Have you forgotten that Soltan Gris is an ass?
Here's a quick reminder: the day after coming up with his Mob Hospital scam, after a full morning spent kicking a boy trying to fan him cool, Gris hears a canary and immediately goes for his shotgun. But once back in his room he spies something that wasn't there before - a glittery envelope of Voltarian make, containing a "sorry I missed you" greeting card. The message inside is simple: "Lombar wanted me to remind you now and then," signed as it were with a drawing of a "dagger! A dagger with blood on it! A dagger with blood on it that was dripping!"
Faced with this Voltarian object alluding to a Voltarian agent, Gris immediately starts going through a list of suspects, including Melahat and Karagoz of the serving staff, and Jimmy "The Gutter" Tavilnasty.
Have you forgotten that Soltan Gris is an idiot?
A thoroughly spooked Gris runs into the hangar in search of an ally against this new threat, only to find two new aircraft landed nearby, two-person ships of similar make to Lombar Hisst's "flying gun" model. Since they're only a bit faster than normal freighters, Gris concludes that Hisst must have dispatched them to Earth immediately upon learning of the purchase of Tug One. And then the ship's pilots pop up behind Gris, cold, professional killers led by a "slate-hard man with slate-hard eyes."
He recognizes their uniforms as those of the Apparatus' "Assassins." Contrary to their name, these fellas do not sneak into enemy positions and murder targets of strategic value. Instead they hang behind the Apparatus lines during a battle and blow apart anyone who tries to flee. So they're something like a Soviet Commissar, in other words. Or more accurately the Soviet Commissar as remembered by Warhammer 40,000.
Anyway, the black-uniformed and red-gloved gentlemen express their disapproval that the Prince Caucalsia doesn't have "call-in beamer" on it allowing an "Assassin" ship to easily track and destroy it. No, despite being worked on in an Apparatus hangar, the former Tug One never had anything like that installed. No, none of the Apparatus agents who snuck equipment aboard the ship thought to include a call-in beamer. No, the "Assassin" ships don't have any sort of sophisticated sensor package that would render a call-in beamer obsolete. No, nobody thought to render the "Assassins" obsolete by replacing the call-in beamer with a remote-controlled bomb.
The "Assassins" order Gris to get such a device installed, and also to sabotage the Prince Caucalsia's mind-shattering time-based engines so it can't outrun Apparatus justice. Gris tries to pull rank and claims that he doesn't have to answer to their orders, while they make the same statement. In the end he left his weapons in his room, so he agrees and tries to shake hands - an Assassin slaps him across the face instead. Yay.
So Gris gets to distract Heller with geological surveys of the United States while the work crews do their thing aboard the spaceship. He also goes over the landing zone (Fair Oakes, VA) and mission plan (take this road to Lynchberg, then through Washington D.C. to New York and...).
Well, that's really about it. Gris isn't counting on Heller being active for much longer, as he's supposed to be issued his scandalous identity as the nonexistent son of that Rockecenter magnate which should land him in jail or an asylum. But I'm still confused exactly what the mission of Mission Earth is. What's Heller supposed to do? Advance environmentally-friendly technology, yes, but how? Is he just supposed to show up with some magical sci-fi toys? Join a science team and "discover" principles that boost the tech level forward by a hundred years? And nobody's going to question where he came from or how he learned this stuff?
Heller's not worried - he's distracted by gold deposits in New England, and disappointed when Gris tells him that he already asked about them, but they're all long since mined out. Hubbard, his characters, and gold. Geez.
Gris reminds Heller that the Book of Space Codes (I am dead serious) forbid revealing that you're an alien to other aliens, and Heller uncharacteristically-snappily reminds Gris that he already knew that. Gris tries to defuse the situation by saying how he's sure that Heller "will be a great agent. Just what we want."
I'll be damned. He did it, he actually did it!
Back to Chapter Three