Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Part Sixty-Nine, Chapters Two and Three - It's Not Called "Mission Voltar," After All

So we take another week-long, twenty-two lightyear voyage from Voltar to Earth, summarized in a page of exposition.  Thanks to those Will-be Was engines, the tug has a five week lead on any possible pursuit (remind me why these incredible devices are too dangerous for the armed forces?).  The Emperor's so sick and addicted that he only survives due to opium doses every three to six hours, while Heller needs the Emperor to survive and officially sanction his rescue so he's not charged with kidnapping - oh, excuse me: "But all due respect to Heller, he was not thinking of that: his concern was concentrated on trying to save the monarch's life."  Wouldn't want to slight the main character or anything.

No scenes of, say, Heller tending to his corpse-like monarch and pondering that the leadership of the empire rests on so frail a man, Krak trying to lift his spirits by joking that changing His Majesty's bedding prepares them for raising a baby, or even another spiel about how terrible The Drugs are.  Nobody thinks or feels anything beyond a sense that His Majesty has got more wrong with him than an opium addiction.  Just dry exposition and then they're back in Afyon, where the narrative will be spiced up with the addition of dialogue.

Heller immediately calls for an ambulance upon landing, Faht Bey asks if they're in trouble, and Heller says "later, later" instead of giving a real answer, because Faht Bey's only the guy who sided with him against the Apparatus, and the leader of Heller's only remaining refuge.

"Where's Gris?" said Faht Bey.

"Dead, so far as I know."

"Bless Heavens!" cried Faht Bey.  "I hope it was a nasty death."

"I think so," said Heller.  "Where's that ambulance?"

What?  No scene of Faht Bey going around the base, telling everyone that Gris is dead and watching the ensuing victory dances?

Prahd's waiting for them in the ambulance, and His Majesty is taken to the hospital, where he needs to go to a secure, secret holding area for reasons Heller refuses to explain, because Prahd is the single most vital person they need helping them.

"I'll put him in the basement out of public view.  The guards are all deaf-mutes there.  

I'd completely forgotten that.  As well as how stupid it is to rely on guards who can't hear intruders coming and can't raise the alarm if they spot them.

Where's Gris?"

"He's evidently dead."

"Praise Allah, from whom all blessings avalanche," cried Prahd.  "That's wonderful news. We're all right, then."

"Not quite. If this man dies, I'm afraid we're all in trouble."

"Who is he?"

"Never mind," said Heller.

Guess Gris' bloody Mobster Hospital scheme was to set up a secure hospital for His Majesty?  All that nonsense because the Afyon base itself doesn't have a medical ward.

Anyway, Prahd diagnoses the mystery patient with dehydration, heroin addiction, and amphetamine addiction, but then...

He went back and looked at his blood test and other readings.  He fixed his bright green eyes on Heller.  "This man is not just a commoner.  He's a member of the nobility, the product of very selective breeding for thousands, tens of thousands of years."

Yep.  Another reminder of the superiority of a certain caste of people.

You know how monarchy got started, Hubbard?  Some thug with an army killed everyone around him who refused to take orders, and eventually managed to convince the survivors that God or Allah or Crom ordained that he should be in charge.  The initial skillset for the position of king involved riding around on a horse and hitting people with pieces of metal, or telling other people how to ride around on horses and hit people in a way that would win a battle.  Not necessarily the skills needed to wisely govern a country.

Granted, Tilly's "War Making and State Making as Organized Crime" makes a good case for how the sort of infrastructure required to wage war resulted in the infrastructure of modern states, but that doesn't mean that a given royal lineage will evolve the same way.  One of the advantages of being a king is appointing ministers to do things you don't like.  Not that skills are hereditary in the first place: George Bush I assembled an international coalition to liberate an oil field from a dictator.  George Bush II managed to make the United States more reviled than the terrorists who attacked it.

Also, selective breeding?  Another advantage of being a king is that it can be a crime for a woman to say "no," and you're often above such considerations of monogamy.  Which is better than the alternative of restricting your choice of mates to an incredibly narrow fraction of the population, because then you can end up with Charles II of Spain.

In conclusion, viva la republique. 

"Can you bring him around?"

"I don't know. At the very least his mind will be clouded; his vocabulary will have dropped to a few hundred words. It takes years to recover from amphetamines and he's already so old it's doubtful if he can make it."

If he pulls through, even with that brain damage he'll still be more effective than some of Earth's monarchs.

"Can you keep him going?"

"I don't know," said Prahd.

"Basically," said Heller, "the reason he is here is humanitarian. He couldn't be left to be killed. But it's also important that he be able to talk and write."

Heller, at this point you should be wondering how to get Cling's successor to sign your forged documents.

Prahd's not quite done, though.

Prahd's eyes narrowed.  He went back and looked at the unconscious old man now suspended in fluid.  Something seemed to tug at his memory.  Suddenly he lifted the cover of the tub and turned the top of the old man's shoulder to him.  He took a brush, dipped it in a liquid and drew it across the skin.

The symbol of a comet appeared.

Prahd stepped back, eyes wide with shock.  "The mark they put on Royal babies!"  He stared at Heller.  "This is Cling the Lofty, Emperor of Voltar!"

The second time in Mission Earth that babies have gotten tattoos.  I hope none of Hubbard's kids got any ink they didn't pick out themselves.

"Yes," said Heller, "and unless you can bring him around so that he can provide evidence it was at his orders he was removed from Palace City, we'll all be executed for hiding a kidnapped Emperor."

Prahd collapsed upon a bench. He mopped his forehead with his gown tail.  "What a way to become the King's Own Physician!"

And so our hero lies by omission, incriminating an ally in a potentially fatal enterprise, instead of being upfront and honest about the consequences of his pleas for help.  Well I say "plea," but Heller was really giving people orders to "just do it" or give him this or that.

Chapter Three is pretty brief.  Heller tries to raise Izzy on the viewer-phone just to check in, but can't find the guy.  He next attempts to contact Raht at the Apparatus office in New York, conversing with the staff via paper printouts because Voltar's premier spy agency has miserable communications technology, but Raht's actually been at the Afyon base all along.  Another page of filler to pad out the book, thanks.

Raht explains that when he last checked on Izzy the guy looked pretty busy, while New York and America in general seems to be mobilizing, perhaps related to "the Russian thing."  Since Izzy needs to be not-dead in order to do stock optiony stuff in a few days, Heller suits up for a trip to America.  He tells Krak to stay home and watch over His Majesty, promises "not to run off with any Miss Americas," and packs some bombs, "a spacetrooper collapsible sled," and his most dangerous weapon, Mister Calico.

The Countess and Heller said good-bye.  Heller slid down the ladder.  He was on his way to more war than he had imagined!

I'm sure it was a tender, bittersweet parting, full of... romance, and crap?  Meh, all that lovey-dovey stuff with Krak was getting pretty old, I'm glad the author's not wasting any time building the relationship between his two main characters.  Let's blow some shit up!

Back to Chapter One

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