Sixth column, p.5
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       Sixth Column, p.5

           Robert A. Heinlein
 
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  “Very well, sir.” Calhoun was icily formal. “Will you be good enough to have the Asiatic report to me at once?”

  “I can’t do that. He is asleep, drugged, and there is no way to produce him for you before tomorrow. Besides, while I am quite sure that he will be entirely cooperative in any useful experimentation, he is an American citizen and a civilian under our protection—not a prisoner. We’ll have to take it up with him.”

  Calhoun left as abruptly as he had come. “Jeff,” mused Ardmore, glancing after him, “speaking strictly off the record—oh, strictly!—if there ever comes a time when we are no longer bound down by military necessity, I’m going to paste that old beezer right in the puss!”

  “Why don’t you clamp down on him?”

  “I can’t, and he knows it. He’s invaluable, indispensable. We’ve absolutely got to have his brains for research, and you can’t conscript brains just by handing out orders. Y’know, though, in spite of his brilliance, I sometimes think he’s just a little bit cracked.”

  “Shouldn’t be surprised. What does he want Frank Mitsui so bad for?”

  “Well, that’s somewhat involved. They’ve proved that the original Ledbetter effect depends on a characteristic of the life form involved—you might call it a natural frequency. It seems that everybody has his own wavelength, or wavelengths. The notion seemed like so much astrology to me, but Dr. Brooks says that it is not only the straight dope; it isn’t even new. He showed me a paper by a chap named Fox, at the University of London, ’way back in 1945—Fox showed that each individual rabbit had haemoglobin with its own individual wavelength; it absorbed that wavelength in spectroscopic analysis, that one wavelength and no other. You could tell two rabbits apart with it, or you could tell a rabbit from a dog, simply by the spectra of their haemoglobins.

  “This Dr. Fox tried to do the same thing with humans, but it didn’t work—no distinguishable difference in wavelengths. But Calhoun and Wilkie have rigged a spectroscope for the spectrum Ledbetter was playing with, and it shows clearly separate wavelengths for each sample of human blood. Conversely, if they set up a tuned Ledbetter projector and start running down or up the scale, when they come to your individual, unique frequency, your red blood cells start absorbing energy, the haemoglobin protein breaks down and—Spung!—you’re dead. I’m standing right beside you and I’m not even hurt; they haven’t come to my frequency. Now Brooks has an idea that these frequencies come by groups according to races. He thinks they can tune it to discriminate by races, to knock over all the Asiatics in a group and not touch the white men, and vice versa.”

  Thomas shivered. “Whew! That would be a weapon.”

  “Yes, it would. It’s just on paper so far, but they want to test it on Mitsui. As I gather what they intended to do, they don’t intend to kill him, but it’s bound to be dangerous as all hell to Mitsui.”

  “Frank won’t mind chancing it,” Thomas commented.

  “No, I don’t suppose he would.” It seemed to Ardmore that it would probably be a favor to Mitsui to give him a clean, painless death in the laboratory. “Now about another matter. It seems to me we ought to be able to work up a sort of permanent secret service, using your hobo pals and their sources of information. Let’s talk about it.”

  Ardmore gained a few days’ respite in which to consider further the problem of military use of the weapons at his disposal while the research staff tested their theories concerning the interrelation between racial types and the improved Ledbetter effect. The respite did him no good. He had a powerful weapon, yes; in fact, many powerful weapons, for it seemed that the new principles they had tapped had fully as protean possibilities as electricity. It seemed extremely likely that if the United States defense forces had had, one year earlier, the tools now available in the Citadel, the United States would never have fallen.

  But six men cannot whip an empire—not by brute force. The emperor could, if necessary, expend six million men to defeat six. The hordes of the empire could come at them barehanded and win, move over them as an avalanche moves, until they were buried under a mountain of dead flesh. Ardmore had to have an army to fight with his wonderful new weapons.

  The question was: how to recruit and train such an army?

