Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Part Thirty-Nine, Chapter Eight - Gris Literally (Bleeps) Away His Fortune

Believe it or not, we haven't reached Fortune of Fear's low point yet.  We've still got half the book to go, after all.

We're not told what Gris did the day after his rendezvous in the limousine, only that the second evening, and the evening after that, go very similarly to the first - there's a half-hour delay, the girls are always "strangely tired and wan," and give him beseeching looks when Ters (evil laugh) drives them away when Gris is done.  The third girl in particular takes an extra half-hour to be "convinced" and is crying when Gris "meets" her, but he reasons that "she had just worn herself out in the eagerness of waiting."

Gris does try to get the caravans - nine o'clock night caravans, I guess - rescheduled so there's no camels and donkeys peeping on him, but Ters (evil laugh) explains that Ahmed arranged for the animals to hide the car.  Gris is otherwise satisfied, and so doesn't complain.

Contented, I knew that I was really a hit amongst hits!  Every night, that same beseeching look.  These women must be going absolutely insane over me.

But the morning after the third night, something happens to take Gris' happy away.  One of his staff-beating goons asks if Gris will be keeping to his schedule, and Gris suddenly realizes that his safe is almost empty!  He gets dressed, grabs his gun, gets in his limo, and has Ters (evil laugh) drive him to Afyon for a bank run so he get his weekly million-lira allowance.  But there's a problem - the teller calls up Mudur Zengin at Istanbul, who informs Gris that his "concubine" is still making purchases on his credit card.  This in turn means that Gris' allowance will shrink as Zengin adjusts his investments to compensate.

So Gris curses the Countess - "(Bleep), (bleep), (bleep), (bleep), (bleep) that Krak!" - but authorizes the payment, because he's too terrified to talk to her about the not-so-magical credit cards, and more importantly "if I went to Istanbul I would miss a night of ecstasy."  In the end he has to make do with only four nights' worth of lira.

Gris tries to talk with - well, Ahmed is "the taxi driver" again - about if maybe they could spend less money on hookups, possibly by reusing one of those girls from before since they seemed oh-so-enamored with Gris.  But the taxi driver "refuses to cheapen [Gris'] delight" and describes how each girl has now been given their dowries and married off.  The mention of marriage turns Gris "ice cold," and that combined with the taxi driver's proposal to cut back to one girl a week makes Gris panic and throw another two hundred thousand at him for that night's girl.

If Mission Earth were a movie - and God help us all if Hollywood gets so desperate for ideas that they turn to this crap for a script - at this point we'd get a montage of desperate women screaming "O Allah!" from the back of Gris' limo.

And so the nights flowed on.  Woman after woman.  All a half hour late.  All tired at the start.  All soon desperate and clawing.  All soon screaming "Allah."  And all of them looking pleadingly away out the window as they drove away.

The days?  Not worth mentioning.  Heller and Krak have been defeated by the power of sadness, remember?  Presumably our hero antagonist sits staring at a wall with a blank expression on his face, until nine o'clock rolls around for some frenzied sex in the back seat of his land train.

My calls at the bank had to become more frequent.  The allowance got reduced to six hundred and then to four hundred.  And finally I was calling the bank every day.

Gris is now spending one million, four hundred thousand lira a week on women, while Krak keeps buying flowers and theater tickets in New York.  Gris demands two hundred thousand lira a night, even if it eats into his capital, and ignores his banker's suggestion to come to Istanbul and invest another million dollars so he can spend without threatening his capital.  Gris, true to form, decides he can't spare the time from from his busy schedule of waiting for nine o' clock and hangs up.

So if you're wondering how we can start the book by adding $250 million to the villain's accounts without it impacting the main plot whatsoever, this is it.  Have the bad guy blow it all on whores.

Not done with that montage, either.

And so the days passed, with, oh, those lovely nights.  A new woman every time!  Fat and thin, tall and short, but all of them all woman!  At first every one seemed totally limp, but soon enough they were frantic.  All they ever said was "O Allah!" and "I'm drowning!"  But not even curious animals could distract me from my duty.

And every night, without exception, when they were driven away by the evilly-laughing Ters, they had the same beseeching look.

Gotta wonder here - is Gris' all-consuming lust a product of his psychiatric training?  The author's not hitting us over the head with it though, Gris isn't talking about how his lizard brain demands nightly sex or anything.  Maybe it's the result of the cellological experiments that gave him his unnatural genitalia?  Either way, I bet some branch of science is to blame, even if the author has missed another chance for "satire."

I hadn't realized how the time was passing until I saw a bud on a shrub one day.  Was it actually moving into spring?

So... Heller arrived on Earth in time to enroll at the start of the fall semester at the local college, somewhere around late August or early September, yeah?  We're now leaving winter for spring, which would be March?  April?  Just how many months has our nefarious bad guy wasted doing nothing but (bleeping) girls?

But believe it or not, Gris squandering his fortune and totally neglecting to monitor his foes can't continue indefinitely.

Suddenly, without any slightest forehint

"Or at least not any forehint that I was intelligent enough to notice."


Also, not a word.

forehint, my dearest dreams turned into horror, my connections disconnected into a tangle of terror and my whole life came unstuck.  All in the torture of slow-motion like you see a proud building coming down to land at last in a heap of shuddering rubble.

Fate had only been toying with me.  And with the planet.

Oh man.  After the whirlwind excitement of the last few chapters, I don't know if my heart can take it.  Tune in next part as we check on the hero for the first time in ages, launch the Deadly Crobe, and learn the terrible secret behind Gris' tumbles in the backseat of his limo.

Back to Part Thirty-Nine, Chapter Seven

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Part Thirty-Nine, Chapter Seven - He Had Nothing to Do With This Chapter, I Assure You

Unabridged version here.

We start the chapter at 8:30 that evening, with Gris waiting on the villa's patio, "all steamed up to go."  This would be a good place for a joke about coal and Viagra.

As 8:30 becomes 8:45 without any signal, Gris grows, uh, achy, and worried.  "Had the girl said no?  Oh, if she knew what Prahd had given me she would certainly never say no!  Maybe I should have given Ahmed a portrait of it."

Look at this car.  Nice, isn't it?  Now look at this framed portrait of a dong.  How would you like to sleep with the owner of this car and that dong?  Oh, here's a bag of cash.  Deal?

But at nine on the dot Gris hears "THE HORN!" blasting like "an earthquake," causing him to... uh, "went out of there like a racehorse from the starting gate."  Weak verbage there, Hubbard, simile storm or no.

Strangely, the terrain around the cedar tree is thick with caravans of camels and donkeys, but Gris eventually pushes through to reach the limo and Ahmed... uh, memory's not too good, but I think Ahmed is also known as Deplor but more commonly called "the taxi driver."  But in this chapter for whatever reason he's Ahmed.

Ahmed explains that the half-hour delay was due to tonight's girl being an "untried maiden," and it took both Ahmed/Deplor/the taxi driver and Ters the evil laugh to keep her from bolting.  He shows Gris in the back seat of the limo and introduces him to Blank Hanim... so, censorship or a really weird name or..? well, he points his finger at her and says "Remember what I told you and be good.  You please him you hear me?"  And the girl is wide-eyed and convulsively swallowing, but Gris knows that this is "a good sign."

The animals make things a little difficult - they're curious little beasts who keep looking through the window and grabbing clothing with their teeth.  But it's not enough to stop Gris from doing, ah, his business.

There's a good six shouts of "O Allah!" drawn out at various lengths.

An exhausted Gris scrambles over the front seat and leaves the limo on the other side, tripping over his pants on the way out.  He decides he's had too good a time to be bothered by the animals' "voyeur tendencies."  Ters appears "from somewhere," gives his evil laugh, starts inflating the flat tire, gives another evil laugh, and drives off.

In the back window, lit by moonlight, I could see the woman staring back at me.  She had a very beseeching look.

Ah, I thought triumphantly, there goes a VERY satisfied female!

Despite all the disturbances, it had been quite a night!

It sure has.

So, gentle reader, how many clues can you spot that suggest that this innocent booty delivery service isn't all that it seems?  Also note that the author is cheating here - later on he'll reveal some information that makes it even more obvious something is wrong, but Gris will only be able to notice it in retrospect.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, October 29, 2012

Part Thirty-Nine, Chapter Six - Operation Greasy Limo

Have we established that Gris is evil yet?

It was bitter cold but for all that a bright and sunshiny day.  The shrubs in the villa were all bound up for winter like corpses in shrouds and not a single songbird was in sight. Beautiful.

Only after inspecting the corpselike foliage and searching his surroundings for any songbirds that Gris notices something new in his yard, something so enormous that he initially mistakes it for a locomotive.  It's his newly-renovated limousine, blocking the entire driveway with its dull black bulk, golden letters (in what language?) spelling "Sultan Bey" underneath the red eagle emblems on the doors.  The windows are bulletproof, while the overly-spacious interior features a bar, field radio-telephone, and even a bunk.

This 1962 Daimier-Benz also comes with a complementary chauffeur, the "toothless, beak-nosed old man" with the "evil laugh."  It'd be just as accurate to call him an evil laugh wrapped in an old man, because every single time he appears in the story he laughs his "evil laugh" and does nothing else.  His name is Ters, Turkish for "unlucky" or "unfortunate."  Gris takes notice of what the author's doing and wonders if it could be bad to mix Ters the evil laugh with Deplor the taxi driver to make "Unfortunate Fate."

