Sixth column, p.14
Robert A. Heinlein
Something had to be done.
Ardmore was sufficiently honest with himself to recognize, if not to diagnose, his own weakness. He called Thomas into his office, and unburdened his soul. Concluding, he asked, “What do you think I should do about it, Jeff? Has the job got too big for me? Should I try to pick out somebody else to take over?”
Thomas shook his head slowly. “I don’t think you ought to do that, Chief. Nobody could work any harder than you do—there are just twenty-four hours in a day. Besides, whoever relieved you would have the same problems without your intimate knowledge of the background and your imaginative grasp of what we are trying to accomplish.”
“Well, I’ve got to do something. We’re about to move into the second phase of this show, when we start in systematically trying to break the nerve of the PanAsians. When that reaches a crisis, we’ve got to have the congregation of every temple ready to act as a military unit. That means more work, not less. And I’m not ready to handle it! Good grief, man—you’d think that somebody somewhere would have worked out a science of executive organization so that a big organization could be handled without driving the man at the top crazy! For the past two hundred years the damned scientists have kept hauling gadget after gadget out of their laboratories, gadgets that simply demand big organizations to use them—but never a word about how to make those organizations run.” He struck a match savagely. “It’s not rational!”
“Wait a minute, Chief, wait a minute.” Thomas wrinkled his brow in an intense effort to remember. “Maybe there has been such work done—I seem to recall something I read once, something about Napoleon being the last of the generals.”
“It’s pertinent. This chap’s idea was that Napoleon was the last of the great generals to exercise direct command, because the job got too big. A few years later the Germans invented the principle of staff command, and, according to this guy, generals were through—as generals. He thought that Napoleon wouldn’t have stood a chance against an army headed by a general staff. Probably what you need is a staff.”
“For Pete’s sake, I’ve got a staff! A dozen secretaries and twice that many messengers and clerks—I fall over ’em.”
“I don’t think it was that kind of a staff he was talking about. Napoleon must have had that kind of a staff.”
“Well, what did he mean?”
“I don’t know exactly, but apparently it was a standard notion in modern military organization. You’re not a graduate of the War College?”
“You know damn well I’m not.” It was true. Thomas had guessed from very early in their association that Ardmore was a layman, improvising as he went along, and Ardmore knew that he knew; yet each had kept his mouth closed.
“Well, it seems to me that a graduate of the War College might be able to give us some hints about organization.”
“Fat chance. They either died in battle, or were liquidated after the collapse. If any escaped, they are lying very low and doing their best to conceal their identity—for which you can’t blame them.”
“No, you can’t. Well, forget it—I guess it wasn’t such a good idea after all.”
“Don’t be hasty. It was a good idea. Look—armies aren’t the only big organizations. Take the big corporations, like Standard Oil and U.S. Steel and General Motors—they must have worked out the same principles.”
“Maybe. Some of them, anyhow—although some of them burn their executives out pretty young. Generals have to be killed with an ax, it seems to me.”
“Still, some of them must know something. Will you see if you can stir out a few?”
Fifteen minutes later a punched-card selector was rapidly rifling through the personnel files of every man and woman who had been reported on by the organization. It turned out that several men of business executive experience were actually then working in the Citadel in jobs of greater or lesser administrative importance. Those were called in, and dispatches were sent out summoning about a dozen more to “make a pilgrimage” to the Mother Temple.
The first trouble shooter turned out sour. He was a high-pressure man, who had run his own business much along the lines of personal supervision which Ardmore had been using up to then. His suggestions had to do with routing and forms and personal labor savers—rather than any basic change in principles. But in time several placid unhurried men were located who knew instinctively and through practice the principle of doctrinal administration.
One of them, formerly general manager of the communications trust, was actually a student and an admirer of modern military organizational methods. Ardmore made him Chief of Staff. With his help, Ardmore selected several others: the former personnel manager of Sears, Roebuck; a man who had been permanent undersecretary of the department of public works in one of the Eastern states; executive secretary of an insurance company. Others were added as the method was developed.
It worked. Ardmore had a little trouble getting used to it at first; he had been a one-man show all his life and it was disconcerting to find himself split up into several alter egos, each one speaking with his authority, and signing his name “by direction.” But in time he realized that these men actually were able to apply his own policy to a situation and arrive at a decision that he might have made himself. Those who could not he got rid of, at the suggestion of his Chief of Staff: But it was strange to be having time enough to watch other men doing HIS work HIS way under the simple but powerful scientific principle of general staff command.
He was free at last to give his attention to perfecting that policy and to deal thoroughly with the occasional really new situation which his staff referred to him for solution and development of new policy. And he slept soundly, sure that one, or more, of his “other brains” was alert and dealing with the job. He knew now that, even if he should be killed, his extended brain would continue until the task was completed.
