For nearly eight full books now we've been dealing with a first-person narrative, whether it be Lord Invay's disclaimer as the book's censor, 54 Charlee Nine commenting on his(her?) work as a translator, or most importantly Gris' "confession" that makes up the bulk of the text. In the last case, the author has gone through extraordinary effort to devise a way for Gris to narrate Heller's activities on the other side of the planet, while at the same time contriving signal disruptions and other excuses for Gris to miss crucial pieces of information (assuming Gris doesn't simply decide not to watch Heller's viewscreen on a particular day. Or month.).
This book promised a new narrator, and we just saw Monte give his account of how he discovered Gris' story and started further investigating this Mission Earth incident. He did so through other people's reports and testimonies, suggesting that he could continue to piece together Heller's story the same way. We could see Monte assembling a loose narrative from after-action reports and sworn testimonies, elaborating and clarifying the story through interviews and such. If Gris' section was a typical action story told from the perspective of the evil villain, Monte's section could be that action story as uncovered by an investigative reporter.
Jettero Heller, Royal officer of the Fleet, Grade X, and member of the Corps of Combat Engineers, tried to counter the eagerness of his lady, the Countess Krak.
He did not like the idea of approaching Spiteos, heavily defended as it was, in an unarmed and unarmoured tug.
Just returning from what he supposed to be the completion of Mission Earth after an absence from Voltar of ten months, he did not like the look of things.
A sudden shift to third person, and a particularly flat, lifeless third person at that. Now that he's no longer writing from the perspective of a despicable villain or a laughable dandy, Hubbard seems almost subdued when discussing his super special awesome hero.
Also, Heller will be referred to as "Jet" from here on out. This annoys me more than it should.
We get about two pages of stuff we already know. The narrator reminds us that Heller was imprisoned at Spiteos before getting roped into Mission Earth, the Apparatus is up to something, Krak has royal pardons, going to Spiteos to get them will be dangerous, Gris is "apparently dead now," nothing new. Heller gets to decide what to do next, because we've rewound the story to just as he and Krak are leaving Gris' office.
Well, a few more hours before reporting in would make no difference. He was still operating under his own cognizance. He decided to take a chance. So he said "All right." It was a fateful decision; even though it showed no signs of it on the surface, it was going to change the course of hundreds of billions of lives.
As opposed to a mere hundred million lives. Also, I guess it's a third person omniscient narrator?
Heller passes Gris' confiscated blackmail material to Commander Crup while Krak tells the guy about Gris' "suicide." Everyone bonds over the shared sentiment that it'd be wonderful for the rest of the Apparatus to suffer the same fate, because if there's one thing Heller's learned from dealing with Raht and Faht Bey and everyone else at Afyon, it's that every single member of the Apparatus is irredeemably evil and deserves only a painful death.
They meet Old Atty back at Fleet Reserve, who just stuffed Tug One full of food and fuel using the last thousand spacebux left in Mission Earth's budget - he even got some flowers for Krak. Crup also mentions that Tug One... wait a minute, wasn't it officially renamed Prince Caucalsia? I never use the name because I think it's stupid, but the characters aren't either. Anyway, the tug officially belongs to the Exterior Division.
"Well, I don't want to turn a nice ship like this over to the 'drunks!'" said Jet. "They'll just strip the silver and gold and precious stones out of it and use it to throw garbage in."
Which wouldn't even be an issue if some idiot hadn't decided to make a luxury tubgoat.
Crup makes a suggestion: since the tug's tail has been damaged, Heller should make a "total-loss report" so Krak (somehow) can keep the vessel. Heller declines, because that would be dishonest. But maybe morality isn't something absolute, maybe it depends on who you would be stealing from.
"Oh, you," said Commander Crup. "You're dealing with the 'drunks.' What's honesty got to do with it? Look, I'll file the report for you myself. I've got your mission-order number. I'm blasted if the Apparatus is going to get anything off the Fleet! Even if they paid for it."
"No," said Jet.
C'mon, was there any doubt? Heller's just too damn heroic to steal. He'll probably buy the tug himself, or
"Yes," said Crup. "Lady, you've got yourself a space tug. Put it in the back yard and raise kids in it."
That's just idiotic, like buying a luxury yacht and living out of it while it's on a trailer in the driveway instead of using it as a boat. How stupid would you have to be to
The Countess Krak, dressed as a Fleet marine for disguise, blushed a blush that was visible even in the night.
They all laughed. "I see I can't keep any secrets around here," said Jet. "We've got to get going. Tonight's work isn't done. A million thanks to all of you. If all goes well, I'll invite you to the wedding."
Well, I guess if it's stealing for Krak's sake, Heller's fine with it. So what's the message here, Hubbard? Morals are negotiable in the face of a sufficiently toasty piece of ass? Or is Krak the Garden of Eden temptress leading Heller into sin? Or is our hero simply caving in to peer pressure?
But anyway, here we are, back in the plot, as it is, now free of Gris cluttering up our narration with his stupidity and incorrect assumptions, leaving us with... well, not much.
Back to Part Sixty-Seven, Chapters Eight and Nine