Thursday, August 22, 2013

Part Sixty-Four, Chapters One and Two - Either Remorse or Giddy Anticipation

The weird thing is that the book waits a chapter to examine the fallout of wiping out an 800-mile-wide stretch of Eastern Europe, killing tens of millions of people.  Well, I say "tens," but the figure Gris casually tosses out is a hundred million.  Since it's Hubbard's story, I guess that's how many people his hero just killed.  So well done, Heller, you topped Mao!  You are officially the worst mass murderer in this planet's history.  All because you refused to change course while towing a big lump of ice.  You just kept on flying right at the planet, knowing full well that an enemy was waiting to kill you.  You stupid, stupid man.

Chapter One starts with Gris, again, desperately trying to come up with an escape plan.  Heller's sitting quietly, probably praying.  "'Oh, God of peoples,' said Heller, 'forgive me.'"  He's sorry, alright?

It's at this point that Gris finally, or rather "Suddenly," has a workable idea.  Gris promises to divulge some special information if Heller promises to take him back to Voltar for trial (where Lombar will surely execute Gris for his staggering incompetence).  All the guards at the Afyon base think Heller is going to kill them and will therefore be hostile, but Gris knows a secret way into the base.  When Heller asks why he'd want to go there, Gris writes down - he can't even speak the words, they're so incredible - a simple sentence: "THE COUNTESS KRAK IS ALIVE IN A CELL AT THE EARTH BASE."

What an inspiration--especially since she was dead!  What genius to use a corpse to lure someone in!

Especially if you're trying to trap Torpedo, am I right?  ...No?  Too soon?  Unwelcome reminder of a pointless, disgusting, and pointlessly disgusting character?

And if we got that far, I had that planned, too.  Somewhere between here and there, I would secure a weapon.  He would see her body and in that moment when his attention was off me, I would kill him, for he would be in shock.

Another Gris plan that boils down to "crush Heller with the power of sadness."  And "at some point I somehow find what I need."

Heller can only accuse Gris of lying, but Gris weaves a tale about how he picked Krak up at Rome when he learned her plane was being targeted by terrorists, then held her safe at Afyon, "though of course in detention."  For proof, Gris produces her Squeeza Card.  And now Heller's hands start shaking, not from having the blood of million of innocents on them, but because he recognizes his girlfriend's credit card.  He buys Gris' story and sets off for Turkey.

And Gris gloats about his own genius, and how once Heller is dead he'll "somehow" blow up Heller's power company and take out the Chryster car company and bomb the Empire State Building and be able to look Rockecenter in the eye and say "All is well, for I killed the man and your empire is intact" and then he'll be a "spi" again and have unlimited moneys and be able to release Black Jowl and waive his crushing debt and then he'll be Head of the Apparatus.

Chapter Two briefly touches on some of the ramifications of the events from last Part.  Heller's still not turning on the news, so Gris can only speculate on what he's missing.

I was very sure it was full of juicy bulletins concerning the demise of Russia.  Rockecenter's PRs would be rushing the media to blare how he insisted upon vast relief expeditions.  

Yeah, that sounds like the sort of thing Rockecenter's Public Relationses would do.

But nobody need bother.  There was little if anything left alive in European Russia.  Probably Sweden would just move in to pick up any loot left lying around and annex the place.

Any particular reason you think Sweden would do this over any other state?  Not Poland, Romania, East Germany, or Finland?

The so-called satellite countries would throw off the yoke and probably right this minute were murdering the Russian troops who had kept them in line and fattened off them.

Did Hubbard predict the end of communism in his sci-fi opus Mission Earth?  I'm going with no.

It's true that a major part of the fall of communism was the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine, under which the Soviet Union invaded any Warsaw Pact country that threatened to deviate from the only proper form of government.  With that threat removed, countries like Poland happily and peacefully went democratic.  But that doctrine's end was the result of a bunch of other factors - Soviet exhaustion from Afghanistan, Gorbachev and his attempts at reform, local reformers in Warsaw Pact countries, and so forth.  It was the result of a confluence of processes.

This event is divorced from history, the removal of Soviet domination via the removal of most of the Soviet Union.  There's no indication of an undercurrent of unrest or reformist sentiment.  For all we know, this could allow some Tito or Mao analogue to try and fill the vacuum and become the new figurehead of communism.  And if that doesn't happen, expecting a happy transition to liberty and capitalism and Coca-Cola may be premature - even in our world, the communist regime of Romania went down fighting.

Of course, all this is assuming that nobody from a bunker under the smoldering ruins of Russia, or some Siberian military base, is able to take control of what's left of the country.

World power had certainly shifted.  Rockecenter must be going crazy trying to figure out how to keep international tensions high now.

On the one hand, it's true that the 1990's was characterized by the United States trying to find something to do with its bloated, global military.  On the other hand, I don't think international tensions are going to disappear completely just because the biggest threat was hit by a comet.  There's always regional hotspots like Korea or Pakistan-India to worry about, to say nothing of the cluster(bleep) that is the Middle East, or major powers like China that must be preparing to conquer the world because that's exactly what a Western country would be doing in its situation.  If all else fails, Rockecenter could get America stuck in a perpetual War on Terror a decade or two early.

I said as much.

"They can't blame any other nation," Heller said.  "Every astronomer in the northern hemisphere plainly saw what they thought was a natural cataclysm.  

Yeah.  A "comet" that suddenly emerged from Saturn's rings, headed on an intercept course with Earth, and started to change velocity and heading as it closed, before being peppered with mysterious orange-green explosions.  Totally natural.

The planet won't destroy itself with atomic war now and that's the only benefit from this.  So shut up.  I don't want to hear about it."

Wow.  Heller sounds almost upset about killing millions of people.  Maybe this horrific tragedy will mark a drastic change in his character.  Maybe he'll be haunted by his crime, forever tortured by man I can't even finish that sentence.

I've skimmed ahead to the end of the book, trying to find evidence of character development or remorse, but as far as I can tell Russia's fate barely gets mentioned beyond "wow, it's a good thing Russia got hit by a comet" once or twice, and Heller's still Heller.

See, the problem is that while Gris notes that Heller's hands shake from time to time, and he looks "rather white around the eyes" (?), Gris' psychic powers tell him that Heller's distress is because "Every part of him wanted to believe me but part of him was also saying that it might not be true."  We've got the shock of killing a hundred million people and the shock of his girlfriend possibly being alive hitting at the same time, and the fact of the matter is that the latter feels like the more probable cause of Heller's distress.

The chapter ends with the tug descending to Turkey, Gris directing Heller to an open field he says is next to that secret passage to the base.  Heller also gave Gris a change of clothes that, in an improbable stroke of luck, contain a hidden knife.  With Heller distracted by his girlfriend being alive, Gris is feeling real good about his chances of success.

I could scarcely breathe.  In only a couple of hours I would be free to wipe out the hopes of Earth for cheap fuel.  Rockecenter must be saved!

Very shortly now, Heller's corpse would join the lifeless body of the Countess Krak.

You can see the "plot twist" coming, right?


Back to Part Sixty-Three, Chapters Eight and Nine

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