Instead the auto-piloted tug zips up and away, six hundred miles above the planet and climbing, on a course to... well, fiery death.
"We are going to come too close to the moon Niko if we stay on this course."
"Well, avoid it," said Heller.
"You better make up our mind where we are going," said the tug. "At this acceleration, space only knows where we'll wind up."
Corky, who still isn't referred to as Corky, is smart enough to pilot the ship, but not smart enough to avoid hitting a moon. Also, he's incapable of closing the "radiation port covers" on his own. So he's basically a high-tech brick you can put on the gas pedal and have inane conversations with.
Now Heller decides to turn on the radio to listen for any alerts, and sure enough there's a "shoot on sight" warrant out for one Jettero Heller accused of attempting to murder Apparatus Chief Lombar Hisst. Krak and Heller decide they don't have time to wonder how they knew it was him in the tugboat, in order to increase the shock later when they discover Gris survived.
And while there's an alert, again, there's no spaceships out to enforce that alert. The "defense perimeter" around Voltar doesn't even bother to scan the supposed survey ship rocketing at Ludicrous Speed away from Palace City. In fact, said defensive perimeter doesn't seem to be doing anything at all. All the author had to do was mention the orbiting system patrol crafts scrambling to find a threat to defend against, or the planetary defensive grid being thrown into disarray by the "imminent" destruction of the imperial capital, but nope, no verisimilitude to be found here.
His Majesty is in a bad way, with an irregular heartbeat and restless sleep, so Krak and Heller try to tend to him with an oxygen mask and stuff. The Emperor's arms as marked with scars and punctures, and Heller finds it all familiar...
"Heroin!" he said.
"I've seen this before. Mary Schmeck."
Whaaaaat?! You mean that character who showed up for a couple of chapters way the unholy hell back in Book Two before unceremoniously dying, off-screen, is actually going to have an impact on the plot?!
"Who? A woman?"
"Never mind. The poor thing died. And all for the want of a nickel bag."
The Countess Krak was puzzled. "What was all this?"
Jet ignored it.
Don't talk about the subject until it goes away, that's a good man. The less your girlfriend knows about your past, the less she can use to fuel a jealous frenzy.
"Hisst made the Emperor into a heroin addict," said Heller. "I don't know if this is also something else. But he is sliding into withdrawal symptoms and at his age, I don't think his heart will stand it."
Krak is charitable enough to urge her boyfriend to save "the poor man"'s life regardless of whether he signs anything or not. Luckily, Heller has an idea. He remembers from way the unholy hell back in Book One, when Gris attended Tug One's launch party stoned out of his puny little mind. So maybe Gris hid some more drugs on the ship somewhere! The ship Gris was rarely around, and didn't have security access to... anyway, Heller is therefore motivated to search Gris' cabin, and when he finds nothing, go on to search the rooms used by those Antimanco pirates, so he can finally find:
Amphetamines, morphine and heroin! Stabb had been hooked!
Quickly he went to the remaining vaults of other members of the Antimanco crew. They had also been hooked!
Oh, that would explain why they were... um...
The problem with this is that while the revelation that a set of characters has been on drugs for most of the book would explain their strange and/or stupid behavior, Stabb and his crew never stood out from the general level of stupidity maintained in Mission Earth.
Anyway, Heller explains the odd situation he's in, of having to give the Emperor another shot of what's killing him in order to keep him from dying, then gets to work.
He was trying to remember what he had read in the office of the FBI. The one thing that stuck in his memory was that Mary Schmeck would not have died had she had her fix.
I've got two theories about these sentences. First is that Hubbard has forgotten about Heller's superhuman memorization skills that let him listen to a sped-up language tape and master it perfectly. The second - and this is a long shot - is that this is actually an understated bit of characterization, that Heller doesn't remember anything about his time in the FBI office because he was so affected by Mary's shocking death. Take your pick.
The downside of this oversight/touching moment is that Heller has to completely guess when it comes to preparing the right dosage of heroin for the Emperor.
"Do we know what we're doing?" said the Countess Krak, for his hesitation and uncertainty were far from usual.
"No," said Heller. "We only know that if we don't do it, we may have a dead man on our hands by tomorrow. Get that blood-pressure tube and wrap it around his upper arm."
Note that once again, Heller's hesitation and uncertainty are only revealed through another character's reactions. Despite the narrator focused mainly on him, we're still given next to nothing about his thoughts and feelings.
Also, why "we?" Is Royalty contagious?
Anyway, about a page of tense moments and crap as Heller prepares and sticks the Emperor with a dose of smack or crunch or whatever. And even though Heller's only been around human drug users, and Voltarians are much more susceptible to drugs, making it much more likely for them to accidentally overdose, Heller of course gets everything correct and the Emperor sinks into a deep slumber instead of cardiac arrest. Yay.
Heller and Krak now face the problem of what to do next. Hisst is after them, the Emperor needs a doctor, but no planet in the Confederacy is safe and no doctors in the Confederacy know how to deal with The Drugs.
Suddenly he and the Countess Krak looked at each other. They both said it at the same time. "PRAHD!"
So just 121 pages after returning to Voltar, we're going back to Earth. An odd decision, don't you think? After all, Heller had wrapped up Mission Earth quite nicely, solved the world's energy crisis, and killed ten million people. What could there possibly be left to do on planet Earth?
Back to Part Sixty-Eight, Chapters Six and Seven