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Inside Earth

8th October 2017
252 Views

Title: Inside Earth
Author: Poul Anderson
Summary: Obviously, no conqueror wants his subjects torevolt against his rule. Obviously? This one would go to any lengths to start a rebellion!
Word count:  5443
Public Domain Mark (PDM)

Image:  Galaxy Science Fiction April 1951.

The biotechnicians had been very thorough. I was already a little undersized, which meant that my height and build were suitable—I could pass for a big Earthling. And of course my face and hands and so on were all right, the Earthlings being a remarkably humanoid race. But the technicians had had to remodel my ears, blunting the tips and grafting on lobes and cutting the muscles that move them. My crest had to go and a scalp covered with revolting hair was now on the top of my skull.

Finally, and most difficult, there had been the matter of skin color. It just wasn’t possible to eliminate my natural coppery pigmentation. So they had injected a substance akin to melanin, together with a virus which would manufacture it in my body, the result being a leathery brown. I could pass for a member of the so-called “white” subspecies, one who had spent most of his life in the open.

The mimicry was perfect. I hardly recognized the creature that looked out of the mirror. My lean, square, blunt-nosed face, gray eyes, and big hands were the same or nearly so. But my black crest had been replaced with a shock of blond hair, my ears were small and immobile, my skin a dull bronze, and several of Earth’s languages were hypnotically implanted in my brain—together with a set of habits and reflexes making up a pseudo-personality which should be immune to any tests that the rebels could think of.

I was Earthling! And the disguise was self-perpetuating: the hair grew and the skin color was kept permanent by the artificial “disease.” The biotechnicians had told me that if I kept the disguise long enough, till I began to age—say, in a century or so—the hair would actually thin and turn white as it did with the natives.

It was reassuring to think that once my job was over, I could be restored to normal. It would need another series of operations and as much time as the original transformation, but it would be as complete and scarless. I’d be human again.

I put on the clothes they had furnished me, typical Earthly garments—rough trousers and shirt of bleached plant fibers, jacket and heavy shoes of animal skin, a battered old hat of matted fur known as felt. There were objects in my pockets, the usual money and papers, a claspknife, the pipe and tobacco I had trained myself to smoke and even to like. It all fitted into my character of a wandering, outdoors sort of man, an educated atavist.

I went out of the hospital with the long swinging stride of one accustomed to walking great distances.

The Center was busy around me. Behind me, the hospital and laboratories occupied a fairly small building, some eighty stories of stone and steel and plastic. On either side loomed the great warehouses, military barracks, officers’ apartments, civilian concessions, filled with the vigorous life of the starways. Behind the monstrous wall, a mile to my right, was the spaceport, and I knew that a troopship had just lately dropped gravs from Valgolia herself.

The Center swarmed with young recruits off duty, gaping at the sights, swaggering in their new uniforms. Their skins shone like polished copper in the blistering sunlight, and their crests were beginning to wilt a little. All Earth is not the tropical jungle most Valgolians think it is—northern Europe is very pleasant, and Greenland is even a little on the cold side—but it gets hot enough at North America Center in midsummer to fry a shilast.

A cosmopolitan throng filled the walkways. Soldiers predominated—huge, shy Dacors, little slant-eyed Yangtusans, brawling Gorrads, all the manhood of Valgolia. Then there were other races, blue-skinned Vegans, furry Proximans, completely non-humanoid Sirians and Antarians. They were here as traders, observers, tourists, whatever else of a non-military nature one can imagine.

I made an absent-minded way through the crowds. A sudden crack on the side of my head, nearly bowling me over, brought me to awareness. I looked up into the arrogant face of one of the new recruits and heard him rasp, “Watch where you’re going, Terrie!”

The young blood in the Valgolian military is deliberately trained to harshness, even brutality, for our militarism must impress such backward colonies as Earth. It goes against our grain, but it is necessary. At another time this might have annoyed me. I could have pulled rank on him. Not only was I an officer, but such treatment must be used with intellectual deliberation. The occasional young garrison trooper who comes here with the idea that the natives are an inferior breed to be kicked around misses the whole point of Empire. If, indeed, Earth’s millions were an inferior breed, I wouldn’t have been here at all. Valgol needs an economic empire, but if all we had in mind was serfdom we’d be perfectly content with the plodding animal life of Deneb VII or a hundred other worlds.

