Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Part Seventy-Two, Chapter One - Like Gas, But In Space!

Madison follows Capt. Slash (any relation to the late Capt. Stabb?) out of his cell and into an Apparatus compound.  You can tell who owns it because there's trash and papers blowing around - if it'd been a Fleet facility, everything would of course be spotless.  And shaped like a spaceship.

A clerk hands him his (empty) wallet and a brand spanking new identoplate with his name on it, and if you press a button it displays his picture and fingerprints.  So a lot like our primitive Earth I.D.'s, just a bit more inconvenient to use.  It also displays Madison's pay grade as a new "P.R. Man" of the Apparatus, i.e. none.  And I'm a little confused now.  We saw the Apparatus haul in Gunsalmo Silva for interrogation and spit him out as a brainwashed assassin.  Presumably they weren't offering him a salary during any of this.  So why's Madison being treated differently?  Why hasn't he been brainwashed into a loyal servant of the Apparatus?  Why are they registering him as an Apparatus employee before Lombar decides whether Madison is of any use?  And why do they need to make him an employee if all Lombar needs is information?

Madison is led to a "squat thing" with front and side windows, just no wheels, but it "could only be a car, for it had a front seat and a back seat."  He's introduced to his driver Flick, who has a face "like a squashed oval," and despite his uniform "might be a chauffeur but he looked more like a bandit, and a very scruffy bandit at that."  Certainly not a well-dressed, upper-class bandit, this is the Apparatus after all.

Also, does every Apparatus employee get an assigned driver?  Gris had one and he's a miserable failure.  Madison just "joined" and here he is with his own flying limo.

With his portable typewriter and other luggage loaded up, Madison boards the could-only-be-a-car, and is immediately surprised and baffled when it takes flight without any wings.  So did the spaceship that looked like an ordinary freighter with a wrap-around hull have wings, then?  From "what must be" ten thousand feet up, Madison can look down on a city "about the size of three New Yorks," and from Flick learns that it has an actual name(!) - Ardaucus - but everyone calls it Slum City.  And it only took us nine books to learn one of the proper names for these settlements.

While flying over the desert between Ardaucus and their destination, Madison takes him mind off of worries that the dust storms are "live beings of some alien race that dined on airplanes that had no wings" by asking his driver about who he's meeting.  Flick is only too happy to dump a paragraph of exposition on him.

Flick glanced back at him and then looked at the card he had been handed.  "Apparently you're an Earth-man, whatever that is.  And we're in the air so we can't be overheard.  The chief's name is Lombar Hisst.  Today he controls the Confederacy, all 110 planets of it.  Confidentially, he's an egotistical (bleepard).  Crazy as a gyro with a nick in the rim.  You better watch your step if you're really going to see him.  He bites off the arms and legs of babies just for kicks."

The scary part is that, after all the things that've happened in these books, there's no way of knowing whether or not this is hyperbole.

"Thank you," said Madison.  But he thought to him­self, sounds just like Rockecenter: bad image with the help and everything.

Guy eats babies?  Must be misunderstood.

While they're in the desert, Flick points out the castle of Spiteos, the sprawling but still secret Camp Kill, and the canyon they toss you in if you've been naughty.  He also belatedly asks Madison what his crime was.

"I haven't committed any crimes!" said Madison.

"Oh, space gas!" said Flick. 

 Aw, Space Christ...

"If I'm going to have to drive for you, we might as well open our coats.  I was one of the best thieves on Calabar until I got caught and sentenced to death and the Apparatus grabbed me.  And here I been ever since."

"Driving cars.  Yep, master of stealth and snatching things, and these idiots have me driving around other idiots.  Hear some other guy, nabbed for illegal street racing?  Best driver of our age, now working in the Apparatus cafeteria.  I honestly have no idea how we accomplish anything."

Madison's evasive about his own crime, admitting at most that he failed to complete a mission - "And then he knew for sure that this strange planet was rattling him: he had told somebody the truth.  He better watch it!"  And this is strange, because Madison has been pretty straightforward in his dealings with other people, and was honest enough to tell Gris about his, um, family life.  Madison elaborates when he's working, in order to make people famous, but he doesn't otherwise make a point of lying to everyone.  But I guess since he's a PR he has to lie all the time, right?  Starting now.

They eventually arrive at their destination, and Madison freaks out upon seeing "NOTHING!" but some green mist beneath them, and then they're through the space-time (bleepery) and in Palace City, full of jewel-encrusted round buildings and painted statues and gardens.  It's a wonder that Lombar's influence hasn't filled the place with garbage.


She was in a sackcloth dress, filthy with mud from head to foot.  Her ponytail was undone.

Oh, he knew she'd come a cropper.  Here she was a slave.  Two old gnarled men were beside her, also grubbing away.  An Apparatus guard with what must be a rifle was standing by.

She had an implement in her hand.  Madison's car was skidding along five feet off the ground and it went close by her.  She was just standing up, placing her muddy palm against her obviously aching back.  SHE SAW HIM!

Then he was by her.  Oh, she must have done some­thing awful, to assign her to filthy manual labor.  The knight-errant rose in him.  "Never mind, Teenie," he whispered, "I'll rescue you if I can."

No, they didn't bring someone twenty-three light-years just to be a menial laborer, the truth's a bit more stupid.

When Madison and Flick finally stop in front of the most important-looking building, a guard rants about the "seven devils" and frog-marches Madison up the stairs to meet the chief.  Again, we're in Book Nine, and instead of elaborating on these devils or hells or whatnot, the most the author can come up with are numbers to slap in front of them.

The fatal moment had arrived.  J. Walter Madison was about to meet Lombar Hisst.

When two cretins of this caliber collide, the results can only be a singularity of searing stupidity.

I have dwelt upon it at length, for it was a moment which would mean much to Voltar's history and Jettero Heller.  And, dear reader, I assure you, not for the good of either!

But I don't care about either.  I'm actually quite antipathetic towards who and what's being threatened by these villains.  The only character I like in any of these books is the Apparatus computer system, and I'm willing to sacrifice it if its death would take out the rest of the cast.

Back to Part Seventy-One, Chapter Six

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