Sixth column, p.6
Sixth Column, p.6Robert A. Heinlein
A period of mourning was announced, commencing at once, which would be inaugurated by permitting the people of the province to expiate the sins of their cousins. The television scene cut from the room from which he spoke.
It came to rest on great masses of humanity, men, women, children, huddled, jammed, behind barbed wire. The pick-up came down close enough to permit the personnel of the Citadel to see the blind misery on the faces of the crowd, the wept-out children, the mothers carrying babies, the helpless fathers.
They did not have to watch those faces long. The pick-up panned over the packed mob, acre on acre of helpless human animals, then returned to a steady close-up of one section.
They used the epileptigenic ray on them. Now they no longer resembled anything human. It was, instead, as if tens of thousands of monstrous chickens had had their necks wrung all at once and had been thrown into the same pen to jerk out their death spasms. Bodies bounded into the air in bone-breaking, spine-smashing fits. Mothers threw their infants from them, or crushed them in uncontrollable, viselike squeeze.
The scene cut back to the placid face of the Asiatic dignitary. He announced with what seemed to be regret in his voice that penance for sins was not sufficient, it was necessary also to be educational, in this case to the extent of one in every thousand. Ardmore did a quick calculation in his head. A hundred fifty thousand people! It was unbelievable.
But it was soon believed. The pick-up cut again, this time to a residential street in an American city. It followed a squad of PanAsian soldiers into the living room of a family. They were gathered about a television receiver, plainly stunned by what they had just seen. The mother was huddling a young girl child to her shoulder, trying to quiet her hysteria. They seemed stupefied, rather than frightened, when the soldiers burst into their home. The father produced his card without argument; the squad leader compared it with a list, and the soldiers attended to him.
They had evidently been instructed to use a method of killing that was not pretty.
Ardmore shut off the receiver. “The raid is off,” he announced. “Go to bed, all of you. And each of you take a sleeping pill tonight. That’s an order!”
They left at once. No one said anything. After they were gone, Ardmore turned the receiver back on and watched it through to the end. Then he sat alone for a long time, trying to get his thoughts back into coherence. Those who order sleeping drafts won’t take them.
Ardmore kept very much to himself for the next two days, taking his meals in his quarters, and refusing anything but the briefest interviews. He saw his error plainly enough now; it was small solace to him that it had been another’s mistake which had resulted in the massacres—he felt symbolically guilty.
But the problem remained with him. He knew now that he had been right when he had decided on a sixth column. A sixth column! Something which would conform in every superficial way to the pattern set up by the rulers, yet which would have in it the means of their eventual downfall. It might take years, but there must be no repetition of the ghastly mistake of direct action.
He knew intuitively that somewhere in Thomas’ report was the idea he needed. He played it back again and again, but still he couldn’t get it, even though he now knew it by heart. “They are systematically stamping out everything that is typically American in culture. The schools are gone, so are the newspapers. It is a capital offense to print anything in English. They have announced the early establishment of a system of translators for all business correspondence into their language; in the meantime all mail must be approved as necessary. All meetings are forbidden except religious meetings.”
“I suppose that is a result of their experience in India. Keeps the slaves quiet.” That was his own voice, sounding strange in reproduction.
“I suppose so, sir. Isn’t it an historical fact that all successful empires have tolerated the local religions, no matter what else they suppressed?”
“I suppose so. Go ahead.”
“The real strength of their system, I believe, is in their method of registration. They apparently were all set to put it into force, and pressed forward on that to the exclusion of other matters. It’s turned the United States into one big prison camp in which it is almost impossible to move or communicate without permission from the jailers.”
Words, words, and more words! He had played them over so many times that the significance was almost lost. Perhaps there was nothing in the report, after all—nothing but his imagination.
He responded to a knock at the door. It was Thomas. “They asked me to speak to you, sir,” he said diffidently.
“Well—they are all gathered in the common room. They’d like to talk with you.”
Another conference—and not of his choosing, this time. Well, he would have to go. “Tell them I will be in shortly.”
After Thomas had gone, he sat for a moment, then went to a drawer and took out his service side arm. He could smell mutiny in the very fact that someone had dared to call a general meeting without his permission. He buckled it on, then tried the slide and the charge, and stood looking at it. Presently he unbuckled it and put it back into the drawer. It wouldn’t help him in this mess.
He entered, sat down in his chair at the head of the table, and waited.
Brooks glanced around to see if anyone else wished to answer, cleared his throat, and said, “Uh—we wanted to ask you if you had any plan for us to follow.”
“I do not have—as yet.”
“Then we do have!” It was Calhoun.
“There is no sense in hanging around here with our hands tied. We have the strongest weapons the world has ever seen, but they need men to operate them.”
“We are going to evacuate and go to South America! There we can find a government which will be interested in superior weapons.”
“What good will that do the United States?”
