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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ANYTHING YOU CAN DO *** Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction May and June 1962. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

This is the illustrated, shorter version of the EBook #24436

 

ANYTHING YOU CAN DO!

 

First of two parts. The Alien was really alien—and Earth was faced with a strange problem indeed. They had to have a superman. And there weren't any. So....

 

by Darrell T. Langart

 

 

ILLUSTRATED BY LEONE I

Like some great silver-pink fish, the ship sang on through the eternal night. There was no impression of swimming; the fish shape had neither fins nor a tail. It was as though it were hovering in wait for a member of some smaller species to swoop suddenly down from nowhere, so that it, in turn, could pounce and kill.

But still it moved.

Only a being who was thoroughly familiar with the type could have told that this fish was dying.

In shape, the ship was rather like a narrow flounder—long, tapered, and oval in cross-section—but it showed none of the exterior markings one might expect of either a living thing or of a spaceship. With one exception, the smooth, silver-pink exterior was featureless.

That one exception was a long, purplish-black, roughened discoloration that ran along one side for almost half of the ship's seventeen meters of length. It was the only external sign that the ship was dying.

Inside the ship, the Nipe neither knew nor cared about the discoloration. Had he thought about it, he would have deduced the presence of the burn, but it was the least of his worries. The internal damage that had been done to the ship was by far the more serious. It could, quite possibly, kill him.

The Nipe, of course, had no intention of dying. Not out here. Not so far, so very far, from his own people. Not out here, where his death would be so very improper.

He looked at the ball of the yellow-white sun ahead and wondered that such a relatively stable, inactive star could have produced such a tremendously energetic plasmoid that it could still do the damage it had done so far out. It had been a freak, of course. Such suns as this did not normally produce such energetic swirls of magnetic force.

But the thing had been there, nonetheless, and the ship had hit it at high velocity. Fortunately, the ship had only touched the edge of the swirling cloud, otherwise the entire ship would have vanished in a puff of incandescence. But it had done enough. The power plants that drove the ship at ultralight velocities through the depths of interstellar space had been so badly damaged that they could only be used in short bursts, and each burst brought them nearer to the fusion point. Most of the instruments were powerless; the Nipe was not even sure he could land the vessel. Any attempt to use the communicator to call home would have blown the ship to atoms.

The Nipe did not want to die, but, if die he must, he did not want to die foolishly.

It had taken a long time to drift in from the outer reaches of this sun's planetary system, but using the power plants any more than absolutely necessary would have been fool-hardy.

The Nipe missed the companionship his brother had given him for so long; his help would be invaluable now. But there had been no choice. There had not been enough supplies for two to survive the long fall inward toward the distant sun. The Nipe, having discovered the fact first, had, out of his mercy and compassion, killed his brother while the other was not looking. Then, having eaten his brother with all due ceremony, he had settled down to the long, lonely wait.

Beings of another race might have cursed the accident that had disabled the ship, or regretted the necessity that one of them should die, but the Nipe did neither, for, to him, the first notion would have been foolish, and the second incomprehensible.

But now, as the ship fell ever closer toward the yellow-white sun, he began to worry about his own fate. For a while, it had seemed almost certain that he would survive long enough to build a communicator—for the instruments had already told him and his brother that the system ahead was inhabited by creatures of reasoning power, if not true intelligence, and it would almost certainly be possible to get the equipment he needed for them. Now, though, it looked as if the ship would not survive a landing. He had had to steer it away from a great gas giant, which had seriously endangered the power plants.

He did not want to die in space—wasted, forever undevoured. At least, he must die on a planet, where there might be creatures with the compassion and wisdom to give his body the proper ingestion. The thought of feeding inferior creatures was repugnant, but it was better than rotting to feed monocells or ectogenes, and far superior to wasting away in space.

Even thoughts such as these did not occupy his mind often or for very long. Far, far better than any of them was the desire—and planning for survival.

The outer orbits of the gas giants had been passed at last, and the Nipe fell on through the asteroid belt without approaching any of the larger pieces of rock-and-metal. That he and his brother had originally elected to come into this system along its orbital plane had been a mixed blessing; to have come in at a different angle would have avoided all the debris—from planetary size on down—that is thickest in a star's equatorial plane, but it would also have meant a greater chance of missing a suitable planet unless too much reliance were placed on the already weakened power generators. As it was, the Nipe had been able to use the gravitational field of the gas giant to swing his ship toward the precise spot where the third planet would be when the ship arrived in the third orbit. Moreover, the third planet would be retreating from the Nipe's line of flight, which would make the velocity difference that much the less.

