They reach Krak's cell, and Gris makes sure not to lift the little curtain covering the observation port - to increase the shock for Heller, of course. Even though he's feeling pretty "sick" after being shot twice, and learning that he's been doin' a dude, and his feet - wait a minute, Gris' feet were badly injured a couple of chapters ago, and he was wearing huge honkin' foot casts that impaired his ability to walk. Huh. They must've come off at some point during the trip to Saturn and Heller's cometary holocaust.
Anyway, Gris is confident that despite his injuries and Heller's superhuman combat ability, if he's able to get behind him, that little knife of his will do the job.
I spun the combination. I got the door open a slit, enough to get my hand through and unlock the barred grate within.
The light in the cell was dim; most of the glowplates seemed to be broken and lay about in shattered fragments.
I swung the inner door open and then stepped back, swinging the outer door wide.
It put me behind him!
He stepped straight through into the large cell.
So hey, aspiring writers: if you need to create some dramatic tension, have your book's hero, who up to this point has been four or five steps ahead of his foes and never loses his cool, suddenly become dumb enough to let your backstabbing villain get behind him.
Aw, what am I saying? Heller would never do something stupid, he just knows that Gris poses absolutely no threat to him.
A shaft of light seemed to be coming from the roof.
There was something lying under it, something dark.
Heller was four paces into the cell. He stopped, staring down and ahead of him.
His back was totally exposed!
Wait, if he's in the cell, and you're not, couldn't you just lock him in with the "corpse" of his girlfriend? Then you could repeat that trick where you lob a grenade down the air shaft.
With a stealthy hand I drew the knife. I stepped forward on silent feet.
I raised the blade to plunge it into his spine.
Hmm, striking at bone? I'm no expert on assassinations, but wouldn't it be safer to cut his throat? Or maybe stab down behind the collarbone or something?
Was Gris ever trained in backstabbing, or just falling down?
Something hit me over the head!
I spun around as I fell.
A heavy book hit me again!
I was staring up into the face of a very angry Countess Krak!
This is one of the most shocking lines in the book, because it isn't so much as italicized. Gris tends to shriek the Countess' name whenever she's mentioned in the story, and here she is apparently back from the dead. I was expecting all caps, italics, bold print, a good half dozen exclamation marks, maybe even size 72 font. But instead Gris is showing all the shock as he did when a book bounced off his skull.
Speaking of books hitting skulls, Gris gets knocked out when another book hits his skull. He wakes up with his wrists bound behind him, Heller sitting on the cell's bed, crying, and Krak cooing that "When I heard the firing I knew it must be my Jettero." Hey. Hey Krak. What'd you think about the earthquake? You should ask him about that.
Oh, and nobody has their gas masks on, but it's okay because the cell door is... shut... behind them. Uh, guys?
Heller recounts that he didn't dare believe Gris' word that Krak was alive (but came anyway), and that the past week or so without her has been the "awfullest days" of his life. Krak explains the lighting problem and the stuff on the floor - she'd been stacking ration boxes in an attempt to dig her way out, but a few days ago there was some sort of explosion in the airshaft that made the hole bigger and took out most of the glowplates.
She was pointing and I looked at the air shaft where dusty air was coming in. Then I remembered that in the plan I had put hooks in the air shaft to prevent anyone climbing up it. But I had also planted explosive charges there that would kill anyone who sought to go up through it.
But he conveniently forgot about these security measures when it came time to "kill" Krak.
When Ahmed had dropped the gas grenade, it had simply set off the charges and the explosion had just blown the vapor back out as the whole series had gone off. It had damaged the solar lights. It had also opened up the shaft. Once she had gotten the hooks loose, the Countess Krak could have climbed right up to freedom!
All because Gris had to have a cell with a separate ventilation shaft. Couldn't have had even a tiny grate connecting it with the rest of the base, Crobe might have shapeshifted into a snake and slithered out through it.
Krak is holding Gris' knife and looking at him in a way that makes Gris realize she plans on cutting his throat, but Heller explains he swore to see him tried on Voltar. Good news is, death of a hundred million people aside, he's almost wrapped up Mission Earth, so they'll be leaving soon. Krak is overjoyed, and gushes about a "marvelous surprise" waiting for them when they get home.
I gasped with relief. The moment he landed on Voltar, he would be arrested on some pretext. Lombar would finish him!
This doesn't solve your whole "I'm going to be tortured to death for utterly failing in my mission to derail Heller's mission" problem, Gris.
As to what she was so happy about, those Royal proclamations were forgeries and if she ever tried to present them it would mean immediate execution.
Remember, on the enlightened planet Voltar, it's not counterfeiters who get punished, but anyone unfortunate enough to try and use one of their products. Also, thanks for reminding us about that plot point from the end of Book One.
This should be good.
How could I arrange that they would present those forgeries so that Lombar would have a pretext to execute them out of hand?
Wait, what? Your "INSPIRATION!" is a question you don't have an answer to?
Oh, I was not finished. Not by a long shot!
Of course not, you still don't have a plan, just a vague notion of incriminating people Lombar shouldn't need a reason to kill, since he hates them, or an excuse to kill, since he controls the whole Confederacy.
I would get even with them for all the hideous things they had done to me!
I guess Gris has given up any hope of preserving his own life, and intends to drag Krak and Heller down with him. Or maybe his brain can only hold so many concepts at once, and his self-preservation instinct has been temporarily jettisoned by Krak returning from the grave.
Back to Chapter Five