Sixth column, p.11
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       Sixth Column, p.11
 

           Robert A. Heinlein
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  “Who is Konsky?”

  “Everybody knows Konsky. Say, grandpa, what’s the idea of the funny clothes? The slanties’ll make trouble for you.”

  “I am a priest of the great god Mota. The Lord Mota takes care of his own. Take us to this Konsky.”

  “Nothing doing. I don’t want to tangle with the slanties.” The boy tried to wriggle away; Jeff held his arm firmly and produced another coin. He did not hand it over.

  “Fear not. The Lord Mota will protect you, too.”

  The youngster looked at it, glanced around, and said, “Okay. Come along.”

  He led them around a corner and to a walk-up office building located over a saloon. “He’s up there if he’s in.” Jeff gave the boy the second coin and told him to come see him again, at the warehouse, as the Lord Mota had gifts for him. Alec questioned the wisdom of this as they climbed the stairs.

  “The kid’s all right,” said Jeff. “Sure, the things that have happened to him have turned him into a guttersnipe. But he’s on our side. He’ll advertise us—and not to the PanAsians.”

  Konsky turned out to be a blandly suspicious man. It was soon evident that he “had connections,” but he was slow to talk until he saw the red gold color of money. After that he was not in the least put off by the odd dress and odd manners of his clients (Thomas gave him the full treatment, with benedictions thrown in, aware that Konsky would discount it but for the purpose of staying in character). He made sure of the building Thomas meant, dickered over the rental and the bribe—he called it “charges for special services”—and left them.

  Thomas and Howe were glad to be left alone. Being a “holy man” had disadvantages; they had had nothing to eat since leaving the Citadel. Jeff dug sandwiches out from under his robes; they munched them. Best of all, there was a washroom adjoining Konsky’s office.

  Three hours later they were in possession of a document, the English translation of which stated that the Heavenly Emperor was graciously pleased to grant to his faithful subjects etc., etc.,—a lease paid up on the warehouse. In exchange for another unreasonable amount of money Konsky agreed to stir up enough labor to clean the place at once, that very day, and to provide certain repairs and materials. Jeff thanked him and with a straight face invited him to attend the first services to be held in the new temple.

  They trudged back to the warehouse. Once out of Konsky’s earshot Jeff said, “Y’ know, Alec, we’re going to make lots of use of that character—but when the day comes, well, I’ve got a little list and he’s at the top of it. I mean to take care of him myself.”

  “Split him with me,” was Howe’s only comment.

  The street urchin popped up from nowhere when they reached the warehouse. “Any more errands, grandpa?”

  “Bless you, son. Yes, several.” After another financial transaction the boy left to find cots and bedding for them. Jeff watched his departure and said, “I think I’ll make an altar boy out of that kid. He can go places and do things that we can’t—and the cops aren’t so likely to stop a person that age.”

  “I don’t think you should trust him.”

  “I won’t. So far as he will ever know we are a couple of crackpots, firmly convinced that we are priests of the great god Mota. We can’t afford to trust anybody, Alec, until we are sure of them. Come on let’s kill all the rats in this place before the cleaners get here. Want me to check the setting on your staff?”

  By nightfall the First Temple of Denver of the Lord Mota was a going concern, even though it still looked like a warehouse and had no congregation. The place reeked of disinfectant, the rubbish was gone, and the front door would lock. There were two beds of sorts and groceries enough to last two men a fortnight.

  Their chaperone from the police force was still across the street.

  The police guard stayed with them for four days. Twice squads of police came and searched through the place. Thomas let them; as yet there was nothing to hide. Their staffs were still their only source of power and the only Ledbetter communicator they had with them gave Howe a slightly hunch-backed appearance in the day time; he wore it while Thomas wore the money belt.

  In the meantime, through Konsky they acquired a fast and powerful ground car—and permission to drive it, or have it driven, anywhere in the jurisdiction of the Hand. The “charge for special services” was quite high. The driver they hired for it was not acquired through Konsky, but indirectly through Peewee Jenkins, the boy who had helped them on the first day.

