Thursday, October 3, 2013

Part Sixty-Nine, Chapter Five - In the Army Now

Heller rides with the nice MP fellers to New York's armory, the captain remarking how lucky Heller is because once the jeeps run out of gas, that's it.  In fact, this is going to be a tricky war to fight due to the lack of fuel.

"I thought you said we'd grab the Maysabongo supplies as soon as war was declared," said Jet.

"I said 'oil,' not gas," replied the captain.  "Maysabongo has nailed down all the reserves of crude oil and even though that's seized, it won't do us much good.  It's got to be refined to get gasoline and kerosene and the refineries all went radioactive.  Jesus, I don't know what use they're going to make of you in Intelligence.  You don't seem to have even one brain cell in your head."

I'm trying to go back to the start of the book and figure out Heller's plan.  First there was stock market magic and buying options and stuff, then Heller fake-irradiated all the world's oil refineries so the price of oil would tank and he and Izzy could buy all the oil companies.  Throw in free black hole electricity (ugh) and Heller's new gasless engine and... looks like it ends there, energy problems solved forever.

But he never thought about how long it'd take to distribute those new engines, and now that the world's refineries are "radioactive" there is an extremely finite supply of safe oil.  So what would the world look like if it went two weeks without any new oil?  And one company somehow managed to buy all the US oil reserves?  The narration describes that driving through summertime New York without any air condition is like "a steam bath" and that there aren't many cars on the streets, but wouldn't there be a bit of panic, a little concern that the vehicles carrying food to this city of eight million people might run out of fuel someday soon?  No government forces trying to keep order or impose gas rationing?  No mass exodus, no blocks-long lines outside gas stations, no doomsday cults, no looting?

The fake irradiation of the world's refineries shouldn't even be necessary in the first place.  If Heller had made a big public announcement of his new miracle gasless engine, the stock market should have reacted accordingly.  Instead the whole "Chryster Motors" deal happened off-screen and doesn't seem to have affected the story yet, so Heller had to fake-irradiate stuff and make a mess.

Anyway, we've just discussed the problems of expending gas to recapture unrefined oil:

"Well," said Jet, "it's a good thing Maysabongo is no bigger than a postage stamp.  It won't take much gas."

"It won't take any gas at all, you dumbbell.  We'll use a hydrogen bomb."

"Then why mobilize all these men?" said Jet.

"Questions, questions.  It's not yours to reason why.  Its just yours to do and die.  Didn't they teach you anything at all in the ROTC?"

Sorry, armed forces, you're just as stupid as everyone else on this lousy planet... well, on second though, maybe not.  If the oil is going to be refined as an irradiated product anyway, it might be smart to use some tactical nukes to destroy the opposition.  Then you'd be able to grab the goods with a minimum of fuss and expended fuel.  The mass mobilization could serve to dissuade anyone else from trying to take the oil you're after.

Heller, who two weeks ago killed a hundred million people when he destroyed Russia, feels "new stress on his situation" with poor Maysabongo being threatened.  Then they arrive at the armory, which is full of people and paperwork and apparently isn't air conditioned either.  Let's get all the enlistment gags over at once:

Suddenly somebody asked him for his papers, somebody else told him to strip, somebody else told him to stand on a scale, somebody else told him to cough, another said to jump up and down and put a cold stethoscope against his chest and somebody else told him to get dressed.

There, done.  Oh, and Heller learns that as an officer he's in the wrong place, so none of it was even necessary.

The colonel processing Heller's papers is of course deaf and gets his name wrong, then tries to administer the oath of service.  Heller, the seasoned space commando, an alien infiltrator who routinely lies to the people of this planet, and more importantly someone who already has a death sentence from charges of royal kidnapping and attempted murder, feels his hair stand on end because if word gets out that he pledged allegiance to another government, he could get a court-martial.  Apparently this is the one crime you can't get out of even if His Majesty signs a royal proclamation.

So Heller recites a pledge to the Emperor in Voltarian.  The deaf colonel doesn't notice, but a nearby sergeant does.

"What the hell was that?" said the sergeant.

"The oath of allegiance," said Heller with a lisp.

"It didn't sound like you repeated it," said the sergeant.

"I have trouble with my tongue," said Heller, speaking in a muted way.

"Oh," said the sergeant.  "Now go over there and get fingerprinted and things."

Heller got into another line and waited and waited.  He was getting worried.  Night had fallen.  Time was running [sic] and he didn't know how he was going to get out of this.

Is this not the same fleet engineer who snuck behind enemy lines to repair a crashed spaceship?  The guy who strolls into ambushes and then kicks his way out of them with almost casual ease?  The guy who repeatedly bamboozles - when he does not outright kill - trained government agents?  What about this situation is so intractable?

Is it because he doesn't have a little cloth patch that, when you stick it on someone, compels them to give you an honorable discharge?

Actually, for all of the... tension regarding Heller's situation, he gets out of it with a minimum of fuss.  Wandering around to where the paper-pushers are pushing paper, Heller's able to snatch up to copy of a deployment order sending 2nd Lieutenant Wister to Camp Dix.  Then he suggests that another soldier help out that poor, overheating colonel by turning on a fan aimed right at his desk.  "AN EXPLOSION OF PAPERS FLEW EVERYWHERE!"

In the resulting confusion, Heller's able to not only pick out and grab the original document from the maelstrom of paper thanks to his Super Reading power, but also hijack a typewriter (snicker) and forge a new deployment order to put himself in charge of an independent, anti-sabotage task force.  Ta-da. 

Ten minutes later, he stepped into the Silver Spirit Rolls Royce.

"Are you in the army now, sir?" said the chauffeur.

"I've already fought my first campaign," said Heller.  "But the Empire State Building must be swarming with saboteurs.  Take me there at once!"

NOW to find out what had happened to Izzy!

So now Heller has some fake orders he can use to go military places!  An asset he'll use, as far as I can tell, once over the remainder of the book.

Back to Chapter Four

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