Sixth column, p.3
Sixth Column, p.3Robert A. Heinlein
“Keep your eyes open for some means by which we can establish a permanent service of information. I can’t suggest what it is you are to look for in that connection, but keep it in mind. Now as to details: anything and everything about the PanAsians, how they are armed, how they police occupied territory, where they have set up headquarters, particularly their continental headquarters, and, if you can make any sort of estimate, how many of them there are and how they’re distributed. That would keep you busy for a year, at least; just the same, be back in a week.”
Ardmore showed Thomas how to operate one of the outer doors of the Citadel; two bars of “Yankee Doodle,” breaking off short, and a door appeared in what seemed to be a wall of country rock—simple, and yet foreign to the Asiatic mind. Then he shook hands with him and wished him good luck.
Ardmore found that Thomas had still one more surprise for him; when he shook hands, he did so with the grip of the Dekes, Ardmore’s own fraternity! Ardmore stood staring at the closed portal, busy arranging his preconceptions.
When he turned around, Calhoun was behind him. He felt somewhat as if he had been caught stealing jam. “Oh, hello, Doctor,” he said quickly.
“How do you do, Major,” Calhoun replied with deliberation. “May I inquire as to what is going on?”
“Certainly. I’ve sent Lieutenant Thomas out to reconnoiter.”
“Brevet lieutenant. I was forced to use him for work far beyond his rank; I found it expedient to assign him the rank and pay of his new duties.”
Calhoun pursued that point no further, but answered with another, in the same faintly critical tone of voice. “I suppose you realize that it jeopardizes all of us to send anyone outside? I am a little surprised that you should act in such a matter without consulting with others.”
“I am sorry you feel that way about it, Colonel,” Ardmore replied, in a conscious attempt to conciliate the older man, “but I am required to make the final decision in any case, and it is of prime importance to our task that nothing be permitted to distract your attention from your all-important job of research. Have you completed your experiment?” he went on quickly.
“The results were positive. The mice died.”
“How about Wilkie?”
“Oh, Wilkie was unhurt, naturally. That is in accordance with my predictions.”
Jefferson Thomas. Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude, University of California, Bachelor of Law, Harvard Law School, professional hobo, private and cook’s helper, and now a brevet lieutenant, intelligence, United States army, spent his first night outside shivering on pine needles where dark had overtaken him. Early the next morning he located a ranchhouse.
They fed him, but they were anxious for him to move along. “You never can tell when one of those heathens is going to come snooping around,” apologized his host, “and I can’t afford to be arrested for harboring refugees. I got the wife and kids to think about.” But he followed Thomas out to the road, still talking, his natural garrulity prevailing over his caution. He seemed to take a grim pleasure in bewailing the catastrophe.
“God knows what I’m raising those kids up to. Some nights it seems like the only reasonable thing to do is to put them all out of their sorrow. But Jessie—that’s my wife—says it’s a scandal and a sin to talk that way, that the Lord will take care of things all in His own good time. Maybe so—but I know it’s no favor to a child to raise it up to be bossed around and lorded over by those monkeys.” He spat. “It’s not American.”
“What’s this about penalties for harboring refugees?”
The rancher stared at him. “Where’ve you been, friend?”
“Up in the hills. I haven’t laid eyes on one of the so-and-so’s yet.”
“You will. But then you haven’t got a number, have you? You’d better get one. No, that won’t do you any good; you’d just land in a labor camp if you tried to get one.”
“Registration number. Like this.” He pulled a glassine-covered card out of his pocket and displayed it. It had attached to it a poor but recognizable picture of the rancher, his fingerprints, and pertinent data as to his occupation, marital status, address, et cetera. There was a long, hyphenated number running across the top. The rancher indicated it with a work-stained finger. “That first part is my number. It means I have permission from the emperor to stay alive and enjoy the air and sunshine,” he added bitterly. “The second part is my serial classification. It tells where I live and what I do. If I want to cross the county line, I have to have that changed. If I want to go to any other town than the one I’m assigned to do my marketing in, I’ve got to get a day’s special permit. Now I ask you—is that any way for a man to live?”
“Not for me,” agreed Thomas. “Well, I guess I had better be on my way before I get you in trouble. Thanks for the breakfast.”
“Don’t mention it. It’s a pleasure to do a favor for a fellow American these days.”
He started off down the road at once, not wishing the kindly rancher to see how thoroughly he had been moved by the picture of his degradation. The implications of that registration card had shaken his free soul in a fashion that the simple, intellectual knowledge of the defeat of the United States had been unable to do.
He moved slowly for the first two or three days, avoiding the towns until he had gathered sufficient knowledge of the enforced new customs to be able to conduct himself without arousing suspicion. It was urgently desirable that he be able to enter at least one big city in order to snoop around, read the bulletin boards, and find a chance to talk with persons whose occupations permitted them to travel. From a standpoint of personal safety he was quite willing to chance it without an identification card but he remembered clearly a repeated injunction of Ardmore, “Your paramount duty is to return! Don’t go making a hero of yourself. Don’t take any chance you can avoid and come back!”