I cringed appropriately, as if I didn’t understand Valgolian Universal, and slunk past him. But it griped me to be taken for a Terrie. If I was to become an Earthling, I would at least be a self-respecting one.

There were plenty of Terries—Terrestrials—around, of course, moving with their odd combination of slavish deference toward Valgolians and arrogant superiority toward mere Earthlings. They have adopted the habits and customs of civilization, entered the Imperial service, speak Valgolian even with their families. Many of them shave their heads save for a scalp lock, in imitation of the crest, and wear white robes suggesting those of civil functionaries at home.

I’ve always felt a little sorry for the class. They work, and study, and toady to us, and try so hard to be like us. It’s frustrating, because that’s exactly what we don’t want. Valgolians are Valgolians and Earthlings are men of Earth. Well, Terries are important to the ultimate aims of the Empire, but not in the way they think they are. They serve as another symbol of Valgolian conquest for Earth to hate.

I entered the Administration Building. They expected me there and took me at once to the office of General Vorka, who’s a general only as far as this solar system is concerned. Had there been any Earthlings around, I would have saluted to conform to the show of militarism, but General Vorka sat alone behind his desk, and I merely said, “Hello, Coordinator.”

The sleeves of his tunic rolled up, the heat of North America beading his forehead with sweat, the big man looked up at me. “Ah, yes. I’m glad you’re finally prepared. The sooner we get this thing started—” He extended a silver galla-dust box. “Sniff? Have a seat, Conru.”

I inhaled gratefully and relaxed. The Coordinator picked up a sheaf of papers on his desk and leafed through them. “Umm-mm, only fifty-two years old and a captain already. Remarkably able, a young man like you. And your work hitherto has been outstanding. That Vegan business….”

I said yes, I knew, but could he please get down to business. You couldn’t blame me for being a bit anxious to begin. Disguised as I was as an Earthman, I felt uncomfortable, embarrassed, almost, at being with my ex-countrymen.

The Coordinator shrugged. “Well, if you can carry this business off—fine. If you fail, you may die quite unpleasantly. That’s their trouble, Conru: you wouldn’t be regarded as an individual, but as a Valgolian. Did you know that they even make such distinctions among themselves? I mean races and sub-races and social castes and the like; it’s keeping them divided and impotent, Conru. It’s also keeping them out of the Empire. A shame.”

I knew all that, of course, but I merely nodded. Coordinator Vorka was a wonderful man in his field, and if he tended to be on the garrulous side, what could I do? I said, “I know that, sir. I also know I was picked for a dangerous job because you thought I could fill the role. But I still don’t know exactly what the job is.”

Coordinator Vorka smiled. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you much more than you must already have guessed,” he said. “The anarch movement here—the rebels, that is—is getting no place, primarily because of internal difficulties. When members of the same group spit epithets at each other referring to what they consider racial or national distinctions which determine superiority or inferiority, the group is bound to be an insecure one. Such insecurity just does not make for a strong rebellion, Conru. They try, and we goad them—but dissention splits them constantly and their revolutions fizzle out.

“They just can’t unite against us, can’t unite at all. Conru, you know how we’ve tried to educate them. It’s worked, too, to some extent. But you can’t educate three billion people who have a whole cultural pattern behind them.”

I winced. “Three billion?”

“Certainly. Earth is a rich planet, Conru, and a fairly crowded one at the same time. Bickering is inevitable. It’s a part of their culture, as much as cooperation has been a part of ours.”

I nodded. “We learned the hard way. The old Valgol was a poor planet and we had to unite to conquer space or we could not have survived.”

The Coordinator sniffed again at his silver box. “Of course. And we’re trying to help these people unite. They don’t have to make the same mistakes we did, long ago. They don’t have to at all. Get them to hate us enough, get them to hate us until all their own clannish hatreds don’t count at all…. Well, you know what happened on Samtrak.”