Now, let's talk pattern recognition.  Deplor the taxi driver is the one who "sold" Gris his belly-dancing concubine, the girl who turned out to be a pedophile, who currently can't stand him, and who ran up thousands and thousands of dollars on credit cards in Gris' name.  Then the taxi driver added even more to Gris' debt by buying crates of expensive clothing on his behalf.  Then he ignored Gris' protest and orders to buy the dilapidated old limo in the first place.  Gris cannot be said to have benefited from any of this, and the consequences of the first plan not only wrecked his life (for a couple of chapters) but actually put his life in danger.  So by this point a rational individual of reasonable intelligence might decide that he doesn't want anything to do with Deplor the taxi driver.  Maybe this guy doesn't have the best ideas.  Maybe he's using this situation more to his advantage than Gris'.  

But this story would have ended in Book One if Gris had a working brain.

Taxi driver man does his postsale speech about how Gris' new car fits him like a glove, "makes you a big man!", etc.  Then he urges Gris to take a seat in the back, where they can talk business.  Sexy business.

Deplor knows that Gris wants women, and he has a plan on how to get some.  He makes Gris synchronize their watches for this "military campaign."

We did.  I was getting excited.

Four days in a cell with a mad doctor, two or three days earlier spent closely monitoring his enemies, then before that a whirlwind of purchasing following a trip to Switzerland, but suddenly Gris remembers that he wants to have sexy times with a woman.

Working off the assumption that "There isn't a woman in the world that could resist this car," Deplor proposes that Gris treat his new limo as a true pimpmobile.  Deplor and Ters will go out and find a woman for Gris at six each evening, then return with the girl at 8:30, because it takes time to find and persuade a woman to be overtaken by lust for the absent owner of a huge automobile, dontcherknow.  And they don't plan on giving Gris repeat entertainment - "You want them fresh every night."

"Go on," I said, my appetite whetting up.

I think this sentence would mean that Gris' appetite was the one stimulating something, not getting stimulated.

Anyway, at 8:30 Team Unfortunate Fate will park under a tree not far from the villa and honk the horn, giving Gris the signal to come over to the car, crawl in the back, and take advantage of the car's bunk.  When Gris has slaked his lust , the horrible old man will take the girl home.

"Now synchronize our watches again just to be sure.  The woman will be so hot for you, you mustn't keep her waiting.  Promise?"

"Oh, I won't keep her waiting," I said and eagerly synchronized my watch again.
"One more thing," said the taxi driver.  "Give me two hundred thousand lira so I can get a woman this very night."

Yeah... well, maybe telling a girl that she should have a roll in the hay with the guy who owns this awesome car (who isn't actually here at the moment) isn't quite enough to get her out of her pantaloons.  Taxi man explains that these girls aren't mere prostitutes, but women after dowries so they can marry a good husband (who presumably will be very understanding when they learn how she earned that money).  So even though that much libra could keep Gris happy for a year in a typical Turkish brothel, this way he'll

"have the best-looking women for miles around panting to tear their veils and robes off and get under you.  Thin, plump, tall, short, a new one every night.  Imagine it!  A beautiful, passionate woman lying naked on that ledge, her hips twitching, stretching out her arms to you, begging, begging for it."

I ran into the house, opened my safe and got two hundred thousand lira and put it in a big sack and came back.
The taxi driver peeked in.  He nodded.

"Yeah, that looks like two hundred thousand lira stuffed in a sack."

The old chauffeur laughed an evil laugh.

Told ya.

"See you when I blow the horn!" yelled the taxi driver and drove off in his cab.
I could hardly wait.

You might be wondering why Deplor isn't bringing Gris along to pick out the girls, and of course the answer is that this plan isn't very legit.  You also might be wondering why Gris isn't asking why he isn't being invited to come pick out the girls.  That's because Gris has to be stupid for this plot to work, to set up a shocking and horrible plot twist in a couple of chapters.

Fair warning - next chapter is gonna be rough.

Back to Chapter  Five

Friday, October 26, 2012

Part Thirty-Nine, Chpater Five - The Countess Krak Just Isn't Interested In Global Warming

With Crobe securely sealed away, Gris deigns to check on his nemeses, who certainly couldn't have made any progress in the four days he's been otherwise occupied.  He finds Heller writing out chemical equations, and I shouldn't have to tell you that Gris isn't remotely worried about or interested in what kind of equations they are - "No threat there: he could do equations until the sky fell in and it wouldn't disturb the planet in the least."

Meanwhile, the Countess Krak has trained Mister Calico to respond to Voltarian commands and do flips and fetch the newspaper.  So that's what we've been doing wrong during all our failed attempts to train felines - we haven't been using the right language!  The front page story of the National Expirer asks "IS MISS AMERICA SAFE FROM WHIZ KID RAPE?"

Just a warning: rape is going to be a recurring theme for this book.

Krak reads the story, sees the picture of the half-naked pageant winner in question, worries that indeed "She is beautiful.  Oh dear, and we're not even married yet!"  And then she has the cat to press two buttons on a speaker phone to place a call to Miss Boomp (?!), so Krak can tell her friend that Jettero is much too busy to visit the casino, especially after she hears that Boomp is using the rigged tables to let the prettiest and most popular girls win to draw in more crowds.  Yeah, terribly sorry, but she'll be keeping Heller as far away from attractive women as possible.

So... Gris was right?  Kinda?  Krak is that jealous, willing to go behind her lover's back and arrange things so that he isn't in a situation where his eyes might wander?  But she's too meek to actually confront him with her worries?

It also goes without saying that Gris doesn't perk up at this and starting thinking of ways to use Krak's jealousy against her, perhaps by sending a leggy blonde Heller's way.

Phone call completed, Krak walks into the same room as Heller and asks, roughly a week after arriving on Earth, "exactly what are your plans for getting us home?"  And Heller, roughly a week after being reunited with his girlfriend, finally realizes "I guess I haven't been very exact in telling you about my planning."  Heller summarizes the world's need for a non-polluting fuel source, which will incidentally solve their inflation problem, I guess.  Then he talks in italicized parentheses.

"So (a) they are getting dirty and making fresh air scarce by using dirty fuel; (b) they are short on real fuel and can't build cheap sewage plants; and (c) they are unable to control their economy because they have such expensive fuel.

Yes, sewage plants are key to saving the environment.  Sewage plants could mean the difference between life as an alien protectorate and humanity's extermination.  And to my knowledge, this is the first time in all of Mission Earth that sewage plants have been so much as mentioned.

Krak says this is all "very good," but presses Heller about "what are your plans for getting us home?"  So Heller goes through his five-part plan: get diploma, make a carburetor and fuel, use "spores" to clean up the atmosphere - and this is why he needs Crobe, ahah!  Heller also has "some other things to prevent continent immersion by floods," and the last step, of course, involves making billions of dollars to finance the rest of the plan.

I'm kinda looking forward to hearing how Heller plans to combat rising sea levels.  Some sort of coastal force field?  A reverse heat generator to re-freeze the ice caps?  A serum to make seawater more compact, so the water levels go back down?  Anything is possible with Hubbard Science. (the answer is actually quite close to a gag in Futurama, just delivered in the most catastrophically idiotic way possible)

Krak concedes that this is all "very interesting," but against asks if Heller could "tell me what you are doing, right now, to get us home?"  Not "complete Mission Earth and go home," Krak wants to leave.

So Heller explains - or continues to explain - that he's studying all the pollutants in Earth's atmosphere, and describes the Greenhouse Effect and global warming for his girlfriend.  "The main danger, however, is that these particles do not permit adequately large water drops to form and so there is an increasingly scarcity of rain."

As far as I can tell from a quick check on Wikipedia, Hubbard has gotten this completely backwards.

Again, Krak is less than interested in Heller's rambling, but presses him on "what could you DO, RIGHT NOW, to speed up your program?  Some VITAL point you could PUSH on?"  She wants progress, dammit, not to-do lists!  She offers to buy what Heller needs with her magic credit card, forcing Heller to explain that magic is only good for so many decimal places, while he needs billions of dollars to get the Chryster Motor Corporation out of debt and back into carburetor production.

Krak concludes that Heller needs to both stay out of Atlantic City and start working on getting those billions now, before graduation, "in a manner that does NOT include ANY Miss Americas!  Not a single one!"

This might work a little better if it had been Heller eying the pictures of former Miss Americas in the casino lobby a few chapters ago, and not the Countess.  I guess her unjustified jealousy bordering on paranoia is supposed to be charming?  Or should we assume that it's just a womanly trait men have to put up with?

Also, does Krak even know how much money a billion dollars is?  Or how one goes about earning that much money?

Gris at least is pleased with the situation.

I really had to laugh.  She was pushing on him, yes.  But after the fiasco he had just made I had no fears at all that he would suddenly come up with pots of money.  All the money he had gotten so far was hit money put up to waste him that he, by luck, had gotten into his own hands.  High finance is an entirely different variety of slaughter.  The hit men there wear top hats and are very suave and clever and they do their shooting cunningly across desks.  It was wholly out of his field.  He didn't have, in my opinion, the ghost of a chance.

Billions indeed!

I think Hubbard's writing works better if you read it in a thick Swedish accent.  Though I guess reading it like a second grader giving a book report works too.  Go on, try it!

And with that, without wasting another moment to see if Heller and Krak are about to come up with a plan to make billions, Gris drops a blanket over the viewscreens and loads them with recording strips.  He has decided that Krak and Heller have no way of making billions of dollars, and so assumes that they're going to loaf around for however long it takes Gris to get the go-ahead to kill them.  Yes, Heller has once again been defeated for good.  Now it's time for Gris to get some fresh air and start enjoying life again.

