This Crowded Earth
Chapter 10: Harry Collins--2032
Harry’s son’s house was on the outskirts of Washington, near what had once been called Gettysburg. Harry was surprised to find that it was a house, and a rather large one, despite the fact that almost all the furniture had been scaled down proportionately to fit the needs of a man three feet high.
But then, Harry was growing accustomed to surprises.
He found a room of his own, ready and waiting, on the second floor; here the furniture was of almost antique vintage, but adequate in size. And here, in an atmosphere of unaccustomed comfort, he could talk.
“So you’re a physician, eh?” Harry gazed down into the diminutive face, striving to accept the fact that he was speaking to a mature adult. His own son--his and Sue’s--a grown man and a doctor! It seemed incredible. But then, nothing was more incredible than the knowledge that he was actually here, in his child’s home.
“We’re all specialists in one field or another,” his son explained. “Every one of us born and surviving during the early experimental period received our schooling under a plan Leffingwell set up. It was part of his conditional agreement that we become wards of the state. He knew the time might come when we’d be needed.”
“But why wasn’t all this done openly?”
“You know the answer to that. There was no way of educating us under the prevailing system, and there was always a danger we might be singled out as freaks who must be destroyed--particularly in those early years. So Leffingwell relied on secrecy, just as he did during his experimentation period. You know how you felt about that. You believed innocent people were being murdered. Would you have listened to his explanations, accepted the fact that his work was worth the cost of a few lives so that future billions of human beings might be saved? No, there was no time for explanation or indoctrination. Leffingwell chose concealment.”
“Yes,” Harry sighed. “I understand that better now, I think. But I couldn’t see it then, when I tried to kill him.” He flushed. “And I still can’t quite comprehend why he spared me after that attempt.”
“Because he wasn’t the monster you thought him to be. When I pleaded with him--”
“You were the one!”
Harry’s son turned away. “Yes. When I was told who you really were, I went to him. But I was only a child, remember that. And he didn’t spare you out of sentimentality. He had a purpose.”
“A purpose in sending me to prison, letting me rot all these years while--”
“While I grew up. I and the others like myself. And while the world outside changed.” Harry’s son smiled. “Your friend Richard Wade was right, you know. He guessed a great deal of the truth. Leffingwell and Manschoff and the rest of their associates deliberately set out to assemble a select group of nonconformists--men of specialized talents and outlooks. There were over three hundred of you at Stark Falls. Richard Wade knew why.”
“And so he was dragged off and murdered.”
“Murdered? No, Father, he’s very much alive, I assure you. In fact, he’ll be here tonight.”
“But why was he taken away so abruptly, without any warning?”
“He was needed. There was a crisis, when Dr. Leffingwell died.” Harry’s son sighed. “You didn’t know about that, did you? There’s so much for you to learn. But I’ll let him tell you himself, when you see him this evening.”
Richard Wade told him. And so did William Chang and Lars Neilstrom and all the others. During the ensuing weeks, Harry saw each of them again. But Wade’s explanation was sufficient.
“I was right,” he said. “There was no Underground when we were at Stark Falls. What I didn’t realize, though, was that there was an Overground.”
“You might call it that. Leffingwell and his staff formed the nucleus. They foresaw the social crisis which lay ahead, when the world became physically divided into the tall and the short, the young and the old. They knew there’d be a need of individuality then--and they did create a stockpile. A stockpile of the younger generation, specially educated; a stockpile of the older generation, carefully selected. We conspicuous rebels were incarcerated and given an opportunity to think the problem through, with limited contact with one another’s viewpoints.”
“But why weren’t we told the truth at the beginning, allowed to meet face-to-face and make some sensible plans for the future?”
Harry’s son interrupted. “Because Dr. Leffingwell realized this would defeat the ultimate purpose. You’d have formed your own in-group, as prisoners, dedicated to your own welfare. There’d be emotional ties--”
“I still don’t know what you’re talking about. What are we supposed to prepare for now?”
Richard Wade shrugged. “Leffingwell had it all planned. He foresaw that when the first generation of Yardsticks--that’s what they call themselves, you know--came of age, there’d be social unrest. The young people would want to take over, and the older generation would try to remain in positions of power. It was his belief that tensions could be alleviated only by proper leadership on both sides.
“He himself had an important voice in government circles. He set up an arrangement whereby a certain number of posts would be assigned to people of his choice, both young and old. Similarly, in the various professions, there’d be room for appointees he’d select. Given a year or two of training, Leffingwell felt that we’d be ready for these positions. Young men, like your son, would be placed in key spots where their influence would be helpful with the Yardsticks. Older men such as yourself would go into other assignments--in communications media, chiefly. The skillful use of group-psychological techniques could avert open clashes. He predicted a danger-period lasting about twenty years--roughly, from 2030 to 2050. Once we weathered that span, equilibrium would be regained, as a second and third generation came along and the elders became a small minority. If we did our work well and eliminated the sources of prejudice, friction and hostility, the transition could be made. The Overground in governmental circles would finance us. This was Leffingwell’s plan, his dream.”
“You speak in the past tense,” Harry said.
“Yes.” Wade’s voice was harsh. “Because Leffingwell is dead, of cerebral hemorrhage. And his plan died with him. Oh, we still have some connections in government; enough to get men like yourself out of Stark Falls. But things have moved too swiftly. The Yardsticks are already on the march. The people in power--even those we relied upon--are getting frightened. They can’t see that there’s time left to train us to take over. And frankly, I’m afraid most of them have no inclination to give up their present power. They intend to use force.”
“But you talk as though the Yardsticks were united.”
“They are uniting, and swiftly. Remember the Naturalists?”
Harry nodded, slowly. “I was one, once. Or thought I was.”
“You were a liberal. I’m talking about the new Naturalists. The ones bent on actual revolution.”
“That’s the word. And that’s the situation. It’s coming to a head, fast.”
“And how will we prevent it?”
“I don’t know.” Harry’s son stared up at him. “Most of us believe it’s too late to prevent it. Our immediate problem will be survival. The Naturalists want control for themselves. The Yardsticks intend to destroy the power of the older generation. And we feel that if matters come to a head soon, the government itself may turn on us, too. They’ll have to.”
“In other words,” said Harry, “we stand alone.”
“Fall alone, more likely,” Wade corrected.
“How many of us are there?”
“About six hundred,” said Harry’s son. “Located in private homes throughout this eastern area. If there’s violence, we don’t have a chance of controlling the situation.”
“But we can survive. As I see it, that’s our only salvation at the moment--to somehow survive the coming conflict. Then, perhaps, we can find a way to function as Leffingwell planned.”
“We’ll never survive here. They’ll use every conceivable weapon.”
“But since there’s no open break with the government yet, we could still presumably arrange for transportation facilities.”
“Some spot in which we could weather the storm. What about Leffingwell’s old hideout?”
“The units are still standing.” Harry’s son nodded. “Yes, that’s a possibility. But what about food?”
“Friend of mine,” Harry told him. “Look, we’re going to have to work fast. And yet we’ve got to do it in a way that won’t attract any attention; not even from the government. I suggest we set up an organizing committee and make plans.” He frowned. “How much time do you think we have--a year or so?”
“Six months,” his son hazarded.
“Four, at most,” Wade said. “Haven’t you been getting the full reports on those riots? Pretty soon they’ll declare a state of national emergency and then nobody will be going anywhere.”
“All right.” Harry Collins grinned. “We’ll do it in four months.”
Actually, as it worked out, they did it in just a day or so under three.