I knew. The Samtraks are now the entrepreneurs of the Empire, really ingenious traders, but within the memory of some of our older men they were a sore-spot. They didn’t understand the meaning of Empire any more than Earth does, and they never did understand it until we goaded them into open rebellion. The very reverse of divide and rule, you might say, and it worked. We withdrew trading privileges one by one, until they revolted successfully, thus educating themselves sociologically in only a few generations.

Vorka said, “The problem of Earth is not quite that simple.” He leaned back, made a bridge of his fingers, and peered across them at me. “Do you know precisely what a provocateur job is, Conru?”

I said that I did, but only in a hazy way, because until now my work had been pretty much restricted to social relations on the more advanced Empire planets. However, I told him that I did know the idea was to provoke discontent and, ultimately, rebellion.

The Coordinator smiled. “Well, that’s just the starter, Conru. It’s a lot more complex than that. Each planet has its own special problems. The Samtraks, for example, had a whole background of cutthroat competition. That was easy: we eliminated that by showing them what real cutthroat competition could be like. But Earth is different. Look at it this way. They fight among themselves. Because of their mythical distinctions, not realizing that there are no inferior races, only more or less advanced ones, and that individuals must be judged as individuals, not as members of groups, nations or races. A planet like Earth can be immensely valuable to the Empire, but not if it has to be garrisoned. Its contribution must be voluntary and whole-hearted.”

“A difficult problem,” I said. “My opinion is that we should treat all exactly alike—force them to abandon their unrealistic differences.”

“Exactly!” The Coordinator seemed pleased, but, actually, this was pretty elementary stuff. “We’re never too rough on the eager lads who come here from Valgol and kick the natives around a bit. We even encourage it when the spirit of rebelliousness dies down.”

I told him I had met one.

“Irritating, wasn’t it, Conru? Humiliating. Of course, these lads will be reconditioned to civilization when they finish their military service and prepare for more specialized work. Yes, treating all Earthlings alike is the solution. We put restrictions on these colonials; they can’t hold top jobs, and so on. And we encourage wild stories about brutality on our part. Not enough to make everybody mad at us, or even a majority—the rumored tyranny has always happened to someone else. But there’s a certain class of beings who’ll get fighting mad, and that’s the class we want.”

“The leaders,” I chimed in. “The idealists. Brave, intelligent, patriotic. The kind who probably wouldn’t be a part of this racial bickering, anyway.”

“Right,” said the Coordinator. “We’ll give them the ammunition for their propaganda. We’ve been doing it. Result: the leaders get mad. Races, religions, nationalities, they hate us worse than they hate each other.”

The way he painted it, I was hardly needed at all. I told him that.

“Ideally, that would be the situation, Conru. Only it doesn’t work that way.” He took out a soft cloth and wiped his forehead. “Even the leaders are too involved in this myth of differences and they can’t concentrate all their efforts. Luron, of course, would be the other alternative—”

That was a very logical statement, but sometimes logic has a way of making you laugh, and I was laughing now. Luron considered itself our arch-enemy. With a few dozen allies on a path of conquest, Luron thought it could wrest Empire from our hands. Well, we let them play. And each time Luron swooped down on one of the more primitive planets, we let them, for Luron would serve as well as ourselves in goading backward peoples to unite and advance. Perhaps Luron, as a social entity, grew wiser each time. Certainly the primitive colonials did. Luron had started a chain reaction which threatened to overthrow the tyranny of superstition on a hundred planets. Good old Luron, our arch-enemy, would see the light itself some day.

The Coordinator shook his head. “Can’t use Luron here. Technologies are entirely too similar. It might shatter both planets, and we wouldn’t want that.”

“So what do we use?”

“You, Conru. You get in with the revolutionaries, you make sure that they want to fight, you—”

“I see,” I told him. “Then I try to stop it at the last minute. Not so soon that the rebellion doesn’t help at all—”

The Coordinator put his hand down flat. “Nothing of the sort. They must fight. And they must be defeated, again and again, if necessary, until they are ready to succeed. That will be, of course, when they are totally against us.”

I stood up. “I understand.”

