Monday, October 21, 2013

Part Seventy-One, Chapter Five - Lombar Needs to Get His Hands on the Royal Family Jewels

Chapter Five opens with Lombar Hisst talking to himself in the royal antechamber back on Voltar.  Now, you might think it odd that we're switching to a new plotline right in the middle of Part Seventy-One rather than kicking off Part Seventy-Two with a fresh face and location.  You may even be wondering why Rockecenter's defeat wasn't included in the previous book, which could then end on the cliffhanger of Lombar getting his evil in gear on Voltar instead of the cliffhanger of whether Heller could overpower an insane octogenarian.  All I can say is that the way these books are divided into Parts and chapters, while confusing and vaguely annoying, is the least of their problems.

For maximum irony points, Lombar is telling himself that "If he has also harmed Rockecenter, I will tear the universe apart to find and kill him!"  He's gripping that Royal officer's ceremonial rod that Heller decided to bring along and leave behind when he raided the palace, a Royal rod that of course has Heller's signature on it. 

This chapter is about seven or eight pages of pure exposition, bringing us up to date on the state of the Confederacy and Hisst's plot to seize control of it - namely that it isn't going well.

His problem was acute: he could not announce, as he had planned to do, that the monarch was dead and had left no one to occupy the throne.  This would have opened the door to the ascension to the crown of Lombar Hisst, a simple palace coup. Such a thing had never happened in Voltar realms before---that a commoner would ascend to the Crown---but it had happened plenty of times on Earth and that was Lombar's model.

Not that often, I think.  We've had cases where peasant Kings gained their thrones after being adopted into the succession, or commoner Queens gained power through marriage, but in the societies that put a lot of stock in their king's, well, stock, they tend to be leery when some nobody starts prancing around with a crown.

Lombar can't produce a substitute body, either, Royal law is that a hundred doctors and a hundred Lords (who I guess know a bunch about medicine too) have to examine any remains and verify its cause of death.  More than that, there's no way he can counterfeit the Royal regalia.

The sacred object was too ancient for any records ever to have been kept.  He did not even have a drawing of it.

It's ancient, and ever-present in Voltarian history, and nobody's drawn a picture of it? 

The chains contained gems which were well known and any substitutes were impossible to acquire without alerting every jeweler in the realm; the seal was formed from a ten-pound diamond, the rarest ever found, and it had been carved with methods long since extinct.

These guys can synthesize gold like it's nothing, but gemstones, no can do!

The thought of publicly stamping something and then having someone say "That's not the seal of State!" made his blood chill, for with the proof of forgery went the right of any assembly of nobles to kill him on the spot.

One: if you're this far along in your plot to seize control of the Confederacy, you really shouldn't be freaking out at the risk of discovery and death.  Two: if nobody's seen these jewels well enough to draw a picture, how would they know if you counterfeited them?  Three: if you have paperwork with the state seal stamped on them, can't you reverse-engineer a forgery from that?  Four: why do you need to be king?  Could you rule as a permanent regent, or be bold enough to declare that you're merely a dictator?

All this to say, Hisst needs to find Heller and get those jewels back.  Problem is, the non-Apparatus agencies of the Confederacy aren't cooperating - the Army refuses to get involved in a Fleet matter, the Fleet doesn't want to obey the "drunks"' commands and insists that it has no records of Heller's tug returning to and departing Voltar in the first place, and of course Lombar can't issue a Royal order for Heller's arrest without the seal of State.  Call me a heretic, but this almost sounds as cumbersome and dysfunctional as those riffraff-run regimes on Earth.

Worse still, the Blixo just completed a scheduled shipment from Earth, and while the manifests say it brought the usual supply of amphetamines, they "WERE NOT IN THE CARGO!"  And you can't expect him to control the ruling elite of an empire through heroin and opium alone, can you?  Oh, if only Lombar had some sort of secret facility containing the sort of medical and pharmaceutical equipment needed to manufacture his own supply of drugs...

Things had been going so well: he had every Lord of any consequence addicted.  His Majesty had been within a few weeks of dying.  All Lombar had left to do was spread drugs wider, through physicians, amongst just a few more areas of the government, and he could obey the angels and become Lombar the Mighty, Emperor of all Voltar.

Still don't know why he couldn't do this with hypno-helmets.

He had had it all planned so well!  He had fantasized on how he would, on the final day, handle Cling the Lofty.  He would let withdrawal symptoms get painfully acute and then, in return for a fix, he would have His Majesty sign and seal a proclamation declaring Lom­bar Hisst his heir.  Many times before he had worked the trick on Cling and had obtained various orders such as those removing the Palace Guard and supplanting it with the Apparatus.  So it would have worked. 

And he didn't do it at any point before this because...?

But there would have been one difference with that final fix: instead of heroin in his veins, His Majesty would have received a syringe full of air.  The monarch would have died, the cause of death, "old age."  Lombar would have displayed the body and that would have been that.

And none of those two hundred physicians (and useless Lords) would have noticed the signs of an air embolism.  If they're this gullible, why not fake a corpse?  Get Crobe to clone one or some garbage.

Lombar proceeds to rant about how Heller must have fouled everything up, again reminding us that it was his brilliant idea to give Heller the "Rockecenter Jr." identity in the first place as a sure-fire way to get him killed, as opposed to shooting him in the head during the spaceship flight to Earth and dumping his corpse out the airlock.  He also mutters "(bleep) Gris!" for allowing Heller to screw everything up, again reminding us that of all the horrific stuff in these books, the only thing that upsets our robot censor is language more spicy than "hell."

On the subject of Gris, he's out of reach in the Royal prison until Lombar gets that special stamp, so he won't be reappearing for a while.  Finally, we're reminded that Hisst sent a Death Battalion to Earth, to destroy the source of his drug supply once and for all!  Wait.

"It suddenly occurred" to Lombar that if he wants more information about what happened on Earth, maybe he could ask someone who's been there recently.  An aide mentions Two-lah the catamine, but he's too gay.  There's also Dr. Crobe, but he's too insane.  But there's also two humans: a useless little girl, and a man that the paperwork at least speaks highly of.

"They still don't know why he is so invaluable.  The only designation they could find in his papers termed him a PR man."

"A what?" said Lombar. "Is that some kind of an Earth race?  Like Negroes?"

"No.  He's white with brown hair.  

Weird that even on another planet, "white" is the default, and therefore the best, of all races.

Oh, here's the rest of it.  From cards in his wallet, it said he was employed by 'F.F.B.O.' and was retained to do Rockecenter work."

"Part of the Rockecenter organization!" cried Lom­bar.  "Quick!  Get that Earthman over here FAST!"

NOW things could begin moving!

Yep, exposition's all taken care of, we're up to speed on what happened in the half-book since we left Voltar, and the plot's ready to proceed, centered around our new main character: J. Walter Madison, the man with an outlaw fetish who thinks WWIII would be a great publicity stunt.

Nothing to look forward to but 200 pages of "PR" and how to make Heller famous. 

Back to Chapter Four

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