The Emperor's palace is "quite commanding, bigger than the rest." That and the fact that everything in Palace City is "built in circles" is all the author has to say about the seat of a hundred-world empire. I went back and checked The Invaders Plan, and the only additional description it offers is that the walls are golden. So big golden circles, that's our scenery here.
Heller doesn't encounter anyone during his approach, not even guards - but why would he, "for nobody in memory had ever tried to enter these precincts by the back door." I mean, to do that a hypothetical attacker would have to somehow get through that black hole's time disturbance!
When he's close enough, Heller takes a moment to remove the coveralls and become the dashing officer we all know and put up with.
He came near the front of the building. He started to exit from the front door and received an awful start. There were two guards there, lounging on blastrifles. They were NOT Palace City guards in blue and violet. They were Apparatus guards in mustard yellow!
Lombar, honey, you don't make your takeover that obvious. If you want your own men as palace guards, use your vast influence to enlist them through normal channels and keep them in the old uniforms. Not that you need to, since if you control the emperor, and these thugs are obedient to the emperor, you shouldn't have any trouble giving orders.
Anyway, Heller plays it cool and "boldly" walks past, and the guards don't stop him. But they don't salute him, either. He passes another pair of "sloppy, disheveled Apparatus troops" within the palace and decides he needs the King's Own Astrographer Tars Roke with him, because plot. Heller heads that way, but some filthy, slouching Apparatus vermin stop him, and when he asks about Roke is told that the guy's been reassigned to Calabar for months. Heller concludes that Roke was removed to cut off his "communication line" back home while he was on Earth. We've known this since... I think the "cipher" subplot started as early as Book Two, didn't it? Three at the latest?
So Heller continues towards the emperor's quarters, feeling like he's headed into danger. "The only thing which kept him going was the belief that if he could get the proclamations signed, it wasn't likely they would then instantly shoot him." The emperor's signature is basically a Get Out of Jail Free card, huh?
This is getting pretty dull, so let's spice it up a bit. Heller moves through the oversized, mirrored hall to His Majesty's bedroom, and one last set of guards.
Heller paced to the middle of the room. He eyed the pair warily. They were both big men. The one on the left was sallow, with the twisted face of a criminal. The one on the right had deeply pocked skin and a snarl for a mouth. These were hoods, not officers, despite insignia and dress.
Uh oh, these goons warrant a few sentences of description.
Heller introduces himself as an officer of the Fleet bearing urgent news, but the thugs aren't impressed, and ask this visitor to identify himself. Heller decides to take a risk and use his real name. The guards take a closer look, confirm that it really is the Jettero Heller, and draw their electric swords for a battle.
Heller looked at the snapping shaft of the first one's sword. It was coming straight for him.
Time seemed to slow down.
That blazing length was rushing straight at his stomach! One touch of it and he would burst into flame. He could not deflect it with his metal baton.
Well I say "electric," but the descriptions are of a "blazing shaft" and such. Fire is basically the same thing as lightning, right?
Heller turned the first officer and, gripping the sword wrist, directed the blade straight at the rushing second man whose sword was upheld for a stroke.
The first man's sword stabbed into the other one.
The second officer's sword, sweeping down at that instant, decapitated the one that Heller held.
Flames and smoke made two blinding pillars.
Oh. Well. That was easy.
Heller had jumped back, protecting his eyes from the bursting glare.
The floor was alight with fire. The room was blurred by the billowing smoke.
The tinkle of a red-hot button sounded as it bounced across the tiles.
Heller grabbed a hanging from the wall and beat out the fires.
Just look at this. Where's the italics? WHERE'S THE GRATUITOUS CAPITALIZATION? We're barely getting exclamation points!
All the life's gone out of the story, right as we near the climax. The author was just thrilled to tell us about all the exciting things happening to or around Soltan Gris, but when Heller and Heller alone is mowing down mooks, Hubbard's got no enthusiasm for it. Maybe he was getting tired of farting out chapters of Mission Earth by this point?
He stopped and peered through the smoke at the hall entrance door. Had either of this pair hit a pocket alarm?
A just as important question would be why the emperor's palace lacks a fire alarm. Or does the black hole prevent that too? "Nothing can catch fire in the palace, it's thirteen minutes in the future," eh?
What a spot to be in! The least they would suspect was attempted assassination!
I'd joke about Heller really needing the Emperor's signature, except he says exactly that first thing next chapter.
Back to Chapters Three and Four