Cities would have to wait.
Thomas skirted around towns at night, avoiding patrols as he used to avoid railroad cops. The second night out he found the first of his objectives, a hobos’ jungle. It was just where he had expected to find it, from his recollection of previous trips through the territory. Nevertheless, he almost missed it, for the inevitable fire was concealed by a jury-rigged oilcan stove, and shielded from chance observation.
He slipped into the circle and sat down without comment, as custom required, and waited for them to look him over.
Presently a voice said plaintively: “It’s Gentleman Jeff. Cripes, Jeff, you gave me a turn. I thought you was a flatface. Whatcha been doin’ with yourself, Jeff?”
“Oh, one thing and another. On the dodge.”
“Who isn’t these days?” the voice returned. “Everywhere you try, those slant-eyes—” He broke into a string of attributions concerning the progenitors and personal habits of the PanAsians about which he could not possibly have had positive knowledge.
“Stow it, Moe,” another voice commanded. “Tell us the news, Jeff.”
“Sorry,” Thomas refused affably, “but I’ve been up in the hills, kinda keeping out of the army and doing a little fishing.”
“You should have stayed there. Things are bad everywhere. Nobody dares give an unregistered man a day’s work and it takes everything you’ve got just to keep out of the labor camps. It makes the big Red hunt look like a picnic.”
“Tell me about the labor camps,” Thomas suggested. “I might get hungry enough, to try one for a while.”
“You don’t know. Nobody could get that hungry.” The voice paused, as if the owner were turning the unpleasant subject over in his mind. “Did you know the Seattle Kid?”
“Seem to recall. Little squint-eyed guy, handy with his hands?”
“That’s him. Well, he was in one, maybe a week, and got out. Couldn’t tell us how; his mind was gone. I saw him the night he died. His body was a mass of sores, blood poisoning, I g
Thomas wanted to drop the subject but he needed to know more. “Who gets sent to these camps?”
“Any man that isn’t already working at an approved job. Boys from fourteen on up. All that was left alive of the army after we folded up. Anybody that’s caught without a registration card.”
“That ain’t the half of it,” added Moe. “You should see what they do with unassigned women. Why, a woman was telling me just the other day—a nice old gal; gimme a handout. She was telling me about her niece. It seems this niece used to be a school-teacher, and the flatfaces don’t want any American schools or teachers. When they registered her they—”
“Shut up, Moe. You talk too much.”
It was disconnected, fragmentary, the more so as he was rarely able to ask direct questions concerning the things he really wanted to know. Nevertheless he gradually built up a picture of a people being systematically and thoroughly enslaved, a picture of a nation as helpless as a man completely paralyzed, its defenses destroyed, its communications entirely in the hands of the invaders.
Everywhere he found boiling resentment, a fierce willingness to fight against the tyranny, but it was undirected, uncoordinated, and, in any modern sense, unarmed. Sporadic rebellion was as futile as the scurrying of ants whose hill has been violated. PanAsians could be killed, yes, and there were men willing to shoot on sight, even in the face of the certainty of their own deaths. But their hands were bound by the greater certainty of brutal multiple retaliation against their own kind. As with the Jews in Germany before the final blackout in Europe, bravery was not enough, for one act of violence against the tyrants would be paid for by other men, women, and children at unspeakable compound interest.
Even more distressing than the miseries he saw and heard about were the reports of the planned elimination of the American culture as such. The schools were closed. No word might be printed in English. There was a suggestion of a time, one generation away, when English would be an illiterate language, used orally alone by helpless peons who would never be able to revolt for sheer lack of a means of communication on any wide scale.
It was impossible to form any rational estimate of the numbers of Asiatics now in the United States. Transports, it was rumored, arrived daily on the West coast, bringing thousands of administrative civil servants, most of whom were veterans of the amalgamation of India. Whether or not they could be considered as augmenting the armed forces who had conquered and now policed the country it was difficult to say, but it was evident that they would replace the white minor officials who now assisted in civil administration at pistol point. When those white officials were “eliminated” it would be still more difficult to organize resistance.
Thomas found the means to enter the cities in one of the hobo jungles.
Finny—surname unknown—was not, properly speaking, a knight of the road, but one who had sought shelter among them and who paid his way by practicing his talent. He was an old anarchist comrade who had served his concept of freedom by engraving really quite excellent Federal Reserve notes without complying with the formality of obtaining permission from the treasury department. Some said that his name had been Phineas; others connected his moniker with his preference for manufacturing five-dollar bills—“big enough to be useful; not big enough to arouse suspicion.”