“It’s obvious. The empire undoubtedly intends to extend its sway over this entire hemisphere. We can interest them in a preventive war. Or perhaps we can raise up an army of refugees.”
“I am afraid you can’t help yourself, Major.” The tone held malicious satisfaction.
He turned to Thomas. “Are you with them on this?”
Thomas looked unhappy. “I had hoped that you would have a better plan, sir.”
“And you, Dr. Brooks?”
“Well—it seems feasible. I feel much as Thomas does.”
The man gave him answer by silence. Wilkie looked up and then away again.
“I’ll go back outside, sir. I have things to finish.”
Scheer’s jaw muscles quivered. “I’ll stick if you do, sir.”
“Thanks.” He turned to the rest. “I said, ‘No!’ and I mean it. If any of you leave here, it will be in direct violation of your oaths. That goes for you, Thomas! I’m not being arbitrary about this. The thing you propose to do is on all fours with the raid I canceled. So long as the people of the United States are hostages at the mercy of the PanAsians we can not take direct military action! It doesn’t make any difference whether the attack comes from inside or outside, thousands, maybe millions, of innocent people will pay for it with their lives!”
He was very much wrought up, but not too much so to look around and see what effect his words were having. He had them back—or would have them in a few minutes. All but Calhoun. They were looking disturbed.
“Supposing you are right, sir”—it was Brooks speaking very gravely—“supposing you are right, is there anything we can do?”
“I explained that once before. We have to form what I called a ‘sixth column,’ lie low, study out their weak points, and work on them.”
“I see. Perhaps you are
He almost had it then. What was it?
“So ‘There’ll be pie in the sky by and by,’” quoted Calhoun. “You should have been a preacher, Major Ardmore. We prefer action.”
That was it! That was it!
“You’re almost right,” Ardmore answered. “Have you listened to Thomas’ report?”
“I listened to the play-back.”
“Do you recall the one respect in which white men are still permitted to organize?”
“Why, no, I don’t recall that there was one.”
“None? Nowhere that they were permitted to assemble?”
“I know!” Thomas burst in. “Churches!”
Ardmore waited a moment for it to sink in, then he said very softly, “Has it ever occurred to any of you to think of the possibilities that might lie in founding a new religion?”
There was a short and startled silence. Calhoun broke it.
“The man’s gone mad!”
“Take it easy, Colonel,” Ardmore said mildly. “I don’t blame you for thinking that I’ve gone crazy. It does sound crazy to talk about founding a new religion when what we want is military action against the PanAsians. But consider—what we need is an organization that can be trained and armed to fight. That and a communication system which will enable us to coordinate the whole activity. And we have to do the whole thing under the eyes of the PanAsians without arousing their suspicions. If we were a religious sect instead of a military organization, all that would be possible.”
“It’s preposterous! I’ll have nothing to do with it.”
“Please, Colonel. We need you badly. On that matter of a communication system now—Imagine temples in every city in the country hooked together with a communication system and the whole thing hooked in here at the Citadel.”
Calhoun snorted. “Yes, and the Asiatics listening in to everything you say!”
“That’s why we need you, Colonel. Couldn’t you devise a system that they couldn’t trap? Something like a radio, maybe, but operating in one of the additional spectra so that their instruments could not detect it? Or couldn’t you?”
Calhoun snorted again but with a different intonation. “Why, certainly I could. The problem is elementary.”
“That’s exactly why we have to have you, Colonel—to solve problems that are elementary to a man of your genius”—Ardmore felt slightly nauseated inside: this was worse than writing advertising copy—“but which are miracles for the rest of us. That’s what a religion needs—miracles! You’ll be called on to produce effects that will strain even your genius, things that the PanAsians cannot possibly understand, and will think supernatural.” Seeing Calhoun still hesitate, he added, “You can do it, can’t you?”
“Certainly, I can, my dear Major.”
“Fine. How soon can you let me have a communication method which can’t be compromised or detected?”
“Impossible to say, but it won’t take long. I still don’t see the sense to your scheme, Major, but I will turn my attention to the research you say you require.” He got up and went out, a procession of one.
“Major?” Wilkie asked for attention.
“What? Oh, yes, Wilkie.”
“I can design such a communication system for you.”
“I don’t doubt it a damn bit, but we are going to need all the talent we can stir up for this job. There will be plenty for you to do, too. Now as to the rest of the scheme, here’s what I have in mind—just a rough idea, and I want you all to kick it around as much as possible until we get it as nearly foolproof as possible.
“We’ll go through all the motions of setting up an evangelical religion, and try to get people to come to our services. Once we get ’em in where we can talk to ’em, we can pick out the ones that can be trusted and enlist them in the army. We’ll make them deacons, or something, in the church. Our big angle will be charity—you come in on that, Wilkie with the transmutation process. You will turn out a lot of precious metal, gold mostly, so that we will have ready cash to work with. We feed the poor and the hungry—the PanAsians have provided us with plenty of those!—and pretty soon we’ll have ’em coming to us in droves.
