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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAnything You Can Do ... - Chapter 19
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Anything You Can Do ... - Chapter 19 Post by :Arun_Pal_Singh Category :Long Stories Author :Randall Garrett Date :May 2012 Read :2910

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Anything You Can Do ... - Chapter 19

From the very moment he had heard that "Stanley Martin" had arrived to take charge of the project, Bart Stanton pushed all thoughts of his brother out of his mind. He had fouled up once by thinking of himself rather than thinking of what had to be done; he would not make that mistake again.

Nor, apparently, did Martin have any desire to meet Bart Stanton. He took control of the project smoothly. Apparently Mannheim had taken into account the possibility of his own death and had arranged things accordingly. Although Martin was not a member of the World Police, his own record showed that he had the ability to handle the job, and an Executive Session had unanimously accepted Colonel Mannheim's wishes in the matter. There was little else they could do; the very fact that Mannheim had died in the way he had, ordering the guard to hold his fire, had stilled those voices on the Executive Council who had been wavering before.

Martin had come in to Earth almost secretly, without fanfare, and the general public was totally unaware that anything at all had happened.

Special messages, going through the channels known to be tapped by the Nipe, said that it would not be in the public interest to admit that the Nipe could actually penetrate the defenses of World Police Headquarters, so the Nipe was not surprised when the public news channels announced quietly that Colonel Walther Mannheim, the man who had been decorated twelve years before for the quelling of the Central Brazilian Insurrection, had died peacefully in his sleep. The funeral was quiet, but with full honors.

Stanton stopped worrying about such things. Until he had done the job that he had been rebuilt for, he was determined to make that goal his sole purpose. As the weeks sped by, he kept determinedly to his regime, exercising regularly to keep himself in top physical condition, and studying the three-dimensional motion studies of the Nipe in action.

Only one of these made him ill the first time he watched it, but it was the only recording of the Nipe actually in the process of killing a man, so he watched, over and over again, the shots taken from the gun tower when the Nipe attacked Colonel Mannheim.

A full-sized mockup of the Nipe's body had been built, with the best approximation possible of the Nipe's bone structure and musculature, and Stanton worked with it to determine what, if any, were the Nipe's physical limitations.

His only periods of relative relaxation occurred when he discussed the psychological peculiarities of the Nipe mind with George Yoritomo.

One afternoon, after a particularly strenuous boxing session, he walked into Yoritomo's office with a grin on his face. "I've been considering the problem of the apparent paradox of a high technology in a ritual-taboo system."

Yoritomo grinned back delightedly and waved Stanton to a chair. "Excellent! It is always much better if the student thinks these things out for himself. Now, while I fill this hand-furnace with tobacco and fire up, you will please explain to me all about it."

Stanton sat down and settled himself comfortably. "All right. In the first place, there's the notion of religion. In tribal cultures, the religion is usually--uh--animistic, I think the word is."

Yoritomo nodded silently.

"They believe there are spirits everywhere," Stanton said. "That sort of belief, it seems to me, would grow up in any race that had imagination, and the Nipes must have had plenty of that, or they wouldn't have the technology that we know they do have. Am I on the right track?"

"Very good. _Very good," Yoritomo said in approval. "But what evidence have you that this technology was not given to them by some other, more advanced race?"

"I hadn't thought of that." Stanton stared into space for a moment, then nodded his head. "Of course. It would take too long to teach them. It wouldn't be worth all the trouble it would take to make them unlearn their fallacies and learn the new facts. It would take generations to do it unless this hypothetical other race killed off all the adult Nipes and started the little ones off fresh. And that didn't happen, because if it had, the ritual-taboo system would have died out, too. So that other-race theory is out."

"The argument is imperfect," Yoritomo said, "but it will suffice for the moment. Go on about the religion."

"Okay. Religious beliefs are not subject to pragmatic tests. That is, the spiritual beliefs aren't. Any belief that _could be disproven by such a test would eventually die out. But beliefs in ghosts or demons or angels or life after death aren't disprovable by material tests, any more than they are provable. So, as a race increases its knowledge of the physical world, its religion would tend to become more and more spiritual."

"Agreed. Yes. It happened so among human beings," said Yoritomo. "But how do you link this fact with ritual-taboo?"

"Well, once a belief gains a foothold," Stanton said, "it is very difficult to wipe it out, even among human beings. Among Nipes, it would be well-nigh impossible. Once a code of ritual and of social behavior had been set up, it became permanent."

"For example?" Yoritomo urged.

