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Title: Way of a Rebel

Author: Walter M. Miller

Illustrator: Rudolph Palais

Release Date: May 18, 2010 [EBook #32416]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at

Way of a Rebel

By Walter Miller, Jr.

Illustrated by Rudolph Palais

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction April 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

No one knows the heart of a rebel until his own search for the reason of right or wrong is made. Lieutenant Laskell found the answer to his own personal rebellion deep beneath a turbulent Atlantic, and somehow, when the time came, his decision wasn't too difficult....

Lieutenant Laskell surfaced his one-man submarine fifty miles off the Florida coast where he had been patrolling in search of enemy subs. Darkness had fallen. He tuned his short wave set to the Miami station just in time to hear the eight o'clock news. The grim announcement that he had expected was quick to come:

"In accordance with the provisions of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, Congress today approved the Manlin Bill, declaring a state of total emergency for the nation. President Williston signed it immediately and tendered his resignation to the Congress and the people. The executive, legislative, and judiciary are now in the hands of the Department of Defense. Secretary Garson has issued two decrees, one reminding all citizens that they are no longer free to shirk their duties to the nation, the other calling upon the leaders of the Eurasian Soviet to cease air attacks on the American continent or suffer the consequences.

"In Secretary Garson's ultimatum to the enemy, he stated: 'Heretofore we have refrained from employing certain weapons of warfare in the vain hope that you would recognize the futility of further aggression and desist from it. You have not done so. You have persisted in your blood-thirsty folly, despite this nation's efforts to reach an agreement for armistice. Therefore I am forced to command you, in the Name of Almighty God, to surrender immediately or be destroyed. I shall allow you one day in which to give evidence of submission. If such evidence is not forthcoming, I shall implement this directive by a total attack....'"

Mitch Laskell switched off the short wave set and muttered an oath. He squeezed his way up through the narrow conning tower and sat on the small deck, leaning back against the rocket-launcher and dangling his feet in the calm ocean. The night was windless and warm, with the summer stars eyeing the earth benignly. But despite the warmth, he felt clammy; his hands were shaking a little as he lit a cigarette.

The newscast—it came as no surprise. The world had known for weeks that the Manlin Bill would be passed, and that Garson would be given absolute powers to lead the nation through the war. And his ultimatum to the enemy was no surprise. Garson had long favored an all-out radiological attack, employing every nuclear weapon the country could muster. Heretofore both sides had limited themselves to non-rigged atomic explosives, and had refrained from using bacterial weapons. Garson wanted to take off the boxing-gloves in favor of steel gauntlets. And now it would happen—the all-out attack, the masterpiece of homicidal engineering, the final word in destruction.

Mitch, reclining in loneliness against the rocket-launcher, blew a thoughtful cloud of cigarette smoke toward the bright yellow eye of Arcturus, almost directly overhead, and wondered why the Constellation Bo÷tes suddenly looked like a big club ready to fall on the earth, when it had always reminded him of a fly-swatter about to slap the Corona Borealis. He searched himself for horror, but found only a gloomy uneasiness. It was funny, he thought; five years ago men would have been outraged at the notion of an American absolutism, with one man ruling by decree. But now that it had happened, it was not to hard to accept. He wondered at it.

And he soon decided that almost any fact could be accepted calmly after it had already happened. Men would be just as calm after their cities had been reduced to rubble. The human capacity for calmness was almost unlimited, ex post facto, because the routine of daily living had to go on, despite the big business of governments whose leaders invoked the Deity in the cause of slaughter.

A voice, echoing up out of the conning tower, made him jump. The command set was barking his call letters.

"Unit Sugar William Niner Zero, Mother wants you. I say again: Mother wants you. Acknowledge please. Over."

The message meant: return to base immediately. And it implied an urgency in the use of the code-word Mother. He frowned and started up, then fell back with a low grunt.

All of his resentment against the world's political jackasses suddenly boiled up inside him as a personal resentment. There was something about the metallic rasp of the radio's voice that sparked him to sudden rebelliousness.

"Unit Sugar William Niner Zero, Mother wants you, Mother wants you. Acknowledge immediately. Over."

He had a good idea what it was all about. All subs were probably being called in for rearmament with cobalt-rigged atomic warheads for their guided missiles. The submarine force would probably be used to implement Garson's ultimatum. They would deliver radiological death to Eurasian coastal cities, and cause the Soviets to retaliate.

Why must I participate in the wrecking of mechanical civilization? he thought grimly.