  The watch was withdrawn from them around noon on the fourth day. That afternoon Jeff left Howe to hold the place and went back to the Citadel by car. He returned with Scheer, who looked vastly uncomfortable and out of character in priestly vestments and beard but who bore with him a cubical chest enameled in the six sacred colors of Mota. Once inside the warehouse with the door locked Scheer opened the chest with great care and in a particular fashion which prevented it from exploding and taking them and the building with it. He got very busy on the newly constructed “altar.” He finished shortly after midnight; there was more work to do outside, with Thomas and Howe standing guard, ready to stun or kill if necessary to prevent the sergeant being interrupted.

  The morning sun fell on a front wall of emerald green, the other walls were red and golden and deep sky blue. The temple of Mota was ready for converts—and for others.

  Most important, none but a Caucasian could now pass through its door with impunity.

  An hour before daylight Jeff posted himself at the door and waited nervously. The sudden transformation was sure to stir up another search squad; if necessary he must stop them, stun, or even kill—but no search could be permitted. He hoped to dissuade; the temple must be established as an enclave used only by the slave race. But a slight excess of zeal on the part of an underling could force him to violent means, and thereby destroy the hope of peaceful penetration.

  Howe came up behind him and made him jump. “Uh? Oh—Alec! Don’t do that. I’m nervous as a cat already.”

  “Sorry. Major Ardmore is on the circuit. He wants to know how you are making out.”

  “You’ll have to talk to him. I can’t leave the door.”

  “He wants to know when Scheer will be back, too.”

  “Tell him I’ll send him back just as soon as I know it’s safe to step outside this door and not a minute sooner.”

  “O.K.” Howe turned away. Jeff looked back at the street and felt the hair on his neck stand up. A PanAsian in uniform was staring curiously at the building. The foreigner stood for a moment, then went away at the dog trot they all affected when moving on duty.

  “Mota, old boy,” Jeff said to himself. “It’s time to do your stuff.”

  Less than ten minutes later a squad arrived commanded by the same officer who had searched the building before. “Stand aside, Holy One.”

  “No, Master,” Jeff said firmly, “the temple is now consecrated. None may enter but worshipers of the Lord Mota.”

  “We will not harm your temple, Holy One. Stand aside.”

  “Master, if you enter I cannot save you from the wrath of the Lord Mota. Nor can I save you from the wrath of the Imperial Hand.” Before the officer had time to turn this over in his mind Jeff went quickly on, “The Lord Mota expected this visit from you and greets you. He bids me, his humble servant, to make you three gifts.”

  “Gifts?”

  “For yourself—” Jeff laid a heavy purse in his hand. “For your superior officer, may his name be blessed—” A second purse followed. “—and for your men.” A third purse was added; the PanAsian was forced to use both hands.

  He stood there for a moment. There could be no doubt in his mind, from the weight alone, as to what the purses contained. It was more gold than he had ever handled in his life. Shortly he turned, barked an order at his men, and strode away.

  Howe came up again. “You made it, Jeff?”

  “This round, at least.” Thomas watched the squad move up the street. “Cops are all alik
e, the world over. Reminds me of a railroad dick I once knew.”

  “Do you think he’ll share it out the way you suggested?”

  “The men won’t get any, that’s sure. He may split with his boss, to keep him quiet. He’ll probably find some way to hide the third lot of loot before he gets back to the station. What I’m wondering is: is he an honest politician?”

  “Huh?”

  “‘An honest politician is one that stays bought.’ Come on, let’s get ready for customers.”

  They held their first services that evening. As church services they were nothing much, since Jeff was still feeling out the art. They conformed to the good old skid-road mission principle: sing a hymn and eat a meal. But the meal was good red meat and white bread—and the recipients had not eaten that well in many months.

  Chapter Seven

  “Hello? Hello? Jeff, are you there? Can you hear me?”

  “Sure I can hear. you. Don’t shout, Major.”

  “I wish these damn rigs were regular telephones. I like to see a man I’m talking to.”