God help us all. 

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Part Thirty-Nine, Chapter Four - Prep to Launch the Deadly Crobe

After four days in a room with a glaring Dr. Crobe, Gris is told that his super-unbreachable-maximum-fun-holding cell is finished and gets four guards to stand... guard while he makes some final preparations.  The first order of business is to dump a load of rations in it for Crobe, because "who knew how long he would be in there mucking about," and then it's time to find an incentive for the good doctor to learn the local languages.

The solution is pretty predictable.

I unearthed whatever I could spare on the subjects of psychology and psychiatry.  It was pretty juicy stuff: It included Governmental Psychology, all about man being a lousy stinking animal that was so depraved and writhing with unconscious passions he was totally incapable of rational thought and had to be policed with clubs at every turn; Irrational Psychology, all about how to cure people by killing them; Psychology of Women, or How to Trick Your Wife and Mistress into Getting into the Bed of Your Best Friend;

So... men are such depraved and passionate animals that they want to use psychology to make women crawl into other men's beds?  That's different.

Child Psychology, all about the techniques of turning children into perverts; The Psychiatrist on the Couch, giving seventy-seven unusual ways to engage in sex with animals;

Wait, what?  Where does the couch come in, exactly?  Actually, don't answer that.

Dr. Kutzbrain's famous text, Psychiatric Neurosurgery, all about how to end every possible brain function;

Why would you need to learn how to do brain surgery if the objective is killing people?  Just get a good-sized rock.

and Psychiatric Stew, which authoritatively told one what to do with people when they have been turned into vegetables by the latest techniques approved by the Food and Drug Administration.  I included lots of other even more vital texts, all standard and accepted material of the professions.  They could not fail to entice Crobe into reading English like mad.

So... he doesn't know the language, but these books will entice him to "read" the language?  But he already knows English well enough to pick up an interest in the first place.  And medical texts will help him learn the language, but not the magical language machine?  Didn't see Gris throwing one of those in the cell with Crobe.

Gris goes back to the doctor, and hey, the reason Crobe was so silent was because Gris decided to keep him gagged for half a week.  The doctor's first words are "I'll have the law on you for this!", and Gris suddenly realizes that Crobe doesn't fully understand the legal situation he's in!  So the solution is to look for more books!

This stupid little chapter is three pages long, with half of it spent on book titles and descriptions.

It was all one series of volumes!  More than forty of them, very thick.  The title of the set was Voltar Confederacy Compendium Complete, including Space Codes, Penal Codes, Domestic Codes, Royal Proclamations, Royal Orders, Royal Procedures, Royal Precedence, Royal Successions Complete with Tables and Biographies, Court Customs, Court History, Royal Land Grants, Rights of Aristocracy, Planetary Districts of 110 Planets, Local Laws, Local Customs, Aristocratic Privileges and Various Other Matters.  Impressive!

This is satire, obviously.  Satire of books with long titles.  And a long-overdue satire at that!  I'm sick and tired of books with paragraph-long titles, aren't you?

So Gris carts the entire forty-book legal series into Crobe's cell, and vows that the doctor will only be let out once he learns proper English and proper obedience.  And then it goes Looney Tunes.

I picked up the loose end of the safety line and gave it a hefty yank.

He spun like a top!

Right across the floor.

His body even hummed, it was turning so fast.

Remember this light-hearted, silly moment when we reach chapter seven.

Gris runs out, locks the door with a combination only he knows, and breathes a sigh of relief that his "secret weapon" against Heller is secure.  "At the least sign of resurgence or success in the U.S., I would launch the deadly Crobe."  He checks through the observation window and finds that the doctor's interest has already "quickened" at the sight of those psychiatric books.  Clearly, Gris is once again ascendant.

In conclusion, in this chapter we learned more about what Hubbard thinks psychologists think.  We learned that he takes particular umbrage at the notion that Man is some lowly animal only interested in bestiality and other perversions, rather than an enlightened creature focused on tax evasion, blackmail, and fraud.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Part Thirty-Nine, Chapter Three - Funny They Never Mentioned This Law Four Books Ago

Come to think about it, why did Gris send for Dr. Crobe in the first place?  He already has a "cellologist" around, albeit one who's into statutory rape and has an unhealthy interest in modifying his patients' genitalia.  Does he actually have a plan for the good doctor, or was his redeployment an act of whimsy?  I can't even remember when Gris sent for Crobe, much less why.

Well, after partially-collapsing the base's ceiling on a bunch of workers, Gris starts to feel less than welcome at the hangar and decides to go get dinner.  But his delicious dish of cerkez tavugu ("boiled chicken, Circassian style, with a sauce of crushed walnuts and red pepper") is interrupted by a buzz from Faht Bey reminding Gris that he promised to have a conference with the angry mob to discuss Dr. Crobe's fate.  They're all in favor of feeding the doctor to a "disintegrator bin," but Gris knows that Crobe is a "very valuable asset in any Apparatus operation" (even though he randomly attacks coworkers for surprise dissections) who might become vital in the future, because remember, "Heller was very sneaky and he might recover or get lucky and then my neck would be out."  And who better to counter a young, strong commando than an old, insane doctor?

So Gris meets with the "conference" of pirates and political officers, which quickly votes for death, but when Gris protests they ask if he's going to enter a "plea of responsibility."  See, Voltar has this thing where you can take full responsibility for a condemned prisoner and afterwards "have them," I guess as a servant or something?  This is how the Apparatus finds its "executed" prisoners, apparently, not by anything as underhanded as smuggling them out at night or faking their deaths or simply disappearing people.  Nope, it's all nice and legal.  The catch is, if the former prisoner subsequently commits a crime, the person who took responsibility for him shares the punishment, up to and including execution.

You might be wondering at this point why the Apparatus would use this strange legislation to endanger itself by taking responsibility for hardened criminals.  Stop thinking.  The important thing is that Gris is now officially responsible for the behavior of Dr. Crobe, with his life on the line if the doctor does something especially heinous.  The law is drafted as the plot requires.

Without letting Gris answer their question, the angry mob decides that Dr. Crobe will probably commit some crime and allow them to execute Gris.  Then they vote to confirm that Gris is now the claimant of Dr. Crobe.  They leave before Gris can actually say anything.  But what can Gris do, really?  It's all legal.  And the Apparatus is of course known for always following the law.

Oh, what cunning (bleepards) they were!  The probability of Doctor Crobe doing something else was an absolute certainty.  I knew the man!  What a murderous revenge that Assassin pilot had taken.  This could get me killed very dead in the most legal possible way.  And right when I was in triumph everywhere.  Low blow.

Crobe crouched there eyeing [sic] me with his glittery black eyes, probably wondering what to turn me into.  I hoped it wasn't a spider.  I dislike spiders.

At least Crobe wasn't eyeing Gris with his nose.

Gris has sudden "INSPIRATION!" and uses a safety line to tie up Crobe - yeah, the doctor doesn't react at all, much less resist or anything.  Then Gris runs to his room to take out fifty thousand lira and talks to a construction superintendent about setting up a cell for Crobe.  We get over a page's worth of description for Gris' master dungeon, but the short version is: bulletproof door with window, sci-fi dumbwaiter, bookshelves so Crobe can keep reading about psychology, a toilet and running water ("though I suspected Crobe would never touch it"), and a bed with clamps to pin down the doctor if he lies down to take a nap.

Yes, this is better than just shooting Crobe to ensure that he can never endanger Gris by committing a crime.  Remember, Gris needs Crobe for his vague, half-assed plans.

Gris is told that the cell will take four days to build (and a lot of lira, but how could Gris possibly use up all his money?), and with no other option sticks a tied-up Crobe in an empty cell.

And amidst the buzzing of drills and the clang of metal in the cell block, for the next four days I stayed right there and guarded Crobe.

Oh, the arduousness of duty in the Apparatus!

All he did for four whole days was lie in his lashings and glare.

Note that at no point do Gris and Crobe try to communicate with each other. 

In conclusion, the main plot has once again completely stalled, so Hubbard has pulled another subplot out of his backside and made Crobe's behavior a matter of life and death for Gris.  Just another twist in the roller coaster that is Mission Earth.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Part Thirty-Nine, Chapter Two - And Don't Forget to Compensate for the Coriolis Effect

And now, a trip into Gris' subconscious:

The next morning my beauty sleep was shattered by a shrieking sizzle at my bedside.  It interrupted a beautiful dream: Heller and Krak were in a bread line in New York and a Manco Devil was standing there with a soup ladle, not only refusing them food but also banging them expertly over the head with the sharp edge.

The "sharp edge."  Of a ladle.  I.e. a big spoon.  The sharp edge of a spoon.  Is this the author's way of subtly conveying some of the oddities of dream-logic, the result of Gris' brain thing, or the author not paying attention to what he's writing?
The noise that wakes Gris is the intercom, which until now has never rang because Faht Bey never wants Gris' help for anything - so he knows this must be serious.  Sure enough, when Gris pushes the button Faht Bey yells about Dr. Crobe getting killed down in the hangar.

And Gris' first impression is "so what?", except Faht Bey closes the line before waiting for a response.  And then it occurs to Gris that well, maybe he should try to keep this asset he hauled in all the way from Voltar alive, "in the event that Heller and Krak muddled through."  I know, I know, right now Heller is sad and therefore completely neutralized, but what if he watches a romantic comedy at some point?  Best not to take any chances.