But a counter-thought came to trouble him: I have a duty to obey; The country gave me birth and brought me up, and now it's got a war to fight.

He arose and let himself down through the conning tower. He reached for the microphone, but the receiver croaked again.

"Sugar William Niner Zero, you are ordered to answer immediately. Mother's fixing shortening bread. Mother wants you. Over."

Shortening bread—big plans, something special, a radiological death-dish for the world. He hated the voice quietly. His hand touched the microphone but did not lift it.

He stood poised there in the light of a single glow-lamp, feeling his small sub rocking gently in the calm sea, listening to the quiet purr of the atomics beneath him. He had come to love the little sub, despite the loneliness of long weeks at sea. His only companion was the sub's small computer which was used for navigation and for calculations pertaining to the firing of the rocket-missiles. It also handled the probability mathematics of random search, and automatically radioed periodic position reports to the home-base computer.

He glanced suddenly at his watch, it was nearly time for a report. Abruptly he reached out and jerked open the knife-switch in the computer's antenna circuit. Immediately the machine began clicking and clattering and chomping. A bit of paper tape suddenly licked out of its answer-slot. He tore it off and read the neatly printed words: MALFUNCTION, OPEN CIRCUIT, COMMUNICATIONS OUTPUT; INSERT DATA.

Mitch "inserted data" by punching a button labelled NO REPAIR and another labelled RADIO OUT. One bank of tubes immediately lost its filament-glow, and the computer shot out another bit of tape inscribed DATA ROGERED. He patted it affectionately and grinned. The computer was just a machine, but he found it easy to personalize the thing....

The command-set was crackling again. "Sugar William Niner Zero, this is Commsubron Killer. Two messages. Mother wants you. Daddy has a razor strap. Get on the ball out there, boy! Acknowledge. Over."

Mitch whitened and picked up the microphone. He keyed the transmitter's carrier and spoke in a quiet hiss. "Commsubron Killer from Sugar William Niner Zero. Message for Daddy. Sonnyboy just resigned from the Navy. Go to hell, all of you! Over and out!"

He shut off the receiver just as it started to stutter a shocked reply. He dropped the mike and let it dangle. He stood touching his fingertips to his temples and breathing in shallow gasps. Had he gone completely insane?

He sat down on the floor of the tiny compartment and tried to think. But he could only feel a bitter resentment welling up out of nowhere. Why? He had always gotten along in the Navy. He was the undersea equivalent of a fighter pilot, and he had always liked his job. They had even said that "he had the killer instinct"—or whatever it was that made him grin maliciously when he spotted an enemy sub and streaked in for the kill.

Now suddenly he didn't want to go back. He wanted to quit the whole damn war and run away. Because of Garson maybe? But no, hadn't he anticipated that before it happened? Why should he kick now, when he hadn't kicked before? And who was he to decide whether Garson was right or wrong?

Go back, he thought. There's the microphone. Pick it up and tell Commsubron that you went stir-crazy for a little while. Tell him wilco on his message. They won't do anything to you except send you to a nut doctor. Maybe you need one. Go on back like a sane man.

But he drew his hand back from the microphone. He wiped his face nervously. Mitch had never spent much time worrying about ethics and creeds and political philosophies. He'd had a job to do, and he did it, and he sometimes sneered at people who could wax starry-eyed about patriotism and such. It didn't make sense. The old school spirit was okay for football games, and even for small-time wars, but he had never felt much of it. He hadn't needed it in order to be a good fighter. He fought because it was considered the "thing to do," because he liked the people he had to live with, and because those people wouldn't have a good opinion of him if he didn't fight. People never needed much of a philosophic motive to make them do the socially approved things.

He moistened his lips nervously and stared at the microphone. He was scared. Scared to run away. He had never been afraid of a fight, frightened maybe, but not afraid. Why now? It takes a lot of courage to be a coward, he thought, but the word coward made him wince. He groped blindly for a reasonable explanation of his desire to desert. He wanted to talk to somebody about it, because he was the kind of man who could think best in an argument. But there was no one to talk to except the radio.

The computer's keyboard was almost at his elbow. He stared at it for a moment, then slowly typed:



The machine chewed on the entry noisily for a few seconds, then answered: INSUFFICIENT DATA.

He nodded thoughtfully. That was his predicament too: insufficient data about his own motives. How could a man trust himself to judge wisely, when his judgement went completely against that of his society? He typed again.




He stared at it, then laughed grimly. His own malfunction-indicator wasn't telling him much either. With masochistic fatalism he touched the keyboard again.


