Authors: Avram Davidson
So small bands held fast to their eccentric traits, and some prospered. Evolutionary jumps happened faster in small, semi-isolated bands which out-bred slightly. They kept their genetic assets in one small basket, the troop. The price was steep: a strong preference for their own tiny lot.
This would lead to a species that hated crowds, strangers, general alienness. Nature, then, did not produce a natural liberal.
Bands of less than ten were too vulnerable to disease or predators; a few losses and the group failed. Too many, and they lost the concentration of close breeding. They were intensely loyal to their group, identifying each other in the dark by smell.
Because they had many common genes, altruistic actions were common. This meant even heroism—for even if the hero died, his shared genes were passed on through his relatives.
So it was actually helpful to develop smoldering animosity to outsiders, an immediate sense of their wrongness.
Even if strangers could pass the tests of difference in appearances, manner, smell, grooming—even then, culture could amplify the effects. Newcomers with different language or dress, or habits and posture, would seem repulsive. Anything that served to distinguish a band would keep hatreds high.
Each small genetic ensemble would then be driven by natural selection to stress the noninherited differences—even arbitrary ones, dimly connected to survival fitness—and so they evolved culture. Diversity in their tribal intricacies avoided genetic watering down. They heeded the ancient call of aloof, wary tribalism.
Does this chimp scenario fit us? Some resemblances are striking.
After all, we still resemble the common chimps and pygmy chimps. We’re just bigger and with less hair, walking upright. The visible differences between us and chimps were far less than, say, between Great Danes and Chihuahuas. Yet dogs interbreed. We and chimps do not.
In nature, genocide occurs in wolves and chimps alike. Murder is wide-spread. (Further afield, ducks and orangutans rape, ants have organized warfare and slave raids. The Walt Disney world never existed.) Chimps in the field have at least as good a chance of being murdered as did humans.
Of all the hallowed human hallmarks—speech, art, technology, and the rest—the one that comes most obviously from animal ancestors is genocide. Human tribes may well have evolved as a group defense—clubbiness against clubs.
Luckily, today’s worldwide instantaneous communication blurs distinctions between Us and Them, blunting the deep impulse to genocide.
Our biological baggage of dark behaviors includes delight in torture, and easy exterminations of other species for short-term gain. Against such Darwinian imperatives, willed to us by vast time, we can muster only our intuitive values.
Avram knew this, and so framed his story as a quiet affirmation of solidarity with the Other. A noble sentiment, and one which may well have eventual positive effects upon our own evolution. For we cannot go on as super-chimps, pacing restlessly upon a shrinking globe.
Still less can we think of the galaxy itself as a great veldt, ready for our primate passions. We need something more. Art and artifice, fiction among them, are our ways of confronting our troubling selves.
NOW LET US SLEEP
PINK-SKINNED YOUNG CADET
ran past Harper, laughing and shouting and firing his stungun. The wind veered about, throwing the thick scent of the Yahoos into the faces of the men, who whooped loudly to show their revulsion.
“I got three!” the chicken cadet yelped at Harper. “Did you see me pop those two together? Boy, what a stink they have!”
Harper looked at the sweating kid, muttered, “You don’t smell so sweet yourself,” but the cadet didn’t wait to hear. All the men were running now, running in a ragged semi-circle with the intention of driving the Yahoos before them, to hold them at bay at the foot of the gaunt cliff a quarter-mile off.
The Yahoos loped awkwardly over the rough terrain, moaning and grunting grotesquely, their naked bodies bent low. A few hundred feet ahead one of them stumbled and fell, his arms and legs flying out as he hit the ground, twitched, and lay still.
A bald-headed passenger laughed triumphantly, paused to kick the Yahoo, and trotted on. Harper kneeled beside the fallen Primitive, felt for a pulse in the hairy wrist. It seemed slow and feeble, but then, no one actually knew what the normal pulse-beat should be. And—except for Harper—no one seemed to give a damn.
