Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Part Sixty-Eight, Chapters Three and Four - Ostentation Worth Dying For

So Krak and Heller just narrowly escaped certain inconvenience during their excitement-free raid of Spiteos.  In the process they may have sorta wrecked the head of the intelligence agency that secretly controls the whole empire, so odds are bad that they'll be able to get some paperwork signed.

But, as Krak looks at the document that heaps another honor on Heller and promises him a safe Royal appointment, and the other that restores Krak's citizenship and estates on Manco, she realizes something: that is some fancy parchment. The decrees look "so beautiful with all their scrolls and seals." There's even His Majesty's (forged) signature.

"Look at these," said the Countess Krak.  "Aren't they worth some risk?"

See the seals and crap?  That's real wax, fella.  And look at the ribbon! 

Jet turned from his screens.  He read the papers and looked them over carefully.  He saw nothing wrong.  But still, they had come from Gris.  "Very nice," he said.  "We can hang them on the wall of a cave while we hide out."

Well if you don't trust the Gris-touched documents, why did you go to Spiteos for them in the first place?

"Oh, Jettero, our whole future depends on our bringing this off.  I must insist we make an effort to get them signed."

"WHAT?" he said.  "After crashing Lombar Hisst?  Right this minute he must be turning the planet upside down to find us!"

But Heller won't bother turning on the radio to check.  Guess he knows that the Apparatus would broadcast a fighter craft scrambling from one base, but not a planet-wide manhunt for the person who nearly killed its chief.

Krak counters that Lombar had no way of knowing it was Heller who attacked him, because of course Gris is dead now.  Anyway, even if there was an alarm, it'd never reach the palace, whose Royal guards would be above the concern of ordinary police matters.  Much like how the Secret Service wouldn't be interested in a manhunt for a gun-toting fugitive who attacked a Virginia army depot, you see.

In short, Krak thinks they should fly to the capital, use Heller's right as a Royal officer to get an audience with the emperor, and get an autograph.

"You mean I simply walk in there," said Heller, "and say 'Here, Your Majesty. Wake up! Sign on the dotted line'?"

"You've got your dress uniform.  You wore it the day you left Voltar for Earth.  You've even got your Fifty Volunteer Star."

"Oh, no!  Look at the time of night!"

"People are always rushing up to an Emperor with bad news.  You have a perfect right to rush in and say, 'Hello, hello!  Good news!  I knew Your Majesty was personally interested in Mission Earth.  Well, ho, ho, it's all done.  Sign here!"  And even if the word is out for us, if we move awfully fast we can get it done before Palace City hears.  And we'd be safe."

Because the signed papers will cancel out any ongoing manhunts?  If the emperor doesn't know you're a fugitive and signs a sheet of paper saying "good for you," your crimes are forgiven?

"Wow!" said Heller. "You're crazier than a combat engineer!  Forget it!"

"Stupider," the word you're looking for is "stupider."

"Jettero, as your future dutiful and obedient wife, I must put my foot down firmly and insist we go ahead!"

"Oh, Lords, Gods and Devils!" said Heller. 

Oh?  So since Lords are separate from Gods, is Heller invoking the feudal heads of the empire here?  In the same breath with deities and demons, even?

Also, why is the wife expected to be "obedient" and not the husband?  Why can't marriage be a compact between equals?

"If this is obedience, I'll take a tyrant any time!"  He laughed.  "But I'll show you I'm not a male chauvinistic pig.  If you're willing to take the risk, I'll give it a try.  But I want it entered in the log: 'I'm only doing this because I want desperately to marry the girl I love.'"

"Oh, Jettero."  She threw her arms about his neck and kissed him.

The tug said, "Sir, Red Warning.  You're in a power dive."

Humor, yeah.  Note that in all of this, we never get to see what the characters are thinking or feeling.  All that's narrated are words, actions, interspaced with walls of exposition.  It's like we're reading a script.

Now, do you remember when Gris told us all about Palace City and that captive black hole and everything?  Yes?  Too bad.

Palace City lies just south of a mountain. The mountain contains a black hole of undetermined age. The black hole gives power to the palaces and defenses. It also puts the city, because it warps the space, thirteen minutes in the future.

It could've been some big teleporter engine that hides the city in a pocket dimension, but noooo.  Hubbard had to use a black hole.

Wait, so are we still supposed to be impressed by this?  Just two hundred pages ago Heller did the same trick with a miniature black hole he used as a battery.  So if even one guy in a tugboat can manage this, why is Palace City the only place with this sort of protection?  Why didn't Spiteos, or every single important government base, get their own tiny black hole to hide behind?

And why the sudden use of present tense?

Looking down on it all, especially at night, there was exactly nothing to be seen but a sort of mist.