The computer replied almost immediately this time: COURSE: DUE WEST.

Mitch stared at it and bit his lip. The machine would follow its own solution, even if the other three contradicted it. Naturally—it would have to follow its own solution, if there was no indication of malfunction. But could a human being make such a decision? Could a man decide, "I am right, and everyone else is wrong?"

No evidence of malfunction, he thought. I am not a coward. Neither am I insane.

His heart cried: "I am disgusted with this purposeless war. I shall quit fighting it."

He sighed deeply, then arose. There was nothing else to do. The atomic engines could go six months without refueling. There were enough undersea rations to last nearly that long.

He switched on the radio again, goosed the engines to full speed, and after a moment's thought, swung around on a northeasterly heading. His first impulse had been to head south, aiming for Yucatan, or the Guianas—but that impulse would also be the first to strike his pursuers who were sure to come.

A new voice was growling on the radio, and he recognized it as Captain Barkley, his usually jovial, slightly cynical commanding officer. "Listen, Mitch—if you can hear me, better answer. What's wrong with you anyhow? I can't hold off much longer. If you don't reply, I'll have to hunt you down. You're ordered to proceed immediately to the nearest base. Over."

Mitch wanted to answer, wanted to argue and fume and curse, hoping that he could explain his behaviour to his own satisfaction. But they might not be certain of his exact location, and if he used the radio, half-a-dozen direction-finders would swing around to aim along his signal, and Barkley would plot the half-a-dozen lines on the map in his office before speaking crisply into his telephone: all right, boys—get him! 29░ 10' North, 79░ 50' West. Use a P-charge if you can't spot him by radar or sonar.

Mitch left the controls in the hands of the computer and went up to stand in the conning tower with the churning spray washing his face. Surfaced, the sub could make sixty knots, and he meant to stay surfaced until there were hints of pursuit.

A three-quarter moon was rising in gloomy orange majesty out of the quiet sea. It made a river of syrupy light across the water to the east, and it heightened his sense of unreality, his feeling of detachment from danger.

Is it always like this, he wondered? Can a man toss aside his society so easily, become a traitor with so little logical reason? A day ago, he would not have dreamed it possible. A day ago, he would have proclaimed with the cynical Barkley, "A sailor's got no politics. What the hell's it to me if Garson is Big Boss? I'm just a little tooth in a big gear. Uncle pays my keep. I ask no questions."

And now he was running like hell and stealing several million bucks worth of Uncle's Navy, all because Garson's pomposity and a radio operator's voice got under his skin. How could a man be so crazy?

But no, that couldn't be it, he thought. Jeezil! He must have some better reason. Sort of a last straw, maybe. But he had been conscious of no great resentment against the war or the Navy or the government. Historically speaking, wars had never done a great deal of harm—no more harm than industrial or traffic accidents.

Why was this war any different? It promised to be more destructive than the others, but that was drawing a rather narrow line. Who was he to draw his bayonet across the road and say, "Stop here. This is the limit."

Mitch turned his back toward the whipping spray and stared aft along the phosphorescent, moon-swept wake of his mechanical shark. The radio was still barking at him with Barkley's clipped tones.

"Last warning, Laskell! Get on that microphone or suffer the consequences! We know where you are. I'll give you fifteen minutes, then we'll come get you. Over and out."

Thanks for the warning, Mitch thought. In a few minutes, he would have to submerge. His eyes swept the moon-washed heavens for signs of aircraft, and he watched the dark horizon for hints of pursuit.

He meant to keep the northeasterly course for perhaps ten hours, then turn off and cruise southeast, passing below Bermuda and on out into the central Atlantic. Then south—perhaps to Africa or Brazil. A fugitive for the rest of his days.

"Sugar William Niner Zero," barked the radio. "This is Commsubfleet Jaybird. Over."

Mitch moistened his lips nervously. The voice was no longer Barkley's. Commsubfleet Jaybird was Admiral Harrinore. He chuckled bitterly then, realizing that he was still automatically startled by rank. He remained in the conning tower, listening.

"Sugar William Niner Zero, this is Commsubfleet Jaybird. If you will obey orders immediately, I guarantee that you will be allowed to accept summary discipline. No court martial if you comply. You are to return to base at once. Otherwise, we shall be forced to blast you out of the ocean as a deserter to the enemy. Over."

So that was it, he thought. They were worried about the sub falling into Soviet paws. Some of its equipment was still classified "secret", although the Reds probably already had it.

No, he wasn't deserting to the enemy. Neither side was right in the struggle, although he preferred the West's brand of wrongness to the bloodier wrongness of the Reds. But a man in choosing the lesser of two evils must first decide whether the choice really has to be made, and if there is not a third and more desirable way. Before picking a weapon for self-destruction, it might help to reason whether or not suicide is really necessary.

He smiled sardonically into the gray gloom, knowing that his thinking was running backwards, that he had acted before reasoning why, that he was rationalizing in an attempt to soothe himself and absolve himself. But a lot of human thinking occurred beneath the level of consciousness, down in the darker regions of the mind where it was not allowed to become conscious lest it bring shame to the thinker. And perhaps he had reasoned it all out in that mental half-world where thoughts are inner ghosts, haunting the possessed man with vague stirrings of uneasiness, leading him into inexplicable behaviour.

I am free now, he told himself. I have given them my declaration of independence, and I am an animal struggling to survive. Living in society, a man must submit to its will, but now I am divorced from it, and I shall live apart from it if I live at all, and I shall owe it nothing. The "governed" no longer gives his consent. How many times have men said, "If you don't like the system here, why don't you get out?" Well, he was getting out, and as a freeborn human animal, born as a savage into the world, he had that right, if he had any rights at all.

He grunted moodily and lowered himself down into the belly of the sub. They would be starting the search soon. He sealed the hatches and opened the water intakes after slowing to a crawl. The sub shivered and settled. The indicator crept to ten feet, twenty, thirty. At fifty feet, he jabbed a button on the computer, and the engines growled a harder thrust. He kept the northeasterly heading at maximum underwater speed.

An hour crept by. He listened for code on the sonar equipment, but heard only the weird and nameless sea-sounds. He allowed himself a reading light in the cramped compartment, folded the map-table up from the wall, and studied the coastline of Africa.

He began to feel a frightening loneliness, although scarcely two hours had passed since his rebellious decision, and he was accustomed to long weeks alone at sea. He scoffed at himself. He would get along okay; the sub would take him any place he wanted to go, if he could escape pursuit. Surely there must be some part of the world where men were not concerned with the senseless struggle of the titans. But all such places were primitive, savage, almost unendurable to a man born and tuned to the violin-string pitch of technological culture.

Mitch realized dismally that he loved technological civilization, its giant tools, its roar of mighty engines, its proud structures of concrete and steel. He could sacrifice his love for particular people, for particular places and governments—but it was going to be harder to relinquish mechanical civilization for some stone-age culture lingering in an out-of-the-way place. Changing tribes was easy, for all tribes belonged to Man, but renouncing machinery for jungle tools would be more difficult. A man could change his politics, his friends, his religion, his country, but Man's tools were a part of his body. Having used a high-powered rifle, the man subsumed the weapon, made it a part of himself. Trading it for a stone axe would be like cutting off his arm. Man was a user of tools, a shaper of environments.

That was it, he thought. The reason for his sudden rebellion, the narrow dividing line between tolerable and insufferable wars. A war that killed human beings might be tolerable, if it left most of civilizations' industry intact, or at least restorable, for although men might die, Man lived on, still possessing his precious tools, still capable of producing greater ones. But a war that wrecked industry, left it a tangled jumble of radioactive concrete and steel—that kind of war was insufferable, as this one threatened to be.

The idea shocked him. Kill a few men, and you scratch the hide of Historical Man. But wreck the industry, drive men out of the cities, leave the factories hissing with beta and gamma radiation, and you amputate the hands of Historical Man the Builder. The machinery of civilization was a living body, with organismic Man as its brain. And the brain had not yet learned to use the body for a constructive purpose. It lacked coordination, and the ability to reason its actions analytically.

Was he basing action on analytic reason?

Another hour had passed. And then he heard it. The sound of faint sonar communication. Quickly he nosed upward to twenty feet, throttled back to half speed, and raised the periscope. With his face pressed against the eyepiece, he scanned the moonlit ocean in a slow circle. No lights, no silhouettes against the reflections on the waves.

He started the pumps and prepared to surface. Then the conning tower was snorting through the water like a rolling porpoise. He shut off the engines, leaving the sub in utter silence except for the soft wash of the sea. He adjusted the sonar pickups, turned the amplifier to maximum, and listened intently. Nothing. Had he imagined it?

He jabbed a button, and a motor purred, rolling out the retractable radar antenna. Carefully he scanned the sky and sea, watching the green-mottled screen for blips. Nothing—no ships or aircraft visible. But he was certain: for a moment he had heard the twitter of undersea communicators.

He sat waiting and listening. Perhaps they had heard his engines, although his own equipment had caught none of their drive-noise.

The computer was able to supervise several tasks at once, and he set it to continue sweeping the horizon with the radar, to listen for sonar code and engine purr while he attended to other matters. He readied two torpedoes and raised a rocket into position for launching. He opened the hatch and climbed to stand in the conning tower again, peering grimly around the horizon.

Minutes later, a buzzer sounded beneath him. The computer had something now. He glanced at the parabolic radar antenna, rearing its head a dozen feet above him. It had stopped its aimless scanning and was quivering steadily on the southeast horizon. Southeast?

He lowered himself quickly into the ship and stared at the luminous screen. Blips—three blips—barely visible. While he watched, a fourth appeared.

He clamped on his headsets. There it was! The faint engine-noise of ships. His trained senses told him they were subs. Subs out of the southeast? He had expected interception from the west—first aircraft, then light surface vessels.

There was but one possible answer: the enemy.

He dived for the radio and waited impatiently for the tubes to warm again. He found himself shouting into the mic.

"Commsubron Killer, this is Sugar William Niner Zero. Urgent message. Over."

He was a long way from the station. He repeated the call three times. At last a faintly audible voice came from the set.

"... this is Commsubron Killer. You are ordered to return immediately...."

The voice faded again.

"Listen!" Mitch bellowed. "Four, no—five enemy submarine—position 31░50┤ North, 73░10┤ West, proceeding northwest—roughly, toward Washington. Probably carrying an answer to Garson's ultimatum. Get help out here. Over."

He heard only a brief mutter this time. "... ordered not to proceed toward Washington. Return immediately to—"

"Not me! You fool! Listen! Five—enemy—submarines—" He repeated the message as slowly as he could, repeated it four times.

"... reading you S-1," came the fading answer. "Are you in distress? I say again. Are you in distress? Over."

Angrily Mitch keyed the carrier wave, screwed the button tightly down, and kicked on the four-hundred cycle modulator. Maybe they could get a directional fix on his signal and home on it.

The blips were gone from the radar scope. The subs had spotted him and submerged. In a moment he would be catching a torpedo, unless he moved. He started the engines quickly, and the surfaced sub lurched ahead. He nosed her toward the enemy craft and opened the throttle. She knifed through the water like a low-running PT boat, throwing a V-shaped fan of spray. When he reached the halfway point between his own former position and the place where the enemy submerged, he began jabbing a release at three second intervals, laying a trail of deadly eggs. He could hear the crash of the exploding depth-charges behind him. He swung around to make another pass.

Then he saw it—the wet metal hulk rearing up like a massive whale dead ahead. They had discovered the insignificance of their lone and pint-sized attacker. They were coming up to take him with deck guns.

Mitch reversed the engines and swung quickly away. The range was too close for a torpedo. The blast would catch them both. He began submerging quickly. A sickening blast shivered his tiny craft, and then another. He dropped to sixty feet, then knifed ahead.

God! Why was he doing this? There was no sense in it, if he meant to run away. But then the thought came: they're returning Old Man Garson's big-winded threat. They're bringing a snootful of radiological hell, and that's the damned bayonet-line across the road.

Depth charges were crashing around him as he wove a zig-zag course. The computer was buzzing frantically. Then he saw why. The rocket launcher hadn't retracted; there was still a rocket in it—with a snootful of Uranium 235. The thing was dragging at the water, slowing him down, causing the sub to shudder and lurch.

Apparently all the subs had surfaced, for the charges were falling on all sides. With the launcher dragging at him, they would get him sooner or later. He tried to nose upward, but the controls refused.

He knew what would happen if he tried to fire the rocket. Hell, he didn't have to fire it. All he had to do was fuse it. It had a water-pressure fuse, and he was beneath exploding depth.

Don't think about it! Do it!

No, you've got to think. That's what's wrong. Too much do, not enough think. They're going to wreck mechanical civilization if they keep it up. They're going to wreck Man's tools, cut off his hands, and make him an ape again!

But what's it to you? What can you do?

Dammit! You can destroy five wrong tools that were built to wreck the right tools.

Mitch, who wanted to quit an all-out war, reached for the fusing switch. This part was his war; destroy the destroyers, but not the producers. Even if it didn't make good military sense—

A close explosion sent him lurching aside. He grabbed at the wall and pushed himself back. The switch—the damn double-toggle red switch! He screamed a curse and struck at it with both fists.

There came a beautiful, blinding light.

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