He made a registration card for Thomas at the request of one of the ’bos. He talked while Thomas watched him work. “It’s only the registration number that we really have to worry about, son. Practically none of the Asiatics you will run into can read English, so it really doesn’t matter a lot what we say about you. ‘Mary had a little lamb—’ would probably do. Same for the photograph. To them, all white men look alike.” He picked up a handful of assorted photographs from his kit and peered at them nearsightedly through thick spectacles. “Here—pick out one of these that looks not unlike you and we will use it. Now for the number—”
The old man’s hands were shaky, almost palsied, yet they steadied down to a deft sureness as he transferred India ink to cardboard in amazing simulation of machine printing. And this he did without proper equipment, without precision tools, under primitive conditions. Thomas understood why the old artist’s masterpieces caused headaches for bank clerks. “There!” he announced. “I’ve given you a serial number which states that you were registered shortly after the change, and a classification number which permits you to travel. It also says that you are physically unfit for manual labor, and are permitted to peddle or beg. It’s the same thing to their minds.”
“Thanks, awfully,” said Thomas. “Now…uh…what do I owe you for this?”
Finny’s reaction made him feel as if he had uttered some indecency. “Don’t mention payment, my son! Money is wrong—it’s the means whereby man enslaves his brother.”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” Thomas apologized sincerely. “Nevertheless, I wish there were some way for me to do something for you.”
“That is another matter. Help your brother when you can, and help will come to you when you need it.”
Thomas found the old anarchist’s philosophy confused, confusing, and impractical, but he spent considerable time drawing him out, as he seemed to know more about the PanAsians than anyone else he had met. Finny seemed unafraid of them and completely confident of his own ability to cope with them when necessary. Of all the persons Thomas had met since the change, Finny seemed the least disturbed by it—in fact, disturbed not at all, and completely lacking in any emotion of hate or bitterness. This was hard for him to understand at first in a person as obviously warm-hearted as Finny, but he came to realize that, since the anarchist believed that all government was wrong and that all men were to him in fact brothers, the difference to him was one of degree only. Looking at the PanAsians through Finny’s eyes there was nothing to hate; they were simply more misguided souls whose excesses were deplorable.
Thomas did not see it from such Olympian detachment. The PanAsians were murdering and oppressing a once-free people. A good PanAsian was a dead PanAsian, he told himself, until the last one was driven back across the Pacific. If Asia was overpopulated, let them limit their birth rate.
Nevertheless, Finny’s detachment and freedom from animus enabled Thomas more nearly to appreciate the nature of the problem. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking of the PanAsians as bad—they’re not, but they are different. Behind their arrogance is a racial inferiority complex, a mass paranoia, that makes it necessary for them to prove to themselves by proving to us that a yellow man is just as good as a white man, and a damned sight better. Remember that, son, they want the outward signs of respect more than they want anything else in the world.”
“But why should they have an inferiority complex about us? We’ve been completely out of touch with them for more than two generations—ever since the Nonintercourse Act.”
“Do you think racial memory is that short-lived? The seeds of this are way back in the nineteenth century. Do you recall that two high Japanese officials had to commit honorable suicide to wipe out a slight that was done Commodore Perry when he opened up Japan? Now those two deaths are being paid for by the deaths of thousands of American officials.”
“But the PanAsians aren’t Japanese.”
“No, and they are not Chinese. They are a mixed race, strong, proud, and prolific. From the American standpoint they have the vices of both and the virtues of neither. But from my standpoint they are simply human beings, who have been duped into the old fallacy of the State as a super-entity. ‘Ich habe einen Kameraden.’ Once you understand the nature of—” He went off into a long dissertation, a mixture of Rousseau, Rocker, Thoreau, and others. Thomas found it inspirational, but unconvincing.
But the discussion with Finny was of real use to Thomas in comprehending what they were up against. The Nonintercourse Act had kept the American people from knowing anything important about their enemy. Thomas wrinkled his brow, tr
At the time it had been passed, the Act had been no more than a de jure recognition of a de facto condition. The sovietizing of Asia had excluded westerners, particularly Americans, from Asia more effectively than could any Act of Congress. The obscure reasons that had led the Congress of that period to think that the United States gained in dignity by passing a law confirming what the commissars had already done to us baffled Thomas; it smacked of Sergeant Dogberry’s policy toward thieves. He supposed that it had simply seemed cheaper to wish Red Asia out of existence than to fight a war.
The policy behind the Act had certainly seemed to justify itself for better than half a century; there had been no war. The proponents of the measure had maintained that China was a big bite even for Soviet Russia to digest and that the United States need fear no war while the digesting was taking place. They had been correct as far as they went—but as a result of the Nonintercourse Act we had our backs turned when China digested Russia…leaving America to face a system even stranger to western ways of thinking than had been the Soviet system it displaced.
On the strength of the forged registration card and Finny’s coaching as to the etiquette of being a serf, Thomas ventured into a medium-sized city. The cleverness of Finny’s work was put to test almost immediately.
He had stopped at a street corner to read a posted notice. It was a general order to all Americans to be present at a television receiver at eight each evening in order to note any instructions that their rulers might have for them. It was not news; the order had been in effect for some days and he had heard of it. He was about to turn away when he felt a sharp, stinging blow across his shoulder blades. He whirled around and found himself facing a PanAsian wearing the green uniform of a civil administrator and carrying a swagger cane.
Sixth Column by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes