Anything You Can Do! - Part 8

Part 8

He walked over to the nearby table and opened a box some twelve inches long and five-by-five inches in cross section.

"See this?" he said as he took something out.

It looked like a large dead rat.

"Our spy," said Colonel Mannheim.

The rat moved along the rusted steel rail that ran the length of the huge tunnel. To a human being, the tunnel would have seemed to be in utter darkness, but the little eyes of the rat saw its surroundings as faintly luminescent, glowing from the infra-red radiations given out by the internal warmth of cement and steel. The main source came from above, where the heat of the sun and of the energy sources in the buildings on the surface seeped through the roof of the tunnel.

On and on it moved, its little pinkish feet pattering almost silently on the oxidized metal surface of the rail. Its sensitive ears picked up the movements and the squeals of other rats, but it paid them no heed. Several times, it met other rats on the rail, but most of them sensed the alienness of _this_ rat and scuttled out of its way.

Once, it met a rat who did not give way. Hungry, perhaps, or perhaps merely yielding to the paranoid fury that was a normal component of the rattish mind, it squealed its defiance to the rat that was not a rat. It advanced, baring its teeth.

The rat that was not a rat became suddenly motionless, its sharp rodent's nose pointed directly at the enemy. There came a noise, a tiny popping hiss, like that of a very small drop of water striking hot metal. From the left nostril of the not-rat, a tiny gla.s.slike needle snapped out at bullet speed. It struck the advancing rat in the center of the pink tongue that was visible in the open mouth. Then the not-rat scuttled backwards faster than any rat could have moved.

For a second, the real rat hesitated, and it may be that the realization penetrated into its dim brain that rats did not fight this way. Then, as the tiny needle dissolved in its bloodstream, it closed its eyes and collapsed, rolling limply off the rail.

The rat might come to before it was found and devoured by its fellows--or it might not. The not-rat moved on, not caring either way. The human intelligence that looked out from the eyes of the not-rat was only concerned with getting to the Nipe.

"That's how we found the Nipe," Colonel Mannheim said, "and that's how we keep tabs on him now. We have over seven hundred of these remote-controlled robots hidden in strategic spots in those tunnels now, but it took time to get everything set up this way. Now, we can follow the Nipe wherever he goes, so long as he stays in the tunnels. If he went out through an open air exit, we could have him followed by bird-robots but--"

He shrugged wryly. "I'm afraid the underwater problem still has us stumped. We can't get the carrier wave for the remote-control impulses to go far underwater."

"How do you get your carrier wave underground to those tunnels?" Stanton asked.

The colonel grinned widely. "One of the boys dreamed up a real cute gimmick. The rails themselves act as antenna for the broadcaster, and the rat's tail is the pickup antenna. As long as the rat is crawling right on the rail, only a microscopic amount of power is needed for control, not enough for the Nipe to pick up with his instruments. Each rat carries its own battery for motive power, and there are old copper power cables down there that we can send direct current through to recharge the batteries.

And, when we need them, the copper cables can be used as antennas. It took us quite a while to work the system out."

Stanton rubbed his head thoughtfully. _d.a.m.n these gaps in my memory!_ he thought. It was sometimes embarra.s.sing to ask questions that any schoolboy should know.

"Aren't there ways of detecting objects underwater?" he asked after a moment.

"Yes," said the colonel, "But they all require beamed energy of some kind to be reflected from the object, and we don't dare use anything like that." He sat down on one corner of the table, his bright blue eyes looking up at Stanton.

"That's been our problem all along," he said seriously. "Keeping the Nipe from knowing that he's being watched. In the tunnels, we've used only equipment that was already there, adding only what we absolutely had to--small things, a few strands of wire, a tiny relay, things that can be hidden in out of the way places. After all, he has his own alarm system in the maze of tunnels, and we've deliberately kept away from his detecting devices. He knows about the rats and ignores them; they're part of the environment. But we don't dare use anything that would tip him off to our knowledge of his whereabouts. One slip like that, and hundreds of human beings will have died in vain."

"And if he stays there too long," Stanton said levelly, "millions more may die."

The colonel's face was grim as he looked directly into Stanton's eyes.

"That's why you have to know your job down to the most minute detail when the time comes to act. The whole success of the plan will depend on you and you alone."

Stanton's eyes didn't avoid the colonel's. _That's not true,_ he thought.

_I'll only be one man on a team, and you know it, Colonel Mannheim. But you'd like to shove all the responsibility off onto someone else--someone stronger. You've finally met someone that you consider superior in that way, and you want to unload. I wish I felt as confident as you do, but I don't._

Aloud, he said: "Sure. Nothing to it. All I have to do is take into account everything that's known about the Nipe and make allowances for everything that's not known." Then he smiled. "Not," he added, "that I can think of any other way to go about it."