In all the ages since it had been built, Palace City had never fallen to outside attack.  Although sometimes it had changed hands due to a palace coup, it was considered impregnable, impervious to being breached.

You might say it was fortified, impenetrable, indestructible, invincible, invulnerable, unassailable...

Emperors and courtiers were used to living with the time stress: the compensation was that the place could never fall, even from riots and civil commotion.  The only danger that existed was the faint chance that someday the black hole itself might suddenly reach term and itself explode with unthinkable violence.  But they could live with this: the topmost government was so safe, the Emperor was so secure that only a madman would contemplate an overthrow of the realm.  Revolutionaries were doomed from the start.  People like Prince Mortiiy were rightly, by normal standards, looked upon as insane: even if they won a planet or two, they could never overthrow the whole government so long as Palace City held.

That's not how governments work.  Regardless of how much time and money we spend turning Kabul into a citadel, that doesn't mean anyone outside of the city will consider Karzai their leader.  The Confederacy didn't have to level Washington D.C. to secede from the Union, and the United States didn't cease to exist when the British burned the city down in 1814.  If Mortiiy's fifty-foot fire-breathing Manco Devils conquer every planet in the Voltar Confederacy and occupy every inch of ground outside of Palace City, it doesn't matter that the emperor is still loafing around in a time pimple, his reign is over.

Also, Gris was able to pass through this time distortion.  Krak and Heller are about to pass through this time distortion.  Lines of daily traffic pass through this time distortion.  So how the hell does it keep a hostile army out?

Cripes, almost three pages of straight exposition.  Hisst is hearing angels, and has gotten every member of the Grand Council hooked on The Drugs.

It had begun innocently enough: the court physicians had gullibly welcomed a means to stimulate the declining energies of Lords with small amounts of amphetamines.  Then, when nervous symptoms arose, they were only too happy to accept, with a touch of blackmail here and there, the balm of opium.  And from opium it went to heroin.  Uppers and downers had done their work.  Lombar Hisst controlled the supply.

Voltar medicine can give Gris a wonderpenis, but it can't keep an old guy awake.

So medical journals are raving about "the new miracle drugs," the general population is starting to take them up - why, when you already control the people who matter? - and Hisst has ensured his monopoly by using the law to forbid production within the Confederacy.  Hisst is also sporting enough to follow his own law, so Earth remains the sole source of The Drugs.  And of course nobody else in the Confederacy, no criminal underclass or band of pirates, has started up a meth lab or basement marijuana nursery.

The crown itself was inches from his grasp and each night he heard the angels sing and urge him on.  Mad already, Lombar Hisst himself was on drugs.  Slum-rat born, he saw nothing insurmountable to his ascension to the throne of Voltar.  Such a thing had happened many times on Earth: it was his model. 

So social mobility is bad, then.  The ruling class is meant to rule, and peasants should know their place.  Is that the lesson here, Hubbard?

That it had never before happened in the Confederacy was a matter he could brush aside.  With drugs he could do anything and he was winning all the way.  Palace City now danced to his slightest whim.  All Voltar awaited him tomorrow.  And every planet of the whole 110 would soon be his.


What's the consequence of all this?  We've heard Lombar ranting about riffraff getting their just deserts, but we've heard Lombar rant about a lot of things.  Why should we care that a decrepit old monarch got deposed by an drugged-up little lunatic?  Are we supposed to be disgusted that some gutter rat without a title to his name thinks he should be king?  Or is there some part of this expansive galactic empire that we're supposed to feel worried for?  Even though just about all we've been shown is Apparatus stuff.

That was the actual scene which lay below the tug that night.  And Heller and Krak really knew nothing of it.

We already did.  Why'd you tell us twice?  Did you write this part first and forget to delete the unnecessary exposition?

Anyway, let's do stuff.  Heller, of course, got some spare ship ID's from Old Atty when we weren't looking, and so disguises the tug as the survey ship Wave.  Then he passes through that vaunted time distortion with as much effort as it takes to change lanes (the cat doesn't like it, though.  Did you remember the cat was still on the ship?  I didn't!).  Bam, they're in the future, where nothing can ever hurt you.

He has Krak stay on the tug with a radio to act on his signal, and she should keep the airlock closed to protect against the radiation emitted by the black hole... huh.  So the imperial palace is constantly getting dosed with gamma rays?  And it's safe there?

Heller also tells his honey not to bother with a blastgun or anything, that'd just attract attention.  So off he goes, strolling down the mountain they landed on, and now Krak suddenly realizes how dangerous this is and worries that she may not see him again.

Tune in next time for a tour of the Voltarian imperial palace.  And maybe a fight scene.

Back to Chapter Two

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