Then Heller throws a lever that turns the ship's exterior silver in order to "repel ray bombardment," because the absorbo-coat that laughs at radar, television signals and visible light apparently has trouble with shorter frequencies such as gamma rays, but silver "repels" such harmful radiation, right. Finally, the combat engineer whips out one of those delightful telescopes that exploit the inevitability of fate to look through time, confirming to Gris that "HE WAS GOING TO LEAVE THE PLANET!"
"Whoa!" I said, feeling the sweat break out on my forehead. "The instant the assassin pilots see you turn silver they'll be on you like hawks."
"Oh, them," he said.
And then I knew what I was up against. He really didn't care anymore. He had turned suicidal!
Hubbard, this doesn't work. True, a careless dismissal of danger might be a nice way of showing how badly Heller's been affected by Krak's, ahem, "death." Except for eight books now you've firmly established that Heller simply has no (bleep)s to give when put in a dangerous situation. You've made him too cool, too suave, too unflappable.
The problem with perfect character is that there's nowhere left to develop. Except backwards, of course, but that would mean the character wasn't perfect. And we wouldn't want Jettero Heller to have flaws, would we?
Beyond "flaws" like being so youthfully handsome that everyone mistakes him for a kid or being too honest and honorable for this filthy planet, of course.
Heller gives Gris something to do by letting him monitor a viewscreen for any sign of those Assassin Pilots he's so worried about, while Heller tells the tug to fly fifty thousand miles up, past the planet's magnetosphere. And it's no problem, because the ship's "gravity-adjustment coils" can take the stress, plus the ship's robotbrain is handling things very smoothly, Gris notes.
And quickly forgets.
Heller uses the ship's "gamma-ray sensitive electron microscope" to search for one of the many primordial black holes in or around the Sol system (if you don't care to read the article, I'll just mention that Hawking thought the things might exist in the galactic halo). Gris meanwhile gets to sweat for an uncertain amount of time, eyes glued to his instruments for signs of those Assassin pilots. And then, suddenly a voice begins to talk, thoroughly spooking poor Gris.
"Sir, I am sorry to bother you, but in spherical sector X-19, Y-13, Z-91, an unidentified flying object has just altered course and speed and is paralleling ours, range 7,091.56 miles. The picture is on screen 31. If you will forgive my interruption of your doubtless far more important and intelligent considerations, I would take it as a favor if you were to look and give me your much more valuable opinion."
THE TUG WAS TALKING!
I flinched away from the side bulkhead. Was this thing made of flesh and blood?
So. A dozen pages or so after hearing Heller explain that he had the spaceship robotized, and a mere page after noting that the thing had a robotbrain, Gris is freaking out that he's in some sort of living, bleeding spaceship. A spaceship that seems as inclined to kiss Heller's ass as every other "good" character.
The As-Yet Unnamed Talking (Space!) Tugboat theorizes that the unknown - well they have to be spaceships, since they're flying about in space, right? Anyway, it... he... the book just uses "the tug" instead of any pronouns. Anyway, "the tug" guesses the other ship is either friendly and "coming over for a chat," curious, or hostile. Heller remains heroically unconcerned. Gris begins to oscillate, so on one page the tug somehow senses Gris' hostility at being given busy work the ship was taking care of automatically, while on the next Gris goes back to wondering if, since he's in the "guts of a robot," it will start to digest him. He knows it's a robot and what it is, and he's still worried he's in a space monster.
Gris' picture and crimes are added to the tug's memory banks, and Heller orders his robotized spaceship to take action if Gris does anything hostile. The ship also determines that the unknown contact is closing, not responding to hails, and therefore a threat. Heller don't care, but in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it line of dialogue refers to the robotbrain in the tug as Corky. Mystery solved! Corky the Talking (Space!) Tugboat!
Corky is also concerned about the primordial black hole right in front of them, and reminds us that such phenomena were "Formed by the initial shock which, in theory, determined the pattern of this universe, they are suction whirlpool of magnetic force and distort time and space. The exudation of gamma rays can also be quite deadly . . ."
Wow. Our silly Earth science thinks black holes are supermassive objects whose gravity distorts space-time and sucks in nearby matter, not "magnetic force." How profoundly stupid of us. And of course, since black holes are so super-massive-I-mean-magnetic that nothing can escape from them, obviously they spit out gamma radiation. But not Hawking radiation.
This is one of those chapters that makes the whole series worth it.
Anyway, Heller puts the ship on manual ("But of course I realize that my piloting skills can never compare with yours," gushes Corky, at least until Heller switches the tug off) and straps himself in for maneuvering... even though the ship has those "gravity-adjustment coils?"
There was a sudden surge.
HELLER WAS GOING BACK TO MEET THE ASSASSIN SHIP!
We didn't even have a gun!
Yes, indeed, he had turned suicidal!
I'm not going to read ahead but assume that he's gonna fly around and dodge until the enemy pilot gets sucked in by the extreme magnetism of that black hole. If both Assassin ship were attacking at once, of course, Heller would fly around and make them shoot each other.
Back to Part Sixty-Two, Chapter Six