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Authors: Robert A. Heinlein

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Sixth Column

BOOK: Sixth Column
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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.


This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this

book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely


Copyright (c) 1949 by Robert A. Heinlein.

Reprinted from Astounding Science Fiction, (c) 1941 by Street and Smith

Publications Inc.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions

thereof in any form.

A Baen Book

Baen Publishing Enterprises PO. Box 1403 Riverdale, NY 10471

ISBN: 0-671-72026-0

Cover art by John Melo

First Baen printing, January 1988 Fourth Baen printing, July 1995

Distributed by SIMON & SCHUSTER 1230 Avenue of the Americas New

York, NY 10020

Printed in the United States of America

For John S. Arvvine


"What the hell goes on here?" Whitey Ardmore demanded.

They ignored his remark as they had ignored his arrival. The man at the

television receiver said, "Shut up. We're listening," and turned up the volume.

The announcer's voice blared out: "-Washington destroyed completely before

the government could escape. With Manhattan in ruins, that leaves no-"

There was a click as the receiver was turned off. "That's that," said the

man near it. "The United States is washed up." Then he added, "Anybody got

a cigarette?"

Getting no answer, he pushed his way out of the small circle gathered

around the receiver and felt through the pockets of a dozen figures collapsed

by a table. It was not too easy, as rigor mortis had set in, but he finally

located a half-empty pack, from which he removed a cigarette and lighted it.

"Somebody answer me!" commanded Ardmore. "What's happened


The man with the cigarette looked him over for the first time. "Who are


"Ardmore, major, intelligence. Who are you?"

"Calhoun, colonel in research."

"Very well, Colonel-I have an urgent message for your commanding

officer. Will you please have someone tell him that I am here and see to it

that I am taken to him?" He spoke with poorly controlled exasperation.

Calhoun shook his head. "Can't do it. He's dead." He seemed to derive

some sort of twisted pleasure from the announcement.


"That's right-dead. They're all dead, all the rest. You see before you, my

dear Major, all that are left of the personnel of the Citadel-perhaps I should

say of the emergency research laboratory, department of defense, this being

in the nature of an official report." He smiled with half his face, while his eye

took in the handful of living men in the room.

Ardmore took a moment to comprehend the statement, then inquired,

"The PanAsians?"

"No. No, not the PanAsians. So far as I know, the enemy does not

suspect the existence of the Citadel. No, we did it ourselves-an experiment

that worked too well. Dr. Ledbetter was engaged in research in an attempt to

discover a means of-"

"Never mind that, Colonel. Whom does command revert to? I've got to

carry out my orders. "

"Command? Military command? Good Lord, man, we haven't had time

to think about that yet. Wait a moment."

His eye roved around the room, counting noses. "Hm-m-m-I'm senior to

everyone here-and they are all here. I

suppose that makes me commanding officer."

"No line officers present?"

"No. All special commissions. That leaves me it. Go ahead with your


Ardmore looked about at the faces of the half a dozen men in the room.

They were following the conversation with apathetic interest. Ardmore

worried to himself before replying over how to phrase the message. The

situation had changed; perhaps he should not deliver it at all.

"I was ordered," he said, picking his words, "to inform your general that

he was released from superior command. He was to operate independently

and prosecute the war against the invader according to his own judgment.

You see," he went on, "when I left Washington twelve hours ago we knew

they had us. This concentration of brain power in the Citadel was about the

only remaining possible military asset."

Calhoun nodded. "I see. A defunct government sends orders to a defunct

laboratory. Zero plus zero equals zero. It's all very funny if one only knew

when to laugh."



"They are your orders now. What do you propose to do with them?"

"Do with them? What the hell is there to do? Six men against four

hundred million. I suppose," he added "to make everything nice and tidy for

the military mind I should write out a discharge from the United States army

for everybody left and kiss 'em good-by. I don't know where that leaves meharakiri, perhaps. Maybe you don't get it. This is all the United States there is

left. And it's left because the PanAsians haven't found it."

Ardmore wet his lips. "Apparently I did not clearly convey the order. The

order was to take charge, and prosecute the war!"

"With what?"

He measured Calhoun before answering. "It is not actually your

responsibility. Under the changed situation, in accordance with the articles of

war, as senior line officer present I am assuming command of this

detachment of the United States army!"

It hung in the balance for twenty heartbeats. At last Calhoun stood up

and attempted to square his stooped shoulders. "You are perfectly correct,

sir. What are your orders?"

"What are your orders?" he asked himself. Think fast, Ardmore, you big

Junk, you've shot off your face-now where are you? Calhoun was right when

he asked "With what?"-yet he could not stand still and see the remnant of

military organization fall to pieces.

You've got to tell 'em something, and it's got to be good; at least good

enough to hold 'em until you think of something better. Stall, brother, stall! "I

think we had best examine the new situation here, first. Colonel, will you

oblige me by having the remaining personnel gather around-say around that

big table? That will be convenient."

"Certainly, sir." The others, having heard the order, moved toward the

table. "Graham! And you, what's your name? Thomas, isn't it? You two

remove Captain MacAllister's body to some other place. Put him in the

corridor for now."

The commotion of getting one of the ubiquitous corpses out of the way

and getting the living settled around a table broke the air of unreality and

brought things into focus. Ardmore felt more self-confidence when he turned

again to Calhoun. "You had better introduce me to those here present. I want

to know what they do and something about them, as well as their names."

It was a corporal's guard, a forlorn remnant. He had expected to find,

hidden here safely and secretly away under an unmarked spot in the Rocky

Mountains, the most magnificent aggregation of research brains ever

gathered together for one purpose. Even in the face of complete military

disaster to the regular forces of the United States, there remained a

reasonable outside chance that two hundred-odd keen scientific brains,

secreted in a hide-away whose very existence was unsuspected by the

enemy and equipped with every modern facility for research, might

conceivably perfect and operate some weapon that would eventually drive

out the PanAsians.

For that purpose he had been sent to tell the commanding general that

he was on his own, no longer responsible to higher authority. But what could

half a dozen men do in any case?

For it was a scant half a dozen. There was Dr. Lowell Calhoun,

mathematician, jerked out of university life by the exigencies of war and

called a colonel. There was Dr. Randall Brooks, biologist and bio-chemist,

with a special commission of major. Ardmore liked his looks; he was quiet

and mild, but gave the impression of an untroubled strength of character

superior to that of a more extroverted man-he would do, and his advice would

be useful.

Ardmore mentally dubbed Robert Wilkie a "punk kid." He was young and

looked younger, having an overgrown collie-dog clumsiness, and hair that

would not stay in place. His field, it developed, was radiation, and the

attendant branches of physics too esoteric for a layman to understand.

Ardmore had not the slightest way of judging whether or not he was any good

in his specialty. He might be a genius, but his appearance did not encourage

the idea.

No other scientist remained. There were three enlisted men: Herman

Scheer, technical sergeant. He had been a mechanic, a die maker, a tool

maker. When the army picked him up he had been making precision

instruments for the laboratories of the Edison Trust. His brown, square hands

and lean fingers backed up his account of himself. His lined, set face and

heavy jaw muscles made Ardmore judge him to be a good man to have at his

back in a tight place. He would do.

There remained Edward Graham, private first-class, specialist rating

officers' cook. Total war had turned him from his profession as an artist and

interior decorator to his one other talent, cooking. Ardmore was unable to see

how he could fit into the job, except, of course, that somebody had to cook.

The last man was Graham's helper, Jeff Thomas, private-background:

none. "He wandered in here one day," explained Calhoun. "We had to enlist

him and keep him here to protect the secret of the place."

BOOK: Sixth Column
2.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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