He waved me back into the chair. “You’ll be lucky to understand it by the time you’re finished with this assignment and transferred to another … that is, if you come out of this one alive.”

I smiled a bit sheepishly and told him to go ahead.

“We have some influence in the underground movement, as you might logically expect. The leader is a man we worked very hard to have elected.”

“A member of one of the despised races?” I guessed.

“The best we could do at this point was to help elect someone from a minority sub-group of the dominant white race. The leader’s name is Levinsohn. He is of the white sub-group known as Jews.”

“How well is this Levinsohn accepted by the movement?”

“Considerable resistance and hostility,” the Coordinator said. “That’s to be expected. However, we’ve made sure that there is no other organization the minority-haters can join, so they have to follow him or quit. He’s able, all right; one of the most able men they have, which helps our aims. Even those who discriminate against Jews reluctantly admire him. He’s moved the headquarters of the movement out into space, and the man’s so brilliant that we don’t even know where. We’ll find out, mainly through you, I hope, but that isn’t the important thing.”

“What is?” I asked, baffled.

“To report on the unification of Earth. It’s possible that the anarch movement can achieve it under Levinsohn. In that case, we’ll make sure they win, or think they win, and will gladly sign a treaty giving Earth equal planetary status in the Empire.”

“And if unity hasn’t been achieved?”

“We simply crush this rebellion and make them start all over again. They’ll have learned some degree of unity from this revolt and so the next one will be more successful.” He stood up and I got out of my chair to face him. “That’s for the future, though. We’ll work out our plans from the results of this campaign.”

“But isn’t there a lot of danger in the policy of fomenting rebellion against us?” I asked.

He lifted his shoulders. “Evolution is always painful, forced evolution even more so. Yes, there are great dangers, but advance information from you and other agents can reduce the risk. It’s a chance we must take, Conru.”

“Conrad,” I corrected him, smiling. “Plain Mr. Conrad Haugen … of Earth.”

II

A few days later, I left North America Center, and in spite of the ominous need to hurry, my eastward journey was a ramble. The anarchs would be sure to check my movements as far back as they could, and my story had better ring true. For the present, I must be my role, a vagabond.

The city was soon behind me. It was far from other settlement—it is good policy to keep the Centers rather isolated, and we could always contact our garrisons in native towns quickly enough. Before long I was alone in the mountains.

I liked that part of the trip. The Rockies are huge and serene, a fresh cold wind blows from their peaks and roars in the pines, brawling rivers foam through their dales and canyons—it is a big landscape, clean and strong and lonely. It speaks with silence.

I hitched a ride for some hundreds of miles with one of the great truck-trains that dominate the western highways. The driver was Earthling, and though he complained much about the Valgolian tyranny he looked well-fed, healthy, secure. I thought of the wars which had been laying the planet waste, the social ruin and economic collapse which the Empire had mended, and wondered if Terra would ever be fit to rule itself.

I came out of the enormous mountainlands into the sage plains of Nevada. For a few days I worked at a native ranch, listening to the talk and keeping my mouth shut. Yes, there was discontent!

“Their taxes are killing me,” said the owner. “What the hell incentive do I have to produce if they take it away from me?” I nodded, but thought: Your kind was paying more taxes in the old days, and had less to show for it. Here you get your money back in public works and universal security. No one on Earth is cold or hungry. Can you only produce for your own private gain, Earthling?

“The labor draft got my kid the other day,” said the foreman. “He’ll spend two good years of his life working for them, and prob’ly come back hopheaded about the good o’ the Empire.”

There was a time, I thought, when millions of Earthlings clamored for work, or spent years fighting their wars, gave their youth to a god of battle who only clamored for more blood. And how can we have a stable society without educating its members to respect it?

“I want another kid,” said the female cook. “Two ain’t really enough. They’re good boys, but I want a girl too. Only the Eridanian law says if I go over my quota, if I have one more, they’ll sterilize me! And they’d do it, the meddling devils.”

A billion Earthlings are all the Solar System can hold under decent standards of living without exhausting what natural resources their own culture left us, I thought. We aren’t ready to permit emigration; our own people must come first. But these beings can live well here. Only now that we’ve eliminated famine, plague, and war, they’d breed beyond reason, breed till all the old evils came back to throttle them, if we didn’t have strict population control.

“Yeah,” said her husband bitterly. “They never even let my cousin have kids. Sterilized him damn near right after he was born.”

Then he’s a moron, or carries hemophilia, or has some other hereditary taint, I thought. Can’t they see we’re doing it for their own good? It costs us fantastically in money and trouble, but the goal is a level of health and sanity such as this race never in its history dreamed possible.

“They’re stranglin’ faith,” muttered someone else.

Anyone in the Empire may worship as he chooses, but should permission be granted to preach demonstrable falsehoods, archaic superstitions, or antisocial nonsense? The old “free” Earth was not noted for liberalism.

“We want to be free.”

Free? Free for what? To loose the thousand Earthly races and creeds and nationalisms on each other—and on the Galaxy—to wallow in barbarism and slaughter and misery as before we came? To let our works and culture be thrown in the dust, the labor of a century be demolished, not because it is good or bad but simply because it is Valgolian? Epsilon Eridanian!

“We’ll be free. Not too long to wait, either—”

That’s up to nobody else but you!

I couldn’t get much specific information, but then I hadn’t expected to. I collected my pay and drifted on eastward, talking to people of all classes—farmers, mechanics, shopowners, tramps, and such data as I gathered tallied with those of Intelligence.

About twenty-five per cent of the population, in North America at least—it was higher in the Orient and Africa—was satisfied with the Imperium, felt they were better off than they would have been in the old days. “The Eridanians are pretty decent, on the whole. Some of ’em come in here and act nice and human as you please.”

Some fifty per cent was vaguely dissatisfied, wanted “freedom” without troubling to define the term, didn’t like the taxes or the labor draft or the enforced disarmament or the legal and social superiority of Valgolians or some such thing, had perhaps suffered in the reconquest. But this group constituted no real threat. It would tend to be passive whatever happened. Its greatest contribution would be sporadic rioting.

The remaining twenty-five per cent was bitter, waiting its chance, muttering of a day of revenge—and some portion of this segment was spreading propaganda, secretly manufacturing and distributing weapons, engaging in clandestine military drill, and maintaining contact with the shadowy Legion of Freedom.

Childish, melodramatic name! But it had been well chosen to appeal to a certain type of mind. The real, organized core of the anarch movement was highly efficient. In those months I spent wandering and waiting, its activities mounted almost daily.

The illegal radio carried unending programs, propaganda, fabricated stories of Valgolian brutality. I knew from personal experience that some were false, and I knew the whole Imperial system well enough to spot most of the rest at least partly invented. I realized we couldn’t trace such a well-organized setup of mobile and coordinated units, and jamming would have been poor tactics, but even so—

The day is coming…. Earthmen, free men, be ready to throw off your shackles…. Stand by for freedom!

I stuck to my role. When autumn came, I drifted into one of the native cities, New Chicago, a warren of buildings near the remains of the old settlement, the same gigantic slum that its predecessor had been. I got a room in a cheap hotel and a job in a steel mill.

I was Conrad Haugen, Norwegian-American, assigned to a spaceship by the labor draft and liking it well enough to re-enlist when my term was up. I had wandered through much of the Empire and had had a great deal of contact with Eridanians, but was most emphatically not a Terrie. In fact, I thought it would be well if the redskin yoke could be thrown off, both because of liberty and the good pickings to be had in the Galaxy if the Empire should collapse. I had risen to second mate on an interstellar tramp, but could get no further because of the law that the two highest officers must be Valgolian. That had embittered me and I returned to Earth, foot-loose and looking for trouble.

I found it. With officer’s training and the strength due to a home planet with a gravity half again that of Earth, I had no difficulty at all becoming a foreman. There was a big fellow named Mike Riley who thought he was entitled to the job. We settled it behind a shed, with the workmen looking on, and I beat him unconscious as fast as possible. The raw, sweating savagery of it made me feel ill inside. They’d let this loose among the stars!

 

After that I was one of the boys and Riley was my best friend. We went out together, wenching and drinking, raising hell in the cold dirty canyons of steel and stone which the natives called streets. Valgolia, Valgolia, the clean bare windswept heights of your mountains, soughing trees and thunderous waters and Maara waiting for me to come home! Riley often proposed that we find an Eridanian and beat him to death, and I would agree, hiccupping, because I knew they didn’t go alone into native quarters any more. I sat in the smoky reek of the bars, half deafened by the clatter and raucousness called music, trying not to think of a certain low-ceilinged, quiet tavern amid the gardens of Kalariho, and sobbed the bitterness of Conrad Haugen into my beer.

“Dirty redskins,” I muttered. “Dirty, stinking, bald-headed, sons of bitches. Them and their god-damn Empire. Why, y’know, if ‘t hadn’ been f’ their laws I’d be skipper o’ my own ship now. I knew more’n that slob o’ a captain. But he was born Eridanian—God, to get my hands on his throat!”

Riley nodded. Through the haze of smoke I saw that his eyes were narrowed. He wasn’t drunk when he didn’t want to be, and at times like this he was suddenly as sober as I was, and that in spite of not having a Valgolian liver.

I bided my time, not too obviously anxious to contact the Legion. I just thought they were swell fellows, the only brave men left in the rotten, stinking Empire; I’d sure be on their side when the day came. I worked in the mill, and when out with the boys lamented the fact that we were really producing for the damned Eridanians, we couldn’t even keep the products of our own sweat. I wasn’t obtrusive about it, of course. Most of the time we were just boozing. But when the talk came to the Empire, I made it clear just where I stood.

The winter went. I continued the dreary round of days, wondering how long it would take, wondering how much time was left. If the Legion was at all interested, they would be checking my background right now. Let them. There wouldn’t be much to check, but what there was had been carefully manufactured by the experts of the Intelligence Service.

Riley came into my room one evening. His face was tight, and he plunged to business. “Con, do you really mean all you’ve said about the Empire?”

“Why, of course. I—” I glanced out the window, as if expecting to see a spy. If there were any, I knew he would be native. The Empire just doesn’t have enough men for a secret police, even if we wanted to indulge in that sort of historically ineffective control.

“You’d like to fight them? Like really to help the Legion of Freedom when they strike?”

“You bet your obscenity life!” I snarled. “When they land on Earth, I’ll get a gun somewhere and be right there in the middle of the battle with them!”

“Yeah.” Riley puffed a cigaret for a while. Then he said, “Look, I can’t tell you much. I’m taking a chance just telling you this. It could mean my life if you passed it on to the Eridanians.”

“I won’t.”

His eyes were bleak. “You damn well better not. If you’re caught at that—”

He drew a finger sharply across his throat.

“Quit talking like a B-class stereo,” I bristled. “If you’ve got something to tell me, let’s have it. Otherwise get out.”

“Yeah, sure. We checked up on you, Con, and we think you’re as good a prospect as we ever came across. If you want to fight the Eridanians now—join the Legion now—here’s your chance.”

“My God, you know I do! But who—”

“I can’t tell you a thing. But if you really want to join, memorize this.” Riley gave me a small card on which was written a name and address. “Destroy it, thoroughly. Then quit at the mill and drift to this other place, as if you’d gotten tired of your work and wanted to hit the road again. Take your time, don’t make a beeline for it. When you do arrive, they’ll take care of you.”

I nodded, grimly. “I’ll do it, Mike. And thanks!”

“Just my job.” He smiled, relaxing, and pulled a flask from his overcoat. “Okay, Con, that’s that. We’d better not go out to drink, after this, but nothing’s to stop us from getting stinko here.”

III

Spring had come and almost gone when I wandered into the little Maine town which was my destination. It lay out of the way, with forested hills behind it and the sea at its foot. Most of the houses were old, solidly built, almost like parts of the land, and the inhabitants were slow-spoken, steady folk, fishermen and artisans and the like, settled here and at home with the darkling woods and the restless sea and the high windy sky. I walked down a narrow street with a cool salt breeze ruffling my hair and decided that I liked Portsboro. It reminded me of my own home, twenty light-years away on the wide beaches of Kealvigh.

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