Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Part Sixty-Two, Chapter Five - Podiatry at 1,584,000 Feet

While waiting for Izzy to call, Gris and Heller have a nice chat, "hovering" three hundred miles above the Earth's surface, or about a hundred miles higher than the International Space Station orbits.

Heller notes that he's getting a proximity alarm but can't spot another spaceship, and Gris reminds us of that subplot where he got a spaceship's breaker switch implanted in his head to thwart specially-prepared hypno-helmets.  Gris deflects the issue by bringing up the Assassin Pilots, who haven't had a lot to do in this series, but Heller isn't concerned even though his tug is unarmed and the Assassin ships are mostly gun.  Instead he berates Gris for his cowardice and assures him that only Fleet regulations are keeping him from tossing Gris out the airlock.

And then he brings up a bunch of stuff that happened over two thousand pages ago.

"It's no news to me that you are a fool," said Heller.  "I knew that, that day in Spiteos.  You requisitioned a blastick, obviously to kill poor Snelz.  And you stood right there and let me swap an unloaded one for it with a simple sleight of hand, and you went right down and tried to fire it at Snelz."

I'm pretty sure I read that scene.  I think I wrote a blog post about it.  I just don't remember it happening, because there was no reason to.

"You tried to break me with some obvious thudder dice and didn't even know all you had to do was heat them up by shaking and they wouldn't work."

I remember that at least.  Also, fixed dice that stop working when they're rolled around sound a bit absolutely useless.

"We conned you left and right and I thought you were just a sort of demented idiot.  I underrated you.  You've got a vicious streak a mile wide and a twist that ought to put you in an asylum."

Voltar has asylums but no notion of mental health?  So how do they determine who gets thrown in there?  Just anyone they consider unpleasant? (editor's note from the future: we'll find out in Book Ten)

"You must realize that from the first I have never been under your orders.  If you recall, a combat engineer of the Fleet operates on his own cognizance.  Under the authority of the Grand Council, I have been in charge of this mission from the first."

Phew, what a relief!  For the longest time I thought the magnificent royal officer Jettero Heller was taking orders from the lowly Soltan Gris.  Thank goodness Heller was just playing along and never really outranked by Gris!

I saw an out.  "What if the Grand Council revokes your orders?"

"They're in force until I am informed officially they have been revoked."

"You and your influence with the Grand Council," I sneered.  "You and your (bleeped) code to Captain Roke!"

Whatever happened to be "I would pretend to be cooperative.  I would pretend to be his friend," Gris?

He looked at me.  "Ah, so you were the one that ordered my suite raided at the Gracious Palms!  You were looking for the platen!  Raht didn't mention it.  Well, there is no platen, Gris.  The code contains only personal anecdotes that only he and I would know."


So, that whole "platen" subplot turned out to be a red herring.  But practically speaking, the results were the same - without those anecdotes, the Apparatus is just as unable to forge a report from Heller as they would be were the message more conventionally coded.

In other words, whatever.  Roke's out, so it's a moot point.

And then comes four pages of medical treatment.  No joke.  Gris complains that his feet hurt in order to get Heller to take him to the Afyon base.  Instead Heller orders him to strip, throw all his clothes in a disintegrator ("No, not your wallet, idiot"), and take a shower, because he smells so bad even the cat's sneezing.  Then Gris gets to lay down in the ship's infirmary while Heller inspects his festering foot wounds dating back to that chapter last book where he cut his feet on a beach and walked around in a cave full of goat droppings.

Turns out there's copper slivers in Gris' wounds, and Gris suddenly realizes that Dr. Prahd put them in his bandages in order to poison him, thereby blackmailing Gris into paying his paycheck and other hush money in exchange for treatment!  And this isn't speculation, he knows that's why Prahd did it.  Oddly, Gris has shown no symptoms of copper poisoning.  I also vaguely remember having to look this stuff up before - did Hubbard use this back in Battlefield Earth?

Gris is initially angry with himself for blurting out that Prahd must have done this, then tries to salvage things by offering to have Prahd take out Heller's bugs; but Heller decides that he won't see Prahd for surgery if he's willing to pull something like this.  Then he uses a space magnet to get the copper out of Gris' feet before slathering some healing science on him.  Thus ends the "Gris' feet hurt" subplot, which accomplished... well, we have less reason to like Prahd now, and Heller has an excuse to avoid seeing him for surgery beyond being eternally one step ahead of Gris.

And then comes two heart-stopping, tense pages!  Heller continues to inspect Gris' naked body for more signs of deadly, deadly copper, and Gris starts to freak out over the possibility that Heller will discover the visible-under-certain-light "Rockecenter Family Spi" tattoo/stamp on his chest, and be able to execute him as per regulations.  He doesn't, though.  He's using the wrong sort of flashlight.


That's about it.  Heller talks about how stupid Gris is and cures his foot problems with about thirty pounds of alien healing putty.  While in an orbiting spaceship, to make it extra sci-fi-y.

I had to solve the predicament I was in.  He didn't know he was dealing with the next Chief of the Apparatus.

"You can't do this to me," I flared.  "I've only done my duty."

He looked at me and for the first time I saw real scorn.  "Duty?  You don't know the true meaning of the word, Gris.  You think that indulging your own greed and self-aggrandizement comprises duty?  Don't sully the word by saying it.  Duty has to do with meeting one's moral obligations.

Like working with organized crime to kill government agents while on a mission to prepare an unsuspecting planet for subjugation by a mindlessly expansionist interstellar empire.  Those kind of moral obligations.

I don't see the slightest trace of morality in you.  Get one thing straight: you're only sitting there so the cat and I can keep an eye on you.  I can put you in suspension with one shot from the medical chest.  Would you rather have that?"

You wouldn't need to keep an eye on Gris if you knocked him out and tied him to the examination table.  Just sayin'.

I shook my head.  But I still seethed.  One way or the other, I would get the better of him yet!

Said the man held prisoner by a cat.

At least Disaster seems to be continuing Voyage of Vengeance's streak of resolving/tossing out subplots. Just this chapter we wrapped up an uninteresting subplot from the end of last book, a long-term subplot Gris had been ignoring for several books, and a bunch of stuff so old and inconsequential we'd all but forgotten about it.

Back to Chapter Four

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