  “If they were ordinary phones our Asiatic pals could listen in on us. Why don’t you ask Bob and the colonel to whip up a vision circuit? I’ll bet they could do it.”

  “Bob has already done so, Jeff, but Scheer is so busy machining parts for altar installations that I don’t like to ask him to make it. Do you suppose you could recruit some assistants for Scheer? A machinist or two, maybe, and a radio technician? The manufacturing end of this enterprise is getting out of hand and Scheer is going to crack up from overwork. Every night I have to go around and order him to go to bed.”

  Thomas thought about it. “I have one man in mind. Used to be a watchmaker.”

  “A watchmaker! That’s swell!”

  “I don’t know. He’s a little bit balmy; his whole family was wiped out. A sad case, almost as sad as Frank Mitsui. Say, how. is Frank? Is he feeling any better?”

  “Seems to be. Not down inside of course, but he seems happy enough at his work. He’s taken over the kitchen and the clerical work you used to do for me, both.”

  “Give him my best.”

  “I will. Now about this watchmaker—you don’t have to be as careful in recruiting personnel for the Citadel as you have to be in picking field workers, since once they are inside they can’t get out.”

  “I know that, boss. I didn’t use any special tests when I sent you Estelle Devens. Of course I wouldn’t have sent her if she hadn’t been about to be shipped out as a pleasure girl.”

  “You did all right. Estelle is a fine woman. She helps Frank in the kitchen, she helps Graham sew the robes, and Bob Wilkie is training her as a pararadio operator.” Ardmore chuckled. “Sex is rearing its interesting head. I think Bob is sweet on her.”

  Thomas’s voice was suddenly grave. “How about that, boss? Is it likely to louse things up?”

  “I don’t think so. Bob is a gentleman and Estelle is a nice girl if I ever saw one. If biology starts getting in the way of their work, I’ll just up and marry them, in my capacity as high priest of the supercolossal god Mota.”

  “Bob won’t go for that. He’s a bit of a puritan, if you ask me.”

  “All right then, in my capacity as chief magistrate of this thriving little village. Don’t be stuffy. Or send me up a real preacher.”

  “How about sending up more women, Major? I sent Estelle on impulse, more or less, but there are many more young women just as badly in need of help as she was.”

  There was a long wait before Ardmore replied, “Captain, that is a very difficult question. Most reluctantly I am forced to say that this is a military organization at war, not a personal rescue mission. Unless a female is being recruited for a military function to which she is adapted, you are not to recruit her, even to save her from the PanAsians’ pleasure cities.”

  “Yes, sir. I will comply. I shouldn’t have sent Estelle.”

  “What’s done is done. She’s working out all right. Don’t hesitate to recruit suitable women. This is going to be a long war and I think we can maintain morale better with a mixed organization than with a strictly stag setup. Men without women go to pieces; they lose purpose. But try to make the next one an older woman, something between a mother superior and a chaperone. An elderly trained nurse would be the type. She could be lab assistant to Brooks and house mother to the babes, both.”

  “I’ll see what I can find.”

  “And send up that watchmaker. We really need him.”

  “I’ll give him a hypo test tonight.”

  “Is that necessary, Jeff? If the PanAsians killed his family you can be sure of his sentiments.”

  “That’s his story. I’ll feel a lot safer if I hear him tell it when he’s doped. He might be a ringer you know.”

  “O.K., you’re right, as usual. You run your show; I’ll run mine. When are you going to be able to turn the temple over to Alec, Jeff? I need you here.”

  “Alec could take it now, just to run it. But as I understand it, my prime duty is to locate and recruit more ‘priests,’ ones capable of going out in the field and starting a new cell alone.”

  “That’s true, but can’t Alec do that? After all, the final tests will be given here. We agreed that never, under any circumstances, would the true nature of what we are doing be revealed to anyone except after we got him inside the Citadel and under our thumbs. If Alec makes a mistake in picking a man it won’t be fatal.”