  Certain it was that the PanAsians would not hold still while he went into the highways and byways and got his forces together. The thoroughness with which they had organized police surveillance of the entire population made it evident that they were acutely aware of the danger of revolution and would stamp out any such activity before it could possibly reach proportions dangerous to them.

  There remained one clandestine group, the hobos. He consulted with Thomas as to the possibility of organizing them for military purposes. Thomas shook his head at the idea.

  “You can’t understand the hobo temperament, Chief. There is not one in a hundred who could be depended on to observe the strict self-discipline necessary for such an enterprise. Suppose you were able to arm all of them with projectors—I don’t say that is possible, but suppose you could—you still would not have an army; you would simply have an undisciplined rabble.”

  “Wouldn’t they fight?”

  “Oh, sure, they’d fight. They’d fight as individuals, and they would do quite a bit of slaughter until some flatface caught them off guard and winged them.”

  “I wonder if we can depend on them as sources of information.”

  “That’s another matter. Most of the road kids won’t have any idea that they are being used to obtain military information. I’ll handpick not over a dozen to act as reporters to me, and I won’t tell them anything they don’t have to know.”

  Any way he looked at it, simple, straightforward military use of the new weapons was not expedient. Brutal frontal attack was for the commander who had men to expend. General U. S. Grant could afford to say, “I will fight it out on this line if it takes all summer,” because he could lose three men to the enemy’s one and still win. Those tactics were not for the commander who could not afford to lose any men. For him it must be deception, misdirection—feint and slash and run away—“and live to fight another day.” The nursery rhyme finished itself in his mind. That was it. It had to be something totally unexpected, something that the PanAsians would not realize was warfare until they were overwhelmed by it.

  It would have to be something like the “fifth columns” that destroyed the European democracies from within in the tragic days that led to the final blackout of European civilization. But this would not be a fifth column of traitors, bent on paralyzing a free country; but the antithesis of that, a sixth column of patriots whose privilege it would be to destroy the morale of invaders, make them afraid, unsure of themselves.

  And misdirection was the key to it, the art of fooling!

  Ardmore felt a little better when he had reached that conclusion. It was something he could understand, a job suited to an advertising man. He had been trying to crack it as a military problem, but he was not a field marshal and it had been silly of him to try to make a noise like one. His mind did not work that way. This was primarily a job in publicity, a matter of mob psychology. A former boss of his, under whom he had learned the racket, used to tell him, “I can sell dead cats to the board of health with a proper budget and a free hand.”

  Well, he had a free hand, all right, and the budget was no problem. Of course, he could not use the newspapers and the old channels of advertising, but there would be a way. The problem now was to figure out the weak points of the PanAsians and decide how Calhoun’s little gadgets could be used to play on those weak points until the PanAsians were sick of the whole deal and anxious to go home.

  He did not have a plan as yet. When a man is at a loss for a course of action, he usually calls for a conference. Ardmore did.

  He sketched out to them the situation up to date, including all that Thomas had learned and all that had come in by television through the conquerors’ “educational” broadcasts. Then he discussed the powers
that were made available to them by the research staff, and the various obvious ways in which they could be applied as military weapons, emphasizing the personnel necessary to use each type of weapon effectively. Having done so, he asked for suggestions.

  “Do I understand, Major,” Calhoun began, “that after rather pointedly telling us that you would make all military decisions you are now asking us to make up your mind for you?”

  “Not at all, Colonel. I have still the responsibility for any decision, but this is a new sort of military situation. A suggestion from any source may prove valuable. I don’t flatter myself that I have a monopoly on common sense, nor on originality. I would like for every one of us to tackle this problem and let the others criticize it.”

  “Do you yourself have any plan to offer us?”

  “I am reserving my opinions until the rest of you have spoken.”

  “Very well, sir”—Dr. Calhoun straightened himself up—“since you have asked for it, I will tell you what I think should be done in this situation—what, in fact, is the only thing that can be done.

  “You are aware of the tremendous power of the forces I have made available.” Ardmore noticed Wilkie’s mouth tighten at this allocation of credit, but neither of them interrupted. “In your résumé, you underestimated them, if anything. We have a dozen fast scout cars housed here in the Citadel. By refitting them with power units of the Calhoun type they can be made faster than anything the enemy can put into the air. We will mount on them the heaviest projectors and attack. With overwhelmingly superior weapons it is only a matter of time until we will have the PanAsiatic empire beaten to its knees!”

  Ardmore wondered how any man could be so blind. He did not himself wish to argue against Calhoun; he said, “Thank you, Colonel. I’ll ask you to submit that plan written up in more detail. In the meantime does anyone wish to amplify or criticize the colonel’s suggestion?” He waited hopefully, then added, “Come now, no plan is perfect. You must have some details to add, at least.”

  Graham took the, plunge. “How often do you expect to come down to eat?”

  Calhoun cut in before Ardmore could call on him. “Well, I’m damned! I must say that I consider this no time for facetiousness.”

  “Wait a minute,” protested Graham, “I didn’t mean to be funny. I’m quite serious. That’s my department. Those scout cars are not equipped to keep the air very long, and it seems to me that it will take quite a long time to reconquer the United States with a dozen scout cars, even if we located enough men to keep them in the air all the time. That means you have to come back to base to eat.”

  “Yes, and that means the base will have to be held against attack,” Scheer put in suddenly.

  “The base can be defended with other projectors.” Calhoun’s tone was scornful. “Major, I really must ask that the discussion be confined to sensible issues.”

  Ardmore rubbed his chin and said nothing.

  Randall Brooks, who had been listening thoughtfully, pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and began to sketch. “I think Scheer has something, Dr. Calhoun. If you will look here for a moment—here, at this point, is your base. The PanAsians can encircle the base with ships at a distance greater than the range of the base projectors. The greater speed of your scout cars will be unimportant, for the enemy can well afford to use as many ships as necessary to insure our craft not getting past the blockade. It’s sure that the scout cars will have the projectors with which to fight, but they can’t fight a hundred ships at once, and the enemies’ weapons are powerful, too—we mustn’t forget that.”

  “You’re right they’re powerful!” added Wilkie. “We can’t afford to have a known base. With their bombardment rockets they could stand back a thousand miles and blow this whole mountain out of the ground, if they knew we were under it.”

  Calhoun stood up. “I’m not going to remain here and listen to misgivings of pusillanimous fools. My plan assumed that men would execute it.” He walked stiffly out of the room.

  Ardmore ignored his departure and went hurriedly on, “The objections made to Colonel Calhoun’s scheme seem to me to apply to every plan for open, direct combat at this time. I have considered several and rejected them for approximately those reasons, at least for reasons of logistics—that is to say, the problem of military supply. However, I may not have thought of some perfectly feasible solution. Does anyone have a direct warfare method to suggest, a method which will not risk personnel?”

  No one answered. “Very well, bring it up later if you think of one. It seems to me that we must necessarily work by misdirection. If we can’t fight the enemy directly at this time, we must fool ’em until we can.”

  “I see,” agreed Dr. Brooks, “the bull wears himself out on the cape and never sees the sword.”

  “Exactly. Exactly. I only wish it were as easy as that. Now do any of you have any ideas as to how we can use what we’ve got without letting them know who we are, where we are, or how many we are? And now I’m going to take time out for a cigarette while you think about it.”

  Presently, he added, “You might bear in mind that we have two real advantages: the enemy apparently has not the slightest idea that we even exist, and our weapons are strange to them, even mysterious. Wilkie, didn’t you compare the Ledbetter effect to magic?”

  “I should hope to shout, Chief! It’s safe to say that, aside from the instruments in our laboratories, there just isn’t any way in existence to detect the forces we are working with now. You don’t even know they’re there. It’s like trying to hear radio with your bare ears.”

  “That’s what I mean. Mysterious. Like the Indians when they first met up with the white man’s firearms, they died and they didn’t know why. Think about it. I’ll shut up and let you.”

  Graham produced the first suggestion. “Major?”

  “Yes?”

  “Why couldn’t we kidnap ’em?”

  “How do you mean?”

  “Well, your idea is to throw a scare into ’em, isn’t it? How about a surprise raiding party, using the Ledbetter effect. We could go in one of the scout cars at night and pick out some really big shot, maybe the prince royal himself. We knock out everybody we come in contact with the projectors, and we walk right in and snatch him.”

  “Any opinions about that, gentlemen?” Ardmore said, reserving his own.

  “It seems to have something to it,” commented Brooks. “I would suggest that the projectors be set to render unconscious for a number of hours rather than to kill. It seems to me that the psychological effect would be heightened if they simply awoke and found their big man gone. One has no recollection of what has happened under such circumstances, as Wilkie and Mitsui can testify.”

  “Why stop at the prince royal?” Wilkie wanted to know. “We could set up four raiding parties, two to a car, and make maybe twelve raids in a single night. That way we could knock over enough of their number-one men to really cause some disorganization.”

  “That seems like a good idea,” Ardmore agreed. “We may not be able to pull off these raids more than once. If we could do enough damage right at the top in one blow, we might both demoralize them and set off a general uprising. What’s the matter, Mitsui?”

  He had noticed the Oriental looking unhappy as the plan was developed. Mitsui spoke reluctantly, “It will not work, I am afraid.”

  “You mean we can’t kidnap them that way? Do you know something we don’t about their guard methods?”

  “No, no. With a force that reaches through walls and knocks a man down before he knows you are there I believe you can capture them, all right: But the results will not be as you foresee them.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because you will gain no advantage. They will not assume that you are holding their chief men as prisoners; they will assume that each one has committed suicide. The results will be horrible.”

  It was purely a psychological point, with room for difference of opinion. But the white men could not beli
eve that the PanAsians would dare to retaliate if it were made unmistakably plain to them that their sacred leaders were not dead, but at the mercy of captors. Besides, it was a plan that offered immediate action, which they were spoiling for. Ardmore finally agreed to its adoption for want of something better, although he had a feeling of misgiving which he suppressed.

  For the next few days all effort was bent toward preparing the scout cars for the projected task. Scheer performed Herculean mechanical jobs, working eighteen and twenty hours a day, with the others working joyfully under his supervision. Calhoun even came off his high horse and agreed to take part in the raid, although he did not help with the “menial” work. Thomas went out on a quick scouting trip and made certain of the location of twelve well-scattered PanAsian seats of government.

  In the buoyancy of spirit which resulted from a plan of campaign, any plan of campaign, Ardmore failed to remember his own decision that what was required was a sixth column, an underground, or at least, unsuspected organization which would demoralize the enemy from within. This present plan was not such a one, but an essentially military plan. He began to think of himself as, if not Napoleon, at least as a modern Swamp Rat, or Sandino, striking through the night at the professional soldiers and fading away.

  But Mitsui was right.

  The television receiver was used regularly, with full recording, to pick up anything that the overlords had to broadcast to their slaves. It had become something of a custom to meet in the common room at eight in the evening to listen to the regular broadcast in which new orders were announced to the population. Ardmore encouraged it; the “hate session” it inspired was, he believed, good for morale.

  Two nights before the projected raid they were gathered as usual. The ugly, broad face of the usual propaganda artist was quickly replaced by another and older PanAsian whom he introduced as the “heavenly custodian of peace and order.” The older man came quickly to the point. The American servants of a provincial government had committed the hideous sin of rebelling against their wise rulers and had captured the sacred person of the governor and held him prisoner in his own palace. The soldiers of the heavenly emperor had brushed aside the insane profaners in the course of which the governor had most regrettably gone to his ancestors.

 
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