"Well, shaking hands, for example," Stanton said after a pause. "We still do that, even if we don't have it fixed solidly in our heads that we _must do it. I suppose it would never occur to a Nipe not to perform such a ritual."

"Just so," Yoritomo agreed vigorously. "Such things, once established in the minds of the race, would tend to remain. But it is a characteristic of a ritual-taboo system that it resists change. Change is evil. Change is wrong. We must use what we know to be true, not try something that has never been tried before. In a ritual-taboo system, a thing which is not ritual is, _ipso facto_, taboo. How, then, can we account for their high technological achievements?"

"The pragmatic engineering approach, I imagine," Stanton said. "If a thing works, then go ahead and use it. It is usable. If not, it isn't."

"Approximately," said Yoritomo. "But only approximately. Now it is my turn to lecture." He put his pipe in an ashtray and held up a long, bony finger. "Firstly, we must remember that the Nipe is equipped with a functioning imagination. Secondly, he has in his memory a tremendous amount of data, all ready at hand. He is capable of working out theories in his head, you see. Like the ancient Greeks, he finds no need to test such theories--_unless his thinking indicates that such an experiment would yield something useful. Unlike the Greeks, he has no aversion to experiment. But he sees no need for useless experiment, either.

"Oh, he would learn, yes. But once a given theory proved workable, how resistant he would be to a new theory. Innovators, even in our own culture, have a very hard time working against the great inertia of a recognized theory. How much harder it would be in a ritual-taboo society with a perfect memory! How long--how _incredibly long--it would take such a race to achieve the technology the Nipe now has!"

"Hundreds of thousands of years," said Stanton.

Yoritomo shook his head briskly. "Puh! Longer! Much longer!" He smiled with satisfaction. "I estimate that the Nipe race first invented the steam engine not less than ten million years ago!"

He kept smiling into the dead silence that followed.

After a long minute, Stanton said: "What about atomic energy?"

"At least two million years ago," Yoritomo said. "I do not think they have had the interstellar drive more than some fifty thousand years."

"No wonder our pet Nipe is so patient," Stanton said with a touch of awe in his voice. "How long do you suppose their individual life-span is?"

"Not so long, in comparison," said Yoritomo. "Perhaps no longer than our own at the least, or perhaps as much as five hundred years. Considering the tremendous handicaps against them, they have done quite well, I think. Quite well, indeed, for a race of illiterate cannibals."

"How's that again?" Stanton realized that the scientist was quite serious.

"Hadn't it occurred to you, my friend, that they must be cannibals?" Yoritomo asked. "And that they must be very nearly illiterate?"

"No," Stanton admitted, "it hadn't."

"The Nipe, like man, is omnivorous," Yoritomo pointed out. "Specialization tends to lead any race up a blind alley, and dietary restrictions are a particularly pernicious form of specialization. A lion would starve to death in a wheat field. A horse would perish in a butcher shop full of steaks. A man will survive as long as there is something around to eat--even if it's another man."

Yoritomo picked up his pipe and began tapping the ashes out of it. "Also," he went on, "we must remember that Man, early in his career of becoming top dog on Earth, began using a method of removing the unfit. Ritual traces of it remain today in some societies--the Jewish Bar Mitzvah, for instance, or the Christian Confirmation. Before and immediately after the Holocaust, there were still primitive societies on Earth--in New Guinea, for instance--which still made a rather hard ordeal out of the Rite of Passage, the ceremony whereby a boy becomes a man--if he passes the tests."

Yoritomo was filling his pipe, a look of somber satisfaction on his lean face. "A few millennia ago, a boy who underwent those tests was killed outright if he failed. And was eaten. He had not shown the ability to overrule with reason his animal instincts. Therefore, he was not a human being, but an animal. What better use for a young and succulent animal than to provide meat for the common larder?"

"And you think the same process must have been used by the Nipes?" Stanton asked.

Yoritomo nodded vigorously as he applied a match flame to the tobacco in his pipe. "The Nipe race must, of necessity, have had some similar ritualistic tests or they would not have become what they are," he said when he had puffed the pipe alight. "And we have already agreed that once the Nipes adopted something of that kind, it remained with them. Not so? Yes.

"Also, it can be considered extremely unlikely that the Nipe civilization--if such it can be called--has any geriatric problem. No, indeed. No old-age pensions, no old folks' homes, no senility. No, nor any specialists in geriatrics, either. When a Nipe becomes a burden because of age, he is ritually murdered and eaten with all due solemnity."

Yoritomo pointed his pipestem at Stanton. "Ah. You frown, my friend. Have I made them sound heartless, without the finer feelings of which we humans are so proud? Not so. When Junior Nipe fails his puberty tests, when Mama and Papa Nipe are sent to their final reward, I have no doubt that there is sadness in the hearts of their loved ones as the honored T-bones are passed around the table."

He put the pipe back in his mouth and spoke around it. "My own ancestors, not too far back, performed a ritual suicide by disemboweling themselves with a long, sharp knife. Across the abdomen--_so!_--and up into the heart--_so! It was considered very bad form to faint or die before the job was done. Nearby, a relative or a close friend stood with a sharp sword, to administer the _coup de grace by decapitation. It was all very sad and very honorable. Their loved ones bore the sorrow with great pride."

His voice, which had been low and tender, suddenly became very brisk. "Thank goodness it has gone out of fashion!"

"But how can you be _sure they're cannibals?" Stanton asked. "Your argument sounds logical enough, but you can't be basing your theory on that alone."

"True! True!" Yoritomo jabbed the air twice with a rapid forefinger. "Evidence for such a theory would be most welcome, would it not? Very well, I give you the evidence. He eats human beings, our Nipe."

"That doesn't make him a cannibal," Stanton objected.

"Not _strictly_, perhaps. But consider. The Nipe is not a monster. He is not a criminal. No. He is a gentleman. He always behaves as a gentleman. He is shipwrecked on an alien planet. Around him, he sees evidence in profusion that ours is a technological society. But that is a contradiction! A paradox!

"For _we are not civilized! No! We are not rational! We are not sane! We do not obey the Laws; we do not perform the Rituals. We are animals. Apparently intelligent animals, but animals nevertheless. How can this be?

"_Ha! says the Nipe to himself. These animals must be ruled over by Real People. It is the only explanation. Not so?"

"Colonel Mannheim mentioned that," Stanton said. "Are you implying that the Nipe thinks there are other Nipes around, running the world from secret hideouts, like the villains in a Fu Manchu novel?"

"Not quite," said Yoritomo, laughing. "The Nipe is not at all incapable of learning something new. In point of fact, he is quite good at it, as witness the fact that he has learned many Earth languages. He picked up Russian in less than eight months simply by listening and observing. Like our own race, his undoubtedly evolved a great many languages during the beginnings of its progress--when there were many tribes, separated and out of communication with each other. It would not surprise me to find that most of these languages have survived and that our distressed astronaut knows them all. A new language would not bother him in the least.

"Nor would strangely shaped intelligent beings make him unhappy. His race should be aware, by now, that such things must exist. But it is very likely that he equates _true intelligence with technology, and I do not think it likely that he has ever met a race higher than the barbarian level before. Such races were not, of course, human--by his definition. They showed possibilities, perhaps, but they had not by any means evolved far enough. And, considering the time span involved in their own progress toward a technological civilization, it is not at all unlikely that the Nipe thinks of technology as something that evolves in a race in the same way that intelligence does--or the body itself.

"So it would not surprise him to find that the Real People of this system were humanoid in shape instead of--ah--Nipoid? A bad word, but it will do for the nonce. To find Real People of a different shape is something new, but he can absorb it because it does not contradict anything he _knows_.

"_But--! Any truly intelligent being that did not obey the Law and follow the Ritual _would be a contradiction in terms. For our Nipe has no notion of a Real Person without those characteristics. Without those characteristics, technology is, of course, utterly impossible. Since he sees technology all around him, it follows that there must be Real People around somewhere that have those characteristics. Anything else is unthinkable."

"It seems to me that you're building an awfully involved theory out of pretty flimsy stuff," Stanton said.

Yoritomo shook his head. "Not at all. Not at all. Every scrap and shred of evidence we have points toward it. Why, do you suppose, does the Nipe conscientiously devour his victims, often risking his own safety to do so? Why do you suppose he never uses any weapon but his own hands to kill with?"

Yoritomo leaned forward and speared out at Stanton with a long, bony forefinger. "Why? To tell the Real People that he is a gentleman!"

He sat back with a satisfied smile and puffed complacently at his pipe, remaining silent while Bart Stanton considered his last remark.

"Just one thing," Stanton said after a minute. "It seems to me that he would be able to judge that some races have different Laws and Rituals than he does. Wouldn't they have a science comparable to our anthropology?"

Yoritomo grinned. "Nipology, shall we say? Well, he might, but it would not tell him what our anthropology tells us.

"Consider. How have we learned much of our knowledge of the early history of Man? By the study of ritual-taboo cultures. The so-called 'primitive' cultures. It is from these tribes that we have learned the multifarious ways in which a group of human beings can evolve a culture and a society. But does the Nipe have any such other tribes to study?"