It would be a mistake to assume that the PanAsian authorities had watched the growth and spread of the new religion with entire satisfaction, but at the critical early stage of its development they simply had not realized that they were dealing with anything dangerous. The warning of the experience of the deceased lieutenant who first made contact with the cult of Mota went unheeded, the simple facts of his tale unbelieved.
Having once established their right to travel and operate, Ardmore and Thomas impressed on each missionary the importance of being tactful and humble and of establishing friendly relations with the local authorities. The gold of the priests was very welcome to the Asiatics, involved as they were in making a depressed and recalcitrant country pay dividends, and this caused them to be more lenient with the priests of Mota than they otherwise would have been. They felt, not unreasonably, that a slave who helps to make the books balance must be a good slave. The word went around at first to encourage the priests of Mota, as they were aiding in consolidating the country.
True, some of the PanAsian police and an occasional minor official had very disconcerting experiences in dealing with priests, but, since these incidents involved loss of face to the PanAsians concerned, they were strongly disposed not to speak of them.
It took some time for enough unquestioned data to accumulate to convince the higher authorities that the priests of Mota, all of them, had several annoying—yes, even intolerable characteristics. They could not be touched. One could not even get very close to one of them—it was as if they were surrounded by a frictionless pellucid wall of glass. Vortex pistols had no effect on them. They would submit passively to arrest but somehow they never stayed in jail. Worst of all, it had become certain that a temple of Mota could not, under any circumstances, be inspected by a PanAsian.
It was not to be tolerated.
It was not tolerated. The Prince Royal himself ordered the arrest of Ardmore.
It was not done as crudely as that. Word was sent to the Mother Temple that the Grandson of Heaven desired the High Priest of the Lord of Mota to atte
Ardmore put down the papers he had been studying. “Hmm-m-m,” he said, “it looks like we’re getting down to the slugging. A little bit earlier than I had counted on.” He frowned.
“What are you going to do about it?”
“You know my methods. What do you think I’ll do about it?”
“Well—I guess you’ll probably go along with him, but it worries me. I wish you wouldn’t.”
“What else can I do? We aren’t ready yet for an open breach; a refusal would be out of character. Orderly!”
“Send my striker in. Tell him full robes and paraphernalia. Then present my compliments to Captain Thomas and ask him to come here at once.”
“Yes, sir.” The orderly was already busy with the view-phone.
Ardmore talked with Kendig and Thomas as his striker robed him. “Jeff, here’s the sack—you’re holding it.”
“If anything happens so that I lose communication with headquarters, you are commanding officer. You’ll find your appointment in, my desk, signed and sealed.”
“Don’t ‘But Chief’ me. I made my decision on this a long time ago. Kendig knows about it; so does the rest of the staff. I’d have had you in the staff before this if I hadn’t needed you as Chief of Intelligence.” Ardmore glanced in a mirror and brushed at his curly blond beard. They had all grown beards, all those who appeared in public as priests. It tended to give the comparatively hairless Asiatics a feeling of womanly inferiority while at the same time arousing a vague unallocated repugnance. “You may have noticed that no one holding a line commission has ever been made senior to you. I had this eventuality in mind.”
“How about Calhoun?”
“Oh, yes—Calhoun. Your commission as a line officer automatically makes you senior to him, of course. But I’m afraid that won’t cut much ice in handling him. You just have to deal with him as best you can. You’ve got force majeure at your disposal, but go easy. But I don’t have to tell you that.”
A messenger, dressed as an acolyte, hurried in and saluted. “Sir, the temple officer of the watch says that the PanAsian Commander is getting very impatient.”
“Good. I want him to be. Are the subsonics turned on?”
“Yes, sir, they make us all very nervous.”
“You can stand it; you know what it is. Tell the watch officer to have the engineer on duty vary the volume erratically with occasional complete let-ups. I want those Asiatics to be fit to be tied by the time I get there.”
“Yes, sir. Any word to the cruiser commander?”
“Not directly. Have the watch officer tell him that I am at my devotions and can’t be disturbed.”
“Very good, sir.” The messenger trotted away. This was something like! He would hang around where he could see the face of that skunk when he heard that one!
“I’m glad we got these new headsets fitted out in time,” Ardmore observed as his striker fitted his turban to his head.
The turbans had originally been intended simply to conceal the mechanism which produced the shining halo which floated above the heads of all priests of Mota. The turban and the halo together made a priest look about seven feet tall with consequent unfavorable effect on the psyche of the Asiatics. But Scheer had seen the possibility of concealing a short range transmitter and receiver under the turban as well; they were now standard equipment.
He settled the turban with his hands, made sure that the bone conduction receiver was firm against his mastoid, and spoke in natural low tones, apparently to no one, “Commanding officer—testing.”