For a while, the Nipe had toyed with the idea of using the mining bases that the local life form had set up in the asteroid belt as bases for his own operations, but he had decided against it. Movement would be much freer and much more productive on a planet than it would be in the Belt.

He would have preferred using the fourth planet for his base. Although much smaller, it had the same reddish, arid look as his own home planet, while the third world was three-quarters drowned in water. But there were two factors that weighed so heavily against that choice that they rendered it impossible. In the first place, by far the greater proportion of the local inhabitants' commerce was between the asteroids and the third planet. Second, and much more important, the fourth world was at such a point in her orbit that the energy required to land would destroy the ship beyond any doubt.

It would have to be the third world.

As the ship fell inward, the Nipe watched his pitifully inadequate instruments, doing his best to keep tabs on every one of the feebly-powered ships that the local life form used to move through space. He did not want to be spotted now, and even though the odds were against these beings having any instrument highly developed enough to spot his craft, there was always the possibility that he might be observed optically.

So he squatted there in the ship, a centipede-like thing about five feet in length and a little less than eighteen inches in diameter, with eight articulated limbs spaced in pairs along his body, any one of which could be used as hand or foot. His head, which was long and snouted, displayed two pairs of violet eyes which kept a constant watch on the indicators and screens of the few instruments that were still functioning aboard the ship.

And he waited as the ship fell towards its rendezvous with the third planet.

II

Wang Kulichenko pulled the collar of his uniform coat up closer around his ears and pulled the helmet and face-mask down a bit. It was only early October, but here in the tundra country the wind had a tendency to be chill and biting in the morning, even at this time of year. Within a week or so, he'd have to start using the power pack on his horse to electrically warm his protective clothing and the horse's wrappings, but there was no necessity of that yet. He smiled a little as he always did when he thought of his grandfather's remarks about such "new-fangled nonsense".

"Your ancestors, son of my son," he would say, "conquered the tundra and lived upon it for thousands of years without the need of such womanish things. Are there no men anymore? Are there none who can face nature alone and unafraid without the aid of artifices that bring softness?"

But Wang Kulichenko noticed—though, out of politeness, he never pointed it out—that the old man never failed to take advantage of the electric warmth of the house when the short days came and the snow blew across the country like fine white sand. And he never complained about the lights or the television or the hot water, except to grumble occasionally that they were a little old and out of date and that the mail-order catalog showed that better models were available in Vladivostok.

And Wang would remind the old man, very gently, that a paper-forest ranger made only so much money, and that there would have to be more saving before such things could be bought. He did not—ever—remind the old man that he, Wang, was stretching a point to keep his grandfather on the payroll as an assistant.

Wang Kulichenko patted his horse's rump and urged her softly to step up her pace just a bit. He had a certain amount of territory to cover, and, although he wanted to be careful in his checking, he also wanted to get home early.

Around him, the neatly-planted forest of paper-trees spread knotty, alien branches, trying to catch the rays of the winter-waning sun. Whenever Wang thought of his grandfather's remarks about his ancestors, he always wondered, as a corollary, what those same ancestors would have thought about a forest growing up here, where no forest like this one had ever grown before.

They were called paper-trees because the bulk of their pulp was used to make paper (they were of no use whatever as lumber), but they weren't trees, really, and the organic chemicals that were leached from them during the pulping process were of far more value than the paper pulp.

They were mutations of a smaller plant that had been found in the temperate regions of Mars and purposely changed genetically to grow on the Siberian tundra, where the conditions were similar to, but superior to, their natural habitat. They looked as though someone had managed to cross breed the Joshua tree with the cypress and then persuaded the result to grow grass instead of leaves.

In the distance, Wang heard the whining of the wind and he automatically pulled his coat a little tighter, even though he noticed no increase in the wind velocity around him.

Then, as the whine became louder, he realized that it was not the wind.

He turned his head toward the noise and looked up. For a long minute, he watched the sky as the sound gained volume, but he could see nothing at first. Then he caught a glimpse of motion. A dot that was hard to distinguish against the cloud-mottled gray sky.

What was it? An air transport in trouble? There were two trans-polar routes that passed within a few hundred miles of here, but no air transport he had ever seen had made a noise like that. Normally, they were so high as to be both invisible and inaudible. Must be trouble of some sort.

He reached down to the saddle pack without taking his eyes off the moving speck and took out the radiophone. He held it to his ear and thumbed the call button insistently.

Grandfather, he thought with growing irritation as the seconds passed, wake up! Come on, old dozer, rouse yourself from your dreams!

At the same time, he checked his wrist compass and estimated the direction of flight of the dot and its direction from him. He'd at least be able to give the airline authorities some information

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