This doesn't stop Gris from complaining about being "responsible for everyone at this base" when he suits up and goes to the hangar, though.  The good doctor is hanging by his fingertips fifty feet up the hangar wall (how he climbed up there is left unexplained), while underneath some Antimancos and four of those "assassin pilots" raise an unholy racket and yell cuss words.  "Unprintable!" Gris claims, unaware that he's in a book that censors words that can get by in a PG-13 movie.

The angry mob reveals that Dr. Crobe managed to steal a guard's keys, then wake one of the assassin pilots by slicing into him with a bayonet.  Why Crobe would do this is a mystery until Gris, in a "stroke of genius," has an incredible idea - "ask Doctor Crobe."

Crobe's defense is that he is only doing what Gris told him, that is studying English... by reading the foulest, most evil tomes imaginable.

"You gave me texts on psychology and psychiatry as part of my reading assignment!  They say man has a reptile brain in the lower middle of his skull.  That was news to me, and I was only trying to find out!  Why all this furor over somebody just trying to do his homework?"

Well, he had a point.  The assassin pilots and the Antimancos didn't see it that way.

Good heavens!  Once again, the sinister teachings of psychology/psychiatry have turned someone evil!  ...Wait, Crobe was already a mad scientist who grafted people together to make circus freaks. 

Well, the sinister teachings of psychology/psychiatry have convinced Crobe that men... wait, so Voltarian biologists never tracked neurological evolution and development?  And Voltarians assume that Earth-based biology applies to their own kind?  We really are the same species as these aliens?  And nobody's boggled at this, or given second thoughts to that condescending Prince Caucalsia legend?

Well, the sinister teachings of psychology/psychiatry have given Crobe the exceedingly poor judgment to attempt a dissection of a living "assassin pilot" rather than a cadaver, and an urge to perform said autopsy so strong that Crobe had to break out of prison to do it.

Gris convinces the mob to go cool off for a bit, then gets the hangar crew to rig a net underneath Crobe, but the doctor refuses to let go of the "electro-beam support box" he's now clinging to.  Or rather, Crobe can't get his hands to let go of the "electro-beam support box" he's now clinging to.  Psychology!  You've turned that poor man's fingers against him!

But remember, Gris is an expert marksman able to hit a songbird at half a mile.  He gets out his stun rifle, cranks it down at its lowest setting, takes aim at Crobe's hand, and fires... exploding the box Crobe's clinging to and dropping ten tons of rock on the hangar crew as part of the cavern wall collapses 

Comedy?  I guess?  Gris is incompetent and people are being injured?  Ha ha?

Emergency sirens, tense digging-out of the survivors, Gris grumbling that nobody actually died and anyway it's not his fault because the stupid gun "had not been recharged for two years and, low-powered, had missed his hand and shot low.  My marksmanship was not in question.  But nobody would stop long enough to hear the explanation."  Another random-ass reference to Bugs Bunny not being able to a better job, and end chapter.

So here's the riddle - Gris seems to be implying that his gun was insufficiently charged, so the energy rays it was shooting dropped below where he was aiming at.  His "laser-bullet" didn't leave the barrel with enough force, so it was affected by gravity before it could hit its target.  It'd be easy to declare this a case of Gris making excuses, except the alternative is equally plausible given the sort of crap Mission Earth's been pulling.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, October 22, 2012

Part Thirty-Nine, Chaper One - Jettero Heller Has Learned Nothing From Last Chapter

Have I mentioned lately that Hubbard can choose utterly arbitrary and random chapter or part breaks?  Well, Hubbard can choose some utterly arbitrary and random chapter or part breaks.

This one, fer'instance.  Part Thirty-Nine, Chapter One is a whopping sixteen pages long, while chapters from the previous Part tended to be six pages or so.  It also directly follows Heller's adventure at the... did we ever get the name of the casino he went to?  Atlantic City, whatever.  After this chapter, we're going to spend a couple dozen pages getting distracted by Gris' libido, among other things, with only occasional glances at what Heller and Krak are doing.  So why wasn't this chapter part of Part Thirty-Eight?  Why wasn't it broken into smaller chapters?  Are you seriously questioning legendary science fiction author, nuclear physicist, and spiritual guru L. Ron Hubbard?

Gris does the thing where he falls madly in love with and sings the praises of whatever or whoever has most recently inconvenienced Heller, spending the first few paragraphs of the chapter "overtaken by uncontrollable bursts of chuckling" and wondering if he should somehow reward Gobbo Piegare for scamming Heller.  Then he moves on with his day.

The villa's staff is more beaten and battered than ever, with Melahat the housekeeper "looking like she'd been raped," but they're all properly subservient so Gris is pleased.  After a meal he gets back to watching "the further discomfiture of Heller and Krak."  He finds Heller looking out his hotel room at the "cold, grey Atlantic Ocean."  And Krak, who is a woman and therefore concerned with such frivolities as fashion, is inspecting the scuffs and scratches on her boots, complaining how the inhabitants of this sad planet "certainly don't know how to make animals grow proper hides."

This is the same woman the book jacket claims is "the most deadly and certainly the most feared" in all the Voltarian Empire.  I guess being a manifestation of terror and being really concerned about your new boots aren't mutually exclusive.

Immediately after her shoe talk, Krak steps out to start brushing her teeth, then returns and starts an entirely new conversation.

With her mouth full of foam, she said, "Jettero, who is this 'Whiz Kid' they are talking about?"

Heller was picking through his suitcase. He sighed. He said, "He's the dumbest (bleepard) in a business deal that anybody ever met--begging your pardon, miss. You wouldn't want to know him."

Or in other words, Heller has told Krak nothing about what he's been up to for the past couple of months, the identity he's assumed to try to complete his mission and save this planet, and his missteps along the way.  More than that, Heller has no intent to tell Krak this stuff, and is purposefully evading the question here.  And that's alright; after all, Krak's a woman.  She ought to be concerned with keeping her shoes looking nice.

Krak doesn't inquire further about the Whiz Kid, and only asks if they'll be able to go home soon.  When Heller admits that they're in danger of being booted back to Voltar as failures, Krak remembers - or Gris assumes Krak remembers - those forged royal pardons for her past crimes that hinge on Mission Earth being a success, and leaves to find Mamie Boomp.

And Gris turns off Krak's viewer, because "one thing I didn't want to hear more about was fashions, fashions, fashions and clothes, clothes, clothes.  What the homosexual designers were proclaiming would be spring styles was my idea of spring static."  So again, he can be monitoring what Krak is up to, but he's deliberately choosing not to, so that the consequences of her actions can come as a surprise to the reader.

Why did you have Krak bugged in the first place, Gris and/or Hubbard?

While seeing what the dangerous, devious Krak is up to sounds boring, Gris is perfectly happy to watch a depressed Heller get dressed - particularly, how badly Heller is getting dressed.  For while Gris has no interest in hearing Krak and Boomp talk about fashions, he will spend a few paragraphs laughing at Heller's greasy, torn denims, and then chuckle at Heller forlornly looking out the window at the "cold, gray sea."  How the mighty have fallen, he looks like a bum, etc.  And again, while women talking is boring, Gris will spend an entire hour watching Heller pace in his hotel room with the utilities cut off, waiting for Izzy to arrive.

Izzy eventually shows up, as depressed and full of bad news as ever, to scold Heller - "you always go out and get people to shoot at you.  And now they've used submachine guns, cannons and even a hydrogen bomb.  Oy, what rubble and wreckage!"  The Atlantic City mob's casino corporation has months of unpaid utility bills and taxes and a huge unpaid staff because it's been embezzling funds for some time.  On top of that, all those "lucrative" beachfront properties Heller bought along with the casino are all in their winter doldrums, so there's no money to be made there.

And the weird thing is that this litany of woes is delivered not as a paragraph or two, but sentence by sentence.

"Most of the hotel equipment is on time-payment contracts and those companies want to take the equipment back, even the furnaces.

"It's winter and there is no yacht traffic for the marina and nothing is travelling [sic] on the Intracoastal Waterway.

"It's winter and there's nothing one can do with the amusement piers.

"It's winter and there are no vacationers to fill the hotels."

Like that.  Almost as though Hubbard came up with a list of things to go wrong, and didn't quite finish converting it into actual dialogue.

There's also a headline in the New York Grimes, how the "WHIZ KID STEALS ATLANTIC CITY" in some sort of gun battle, which gives us another paragraph of Gris worshiping Madison's genius.  Then Izzy hauls Heller downstairs to address the crowd of unpaid casino staff, who growl and point and gnash their teeth at the sight of him, because I guess they think that the guy who got scammed into taking the fall for their old bosses is the cause of all their problems. 

Izzy reveals that he gave the treasurer's position to Tom-Tom the math-stupid drummer, so that "he won't die of fright looking at the horrible corporation balance sheets."  Krak and Boomp also attend, and now Gris turns on Krak's viewer - not because he's going to follow what Krak is doing, no, but so the author can describe Heller as being "wide-eyed" or looking shabby without the reader wondering how Gris could know that while watching through the HellerVision.

Boomp is cold, Heller gives her his jacket, now they both look ridiculous.  Heller learns that Bomp has been appointed the casino company's president and general manager, and on Krak's insistence he signs a contract.  Then Krak and Boomp and Tom-Tom go out onto the stage to address the casino staff, leaving Heller behind, and even though Gris just turned on Krak's viewscreen he doesn't pay any attention to what she's doing, focusing only on Heller sitting in a dressing room. 

