The tunnel walls were rushing by. Ahead I saw the stars.
We burst out upon a world of franticness.
The dull green moonlight fell upon a camp stirred up like bog beetles running madly everywhere.
Fifteen thousand men were pouring to their batteries of guns.
So we've got a huge mass of people running around, and hundred and hundreds of guns' worth of anti-aircraft fire going up. But adding a fighter jet to this mix will blow the Apparatus' cover. They need to keep a low profile, remember.
Lombar and Gris ascend in their invincible flying doom cannon, but can't find a target - the tug's absorbo-coat makes it invisible to sensors, and it's hard to spot the tell-tale shadow of something not reflecting any light.
Then, suddenly, there it was, directly above the camp! The tug! A black silhouette!
Abruptly, like a ring of blue electric flame, a thousand defense guns opened up!
Arcs of fire two miles long carved a savage geometric pattern in the sky. The apex of the two cones was the silhouette!
They must be missing!
It was still there!
The amount of fire redoubled from the ground.
Gotta keep this place secret, after all. Don't want to attract too much attention.
Lombar spits a few "missiles" at the patch of darkness, but nothing explodes. Gris suddenly realizes that there's no tug there at all, but Heller's throwing a "silhouette illusion" of it at the camp. And that makes sense, 'cause Heller already pulled a hologram emitter out of his ass at the start of the book, so all he's doing here is using the same principle to electronically project... the opposite of an image, the total absence of light... to absorb light, creating a dark patch in the sky...
Anyway, it's a good thing Gris tagged along in Lombar's ship, 'cause he's able to check the screens and notice something - a ladder hanging in the sky over Spiteos, with someone dangling from it. Gris points it out to Lombar with a "There! There! There!" and the Apparatus chief sets his gun to "maximum barrage!"
Pew-pew. When Gris can see again, he spots something falling into the mile-deep canyon next to the castle, presumably the Countess Krak, who might be noticing some flaws in her grand plan to have her boyfriend lower her out of his invisible spaceship instead of landing the invisible spaceship. The important thing is that Krak has been totally, and anticlimactically, killed for the second time in as many books.
Gris quickly realizes the downside of this.
Heller would be frothing for revenge!
"Lombar!" I screamed. "Get away from here!"
The Chief of the Apparatus was looking savagely around. The lust to kill was over him like sheen.
"Where is the insolent (bleepard)?" he howled. "Royal officer! Royal (bleep)! Let me at him!" he raved.
So after mobilizing his boss and coworkers to kill Heller, jumping into a warship to shoot down Heller, and helping his boss target Heller, Gris has suddenly decided that his enemy is too dangerous and is urging his boss to flee.
That's not happening, though.
I felt a jolt.
It was as if we had run into a wall.
Yet we were two miles above the planet surface!
I looked anxiously at the throttles. They hadn't changed.
Yet we were slowing down!
Gris remembered Heller's hologram projector doohickey, but only belatedly recalls the primary purpose of Heller's spaceship.
Then suddenly we started up. We rose into the sky! We were in the grip of some awful force far beyond control!
The towing tractor beams!
Heller had us gripped like any other tow.
Gris screams at Lombar to throttle back and break free (of the tractor beam capable of hauling billions of tons at once), but it doesn't work. And then Heller starts to play with them.
Lombar was looking all around. His face was getting wild.
We swung into the beginning of a circle. We were now heading obliquely at the ground.
"They've got me!" screamed Lombar, going white.
We hit the bottom of the arc and began to climb again, and all without our power. I was being pressed by centrifugal force against the side of my seat.
We came around the top of the arc, the moon and stars whirring by.
Down we started once more.
Lombar was howling! He sounded like an animal!
Around we went and around and around. The tug must be pivoting in a small, tight circle. It was as if we were on the end of a mile of rope.
Hey, what are all those thousands of guns doing during all this? They just give up? Are they consciously not shooting for fear of hitting their boss (which didn't stop them before)? Or are they baffled by their boss' piloting?
Gris yells at Lombar to turn and shoot the tug, but Heller's one step ahead of them, as always. The minute Lombar tries to work the controls, the cannon ship is enveloped in a "second field" that cuts off their engines. This seems to be a strange device for a tug to have, since they're either going to be pushing around inert objects or helping bigger ships maneuver, meaning they'd have no use for an engine-killing energy field in one case and be hurt by its use in another. But I guess I don't know as much about spacegoing tugboats as Hubbard.
The whistling scream of air going by drove terror to my soul.
We were powerless in an awful thing. We were just a pellet in a whirling sling!
Their course is shaped like a giant ring. Their instrument panels are going "ding."
We came down the arc, pointing at the ground.
SUDDENLY THE GRIP WENT OFF!
Below us stretched the desert!
We had been released! We were hurtling down at an awful speed.
The ground, moonlit, was rushing up.
The rocks and sand and bushes were suddenly too plain!
Man, I only took a tractor beam in TIE Fighter or its sequels so I could dump the extra power into engines or shields. Guess I was missing out.
So that's how Heller takes out Gris and Lombar, with a particularly silly use of space magic. He could've grabbed them and used a repulsion beam to slam them into the ground, or dragged them through the desert or Spiteos proper, or yanked them into the canyon and bounced them off the walls, or refrained from killing them entirely and hauled them off to prison or something. But he went with a slinging.
And hey, even when released, Gris and Lombar didn't even try to pull out of their dive, so presumably their engines were still out. So Heller could've just zapped them with that vague second field to make their ship fall out of the sky without even using the tractors.
But we have to remember that it's not enough to simply defeat someone. You need to show how ridiculous they were for thinking they had a chance against you.
Back to Chapters Two and Three