Thursday, January 5, 2012

Part Fourteen, Chapter Six - Outsmarted by a Man Who Thinks There's Horses in His Car

Gris takes a break from HellerVision to get a drink and stretch a bit, and while doing so he suddenly remembers that letter Heller gave him before their separation.  Gris considers reading someone else's mail a little treat for himself, and is looking forward to some sappy love letter to the Countess Krak.  Instead he finds something even more horrifying.

Heller's letter is addressed to Captain Tars Roke, His Majesty's Own Astrographer.  Gris remembers that Heller and Roke were having a long chat at the launch party, which he didn't think much of because he was higher than a helicarrier at the time.  But from the friendly tone and references to the fleet academy, it seems apparent that Heller attended some of Roke's lectures and got on well with the man.

This wouldn't be a problem, as Gris was already assigned to learn Heller's writing style and forge his reports, but the letter reminds Roke that if he doesn't "authentically" hear from Heller in a month, option two i.e. the military invasion of Earth should go into affect.  And that's when Gris realizes that some of the more banal sentences and mysterious spaces between words make this a "platen" letter.

The idea is that you take a sheet of something opaque, punch some holes in it, and lay it over your note so that certain letters are the only ones visible, revealing your secret message.  No cipher or anything, just a physical key in the form of that "platen."  I'm sure a computer could randomly select letters and string them together at hundreds of times per second until a legible message pops out of the nonsense, but of course Gris doesn't have one, and he quickly discovers that he can't puzzle things out by hand.

So there's our plot twist - Heller has successfully outsmarted the devious, underhanded Apparatus.  They can't forge his letters without tipping off Voltar that something's wrong and prompting an invasion, which will foil the Apparatus' plans.  And if the Apparatus lets Heller go on with his mission, he foils the Apparatus' plans.  So Gris is - say it with me now - miserable, and resorts to praying to the Unidentified Gods for Heller's safety.  At least until he somehow gets a hold of Roke's "platen."

Instead of, you know, sending a message up to Hisst warning him of this new development, so that agents on Voltar could eliminate Roke and completely remove the need for forging Heller's reports or cracking his code.  Then Gris could whack Heller for good measure, removing the last obstacle endangering the Apparatus' plans.  It'd be pretty simple, really - sabotage Roke's car so he has a little "accident," use the Apparatus' extensive forgery equipment to frame him for some capital crime, slip him some poisoned food, arrange for a tragic mugging gone wrong...  Meanwhile on Earth, Gris could use his mob ties to put out a hit on Heller, or could get the Apparatus-controlled Turkish government to issue an extradition order or something.

But dammit, we can't have moderately intelligent villains in a Hubbard novel, that might make the heroes' victory slightly less inevitable. 

Back to Chapter Five

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