“But that isn’t the half of it. We really will go in for miracles in a big way. Not only to impress the white population—that’s secondary—but to confuse our lords and masters. We’ll do things they can’t understand, make them uneasy, uncertain of themselves. Never anything against them, you understand. We’ll be loyal subjects of the Empire in every possible way, but we’ll be able to do things that they can’t. That will upset them and make them nervous.” It was taking shape in his mind like a well-thought-out advertising campaign. “By the time we are ready to strike in force, we should have them demoralized, afraid of us, half hysterical.”
They were beginning to be infected with some of his enthusiasm; but the scheme was conceived from a viewpoint more or less foreign to their habits of thought. “Maybe this will work, Chief,” objected Thomas, “I don’t say that it won’t, but how do you propose to get it underway? Won’t the Asiatic administrators smell a rat in the sudden appearance of a new religion?”
“Maybe so, but I don’t think it likely. All Western religions look equally screwy to them. They know we have dozens of religions and they don’t know anything about most of them. That’s one respect in which the Era of Nonintercourse will be useful to us. They don’t know much about our institutions since the Nonintercourse Act. This will just look like any one of half a dozen cockeyed cults of the sort that spring up overnight in Southern California.”
“But about that springing-up business, Chief—How do we start out? We can’t just walk out of the Citadel, buttonhole one of the yellow boys, and say, ‘I’m John the Baptist.’”
“No, we can’t. That’s a point that has to be worked out. Has anybody any ideas?”
The silence that followed was thick with intense concentration. Finally Graham proposed, “Why not just set up in business, and wait to be noticed?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, we’ve got enough people right here to operate on a small scale. If we had a temple somewhere, one of us could be the priest, and the others could be disciples or something. Then just wait to be noticed.”
“H-m-m-m. You’ve got something there, Graham. But we’ll open up on the biggest scale we can manage. We’ll all be priests and altar attendants and so forth, and I’ll send Thomas out to stir up a congregation for us among his pals. No, wait. Let ’em come in as pilgrims. We’ll start this off with a whispering campaign among the hobos, send it over the grapevine. We’ll have ’em say, ‘The Disciple is coming!’”
“What does that mean?” Scheer inquired.
“Nothing, yet. But it will, when the time comes. Now look—Graham, you’re an artist. You’re going to have to get dinner with your left hand for a few days. Your right will be busy sketching out ideas for robes and altars and props in general—sacerdotal stuff. Guess the interior and exterior of the temple will be mostly up to you, too.”
“Where will the temple be located?”
“Well, now, that’s a question. It shouldn’t be too far from here unless we abandon the Citadel entirely. That doesn’t seem expedient; we need it for a base and a laboratory. But the temple can’t be too close, for we can’t afford to attract special attention to this mountainside.” Ardmore drummed on the table. “It’s a difficult matter.”
“Why not,” offered Dr. Brooks, “make this the temple?”
“I don’t mean this room, of course, but why not put the first temple right on top of the Citadel? It would be very convenient.”
“So it would, doctor, but it would certainly draw a lot of unhealthy attention to—Wait a minute! I think I see what you mean.” He turned to Wilkie. “Bob, how could you use the Ledbetter effect to conceal the existence of the Citadel, if the Mother Temple sat
Wilkie looked more puzzled and collie-doggish than ever. “The Ledbetter effect wouldn’t do it. Do you especially want to use the Ledbetter effect? Because if you don’t it wouldn’t be hard to rig a type-seven screen in the magneto-gravitic spectrum so that electromagnetic type instruments would be completely blanked out. You see—”
“Of course I don’t care what you use! I don’t even know the names of the stuff you laboratory boys use—all I want is the results. O.K.—you take care of that. We’ll completely design the temple here, get all the materials laid out and ready to assemble down below, then break through to the surface and run the thing up as fast as possible. Anyone have any idea how long that will take? I’m afraid my own experience doesn’t run to building construction.”
Wilkie and Scheer engaged in a whispered consultation. Presently Wilkie broke off and said, “Don’t worry too much about that, Chief. It will be a power job.”
“You’ve got a memorandum on your desk about the stuff. The traction and pressure control we developed from the earlier Ledbetter experiments.”
“Yes, Major,” Scheer added, “you can forget it; I’ll take care of the job. With tractors and pressors in an aggravitic field, it won’t take any longer than assembling a cardboard model. Matter of fact, I’ll practice on a cardboard model before we run up the main job.”
“O.K., troops,” Ardmore smilingly agreed, with the lightheartedness that comes from the prospect of plenty of hard work, “that’s the way I like to hear you talk. The powwow is adjourned for now. Get going! Thomas, come with me.”
“Just a second, Chief,” Brooks added as he got up to follow him, “couldn’t we—” They went out the door, still talking.
Sixth Column by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes