Heller takes them to the Emergency Fleet Reserve, where he reaffirms his popularity by chatting up the staff, who of course detest Gris on sight. Then it's time for a tour of the facilities - the Fleet personnel take umbrage at Gris' suggestion that this is a boneyard. No, it's a storage facility for ships in "suspended activation," spaceworthy vessels that just happen to be obsolete. I say "facility," but the Reserve is just fifty square miles of tarmac with a vast collection of dusty old spaceships sitting on their tails, pointed skyward... wow, Hubbard is old. Most sci-fi has its spaceships setting down on ventral landing gear these days, but here he is in 1985 going with the oldschool Saturn V stuff. Keep in mind Star Wars debuted in '77.
Anyway, Heller cruises through the surplus spaceship showcase. Their Fleet guide points out the Upward Strike, which looks like a dilapidated mountain of cubes but was part of the original invasion fleet of Voltar 125,000 years ago... and it's still in one piece... huh. Hubbard just has no conception of time, does he? Between this and the crap he pulled in Battlefield Earth...
As if that isn't enough, we learn just why the Upward Strike is kept around - it's equipped with "the original time drives that made immigration possible between galaxies," which even to this day are studied by cadets. I have no idea either; L. Ron Hubbard does terrible things to the fabric of the universe in his stories.
Heller finally spots something that gets him excited, gushing about this "darling" and "wonderful beauty." Gris is less than enthused.
It was a pygmy amongst these monsters. It was the ugliest, dustiest thing I ever hope to see. It was standing on its tail. It looked like a headless old woman with two arms outstretched, her black dress reaching the ground. It was only about a hundred and ten feet tall. It was fat beyond belief. All around it were graceful, swept-curve cruisers and patrol craft, any one of them preferable to this horrible looking little blob.
Meet Tug One. As a tugboat, it's got cruiser-class engines welded to its tiny body (which still has enough space for a stateroom, and more as we'll see later). Its insides are covered with dust and grime. And Heller is ecstatic because it should go ludicrously fast. His old buddy giving the tour is much more concerned; you see, Tug One doesn't have just any old sort of engines, but "Will-be Was" drives.
"Time drives," said Crup. "The type designed for intergalactic travel where distances are truly enormous and they have to work directly with time. When you run these engines inside a galaxy without a heavy load behind them, they pick up more energy than can be wasted. They work all right in a battleship with all its auxilliaries to burn the excess energy but not in a tug. And Jet knows it."
No clue. None at all. No idea why being inside a galaxy is more dangerous than being between galaxies when activating "time engines." No idea why weight matters in the frictionless, zero-g expanses of out space. Still no idea just what is meant by "time engines." The important thing is that Tug One's sister ship exploded, so the survivor got mothballed. The Fleet guys tries to talk Heller out of taking the vessel, but he's all "faster, faster!" and doesn't care about the risk.
Well, at least we got our mission ship. A tugboat. With brain-breaking engines. And luxury accommodations because an admiral pimped it out before it got shelved. But we're now one tottering step closer to getting off this miserable planet and onto Earth, where no doubt we'll be treated to insightful and witty satire on human follies as seen through alien eyes.
Back to Chapter Two