Apparently inside his head, a voice, muffled but distinct, answered him, “Communication watch officer—test check.”
“Good,” he approved. “Have direction finders crossed on me until further notice. Arrange your circuits to hook me in through the nearest temple to headquarters here. I may want Circuit A at any moment.”
Circuit A was a general broadcast to every temple in the country. “Any news from Captain Downer?”
“One just this moment came in, sir; I’ve just sent it to your office,” the inner voice informed him.
“So? Yes, I see.” Ardmore stepped to his desk, flipped a switch which turned off a shining red transparency reading Priority, and tore a sheet of paper from the facsimile recorder.
“Tell the Chief,” the message ran, “that something is about to bust. I can’t find out what it is, but all the brass-hats are looking very cocky. Watch everything and be careful.” That was all, and that little possibly garbled in word of mouth relay.
Ardmore frowned and pursed his mouth, then signaled his orderly. “Send for Mr. Mitsui.”
When Mitsui came in, Ardmore handed him the message. “I suppose you’ve heard that I am to be arrested?”
“It’s all over the place,” Mitsui acknowledged soberly, and handed the message back.
“Frank, if you were Prince Royal, what would you be trying to accomplish by arresting me?”
“Chief,” protested Mitsui, distress in his eyes, “you act as if I were one of those…those murdering—”
“Sorry—but I still want your advice.”
“Well—I guess I’d be intending to put you on ice, then clamp down on your church.”
“I don’t know. I don’t guess I’d be doing it unless I was fairly sure that I had some way to get around your protections.”
“No, I suppose so.” He spoke again to the air. “Communication office, priority for Circuit A.”
“Direct, or relay?”
“You send it out. I want every priest to return to his temple, if he is now out of it, and I want him to do it fast. Priority, urgent, acknowledge and report.” He turned back to those with him.
“Now for a bite to eat, and I’ll go. Our yellow friend upstairs ought to be about done to a turn by then. Anything else we should take up before I leave?”
Ardmore entered the main hall of the temple from the door in the rear of the altar. His approach to the great doors, now standing open, was a stately progress. He knew that the Asiatic commander could see him coming; he covered the two hundred yards with leisured dignity, attended by a throng of servers clad in robes of red, of green, of blue, and golden. His own vestments were immaculate white. His attendants fanned out as they neared the great archway; he marched out and up to the fuming Asiatic alone. “Your master wishes to see me?”
The PanAsian had difficulty in composing himself sufficiently to speak in English. Finally he managed to get out, “You were ordered to report to me. How dare you—”
Ardmore cut him short. “Does your master wish to see me?”
“Decidedly! Why didn’t you—”
“Then you may escort me to him.” He moved on past the officer and marched down the steps, giving the Asiatics the alternatives of running to catch up with him, or trailing after. The commander of the cruiser obeyed his first impulse to hurry, nearly fell on the broad steps, and concluded by bringing up ignominiously in the rear, his guard attending him.
Ardmore had been in the city chosen by the Prince Royal as his capital before, but not since the Asiatics had moved in. When they debarked on the municipal landing platform he looked about him with concealed eagerness to see what changes had been made. The skyways seemed to be running—probably because of the much higher percentage of Asiatic population here. Otherwise there was little apparent change. The dome of the State capitol was visible away to the right; he knew it to be the palace of the warlord. They had done something to its exterior; he could not put his finger on the change but it no longer looked like Western architecture.
Ardmore took advantage of a long unbroken passageway to check his communications. “Great Lord Mota,” he said, “dost thou hear thy servant?” The commander glanced at him, but said nothing.
The muffled inner voice answered at once, “Got you, Chief. You are hooked in through the temple in the capitol.” It was Thomas’ voice.
“The Lord Mota speaks, the servant hears. Truly it is written that little pitchers have long ears.”
“You mean the monkeys can overhear you?”
“Yea, verily, now and forever. The Lord Mota will understand igpay atinlay?”
“Sure, Chief—pig latin. Take it slow if you can.”
“At-thay is oodgay. Ore-may aterlay.” Satisfied, he desisted. Perhaps the PanAsians had a mike and a recorder on him even now. He hoped so, for he thought it would give them a useless headache. A man has to grow up in a language to be able to understand it scrambled.
The Prince Royal had been impelled by curiosity as much as by concern when he ordered the apprehension of the High Priest of Mota. It was true that affairs were not entirely to his liking, but he felt that his advisers were hysterical old women. When had a slave religion proved anything but an aid to the conqueror? Slaves needed a wailing wall; they went into their temples, prayed to their gods to deliver them from oppression, and came out to work in the fields and factories, relaxed and made harmless by the emotional catharsis of prayer.
Sixth Column by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes