Up into the Voltar night soared the Prince Caucalsia. She had an appointment with destiny that none of them suspected.
It looked like a very simple thing to Jet from an operational standpoint. His only worry was for the Countess Krak.
As far as he and the tug were concerned, they could escape detection. A dull green cast of light from a partial moon made the surface of Voltar luminescent. There was the main Fleet base to the south, and beyond it, Government City. And to the west of these sparkling lights and glowing traffic streams lay the mountains which blocked off the Great Desert.
Yeah, we know, you described the scenery when Gris was there. Also, is it me, or is the text becoming duller? Short, relatively simple sentences, no attempts at flowery language.
Well, this is sort of an action chapter. Maybe the tone is supposed to be terse n' tense.
The plan is pretty simple: fly in while invisible, put up that electric illusion of the tug, and lower a ladder so Krak can grab a waterproof envelope containing those pardons, which she stuffed inside a hole drilled for one of the base's "false radiation deflector"s. Heller doesn't like the fact that the ladder doesn't have any absorbo-coat on it, but doesn't comment on the fact that Krak won't have any either. He also doesn't like the green moonlight.
And that's about all we know about what's going on in our main character's head - what he doesn't like. Heller's actions are narrated, we get to hear the things he says. Sometimes through another character's comments we learn he looks tense, for example. But we get next to nothing about his thoughts, his feelings. When Crup is badgering him to steal the tug in the previous chapter, we don't see Heller's inner turmoil, his exasperation that his friends are trying to get him to break his moral code, his temptation to take that frickin' sweet spaceship, his embarrassment at being put through this in front of his girlfriend. He just says "No."
He's just as opaque and distant as he was when Gris was narrating, in fact. But we're supposed to like this total stranger, root for this aloof image of heroism.
Part of the problem is that the bloody narrator won't stay still. It takes a moment to impart information the heroes have no way of knowing:
He did not know at that time that Lombar Hisst had long since parked a heavy flying cannon underground in the structure. He thought all he had to do was get in and get out, and there was nothing like the quick-maneuvering tug to do a thing like that. He could move it faster in the sky than gun controls could track it and get their heavy pieces repointed [sic] to fire. So his main interest was simply on making sure that the Countess Krak got down and got up. THAT made him very nervous. But he couldn't do the flying and the gymnastics, too.
Oh, guess he's nervous. Good to know, in case we missed Krak telling him to stop looking tense earlier.
Anyway, Heller gets in position, the base guns start up a "cone of electric fire" above and below the phantom spaceship they're targeting, Heller tries to call the mission off but Krak goes down the ladder anyway, and the narrator follows her. It's, uh, exciting stuff.
With handspan measures she located the plugged-up hole. She couldn't get the rock out! She reached into her pocket. Nothing! She had no tools!
A stone! There was one lying ten feet away.
She sprang for it. It was heavy. She struggled back to the hole with it. She raised it over her head. She bashed at the rock.
I wouldn't say the writing's degenerating here, as this sort of basic language is par the course for a Hubbard Action Sequence.
The stone broke!
She seized a falling splinter of it.
The flickering fire of the barrage made it possible to see. She found a sharp edge in the splinter and used it for a pry.
The plug came out!
You get the picture. Krak hears Heller yelling, pops out the envelope, starts climbing the ladder (a bit hard coming almost straight from Earth's reduced gravity), but then she hears "THE ROAR OF ANOTHER SHIP!" and sees "A FLYING CANNON AGAINST THE MOON!" Explosion, another explosion, Krak starts to lose her grip, and then Heller yanks her into the airlock.
So that thing Gris saw plummeting from the spaceship? That was the ladder he saw Krak hanging from. His mistook a ladder for a woman. How the opposite of shocking.
Heller takes - or has the autopilot take - the tug up to a hundred miles, but they can't use the Will-be Was drive because the science turbulence would be visible, and the flying cannon has a range of two hundred miles.
"Blast," said Heller.
"I don't have any guns, sir," said the tug. "I can't blast."
"Shut up," said Heller and pushed the switch off automatic.
Hi Corky! Not that they're calling you that anymore.
Now, the flying gun's scanners are aimed far below the tug, so while it's technically faster than and outguns Heller's ship, with the absorbo-coat and all it'd be easy for the tug to slip away. But that doesn't seem to occur to anybody. Instead Heller dives the tug "like a plummet," flips it around, and activates the "traction towing beams." Guess they must have been repaired them at some point... without mentioning it.
The flying cannon was in his grip. He began to swing it like a pebble in a sling. It helped out by gunning its own engines in the same direction.
Round and round the other ship swung in a huge circle.
Suddenly Heller let it go.
He reversed the tug.
The flying cannon plummeted to the desert floor.
Sand flew, a crash resounded and the distant scream of rending metal faded away.
Remember when Gris was going through that? The comments about the air whistling past the ship, Lombar screaming like an animal, Gris being pressed against his seat? It was goofy as hell, but it felt real. Well, realer.
This is dull, flat, lifeless, like the author's lost interest in his own story. There's not even an exclamation point anywhere.
In the event that the Apparatus feels like announcing the launch of other (nonexistent) aircraft on an open, unencrypted channel, Heller turns on the radio, and happens to hear the alert at Lombar Hisst getting wrecked being broadcast on an open, unencrypted channel.
"Well, what do you know!" said Heller. And then he looked sadly at the Countess Krak. "We're for it. I've slammed down the mighty Lombar Hisst."
"Oh, good!" cried the Countess Krak. "Hurray!"
"No, dear," said Jet. "It didn't burn and he probably isn't dead. As he is spokesman to the Emperor, our chances of getting those documents signed now are exactly zilch."
This would be a devastating blow if the reader didn't already know that 1) the documents are fake, 2) Lombar wouldn't have let them get signed even if they weren't, because 3) he's got a strict "kill on sight" rule regarding Jettero Hellers.
Tune in next time for stuff that we haven't seen already from Gris' perspective!
Back to Chapter One