  Jeff turned over in his mind what he wanted to say. “Look, boss, it may seem simple from where you sit; it doesn’t look simple from here. I—” He paused.

  “What’s the matter, Jeff? Got the jitters?”

  “I guess so.”

  “Why? It seems to me the operation is proceeding according to plan.”

  “Well, yes—maybe. Major, you said this would be a long war.”

  “Yes?”

  “Well, it can’t be. If it’s a long war, we’ll lose it.”

  “But it’s got to be. We don’t dare move until we have enough trusted people to strike all over the country at once.”

  “Yes, yes, but that’s got to be the shortest possible time. What would you say was the greatest danger that faces us?”

  “Huh? Why the chance that someone might give us away, either accidentally or on purpose.”

  “I don’t agree, sir—not at all. That’s your opinion because you see it from the Citadel. From here I see an entirely different danger—and it worries me all the time.”

  “Well, what is it, Jeff? Give.”

  “The worst danger—and it hangs like a sword over our heads all the time—is that the PanAsian authorities may grow suspicious of us. They may decide that we can’t be what we pretend to be—just another phony western religion, good to keep the slaves quiet. If they once get that idea before we are ready, we’re finished.”

  “Don’t let it get you nervy, Jeff: In a pinch, you’ve got enough stuff to fight your way back to base. They can’t use an atom bomb on you in one of their own capitals—and Calhoun says that the new shield on the Citadel will stop even an atom bomb.”

  “I doubt it. But what good would it do us if it did? Suppose we could hole up there until we died of old age: if we don’t dare stick our noses out we can’t win back the country!”

  “Mmm…no—but it might give us time to think of something else.”

  “Don’t kid yourself, Major. If they catch on, we’re licked—and the American people lose their last chance this generation, at least. There are still too few of us, no matter what weapons Calhoun and Wilkie can cook up.”

  “Suppose I concede your point: you knew all this when you went out. Why the panic? Battle fatigue?”

  “You can call it that. But I want to discuss the dangers as I see them here in the field. If we really were a religious sect, with no military power, they’d leave us alone till hell froze. Right?”

  “Check.”

  “Then the danger lies in the things we have to do to cover up the f
act that we’ve got a lot of stuff we aren’t supposed to have. Those dangers are all out here in the field. First—” Thomas ticked them off on his fingers, oblivious to the fact that his commanding officer could not see him. “—is the shield of the temple. We’ve got to have it; this place can’t stand a search. But it would be almost as bad if we had to use it. If any senior PanAsian gets the notion to inspect in spite of our immunity, school is out for sure; I don’t dare kill him and I don’t dare let him come in. So far, by the grace of God, a lot of doubletalk, and the liberal use of bribes, I’ve been able to turn them away.”

  “They already know that we’ve got the temple shields, Jeff; they’ve known it from the first day we made contact here.”

  “Do they, now? I don’t think so. Thinking back over my interview with the Hand I’m convinced that that officer who tried to force his way into the mother temple wasn’t believed when he made his report. And you can bet your last cookie he is dead now; that’s the way they work. The common soldiers that were there don’t count. The second hazard is the personal shield that we ‘priests’ carry. I’ve used mine just once and I’m sorry I did. Fortunately he was just a common soldier, too. He wouldn’t report it; he wouldn’t be believed and he would lose face.”

  “But, Jeff, the ‘priests’ have got to wear shields; we can’t let a staff fall into enemy hands—not to mention the fact that the monkeys might be able to drug an unshielded ‘priest’ before he could suicide.”

  “You’re telling me! We’ve got to have them; we don’t dare use them—and that calls for some fast double-talk in a pinch. The next hazard is the halo; the halo was a mistake, boss.”

  “Why do you say that?”

  “O.K., it impresses the superstitious. But the bigshot PanAsians are no more superstitious than you are. Take the Hand—I wore it in his presence. He wasn’t impressed; it was my great good luck that he apparently regarded it as nothing important, just a gadget to impress my followers. But suppose he had really thought about it and decided to find out how I did it?”

 
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