His only salvation, Heller realized, was to get to the Emperor. How you could explain two dead guards, he didn't know.
"Jettero 'Jet' Heller, you stand accused of piloting a stolen spaceship into restricted airspace, trespassing within the imperial demesne, killing two of His Majesty's loyal guards, and burning His Majesty's property. How do you plead?"
"I've got His Majesty's signature on a certificate saying what a jolly good fellow I am."
"Oh! Never mind, then."
The door to the imperial quarters is locked, so we get a couple of action-packed sentences as Heller fishes the key out of the ash pile left behind when he critical-killed those guards with an energy weapon. Naturally, such a plot-important item is indestructible (otherwise Heller would have to reload his quicksave), but the intense heat from those electrical flaming swords means that Heller's hands get blistered even through the cloth hanging he uses as an oven mitt. No doubt he's bitterly wondering why a millennia-old civilization that uses black holes as generators and time as an engine still hasn't figured out an electronic keypad or retinal-scanning technology.
The key gets stuck in the lock, but he's able to open the door, pass through, and bolt it behind him.
He had had no real idea what he had expected to see: probably Cling the Lofty lying asleep on a huge bed all in silver and gold. But that wasn't what he saw.
The place looked like a hospital!
The Emperor was lying on a narrow metal cot!
The place was filthy!
Something's wrong here, everyone knows royalty never experiences flatulence.
His Imperial Majesty, Cling the Lofty, always looked like "a tall, well-formed monarch of middle age, perhaps ninety or a hundred, imperious, arrogant," in the portraits Heller's seen of him. Now Heller wonders if he's in the wrong room upon getting a look at who's in the cot.
Yes, this was the same man. But he must be at least 180. He was shrunken and gray. Only wisps of disordered hair remained. The face was covered with age mottles but they were not what gave the impression: it was that he looked like someone who had starved to death. Even the outline of the few remaining teeth could be seen through the skin of the face.
As Heller peered, the man's eyes fluttered open. They were bloodshot in the extreme. A palsied hand came up. Then fear was replaced by some sort of recognition.
This next bit is somewhat puzzling.
The voice quavered, "Are you a Royal officer?"
"Your Majesty," said Heller and was instantly on one knee.
The skeletal hand reached out, feebly raking at Heller's chest. "A real Royal officer," he said, as though it was too much for him to believe.
"At your service, Your Majesty."
"Oh, thank the Gods. At last! In the name of all my lineage, get me out of here before Hisst has me killed!"
Now I've been hard on this book for its emphasis on Royal this and that. I'll admit it's possible that the use of Royal as an adjective is the result of Voltar's political evolution, much like how the United Kingdom has the Royal Marines despite the royal family being little more than a national mascot these days, and maybe this alien society doesn't believe in the innate superiority of people who fell out of the right uterus (but just wait a few chapters).
Either way Lofty's statement is weird. If Voltar is all about worshiping its Royal figures, it's a bit strange for the emperor of said society to do the same. If Voltar's a bit more practical, then why is Lofty being so picky here? Why isn't his first response "get me out of here!" regardless of whether it's Saint Heller of Tug One or Bert the Janitor who finds him?
Also, His Majesty is assuming anyone who's wearing the uniform of a Royal Fleet officer is someone who'd never lie about that fact.
Anyway, at that moment Heller hears "Many!" boots from the other side of the door, and so radios "NOW!" to the Countess in the tug to do something that will be explained later. Then the doors bust open and an unspecified number of guards rush in! Gun-toting guards. Rushing into melee range. Against a guy armed solely with a baton.
The first guard in received the slash of the baton across his face. He flinched and his blastrifle was in Heller's hands. Its butt smashed the guard's chest in.
Heller dropped on one knee.
His finger hit the firing lever.
The bucking rifle sprayed an arc into the rushing patrol. Flame erupted in their place.
Fragments of the patrol spattered through the room. Heller stood up. A guard was moving. He fired once more.
There was only smoke and dismembered bodies in the antechamber.
The author felt that the door being locked and the key being hot warranted some exclamation points. This? Just another action sequence devoid of excitement or tension.
That minor chore handled, Heller wraps the Emperor up in a blanket or something, stuffs the Royal crown and Royal seal and Royal chains of office in the bundle, and runs off with the decrepit monarch in his arms.
There's a bunch of "sirens and gongs" going off, and the palace is suddenly filled with panicking streams of people. Heller gets to fight against the tide of people, then once outside experiences life as a video game protagonist as he dodges boulders and vaults pits as he runs back up the mountain to the ship, made all the more difficult by 150 pounds of His Imperial Majesty. No, there aren't any guards. He must've killed them all.
Krak completely misses who Heller carried aboard and instead instantly notices his burned hands, then hurries off to get some "false skin" to treat him with like a good little wife. As the tug's autopilot takes them past the impenetrable time distortion, Krak asks about Heller's instructions - on his order she pushed the tug's firing button, but nothing seemed to happen.
"Plenty happened," said Heller, holding his chest and trying to get his breath. "You sent a stream of false gamma straight at their alert system. It set off the alarms that tell them the mountain's black hole is about to blow up. I almost got killed in the stampede! They're probably jammed a thousand deep at the exit gates of Palace City. You did fine."
He took a couple more deep breaths. "Oh, am I out of condition."
Wonder how many were trampled to death in the panic? If people die during football games and Black Friday bargains, I can only imagine what a radiation threat is like. But yeah, more of that fake radiation to the rescue.
Krak asks about the signatures, and Heller doesn't answer, because communication is the key to a healthy relationship. Krak asks again, and Heller finally explains that he got a little distracted by "other duties."
"What other possible duties could be more important?" she said.
Heller pointed at the man on the table. "Him. This is His Majesty, Cling the Lofty."
"WHAT?" she peered more closely. "Oh, good Heavens! It IS!" Then she said, "He can still sign them!"
I love Krak's reaction! I'm not sure if it's extreme optimism, as in "we've just caused a whole lot of trouble but at least we can get his signature now," or simply extreme self-absorption. It just sums up so much of what's wrong with Krak.
Heller has to explain that not only is His Majesty in terrible health, but thanks to a "misunderstanding" with some guards, the Voltarian government is under the impression that Heller kidnapped the emperor or something, because when he grabbed that guard's blastgun he dropped that baton of his, which just so happens to have his name on it.
I'm not sure where the baton came from in the first place. It doesn't appear when Heller gets dressed in Chapter Four, it just pops out in Chapter Five as part of his outfit, and of course the narration doesn't mention Heller's name on it anywhere until right now. Good thing he dropped it, though, otherwise the base would have no evidence that he was the one who kidnapped the emperor and the plot would falter. Because of course the most important and most heavily-defended place in the entire Confederacy is wholly lacking in security cameras.
Back to Part Sixty-Eight, Chapter Five