Maybe it was because he was the grandson of Barret Harper, the great naturalist—back on Earth, of course. It seemed as if man could be fond of nature only on the planet of man’s origin, whose ways he knew so well. Elsewhere, it was too strange and alien—you subdued it, or you adjusted to it, or you were perhaps even content with it. But you almost never
about the flora or fauna of the new planets. No one had the feeling for living things that an earth-born had.
The men were shouting more loudly now, but Harper didn’t lift his head to see why. He put his hand to the shaggy gray chest. The heart was still beating, but very slowly and irregularly. Someone stood beside him.
“He’ll come out of it in an hour or so,” the voice of the purser said. “Come on—you’ll miss all the fun—you should see how they act when they’re cornered! They kick out and throw sand and”—he laughed at the thought—“they weep great big tears, and go,
Harper said, “An ordinary man
come out of it in an hour or so. But I think their metabolism is different… Look at all the bones lying around.”
The purser spat. “Well, don’t that prove they’re not human, when they won’t even bury their dead?…
, oh!—look at that!” He swore.
Harper got to his feet. Cries of dismay and disappointment went up from the men.
“What’s wrong?” Harper asked.
The purser pointed. The men had stopped running, were gathering together and gesturing. “Who’s the damn fool who planned this drive?” the purser asked, angrily. “He picked the wrong cliff! The damned Yahoos
in that one! Look at them climb, will you—” He took aim, fired the stungun. A figure scrabbling up the side of the rock threw up its arms and fell, bounding from rock to rock until it hit the ground. “
one will never come out of it!” the purser said, with satisfaction.
But this was the last casualty. The other Yahoos made their way to safety in the caves and crevices. No one followed them. In those narrow, stinking confines a Yahoo was as good as a man, there was no room to aim a stungun, and the Yahoos had rocks and clubs and their own sharp teeth. The men began straggling back.
“This one a she?” The purser pushed at the body with his foot, let it fall back with an annoyed grunt as soon as he determined its sex. “There’ll be Hell to pay in the hold if there’s more than two convicts to a she.” He shook his head and swore.
Two lighters came skimming down from the big ship to load up.
“Coming back to the launch?” the purser asked. He had a red shiny face. Harper had always thought him a rather decent fellow—before. The purser had no way of knowing what was in Harper’s mind; he smiled at him and said, “We might as well get on back, the fun’s over now.”
Harper came to a sudden decision. “What’re the chances of my taking a souvenir back with me? This big fellow, here, for example?”
The purser seemed doubtful. “Well, I dunno, Mr. Harper. We’re only supposed to take females aboard, and unload
as soon as the convicts are finished with their fun.” He leered. Harper, suppressing a strong urge to hit him right in the middle of his apple-red face, put his hand in his pocket. The purser understood, looked away as Harper slipped a bill into the breast pocket of his uniform.
“I guess it can be arranged. See, the Commissioner-General on Selopé III wants one for his private zoo. Tell you what: We’ll take one for him and one for you—I’ll tell the supercargo it’s a spare. But if one croaks, the C-G has to get the other. Okay?”
At Harper’s nod the purser took a tag out of his pocket, tied it around the Yahoo’s wrist, waved his cap to the lighter as it came near. “Although why anybody’d
one of these beats me,” he said, cheerfully. “They’re dirtier than animals. I mean, a pig or a horse’ll use the same corner of the enclosure, but these things’ll dirty anywhere. Still, if you
one—” He shrugged.
As soon as the lighter had picked up the limp form (the pulse was still fluttering feebly) Harper and the purser went back to the passenger launch. As they made a swift ascent to the big ship the purser gestured to the two lighters. “That’s going to be a mighty slow trip
two craft will make back up,” he remarked.
Harper innocently asked why. The purser chuckled. The coxswain laughed.
“The freight-crewmen want to make their points before the convicts.
The chicken cadet, his face flushed a deeper pink than usual, tried to sound knowing. “How about that, purser? Is it pretty good stuff?”
The other passengers wiped their perspiring faces, leaned forward eagerly. The purser said, “Well, rank has its privileges, but that’s one I figure I can do without.”
His listeners guffawed, but more than one looked down toward the lighters and then avoided other eyes when he looked back again.