Izzy talks bank stuff: how the criminal charges against the company's former owner no longer apply to Heller, so the New Jersey Gambling Commission was nice enough to extend the corporation's gambling license, which is what the Grabbe-Manhattan Bank was worried about.  Now the bank is trying to hold a directors' meeting to consider loans to keep the company from going bankrupt, but Rockecenter and Bury are "in China arranging peace and new oil monopolies" so it'll have to act without their input.  All of which sounds like non-terrible news Izzy might have wanted to bring up sooner instead of complaining that tourism is down in winter.

At this point Krak returns to send Heller back on stage with Boomp, in front of a dead silent crowd.  Boomp introduces the principal stockholder to Tom-Tom's drumroll, then gives Heller orders.

Mamie, voice covered by the roll, said in Heller's ear, "Just say 'Yes, I approve.'  And bow.  That's all.  Nothing else!"

With a mighty cymbal crash, the drum roll ended.

Heller, probably shattered by the cymbal crash and stunned unthinking by the vast and silent crowd, in a loud voice said "Yes! I 

Seriously?  Seriously?!  Last chapter Heller unthinkingly signed a contract that landed him in this mess.  And now he's going to do the same thing, blindly following a stranger's instructions?

This is our hero.  He doesn't have a plan.  Sometimes he does things, pretty much on a whim.  Sometimes, against all odds, these actions succeed.  Other times they end badly.  And then he repeats his mistakes.


He bowed.

The hall exploded!


Hats and caps went sailing into the air.

Yells burst from the thousands of throats!

Then, like a pack of hurtling animals, they came over the backs of chairs and up and onto the stage in a screaming mob.

And they pick up Heller and carry him around screaming "Hail the chief!" as the auditorium lights come back on and a red, white and blue (and yellow) spotlight shines on Heller.  Then Boomp addresses the "proud employees of the newly named Lucky Bonanza Casino Corporation" and tells them to get back to work, to explosive applause.

Now Heller asks "What did I approve?"

Time for several pages of explanation, which wouldn't be necessary if Gris had just paid attention to what Krak and Boomp were up to when they left the friggin' dressing room.  In fact, Krak's viewscreen was on, so Gris would have to be deliberately ignoring the sounds and visuals coming from her feed.

Well, the lights are back on because Tom-Tom the "treasurer" got the band leader, who can count, to pay the utility companies.  "With what money?", you ask?

The Countess Krak was at [Heller's] elbow.  "I didn't tell you, dear, as you seemed so busy.  But I put three sacks of that money in a ventilator shaft.  It's about a million and a half, they guess.  I gave it to Mamie so she could get your corporation going."

Krak and Heller.  They don't tell each other anything - Heller doesn't worry Krak with Mission Earth, Krak doesn't worry Heller with how she's spending millions of dollars.  They don't work together, plan together, consult each other, or have any real chemistry.  They're in love and are an unstoppable force for good.

Heller, again, asks "What did I approve?"  Nobody answers, instead paying attention to all the people suddenly arriving outside the casino.  See, Madison's story about the Whiz Kid taking Atlantic City, which apparently got away with using actual footage from D-Day, is attracting a huge crowd of tourists.  The fake Whiz Kid is even outside, signing autographs on top of a burning surplus tank.

Heller begs someone to tell him what he approved, and Boomp finally reveals that Heller has given all the corporation's workers a 100% cut of the profits (minus taxes and pension payments) until their back wages are caught up, after which it will drop to 60%.  Or as Gris puts it, "THE WHOLE ENTERPRISE HAD BEEN TAKEN OVER BY THE STAFF!"  Boomp then asks for Heller's opinion on an important matter, if she should put her name in lights on the hotel-casinos.

Very faintly, Heller said, "Wonderful."  Then after a little while he turned to Countess Krak.  "Dear, I think it's time we went back to New York."

So Heller didn't gain anything from his visit to Atlantic City, but now he's managed to dodge some potential losses.  So again, the whole trip?  Completely pointless.  No change in his overall situation.  No new character development.  No plot advancement. Pointless.

Gris is thrilled though.

Oh,  did I guffaw!  Heller's venture to get Izzy out of debt had made exactly no progress at all!  It had only brought more trouble.  Moreover, he was now discouraged and over very low morale.

Yes, the hero is sad!  A victory for the forces of darkness!

Isn't Heller getting discouraged as much a danger to Gris' situation as Heller winning or getting killed?  Because he might mention in his next report how badly things are going, so that either he or the Council decides to scrap the mission or send reinforcements, either or which undermines and/or reveals the Apparatus' plot to use Earth to seize control of the Confederacy.

The ideal situation for Gris is a Heller who thinks he's making progress, but isn't changing anything, or in danger, or close to believing that his mission is in trouble.  Well, the ideal situation for a Gris with a functioning brain.

I decided then and there to stop worrying about him


and let him sink.  There was no slightest sign that he would do anything productive or active

There wasn't any sign he was going to Atlantic City in the first place, he saw an advert in a newspaper and went for it!  You need to watch this guy!  You don't know what his plan is because he doesn't have one!  He could do anything at anytime!  He is a stupid, random force in this world!  With steel cleats!

productive or active, and when the word came from Lombar, he and the Countess Krak would still be in the U.S. floundering around.  They didn't have a prayer of completing [sic] before I could get the word and kill them both!

My euphoria revved right up to top-peak.  It was I who was winning.  Me, me, me!

Can you really be victorious in anything if you play no part in it?  Do I "win" a football game when I watch from my couch and the "enemy" team loses?  Can I "win" a team deathmatch while in spectator mode?  Can I "win" a game of Monopoly going on a thousand miles away, so long as I watch it via webcam?

Back to Part Thirty-Eight, Chapter Nine

Friday, October 19, 2012

Part Thirty-Eight, Chapter Nine - Jettero Heller is Barely Legal

Heller radios Krak and is told "Everything is fine, Jettero," but nothing more.  Gris could just glance at the other viewscreen to see how Krak is faring, but where's the fun in that?

Evidently Heller doesn't trust this mafia, because he demands a hostage to keep at gunpoint before he even talks about meeting the capo.  Someone tries to order a "tough mug" to go be Heller's hostage - "as the son of the Capo Gobbo Piegare, I command you in my father's name, go down that corridor, Jimmy Coniglio, and give yourself up as a hostage!"  Heller hears this and decides he wants the capo's son as a hostage.

See, Mission Earth teaches us that if some gun-toting lunatic starts talking about needing a hostage, you shouldn't loudly declare that you're the son of a VIP and therefore prime hostage material.  It's not completely without redeeming value.

So Don Julio, a thirty-year-old with a "very Sicilian face," reluctantly walks over for Heller to hold at gunpoint, and the two take an elevator all the way up to the capo's office on the second floor.  While standing with his gun pressed against Don Julio's side, Heller and Capo Gobbo have a nice long chat, in Italian.  I guess Heller learned Italian from the magic language boxes at some point.  Pretty lucky he ended up falling into the mafia, then, as opposed to the yakuza or mafiya.

Gobbo summarizes their situation as a Mexican standoff - Heller has his son, but Gobbo has men, presumably "tough mugs," covering every exit with submachine guns.  Which is actually a step backwards from last chapter, when Heller had a couch but was still surrounded by machine guns.  I guess nobody in this criminal outfit had a hand grenade to flush him out of cover.  Or a flamethrower.

Anyway, Heller has completely drained all five casinos in Atlantic City of cash, but Gobbo has a proposition to make - he'll sell Heller those casinos, "tons of real estate around them and a quarter of a mile of boardwalk, two miles of waterfront along the Intracoastal Waterway, a game preserve, a yacht marina and two piers.  Sound impressive, kid?"  Gris flinches at this point, worried that somehow Heller is going to "land squarely on his feet in spite of everything."

Gobbo's consigliere has all the deeds and contracts ready, and advises Heller to use his real name - see, when that not-waiter tried to get Heller's gun several chapters ago, he picked his pocket first, replaced Heller's wallet with a fake, and stole Heller's doctored passport!  Heller, who can measure the granularity of stone with his naked eye, apparently lacks any other super senses.

Since the only man who would have Johnny Cattivo's passport would be the man he was supposed to have killed, the capo knows that Heller's actually Jerome Terrance Wister, the Whiz Kid, a revelation that makes all the gunmen in the room put out their empty palms and back off.  Heller immediately throws Don Julio aside and lunges at Gobbo, holding a gun to his head while he calls Bang-Bang for reinforcements, agreeing to spare the capo only after his cash is safely - oh, he doesn't do that, sorry.

The bad news is that once again Heller's supposed youth is brought up, the good news is that it's for the last time.  Heller points out that according to his passport Wister is only legally 17, but Gobbo reminds him that his birthday was three days ago, so he's all clear to sign this contract "and give me the privilege of wishing you a happy birthday."  Heller signs, so do the other shareholding mobsters in the room, and Heller radios Krak to bring the money up the Room 201.

And now, for the exciting and dramatic reveal of how the Countess Krak evaded capture and hid the money from the mobsters: she disguised herself as "an old chambermaid" pushing a laundry cart!  She literally drew lines of age onto her face!  And a mobster groans that he walked right past her three times while searching the building!  Wasn't that worth Gris inexplicably refusing to look at Krak's viewscreen?

The money gets inspected and sent along, and then the mobsters start singing "Happy Birthday" to Heller, but end the song with "You've been fun to screw."  See, three days ago the New Jersey Gambling Commission ordered Gobbo's casino company to sell its property due to their nonpayment of bribes, because tomorrow the Grabbe-Manhattan Bank is going to foreclose and take over all of it.  And the money Heller just gave away was all untraceable, laundered gambling losses the mobsters will get to keep.

And yes, they came up this plan to dump it all on Heller literally six hours or so ago, when they saw him enter the casino and start winning after "bribing" the roulette croupiers.