"Why wouldn't he?" Stanton asked.

"Because there are none," Yoritomo said. "How could there be? Consider again. Once a race has evolved a fairly high technological level, it is capable of wiping out races which have not achieved that level. If the technologically advanced tribe is still at the ritual-taboo level, it will consider that all tribes which do not use the same Laws and Rituals as it does must be animals--dangerous animals that must be wiped out. Take a look at the history of our own race. In a few short centuries, we find that the technologically advanced civilization and culture of Renaissance Europe has spread over the whole globe. By military, economic, and religious conquest, it has, in effect, westernized the majority of Mankind.

"The same process would take place on the Nipe's world, only more thoroughly. The weaker tribes would vanish, the stronger would amalgamate."

"That process would take a lot of time," Stanton said.

"Indeed! Oh, yes, indeed," Yoritomo agreed. "But they have had the time, have they not? Eh? What Western European Man has partially achieved in less than a thousand years, surely the Nipe equivalent could have achieved in ten thousand thousand. Eh?"

"But I'd think that the Nipe would have realized, after ten years, that there is no such race of Real People," Stanton said. "He's had access to our records and books and such things. Or does he reject them all as lies?"

"Possibly he would, if he could read them," Yoritomo said. "Did I not say he was illiterate?"

"You mean he's learned to speak our languages, but not to read them?"

The psychologist smiled broadly. "Your statement is accurate, my friend, but incomplete. It is my opinion that the Nipe is incapable of reading any written language whatever. The concept does not exist in his mind, except vaguely."

Stanton closed one eye and gave Yoritomo the glance askance. "Aw, come _awwn_, George! A technological race without a written language? That's impossible!"

"Ah, no. No, it isn't. Ask yourself: What need has a race with a perfect memory for written records? At least, in the sense that we think of them. Certainly not to remember things. What would a Nipe need with a memorandum book or a diary? All of their history and all of their technology exists in the collective mind of the race.

"Think, for a moment, of their history. If it is somewhat analogous to human history--and, as we have seen, there is reason to believe that this is so--then we can, in a way, trace the development of writing. We--"

"Wait a minute!" Stanton held up his hand. "I think I see what you're driving at."

"Ah. So?" Yoritomo nodded. "Very well. Then _you expound."

"I can give it to you in two sentences," Stanton said. "One: Their first writing was probably pictographic and was learned only by a select priestly class. Two: It still is."

"Ahhhh!" Yoritomo's eyes lit up. "Admirable! Most admirable! And succinctly put, too. And, to top it off, almost precisely correct. That is what happened here on Earth; are we wrong in assuming that such may have happened elsewhere in the Universe? (Remembering always, my dear Bart, that we must not make the mistake of thinking like our friend, the Nipe, and assuming that everybody else in the Universe has to be like us in all things.)

"You are correct. That is why I hedged when I said he was _almost illiterate. There is a possibility that a written symbology does exist for Nipes. But it is used almost entirely for ritualistic purposes, it is pictographical in form, and is known only to a very few. For others to learn it would be taboo.

"Remember, I said that there is only one society, one culture remaining on the Nipe planet. And remember that history is a very late development in our own culture, just as written language is. One important event in every ten centuries of Nipe history would still give a Nipe historian ten thousand events to remember just since the invention of the steam engine. What, then, does Nipe history become? A series of folk chants, of _chansons de geste_."

"Why?" Stanton asked. "If they have perfect memories, why would histories be distorted?"

"Time, my dear boy. Time." Yoritomo spread his hands in a gesture of futility. "When one has a few million years of history to learn, it _must become distorted, even in a race with a perfect memory. Otherwise, no individual would have a chance to learn it all in a single lifetime, even a lifetime of five hundred years, much less to pass that knowledge on to another. So only the most important events are reported. And that means that each historian must also be an editor. He must excise those portions which he considers unimportant."

"But wouldn't that very limitation induce them to record history?" Stanton asked. "Right there is your inducement to use a written language."

Yoritomo looked at him with wide-eyed innocence. "Why? _What good is history?_"

"Ohhh," said Stanton. "I see."

"Certainly you do," Yoritomo said firmly. "Of what use is history to the ritual-taboo culture? Only to record what is to be done. And, with a memory that can _know what is to be done, of what use is a historian, except to remember the _important things. No ritual-taboo culture looks upon history as we do. Only the doings of the great are recorded. All else must be edited out. Thus, while the memory of the individual may be, and _is_, perfect, the memory of the race is not. _But they don't know that!_"

"What about communications, then?" Stanton asked. "What did they use before they invented radio?"