Barnum’s Planet (named, as was the custom then, after the skipper who’d first sighted it) was a total waste, economically speaking. It was almost all water and the water supported only a few repulsive-looking species of no discernible value. The only sizable piece of land—known, inevitably, as Barnumland, since no one else coveted the honor—was gaunt and bleak, devoid alike of useful minerals or arable soil. Its ecology seemed dependent on a sort of fly: A creature rather like a lizard ate the flies and the Yahoos ate the lizards. If something died at sea and washed ashore, the Yahoos ate that, too. What the flies ate no one knew, but their larvae ate the Yahoos, dead.
They were small, hairy, stunted creatures whose speech—if speech it was—seemed confined to moans and clicks and grunts. They wore no clothing, made no artifacts, did not know the use of fire. Taken away captive, they soon languished and died. Of all the primitives discovered by man, they were the most primitive. They might have been left alone on their useless planet to kill lizards with tree branches forever—except for one thing.
Barnum’s Planet lay equidistant between Coulter’s System and the Selopes, and it was a long, long voyage either way. Passengers grew restless, crews grew mutinous, convicts rebellious. Gradually the practice developed of stopping on Barnum’s Planet “to let off steam”—archaic expression, but although the nature of the machinery man used had changed since it was coined, man’s nature hadn’t.
And, of course, no one
Barnum’s Planet, so no one cared what happened there.
Which was just too bad for the Yahoos.
It took some time for Harper to settle the paperwork concerning his “souvenir,” but finally he was given a baggage check for “One Yahoo, male, live,” and hurried down to the freight deck. He hoped it would be still alive.
Pandemonium met his ears as he stepped out of the elevator. A rhythmical chanting shout came from the convict hold. “Hear that?” one of the duty officers asked him, taking the cargo chit. Harper asked what the men were yelling. “I wouldn’t care to use the words,” the officer said. He was a paunchy, gray-haired man, one who probably loved to tell his grandchildren about his “adventures.” This was one he wouldn’t tell them.
“I don’t like this part of the detail,” the officer went on. “Never did, never will. Those creatures
seem human to me
—stupid as they are. And if they’re
human,” he asked, “then how can we sink low enough to bring their females up for the convicts?”
The lighters grated on the landing. The noise must have penetrated to the convict hold, because all semblance of words vanished from the shouting. It became a mad cry, louder and louder.
“Here’s your pet,” the gray-haired officer said. “Still out, I see… I’ll let you have a baggage-carrier. Just give it to a steward when you’re done with it.” He had to raise his voice to be heard over the frenzied howling from the hold.
The ship’s surgeon was out having tea at the captain’s table. The duty medical officer was annoyed. “What, another one? We’re not veterinarians, you know… Well, wheel him in. My intern is working on the other one…
” He held his nose and hastily left.
The intern, a pale young man with close-cropped dark hair, looked up from the pressure-spray he had just used to give an injection to the specimen Yahoo selected for the Commissioner-General of Selopé III. He smiled faintly.
“Junior will have company, I see… Any others?”
Harper shook his head. The intern went on, “This should be interesting. The young one seems to be in shock. I gave him two cc’s of anthidar sulfate, and I see I’d better do the same for yours. Then… Well, I guess there’s still nothing like serum albumen, is there? But you’d better help me strap them down. If they come to, there’s a cell back aft we can put them in, until I can get some cages rigged up.” He shot the stimulant into the flaccid arm of Harper’s Yahoo.
“Whoever named these beasties knew his Swift,” the young medico said. “You ever read that old book,
“Old Swift went mad, didn’t he? He hated humanity, they all seemed like Yahoos to him… In a way I don’t blame him. I think that’s why everybody despises these Primitives: They seem like caricatures of ourselves. Personally, I look forward to finding out a lot about them, their metabolism and so on… What’s
He asked the question casually, but shot a keen look as he did so. Harper shrugged. “I hardly know, exactly. It’s not a scientific one, because I’m a businessman.” He hesitated. “You ever hear or read about the Tasmanians?”