyges in -78 EC, most pachyderm couriers were privately owned, and travelled with a few armed mercenaries for protection. It was believed that these were necessary to keep bandits away from the cargo. Fortunately, the bandits were smarter than that.
However, as cities grew and a less knowledgeable bandit population moved out into the surrounding country, it was discovered that this protection was not really necessary. The first few recorded incidents of bandits attacking the pachyderm couriers tended to have happy endings. Unless, of course, you happen to be the bandit in question. Here is a typical account recorded in PrettyDermPhunny, the informal newsletter of the couriers:
The bandit approached us from the right side of the trail. We didn't have any armed guards, due to the budget and the layoffs, so I was pretty scared. I had Bobo slow down, because the guy had a bow, and I figured he'd shoot me if I tried to make a break for it.
So Bobo stopped, and the guy approached, and started making demands. Suddenly, Bobo reached out with her trunk, and before I knew it, she had the thug wrapped up tight as can be, and had brought him close for a good look. He looked terrified, and all of his earlier bravado had evaporated. He was gibbering something that sounded like promises to be a good boy and give up his wayward ways.
I thought that Bobo was just going to give him a few friendly taps and move on. But as suddenly as she had picked him up, she trumpeted, and flung her trunk straight out, and our visitor was flung far out into the thorn bushes, where I heard him calling for his mommy.
After a few dozen similar incidents, all couriers stopped taking guards with them, much to the distress of the guards' union, who went on strike for about three weeks, until they realized that nobody cared.
In -78 EC, the loosely-affiliated union of couriers banded together to form a cooperative. In the founding year, they had a contest to pick a name for their new organization, and eventually came up with DermPachyges. Other suggestions included PackYerDerms, Couriers On Really Big And Scary Beasties, and Pachyges.
Although formed as a cooperative, DermPachyges quickly became a corporation under the ruthless leadership of Frandos "Elephant Ears" Wakami. Although initially elected as sort of overseer and accountant, he quickly appointed himself Supreme Benevolent Dictator For Life, and served as CEO for the next 25 years.
During the construction of the Cataract Road (-74 through -62 EC), Wakami actively opposed the construction, feeling that it would cut into his business. There are even some who claim that, when he was unable to stop the construction, he influenced the route of the road so that it would be less of a challenge to his business.
These days, DermPachyges is the undisputed leader in freight and postage, as well as being responsible for the maintenance of most of the important roads, with the exception of the Cataract Road. Their only serious competitor to their supremacy is the company TransAvian... however, they tend to be limited to packages weighing less than a coconut.
The nature of the beasts
Pachyderms are not to be trifled with: let's make that perfectly clear right up front. That silly children's story about the five blind men who tried to figure out what a pachyderm was like by feeling it ... well, let's just say that in real life the story would have ended up with four of them up in trees and the fifth one a damp spot on the road.
Pachyderms, also called Elifonts or Olephents in the more rural areas, are very large grey beasts, with a long prehensile nose and round flat feet perfectly adapted to squishing offending persons. As the name indicates, they have thick (but soft and wrinkled) skins.
The beasts are extremely intelligent, and respond very unfavorably to anyone carrying anything that might be construed as a weapon. They make friends very hesitantly, and usually will allow only a single individual to ride on their back. Thus, the courier-drovers are typically paired with a particular pachyderm for their entire career, and become very attached to them. Usually, they are paired with their beast at birth, and the two grow up together.
Since it is certain that these drovers were completely aware of the nature of their partners, it is unlikely that there was ever any real thought, at least on the part of the drovers, that guards were needed. Thus, it is likely that these guards were merely travelling companions gradually elevated to employees, and given a job to justify their employment.
Pachyderms are extremely strong and, in conjunction with their very thick hide and large feet, this makes them suited to blazing new trails. Just point them in the right direction, and instant road. During slow seasons, pachyderms are often rented out to construction companies for assistance in making new paths.
Aelfants and the DermPachyges
As has been noted a number of other places, the nature of, and perhap even the existence of, the Aelfants, is questioned by some scholars. However, the pachyderm drovers know better than anybody else that this is no myth. More than one drover has lost his friend and companion to the wiles of the Aelfants, who are reported to come in the night and woo the steeds away with promises of forbidden pleasures.
In the -20's, the DermPachyges management undertook a campaign to eradicate the Aelfants. There were two main obstacles to this. First, the stockholders refused to fund the destruction of beasts they didn't believe in. And second, any expedition taken to hunt the Aelfants was met by the resistance of the beasts carrying the hunters: the pachyderms themselves protected the Aelfants, and the campaign simply could not proceed.
Routes, schedules, and rates
All major cities and many towns are connected to their nearest neighbors by a pachyderm road. You should check with your local pachyderm office for departure times, but usually there will be a departure in the early morning, when the stars are still visible, and one in the evening, just as the stars are coming out.
Packages can be sent to any other destination, and charges are generally levied based on how many "hops" it takes to reach the remote city or town, as well as on the weight of the item to be sent. Additional fees may be charged for livestock or other goods that require special treatment.
--DrBacchus 21:32, 25 Sep 2004 (EDT)