The rest of the men filed out.  Gobbo, the last one at the door, made a sweeping gesture with his hand.  "It is all yours, Wister.  Every bit of it.  But there's just one more thing.  I don't know why they call you the Whiz Kid.  You're the dumbest (bleepard) in a business deal that I ever met!"  He bowed.  He was gone.

Heller stood there for a moment.  Then he dived for the phone.  He punched the buttons frantically.

A sleepy voice at the other end said, "Hello."

Heller shouted, "IZZY!  HELP!"

Yeah.  A full Part in Atlantic City, and nothing to show for it.  Heller isn't any closer to fulfilling his plan (assuming he has one), and though this is a defeat it doesn't exactly make him any worse off than he was before he left for the casinos.  We haven't developed his character or anything, and his relationship with the Countess Krak is mostly unchanged.  So... what was the point of all this again?

I also can't help but wonder how me might have used his magical camera that can see through time to avoid all this.  Maybe look at a notepad he intends to write "success" of "failure" on after his fund-raising attempt was completed?  So if he looked in the future and saw the latter he'd know to try a different plan?  Do Time-Sights work on intended actions like that?  Or only on things that your actions wouldn't affect, like roulette numbers?  Wait, the casino closed early because Heller looked ahead in time to see when the casino would close, went to the casino, and caused it to close at that time.  If your actions bring about the future seen in the Time-Sight, how could you use it to avoid it, anyway?  If I looked through a Time-Sight on a spaceship and saw an incoming asteroid, and changed course, would I still hit that asteroid?

The worst part is that the whole Time-Sight nonsense might have been thought up just to set up this Part where Heller tries and fails to rob a casino. (editor's note from the future: possible, but the heroes do find a sensible use for it later, probably one of the first things anyone with a means of telling the future would do)

Back to Part Thirty-Eight, Chapter Eight

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Part Thirty-Eight, Chapter Eight - Something You Should Never Say to a Guy with a Gun

The casino's sudden shutdown is at least nice and orderly, with the patrons all lining up to cash their chips - or IOU their chips, as the case may be.  Nobody's really happy about it, especially after someone comes in from the street shouting about all the boardwalk's casinos getting shut down because "somebody has broke the banks," but the casino's "tough mugs" make their rounds and keep everything under control.

Presumably we aren't supposed to dwell on how Heller's bid to rip off the mob might have inconvenienced the other casinogoers. 

And at this point, Heller finally notices that "tough mugs" - and yes, Hubbard consistently calls the casino's hired muscle that for several pages, even in consecutive sentences - have gotten into position to block off all the exits and escape routes.  Even though he's literally spent the past couple of hours standing around, watching things unfold in the casino.  I guess he got distracted by Tom-Tom and didn't spot the thugs boxing him in.

He tells Krak to start hiding the money, and she pitches the bags of cash down the laundry chute she found last chapter, while the casino's management continues to shuttle everyone else out.  That's what casinos do, right, they shut down and evacuate everyone except the suspected cheaters?  Not send a few security guards to escort them off the floor to a place they can have a little chat?  Shut the whole place down after hours of getting gouged, that's the procedure.

And Gris, needless to say, is very happy that Heller is about to get beat up by the mob, who surely wouldn't kill him or anything, because that would get Gris in so much trouble.  He's also pretty dismissive of Krak's idea of a hiding space, since anyone would think to look in the laundry for huge bags of stolen money, y'know?  He's caught off guard when Krak jumps down the laundry chute after them, and sets about hiding the black trash bags in clean laundry bags.

And then Krak disappears for the next eight pages.

Now, we know that Gris has similar bugging equipment installed in Krak as he put in Heller, and even has a separate viewer so he can watch what both of them are doing at the same time.  There's no interference cutting off her signal, and Gris doesn't even come up with an excuse to stop watching - he simply chooses to narrate only Heller's part of the next chapter or so.

Why?  Because Hubbard wants to preserve a little bit of suspense by leaving Krak's condition in doubt, and to set up a reveal of how she evaded the mob for eight pages.  Even though this makes no sense from a narrative standpoint.  Gris could literally shift his eyes a few inches to the left and see what Krak's doing, but he won't because that would rob the chapter of a few droplets of excitement.  The story-telling is smashing headfirst into the story.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating - the "Gris as narrator" thing Mission Earth has going for it is moderately creative but badly implemented and not worth the effort.

Let's have an unexciting shootout.  Heller takes cover behind a couch, its plastic covering and thick upholstery surely proof against incoming fire.  Some "tough mugs" tell him to give up.  Would you like some witty banter?

"We know you got a gun. Throw it out here so we don't have to shoot you."

"You want the bullets, too?" said Heller.

"Of course," said the first man.

"Then have one," said Heller. He levelled [sic] the Taurus revolver he had taken off the waiter. He fired!

But not to kill, oddly enough.  Heller will happily help a friend rig a parking garage to blow up three cars' worth of government agents on the assurance that they're all bad men, and will kickbox people to death with metal cleats instead of going for disabling blows, even chasing down a runner and snapping his back before boo-hooing about how violent these strange humans are.  But here he shoots up the rug, the wall, and various expensive light fixtures instead of going for a kill-shot.

The soldiers of the Atlantic City mafia are thoroughly spooked by this couch-shielded menace, and not only flee for cover but do so without firing their weapons.  In two pages of Heller causing property damage, there's only a single bullet of return fire, harmlessly absorbed by the couch.

While this is going on he can hear "Italian chatter" and nearby voices, as some casino guards talk about how they need to search the laundry room while some maniac shoots up the place just a hallway away.  Heller doesn't use his button-radio to warn Krak to hide.  A few paragraphs later he hears those guards report that they didn't find anything in the laundry room.  Heller doesn't use his button-radio to check in with Krak, the love of his life.  In fairness, Heller is pretty busy bringing down an enormous light fixture some 150 feet away.  It was a tricky shot, alright?  He had to compensate for "the drop of the relatively slow .45 bullet by placing the rear, fixed sight quite low" before firing.  Man's gotta have his priorities straight.

At this point, the casino's owners realize that they were stupid enough to buy bulletproof furniture and design the place so that one man behind a couch on the mezzanine is completely untouchable save by a suicidal frontal assault, so someone turns on the PA system and explains that even if they can't reach Heller, he can't get his money out because every exit is guarded.  So maybe he better talk to the capo.

At least Heller checks on Krak at the start of next chapter.

Back to Chapter Seven

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Part Thirty-Eight, Chapter Seven - A Hirsute Young Man Who Failed Arithmetic

Boomp's "floor-show people" make their rounds from roulette table to roulette table, placing a winning bet, joining the line at the cashier's desk to cash their chips, and returning to the floor "in a continuing circle."  It's now what, seven o'clock-ish?  Krak and Heller took a dinner break before six, let's give them an hour to eat and have an uninteresting encounter with a thug.  So this chapter is about three hours of Heller standing in the casino, watching others do his dirty work.

One of those people is "a young man who had more hair than face," Tom-Tom, drummer for the Dingle-poop Rock Band... was this on purpose, Hubbard, or a happy accident?  Anyway, Tom-Tom gets to shuttle the bags of cash from Boomp to Krak because he can't count above four and so is otherwise useless.  He stands dumbfounded when he sees the Countess, shocked because he "didn't know no Miss America was in on this deal."  Then he goes back to shuttling bags, but every.  Single.  Time he drops another bundle of cash back at Krak's feet he takes a moment to stare at her and say "Jeez" before returning to work.

And I just don't know.  I don't know if Tom-Tom's a satire of anyone.  I don't know if he's supposed to be charming or funny or annoying or what.  I don't know what purpose he serves in the story.  He just drops off garbage bags full of money at Krak's feet and says "Jeez," four times this chapter.

So while Boomp's crew are doing all the hard work, Krak and Heller make inane button-radio conversation.  Krak speculates that the reason so many beautiful Miss Americas came from Atlantic City was because Prince Caucalsia took some beautiful noblewomen from Atalanta Province when he settled in America.  Heller clarifies that the prince "apparently landed on a continent out in that ocean and it got drowned when the poles melted or something.  The survivors got to a place called Caucasus above Turkey and you can't go there because the Russians are holding them prisoner and won't let them defect."  And I'm not sure if this is supposed to be satire or comedy or sarcasm or taken at face value.

Heller notices those "tough mugs" who asked for his ID earlier and posed no further threat, taking an interest in where all these bags of money are being shuttled to, even while security guards escort another load of money to the cashier's desk.  The Countess Krak wanders around and finds a laundry chute, which will be important next chapter.  Boomp's people keep winning wheel after wheel after wheel of roulette, and the casino keeps letting it happen.  The Countess Krak sits on a throne of bags of cash.  Heller watches the clock.

Finally, after at least six hours of uninterrupted victories, the armed guards go to the cashier desk empty-handed.  Krak and Heller have completely drained the casino's coffers.  They spent several hours miraculously winning every game of roulette they played, save one.  Then a whole swarm of people starting making single, winning bets at table after table.  And now at 10:20 the casino PA announces that they're closed.

So is the mob that runs the casino really this stupid?  The answer is... well, they are in Mission Earth.  But there's something else going on here, a sinister scheme, a random-ass plot twist that could very well render this entire Part a complete waste of time.

Back to Chapter Six

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Part Thirty-Eight, Chapter Six - Outsourcing Your Con

Let's contemplate some things for a moment.