"Couriers," Yoritomo said. "And, possibly, written messages from one priestly scribe to another. That last, by the way, has probably survived in a ritualistic form. When an officer is appointed to a post, let's say, he may get a formal paper that says so. The Nipes may use symbols to signify rank and so on. They must have a symbology for the calibration of scientific instruments.

"But none of these requires the complexity of a written language. I dare say our use of it is quite baffling to him.

"For teaching purposes, it is quite unnecessary. Look at what television and such have done in our own civilization. With such tools as that at hand--recordings and pictures--it is possible to teach a person a great many things without ever teaching him to read. A Nipe certainly wouldn't need any aid for calculation, would he? We humans must use a piece of paper to multiply two ten-digit numbers together, but that's because our memories are faulty. A Nipe has no need for such aids."

"Are you really positive of all this, George?" Stanton asked.

Yoritomo shrugged. "How can we be absolutely positive at this stage of the game? Eh? Our evidence is sketchy, I admit. It is not as solidly based as our other reconstructions of his background, but it appears that he thinks of symbols as being unable to convey much information. The pattern for his raids, for instance, indicates that his knowledge of the materials he wants and their locations comes from vocal sources--television advertising, eavesdropping on shipping orders, and so on. In other words, he cases the joint by ear. If he could understand written information, his job would be much easier. He could find his materials much more quickly and easily. And, too, we have never seen him either read a word or write one. From this evidence, we are fairly certain that he can neither read nor write any terrestrial language--or even his own." He spread his hands again. "As I said, it is not proof."

"No," Stanton agreed, "but I must admit that the whole thing makes for some very interesting speculation, doesn't it?"

"Very interesting, indeed." Yoritomo folded his hands in his lap, smiled seraphically, and looked at the ceiling. "In fact, my friend, we are now so positive of our knowledge of the Nipe's mind that we are prepared to enter into the next phase of our program."

"Oh?" Stanton distinctly felt the back of his neck prickle.

"Yes," said Yoritomo. "Mr. Martin feels that if we wait much longer, we may run into the danger of giving the Nipe enough time to complete his work on his communicator." He looked at Stanton and chuckled, but there was no humor in his short laugh. "We would not wish our friend, the Nipe, to bring his relatives into this little tussle, would we, Bart?"

"That's been our deadline all along," Bart said levelly. "The object all along has been to let the Nipe work without hindrance as long as he did not actually produce a communicator that would--as you put it--bring his relatives into the tussle. Have things changed?"

"They have," Yoritomo acknowledged. "Why wouldn't they? We have been working toward that as a _final deadline. If it appeared that the Nipe were actually about to contact his confederates out there somewhere, we would be forced to act immediately, of course. Plan Beta would go into effect. But we don't want that, do we?"

"No," said Stanton. "No." He was well aware what a terrible loss it would be for humanity if Plan Beta went into effect. The Nipe would have to be literally blasted out of his cozy little nest.

"No, of course not." Yoritomo chuckled again, with as little mirth as he had before. "Within a very short while, if we are correct, we shall, with your help, arrest the most feared arch-criminal that Earth has ever known. I dare say that the public will be extremely happy to hear of his death, and I know that the rest of us will be happy to know that he will never kill again."

Stanton suddenly saw the fateful day for which he had been so carefully prepared and trained looming terrifyingly large in the immediate future.

"How soon?" he asked in an oddly choked voice.

"Within days." Yoritomo lowered his eyes from the ceiling and looked into Stanton's face with a mild, bland expression.

"Tomorrow," he said, "the propaganda phase begins. We will announce to the world that the great detective, Stanley Martin, has come to Earth to rid us of the Nipe."

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The arrival of the great Stanley Martin was a three-day wonder in the public news channels. His previous exploits were recounted, with embellishments, several times during the next seventy-two hours. The "arrival" itself was very carefully staged. A special ship belonging to the World Police brought him in, and he was met by four Government officials in civilian clothes. The entire affair was covered live by news cameras. No one on Earth suspected that he had been on Earth for weeks before; a few _knew it, but it never even occurred to the rest. Later, a special interview was arranged. Philip

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The detective pushed his way out of the crowded courtroom before the rest of the crowd started to move. The members of the jury were still filing in, and he knew that no one else would leave the room until the verdict was in. He didn't care. He knew what the verdict ought to be. He knew also that juries had occasionally been swayed by histrionics on the part of the defense counsel, and had been persuaded to free guilty men. He knew, too, that prosecutors had railroaded innocent men. But such things as that didn't happen often in the Belt.