Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Part Sixty-Six, Chapters Two and Three - Soltan Gris Phones Home

Heller obviously isn't using his FBI training for this mission, because when Gris judges the coast clear and sneaks back into the office, he finds that the lights and phone lines are still cut.  That stupid space commando forgot to cover his tracks!  Which is pretty inconvenient since Gris' plan consists of calling Spiteos with a warning and hoping they get their "guns trained on the spot where the tug would arrive" and knock it out of the sky.  Because Gris knows exactly what vehicle and vector Heller and Krak will be taking to get to Spiteos.

So Gris has to use a pay phone.  His civilization has harnessed black holes and propels its spaceships with Time itself, but he doesn't have a cell phone.  To the streets!

The dull light of a message center loomed.  I eagerly dived in.

I reached in my pocket for coins.

I came up with a Turkish five-kuru coin.

It didn't work.

"Delivers all the entertainment anybody could ask for," said New York Newsday.

I fished out a U.S. quarter.

It didn't work.

"Pure excitement," said Book Browsing.

I found a U.S. Lincoln penny and tried to force it in the slot.

I banged on it and made it jam.

"Fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable," said the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Frantically I looked through my wallet and my clothes.


Chapter Two, ladies and gentlemen: Gris trying to find change for a pay phone.

He desperately tries to think of anyone he knows nearby who might be able to lend him a phone, but all he can come up with are Meeley his former landlady and Ske his old driver, both of whom he indirectly killed (offscreen) by paying them with forged money.

Now, there's two implications here - the first is that Hubbard is the kind of literary mastermind that kills, offscreen, a minor, minor character in Book One so that two thousand something pages later in Book Eight, another character won't be able to make a crucial phone call.  Which is an impressive kind of lousy.  But I think it's more likely that he was writing Mission Earth without putting much thought into it, so my guess is that he killed Ske and Meeley for whatever reason in Book One, and then around this point decided to make Gris' phone difficulties extra ironic by reminding us of his past crimes.  As if Meeley would give her deadbeat renter a handout...

Gris can't go to the police, so he decides to warn Lombar in person. So he decides to jack an airbus.

I crept up to it. Nobody was around.


The door was unlocked. I slid in.


It had no drive-control locks.


It started instantly.

So... after attempting to make a big deal about how Gris' habit of murdering people may have bit him in the arse, the author hands the guy an airbus to complete his mission anyway.

Gris flies the bus to the "ramshackle palace" Lombar stays in when he's at Government City, but the place is dark and deserted.  Gris' incredible psychic powers kick in, notifying him that, because his boss isn't in this precise spot, "LOMBAR HIMSELF WAS AT SPITEOS!"  As opposed to off-planet, or in the Royal palace, or wherever.

His psychic powers also tell Gris that Heller will return immediately to Fleet Reserve to pick up his tug, then fly it to Spiteos, but if Gris hurries he can beat him there.  So he hurries.

Chapter Three is just as exciting.  Gris flies his airbus back to Spiteos.  He can see campfires in the surrounding military base housing fifteen thousand soldiers for the Apparatus' private army.  The castle itself is a black stain upon the moonlit-white desert, next to a mile-deep chasm like a "knife scar in the planet surface."

And remember, nobody has figured out the Apparatus' secret base is right under this strangely high-traffic camp in the middle of a desert.  No freighter or patrol craft orbiting Voltar has ever looked down and spotted prisoners being tossed into the canyon next to Spiteos.  None of the criminals recruited for the Apparatus have decided to squeal on it for a reward, none of them have gotten drunk and told some floozy about their secret base under an "irradiated" desert castle.  The Apparatus is a highly-trained, very credible threat, even though it recruited, promoted, and entrusted someone like Soltan Gris to make sure its plans of galactic conquest were realized.

To summarize two pages, Gris' airbus gets challenged, so he puts his identoplate against the little screen and speaks into the microphone.  "Wait a minute," you ask, "the bus has a radio in it?  Then why did Gris need to drive to Spiteos in person?  Why couldn't he make that phone call from the bus?"  Shut up, says the author.  "And why are incoming messages only displayed as on-screen text but Gris is able to respond with his voice?"  Don't make me repeat myself, replies the author.  So you decide not to wonder about the radio signals emanating from a supposedly empty stretch of desert not getting picked up by the undoubtedly sophisticated sensor systems protecting the Confederacy's capital.

Gris is directed to land and immediately grabbed by security, as part of precautions due to recent attempts on the Apparatus Chief's life.  They ignore his warnings about an incoming tug and decide to haul this suspicious individual right in front of the guy worried about assassins, which works out since Gris needed to speak to Lombar anyway.

Hisst is "as tall and as heavy and as mean looking as always," and quite surprised that Gris just tried to land when he's supposed to be on Blito-P3.  Then he learns who Gris came to warn him about.


"Jettero Heller, sir--the man you sent on Mission Earth."

"You didn't kill him?" said Lombar, incredulous.

"Well, no, sir.  He ducked."

Certainly more succinct than "well, no, sir, I tried to kill him a couple of times before you okayed it with snipers and such, then tried to defeat him with newspaper headlines, and then brought his dangerous girlfriend over in a misguided attempt to have her kill him, and then I tried to get her killed with a necrophiliac hitman, and then I honestly ran out of ideas and puttered around on a boat for a month or two, but then I captured his girlfriend and thought I killed her and told my minion to kill him, but instead he worked with the guy to capture me, so I pretended to be a prisoner and tried to stab him in the back, but his woman threw a book at me."

Gris also decides not to mention why Heller's coming, since that would implicate him in those forged Royal proclamations.  Luckily Lombar doesn't really care.

Lombar's eyes went like slits.  "You don't have to tell me.  I know why.  They're all after me!"

I tried to speak again but he interrupted me.  Lombar never waited for any answers.

"Oh, that aristocratic upstart!  The insolence!" said Lombar.  "Coming to kill me!  The effrontery of it!"

His paranoia was not about to be checked by anything I could say.

This is the guy who successfully schemed his way into being the secret power controlling the Voltar Confederacy, by the way.

"Is he coming in a tank?" said Hisst.  "No, he wouldn't get near here in a tank.  He's coming in a space battleship!"  Was there a flash of fear on his face?

"No, sir.  Please, sir.  He's coming in a tug."

"A what?"

"A space tug."

"The tug!  No arms!  No armor!"

That magnificent bastard!

And at that point the base's alarms go off, and Gris' psychic powers tell him "HELLER HAD BEEN SPOTTED!"  Meaning that his efforts to warn the base have been absolutely pointless.  They saw Heller coming anyway and don't need his help.  Hooray.

Hisst rushes off to an elevator that Gris knows leads to a hangar, where Lombar's personal flying cannon awaits, capable of leveling a city with its gun while sporting armor that renders it invulnerable.  Lombar's apparently okay with Gris tagging along for the ride, and in fact fails to even acknowledge his presence.  Guess he forgot Gris was a character as well as a narrator.

Heller, I exulted, you will shortly be the most dead spacer anybody had ever heard of!

Here we come!

In case you're wondering why Lombar has to scramble to stop Heller personally, well, there's no actual air cover at Spiteos.  "Too obvious," you see.  There is a buttload of anti-aircraft guns, though, which I suppose doesn't answer the question why the de facto leader of a galactic empire feels the need to dogfight with an unarmed tugboat.

Back to Chapter One

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