Heller has a Time-Sight, a magical space camera that lets him look up to twenty-four hours into the future.  Sounds like an incredibly useful item.  He could use it to scan ahead for incoming attacks, cheat on all his exams by knowing exactly what the professor will ask a day in advance, put himself in the right place at the right time to advance his mission, all sorts of things.  He could've become Babe Corleone's prescient strategist, or even taken over the mob.  He could've gotten filthy rich on the stock market, solving all his money woes and avoiding all of this Atlantic City nonsense altogether.

He could've avoided that FBI ambush back in book two and saved Mary's life, though in fairness I'm not sure if Heller actually had the Time-Sight on him then.  It may have been part of that supply shipment he got however many books ago, I can't remember.  But if he didn't have one then, he should have.  Because this piece of technology is so incredibly useful they ought to be used all the time by any Voltarians lucky enough to possess one.

But they're not.  We've just seen this one in the whole series, with the implication that they're only used as navigational aids, even though their mere presence should revolutionize the entire civilization that spawned them.  Yet another example of misapplied technology and failed world-building in a Hubbard book.

Anyway, the actual chapter: Heller and Krak have supper with Mamie Boomp.  The menu is seafood.  Krak is forced to use forks and claw-crackers even though it's clear she "thought it was pretty primitive not to have electric knives and suction-plunger tongs and proper spray cans to season the food correctly," but Boomp doesn't notice so we avoid an ever-so-deadly Code Break.  Krak is also astonished at the notion of food harvested from the sea instead of "proper tanks," which would be a wonderful time for a better author to mention the depleted seas of Voltar, or the fact that Voltar has no surface water, or anything to shed some insight on this comment.  Instead Krak talks about how the legendary Prince Caucalsia brought some "boat people" with him when he settled Blito-P3, which may be why they call it Atlantic City.  Again, Miss Boomp takes no notice of these strange comments and talks about dessert instead.

It's really hard to be interested in whether spies can successfully maintain their disguises when everyone around them is blind and deaf.

Krak again complains about how much walking she did, so Heller abruptly offers Boomp the chance to help rip off the Atlantic City Mafia.  She's all for it because she and her other singers are on strike for lack of pay, so Heller gives her a copy of the winning numbers and times.  Mamie asks if he's "some kind of a seer?  You got a system?" but when Heller agrees to the latter doesn't ask him to elaborate.  So she goes to help them cheat at gambling in exchange for ten percent of the earnings, then Krak wanders off to look at photos of past Miss Americas.  This is to leave Heller alone and set up a brief, pointless "exciting" encounter.

It's not even a page long.  Heller goes to the cashier to pay, then he suddenly whirs and gets the "waiter"'s arm in a death grip and makes him drop the sidearm he pick-pocketed off Heller.  Then Heller returns the favor and steals his attacker's weapon, which Gris identifies as a "Taurus .38 Special double-action revolver, nickel plated," because Gris intensely studies encyclopedias of Earth firearms when we aren't looking.

So hours after starting his great rip-off, the casino has sent a total of two goons after Heller, and not at the same time.

Heller gets back to the casino floor with Krak, and instead of doing the money collection herself, Boomp, as Gris puts it, "HAD THE FLOOR-SHOW PEOPLE WORKING!"  A whole team of folks are going out to place winning bets and shuttling the money back to Boomp.

And it goes without saying that it will be hours before the casino reacts to this freakish, hugely suspicious development.

So if the Voltarian capital is protected by being temporally shifted thanks to a harnessed black hole, could a Time-Sight be used to let you target it with a city-buster?  Is that why the devices are so rarely used, they're only entrusted to navigators and people like Heller?

Back to Chapter Five

Monday, October 15, 2012

Part Thirty-Eight, Chapter Five - What Kind of Casino Has Security Cameras, Anyway?

Gris is so buoyed by his effortless "victory" that he takes a moment to walk around his yard, noticing that his new thugs are looking better fed, the staff is looking browbeaten, and Utanc and those two kids who are going to need counseling are gone ("How nice and quiet!").  When he gets back to his room he finds a note from Raht stating that he's shifting the transmitter for those high-tech alien bugging devices to cover Atlantic City.  Gris spends a whole two paragraphs thinking about this, and concludes that his henchmen must have bugged either Heller's office, clothing, or both.  Note that Gris didn't even remember to give the order to allow him to continue spying on Krak and Heller, making Raht the more intelligent and much harder-working agent.  Take a moment to boggle at whatever Apparatus decision-making process allowed Gris to outrank Raht.

For lack of anything better to do, Gris turns on the HellerVision (co-starring the Countess Krak) "as one looks at cripples who are sure to lose any race."  Said metaphorical cripples are riding a helicopter to Atlantic City.

Now, let's say that your significant other, someone you talk about settling down and having kids with once you both finish this job, suddenly suggests that the two of you hit Vegas for a little vacation.  Like, immediately.  You go along with this, hurriedly pack your bags, and head out.  Then on the plane ride your love interest reveals that not only are the two of you completely broke, but the whole point of this trip is to try and scam the Mafia to fix your finances.  How would you react?

Because the Countess Krak is pretty cool with it.  Heller doesn't even tell the truth on his own initiative, she smells "chicanery" when he starts insisting that she not call him Wister and act like a "dizzy dame," and that's when he mentions their financial emergency.  All she asks is if they're going to do anything "criminal" before going on to test their nifty button-sized radios (wow, alien technology that lets them act like FBI agents!), and that is it.  No feelings of betrayal for being left out of the loop, nor a joking threat that she'll get him back for this.  She doesn't do much this chapter except follow Heller around and do as he orders.

Love is a synonym for "slavish, unthinking devotion," right?

Paragraph for Krak's outfit, paragraph of Gris giving the history of Atlantic City, walk into a casino, Krak goes to find Mamie Boomp while Heller takes a seat on a balcony and inspects the gun he smuggled through the heliport hidden in "an adding machine."  And then he whips out what Gris recognizes as "THE TIME-SIGHT!"

Let's rewind to the beginning of Book Two.

A "time-sight" is a camera-like device needed when traveling by the physics-raping "Will-Be Was" engines, which as you surely recall throw Mass at Time to create a top speed approaching infinity and make Einstein weep blood.  When you're going this fast, you need a camera that can look twenty-four hours into the future (convenient that alien equipment has the same timeframe as an Earth day, isn't it?).  You look into a Time-Sight, and you can see that fate has arranged for a planet or star to be in your path.  Then you deny that fate by changing course to avoid it.  If this all sounds nonsensical, simply slam your head against a desk or wall until you come to accept the existence of these devices, or find a much bigger problem to worry about.

Heller has one of these Time-Sights with him, and since they conveniently look like an old Earth 8mm camera, he's slapped a Nikon sticker on one.  Now he can look down at the casino floor, examine the roulette wheels and the clock, and jot down the winning numbers for all the afternoon and evening's games.

If you're wondering why a Time-Sight's user can cheat fate by avoiding an oncoming obstacle in a spaceship, but the dozens of other people in a casino have no effect on the outcome of a game of roulette you foresaw that afternoon, please repeat the head-smashing until the question leaves your mind.

Miss Boomp and Krak come by so she can show off Heller to her new friend.  Some toughs come by and get Heller to put his non-functional camera, honest, away.  Mamie complains about her and her girls not getting paid before leaving.  Then after a brief compliment, Heller sets about giving his "dizzy dame" her orders - the two of them are to go around placing bets on the numbers given at the times listed, but only in $285 amounts because the IRS will investigate winnings that amount to more than $10,000 - for the same reason, they'll each have to cash in their chips after each win before going to a different table.

I guess he looked all this stuff up... before reading the paper and abruptly coming up with this plan?

Heller notes that "for some reason, all play stops at 10:21" that night, which we might want to be suspicious about, then gives Krak a bunch of garbage bags to haul away all the cash they're going to win.  And then they go about winning games of roulette for two pages or so.  Krak makes a bet, wins, cashes, hits a different table.  Heller makes a bet, wins, cashes, new table.

And it takes an hour before anyone in the casino gets suspicious.

It's not that the staff manning the tables and wheels start talking to each other.  It's not that anyone notices that these two are consulting a list before they place their winning bets.  "Three men and a woman" eventually start following Heller around and place bets after him, but not the huge crowd you'd imagine.

No, instead two toughs come by and ask Heller how old he is.  He shows them the doctored ID of the late Johnny Cattivo, 22, then "with a great demonstration" loses a thousand dollar bet on his next game.  And they stop following him immediately, and he goes right back to his winning streak.  Eventually someone realizes that he's paid Krak multiple times and uses a hidden magnet to no avail, but when security guards show up as she cashes her chips it's to escort a new load of cash for her to stuff in her trash bags.

"Back and forth, back and forth.  Win, win, win, win, win!"  Near six o'clock, Krak and Heller's bags are full, Krak starts complaining about all that walking, and they decide to break for dinner.  Their only concern is whether the casino will run out of money before they make the two million dollars that will fix the worst of their debt.

I guess the upside of introducing something like the time-sights is that if the reader buys that, they'll probably accept Heller and Krak pulling off a scam like this.  Telescopes that see through time?  A casino that just watches as two patrons rake in a million dollars in a few hours by winning every game they bet on, save one?  Sounds legit.

Back to Chapter Four

Friday, October 12, 2012

Part Thirty-Eight, Chapter Four - A Terrible Name for a Rock Band

Gris sleeps until mid-afternoon, but the serving staff - in Karagoz' case, now sporting a black eye - not only brings him breakfast, but a breakfast whose component dishes and drinks are all the appropriate temperatures.  Satisfied, Gris rolls up his sleeves, puts on his thinking cap, and

Lacking, now, immediate plans, I thought I had better gather data.  It's a good excuse one can give oneself when he feels too smug and self-satisfied to do any real work for the moment.  Also, one likes to savor the suffering of those who are about to writhe in agony.