St. Louis hadn't been hit during the Holocaust; it still retained much of the old-fashioned flavor of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, especially in the residential districts. Bart Stanton liked to walk along those quiet streets of an evening, just to let the peacefulness seep into him. And, knowing it was rather childish, he still enjoyed the small pleasure of playing hookey from the Neurophysics Inst.i.tute. Technically, he supposed, he was still a patient there. More, now that he had accepted Colonel Mannheim's a.s.signment, he was presumably under military discipline. But he a.s.sumed that, if he had asked permission to leave the Inst.i.tute's grounds, he would have been given that permission without question.

But, like playing hookey, or stealing watermelon, it was more fun if it was done on the sly. The boy who comes home feeling deliciously wicked and delightfully sinful after staying away from school all day can have his whole day ruined by being told that it was a holiday and that the school had been closed. Bart Stanton didn't want to spoil his own fun by asking for permission to leave the grounds when it was so easy for a man with his special abilities to get out without asking.

Besides, there _was_ a chance--a small one, he thought--that permission might be refused for one reason or another, and Bart was fully aware that he would not disobey a direct request--to say nothing of a direct order--that he stay within the walls of the Inst.i.tute. He didn't want to run any risk of losing his freedom, small though it was. After five years of mental and physical h.e.l.l, he felt a need to get out into the world of normal, everyday people.

His legs moved smoothly, surely, and unhurriedly, carrying him aimlessly along the resilient walkway, under the warm glow of the street lights. The people around him walked as casually and with seemingly as little purpose as he did. There was none of the brisk sense of urgency that he felt inside the walls of the Inst.i.tute.

He knew he could never get away from that sense of urgency completely, even out here. There were times when it seemed that all he had ever done, all his life, was to train himself for the single purpose of besting the Nipe.

If he wasn't training physically, he was listening to lectures from the psychologists or from Colonel Mannheim--laying plans and considering possibilities for the one great goal that seemed to be the focal point of his whole life.

What would happen if he failed? He would die, of course, and Mannheim's Plan Beta would immediately go into effect. The Nipe would be killed eventually.

But what if he, Stanton, won? Then what?

The people around him were not a part of his world, really. Their thoughts, their motions, their reactions, were slow and clumsy in comparison with his own. Once the Nipe had been conquered, what purpose would there be in the life of Bartholomew Stanton? He was surrounded by people, but he was not one of them. He was immersed in a society that was not his own because it was not, could not be, geared to his abilities and potentials. But there was no other society to turn to, either.

He was not a man "alone, afraid" in a world he had never made; he was a man who had been made for a world, a society, that did not exist.

Women? A wife? A family life?

Where? With whom?

He pushed the thoughts from his mind, the questions, unanswered and perhaps unanswerable. In spite of the apparent bleakness of the future, he had no desire to die, and there was the possibility that too much brooding of that kind would evoke a subconscious reaction that could slow him down or cause a wrong decision at a vital moment. A feeling of futility could operate to bring on his death in spite of his conscious determination to win the coming battle with the Nipe.

The Nipe was his first duty. When that job was finished, he would consider the problem of himself. Just because he could not now see the answer to that problem did not mean that no answer existed.

He suddenly realized that he was hungry. He had been walking through Memorial Park, past the museum, an old, worn edifice that was still called the Missouri Pacific Building. There was a small restaurant only a block away. He reached into his pocket and took out the few coins that were there. Not much, but enough to buy a sandwich and a gla.s.s of milk. Because of the trust fund that had been set up when he had started the treatment at the Neurophysics Inst.i.tute, he was already well off, but he didn't have much cash. What good was cash in the Inst.i.tute, where everything was provided?

He stopped at a news-vendor, dropped in a coin, and waited for the reproducing mechanism to turn out a fresh paper. Then he took the folded sheets and went on to the restaurant.

He rarely read a news-sheet. Mostly, his information about the world that existed outside the walls of the Inst.i.tute came from the televised newscasts. But, occasionally, he liked to read the small, relatively unimportant little stories about people who had done small, relatively unimportant things--stories that didn't appear in the headlines or on the newscasts.

The last important news story had come two nights before, when the Nipe had robbed an optical products company in Miami. The camera had shown the shop on the screen. Whatever had been used to blow open the door of the vault had been more effective than necessary. It had taken the whole front door of the shop and both windows, too. The bent and twisted paragla.s.s that had lain on the pavement showed how much force had been applied from within.

And yet, the results were not that of an explosion. It was more as though some tremendous force had _pushed_ outward from within. It had not been the shattering shock of high explosive, but some great thrust that had unhurriedly, but irresistibly, moved everything out of its way.

Nothing had been moved very far, as it would have been by a blast. It appeared that everything had simply fallen aside, as though scattered by a giant hand. The main braces of the store front were still there, bent outward a little, but not broken.

The vault door had lain on the floor of the shop, only a few feet from the front door. The vault itself had been farther back, and the camera had showed it, standing wide open, gaping. Inside, there had been pieces of fragile gla.s.s standing on the shelves, unmoved, unharmed.

The force, whatever it had been, had moved in one direction only, from a point within the vault, just a few feet from the door, pushing outward to tear out the heavy door as though it had been made of paraffin or modeling clay.