Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Part Twenty-Nine, Chapters Five and Six - Fancy-Dancy Fire Support

At long last, we've reached the climax of the "Heller's big race" story arc.  The story arc that started in the previous book, and which once finished will have little impact on this book.  I'd ask why the hell this Part wasn't included in The Enemy Within, but I've finished skimming through An Alien Affair and from the looks of it there's nothing of comparable interest that happens over the next three hundred pages.  So I guess it was a choice between a book with a displaced climax and a book with no climax.

Gris turns on a small TV and watches as Heller rolls into position on the starting line, his resplendent Cadillac standing out amongst all the battered "bomber" cars "like an aristocrat amongst winos."  There's eight inches of snow on the track but the crowd is still going wild for the Whiz Kid.  The flag is waved, the Caddy leaps forward, and the race is on.

I suppose it's possible to make a car race interesting to read about.  You could write from a first-person perspective and let the reader know what it's like to sit in the driver's seat of a vehicle built for blistering speed, with the pervasive roar of the engine combined with the wind screaming around the vehicle creating a cocoon of almost overwhelming sound that threatens to drown out the other senses.  You could describe how the driver's mind is juggling a hundred different variables, keeping an eye on the dashboard while tracking the positions of his rivals and judging when to make his next pit stop, all during the deceptively easy-looking act of driving in an elongated oval.

Unfortunately, Mission Earth has the weird conceit of allowing us to see and hear through the main character's senses while keeping his actual thoughts locked away from us, and when that isn't being used our viewpoint character is Soltan Gris, who is watching the proceedings on a little TV in a van.  So the race is kinda boring, even with the added danger of wintery conditions. 

Heller did his first lap.  He was keeping just ahead of Killer Brag.  But he was not going fast enough to pass the end of the closely spaced pack.

With all the chains and spikes those cars had on their wheels, they were not losing traction.  But they were tearing the track to bits, and after one circle they were hitting ridges that were now ice.  They began to slither and vibrate. 

A howling gust of wind swept across the speedway, lathering it with snow again, hiding ruts.

The sun got stronger and glaring.  The snowing abruptly ceased.

Heller was having a hard time not to overtake the tail of the pack and still keep ahead of Killer Brag.  He was not really going at high speed.  Maybe only a hundred.  But that poorly banked track tended to throw the cars off sideways when they made the turns at each end.  It was a scrambling roar and a steering wheel fight to not fly over the edge.

But Heller's wheels were gripping well.  He was making it through better than the rest.  He was braking into and gunning out of the turns.

But then Heller completes his fifth lap, which is the signal for Gris' snipers to take the first shot.  Suddenly Heller swerves from an impact and loses first place, forcing him into the pit to replace a tire.  He sends a quick message of "I just got one" to "Fancy-Dancy," then alerts his pit crew to what he needs.  Gris is pleased that Heller has used up one of his four spare wheels, but he's also going "slightly crazy" from the mystery of "WHO was 'Fancy-Dancy' and WHERE?"

So in Chapter Six he goes searching for them.  Gris looks outside and scans the area with his binoculars.  Even though his two snipers are wearing snow cloaks, they've left their weapons uncovered so they're given away by their dark rifles - and this is only the start of the cut corners.

Then on a nearby roof Gris spots a third gunman with a silenced, scopeless M-1 rifle, who evidently noticed Gris' shooter and is readying his own shot.  Why it's our good friend Bang-Bang Rimbombo providing fire support for his buddy!  Heller's always one step ahead of poor Gris, even when there's no way he should know about the danger he's about to dodge.

Bang-Bang has a radio to keep in touch with Heller, but Gris' gunman does not.  So Gris can only watch helplessly as the two marksman race to finish the other off.  Unfortunately for Gris' sniper, his rifle failed to eject the spent cartridge.

An Accelerator case is subjected to an awful lot of extra force and maybe it had expanded. Or maybe the cold had jammed the action. Or maybe those Weatherbys weren't in top condition--I had picked them up thirdhand. And the cases were reloads. The sniper was pulled sideways, working on the jammed case with a knife!

So even though Gris has decided that it's vitally important to discredit Heller by sabotaging this race, he's pinching those pennies by equipping his men with discount equipment.  Our villain, ladies and gentlemen. 

Bang-Bang shoots the sniper right in the gun, blowing it up and pitching the shooter off the roof to land on the street a hundred feet below.  But Gris' second sniper is alerted, and while Bang-Bang picks up the radio to report in, Gris' sniper fires and Bang-Bang collapses out of sight atop his roof.

Since we can't see his dead body, and his "death" takes all of three sentences instead of a full chapter of him dying in Heller's arms, it's safe to assume that Bang-Bang's alive and kicking, just out of action for the moment.

Come on, it's too obvious to be a spoiler.

Back to Chapter Four

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