So this time he's consciously loafing around.  As opposed to, say, most of the chapters leading up to this point.

It was the first time I had both viewers together. But working two screens, I could get a much more precise idea of reactions and actions, for Krak would be looking at Heller from time to time and vice versa.

In other words, we're taking a step away from the extremely awkward conceit of Gris as a limited narrator.  Now we'll know everything but the hero's thoughts.  I guess Hubbard was getting tired of not being able to tell us about the look on Heller's face as he kicks people to death with cleated shoes.  Or fed up with monitoring what he wrote for any information Gris wouldn't be able to see from his unique vantage point.

Anyway, on to more HellerVision and the 24-7 Krak Network.  The Countess is washing a window, Izzy is standing behind her watching, and then he bursts into tears because Krak's "too beautiful to have to live in an office."

Why is Krak so heartrendingly beautiful?  I'm not talking about ascetics, I'm speaking in narrative terms.  Is it to designate that she's a Good Guy, especially when compared with the unwashed, greasy Apparatus baddies who lack any sort of skill at interior decorating?  Is it to contrast with her deadly skills and ruthlessness?  Or is it because Jettero Heller doesn't deserve anything less than the most beautiful woman in the galaxy (who isn't his sister) for a girlfriend?

Heller comes in, sees Izzy crying, and asks Krak to go clean a different room "so I can get to the bottom of this before he jumps off something again and beats me to it."

I think this chapter is going to tell us a lot about Heller and Krak's relationship!

With no women around to get in the way of their conversation, Heller asks Izzy what's wrong (this time), and the banker wails about how they're barely making any money and the IRS is gonna get them, and "when I came in a little while ago and saw her again, I realized I was condemning her to squalor and poverty.  It drove the ruin home so hard I couldn't stand it!"

Remember, Krak is a woman.  If Heller goes down, she's getting dragged into the gutter with him, since she has no way of supporting herself.

Heller decides to go make some money (genius!), Izzy tries to make him promise not to do anything foolish, and Heller "can only promise to try not to."  Krak comes back in and asks what's really going on, and Heller fails to mention their financial trouble and teases Krak about how beautiful she is with "the very best brand of New York soot on the end of your nose."  She throws a pillow, their kisses briefly short out Gris' monitors, and I guess this is romantic and healthy teasing.

Saliva swap concluded, Heller starts flipping through a newspaper and finds an ad that hurts to look at:

5 Casino$ 5
New Year's Bills Getting You Down?

So if dollar signs are standing in for S's, is this a "Swinter Casino Spectaculars" at "Satlantic Citys?"

Heller suddenly decides that Krak is "working too hard," so they've going not to Atalanta, Manco but Atlantic City, New Jersey.  "And wash your face.  This has got to be a clean hit."

Evasive, excluding, vaguely condescending... it must be love!

Krak takes a look at the ad and recognizes Mamie Boomp, billed as a Continental Singer right under the "Dingle-poop Rock Band," which I'm going to very deliberately avoid thinking about.  At this moment Bang-Bang shows up with a load of drinks for "Joy."   Upon hearing about their travel plans the mobster freaks out - the Atlantic City Mafia is "small time, maybe, but vicious," and Krak is of course "too beautiful to let them punks even glance at her!  They don't deserve to!"

Not everybody likes tall Aryan women, y'know.

Bang-Bang does relent, because after all the book jacket promises some action in Atlantic City, and arranges for a helicopter to take Krak and Heller because he doesn't trust the cab anymore.  Does Bang-Bang know someone at the heliport?  Is he paying for this out of his own pocket, or using his mob account?  Would Babe Corleone get mad at him for helping Heller if he was?  Explanations are for weaker, lesser authors.

Krak and Heller prepare to spend the next couple of chapters in an exciting new location, and Gris gloats about how much he's accomplishing without actually doing anything.

I was really smiling.  The Atlantic City Mafia.  I had heard all about them.  They specialized in hijacking and beating up high winners.

My euphoria increased.  There wasn't any way I could lose.  If Heller lost money, it would be just that much less that they would have to meet their bills.  If he won, the Atlantic City Mafia would attack him and maybe he and Krak would both wind up in the hospital.

Or maybe Heller will continue his killstreak when it comes to mob assassins.  Or maybe instead of just putting them in the hospital the mobsters will somehow manage to kill Krak and Heller, which means no more encoded reports back to Voltar, which means increased Voltarian scrutiny on Mission Earth, which means your boss is going to have words with you, you baleful idiot.

What a beautiful day!  It might be cold winter for a lot of people.  It seemed like the balmiest possible weather to me.  It was a downright rosy world!

You're inside, in front of a TV, in a presumably climate-controlled facility.  That's why it's balmy.

The irony is that after announcing how the two-viewer thing will let Gris describe the character's expressions and stuff, Hubbard only takes advantage of this once in the entire chapter, to describe Krak's shocked reaction to Heller's vacation plans.  Everything else is all "Krak said," "Heller said," "said Bang-Bang" with less description than a movie script.

Back to Chapter Three

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Part Thirty-Eight, Chapter Three - Pirates With No Ranks in the Appraise Skill

So after making a highly suspicious deal with a banker he just met a few hours ago and getting dragged into the unwanted purchase of an old junker, Gris again tries to spin himself as some sort of conquering mastermind.  "Along roads taken by the victorious Alexander, in the paths of the Romans who had conquered the East, over the broad highways established by the Crusaders in their holy cause, I sped back to Afyon."  They're doing a hundred miles per hour - not kilometers, which are the units actually used in Turkey, but miles - and as usual scattering the other motorists and donkeys and the camels that I'm dubious are widely used in Turkey but maybe Hubbard knows something I don't.

Privately vowing that "there were going to be some changes made," Gris decides to start by meeting with Musef and Torgut, who of course you remember as the pair of Turkish toughs who showed up in one chapter at the beginning of Black Genesis to get trounced by Heller before subsequently disappearing from both relevance and the story.  Since recovering from their injuries they've fallen on hard times, and the taxi driver takes Gris to their new home in a filthy slum.  Nobody answers the door when Gris knocks.

I yelled into the room, "I've come to give you a job!"

Rapid whisperings came out of the interior, for all the world like rats running around.

Hubbard, honey, I appreciate that you're characterizing these thugs as vermin and reaching for an obvious simile given their filthy surroundings, but you might want to think about whether two people whispering to each other actually sounds like the scurrying of rats.  I mean, how many rats are we talking about?  What kind of surface are they moving over?

Then somebody called, "We don't believe you but come in anyway."

"Knock-knock, I have a package for a Mr. Sporker?"
"I don't believe you, but come in anyway."

Torgut and Musef are both filthy, ragged, and about a hundred pounds lighter.  But they still hold a grudge against Heller for beating them up and ruining their reputations, so despite their physical condition Gris hires them.  And not merely as bodyguards, no, their main job will be to "make the staff jump at the villa."  Yes, Gris' second voluntary use of his new fortune is to hire thugs to whip and beat his staff into terrified, foot-kissing submission, because he's tired of being served "cold kahve and warm melons." 

That done, Gris returns home and notices that 1) the gatekeeper isn't even on duty, which is about to cost him, and 2) Utanc's BMW is parked so she's around.  Gris bangs on her door and announces that he has news for her, and much like the last people he visited, Utanc inexplicably decides to open up.

Gris informs her that after conferring with his banker, he's decided to shoot Utanc's two uncomfortably literal boy-toys with his shotgun if she so much as uses a credit card to buy cigarettes, and if she wants money she'll have to "come to me for it and you can come crawling on your knees."  And Utanc, upon seeing the "conquering resolution" in Gris' eyes, knows he means it.

Strangely enough, the little boys Gris is threatening to murder are present for all this, sitting on the floor with a coloring book within sight of the door.  They have absolutely no reaction to Gris' presence, much less his promise to kill them.

Convinced that Utanc will now surely "come around," Gris pays Ahmed the taxi driver, "the only true friend I had on this planet who had been true-blue all along," a whopping twenty thousand lira.  Then after stashing the rest of his haul in his room safe, Gris hits the Apparatus hangar and meets with the Antimancos.  The pirates have learned that the Blixo's crew built the line-jumper's platform hollow and put something in it, but Gris explains that it was filled with scotch he used for bribes.  Then Gris spins a tale of how the Swiss bank vaults are two miles underground and he just barely managed an action-packed escape from them - why, just look how dirty his shotgun is!  Both barrels of it!

But, "before you falsely accuse me of welshing on my own gang"... how the hell did Gris pick that one up?  Anyway, Gris generously shares what treasure he was able to snag on the way out, namely that bag of junk stones he bought back in Istanbul.  Because there is no possible way that paying a gang of bloodthirsty pirates a bunch of "synthetic diamonds and flawed glass rubies" could end badly.

I went back to my room and grinned and grinned.

"Gris," I said to my image in the mirror as I undressed to take a well-earned sleep, "there is nothing that can stop you now.  All problems are just buzzing flies and with cunning and money, you can swat them.  Even Heller and Krak."

I lay down for my well-earned rest and dreamed dreams that were bloody and very sweet.

Ah, so obviously next chapter Gris will begin the Machiavellian scheming that will spell his enemies' doom.  As opposed to, say, just loafing around and watching HellerVision for the next fifty pages.

Back to Chapters One and Two