Friday, November 29, 2013

Part Seventy-Five, Chapter Five - Smells Like Eventual Victory

Turns out there's a "prison" on floor seventy-six where anyone who falls into a trapdoor on floor seventy-seven ends up.  Madison rescues all those poor ex-cons, and one of the electronics experts admits that even he was fooled by those "ghosts" - sure, he's familiar with holograms, but these are slightly different holograms!  They use a magic "chip about the size of a pen point which, put in the path of a microscopic projector, gave images in the air which could move and emit sound."  

And what's our explanation for all this holographic stupidity?  

General Loop, they all agreed, had been purloining government property and devices, and this made him a fellow criminal and so, somehow, made it all right.  Whether he had done all this just to exercise a hobby or scare his fellow officers half to death was entirely beyond their interest. 

Yeah, no real reason.  Guy just liked his trapdoors and spooky holograms and nonexistant treasure.  Or perhaps...

Madison had another theory--that manufacturers, knowing Loop was somewhat crazy, had installed the devices in the hope of getting a contract after showing what they could do.  Madison had noticed different makers' names on the activating boxes; he didn't think any of this was in use or known to the government at all.  He had not found a single Security Forces stamp on anything.  If it were government property or even known to the government, it would have long since been taken out.  But he didn't disagree with the crew; they needed all the solace they could get.

And there's our alternative: military contractors decided to show off to a retired, crazy old general instead of whatever military division would be interested in holographic devils.  So, pointless stupid or purposeful stupid, pick yer poison.

Once everyone's had a good... afternoon's sleep?  Madison assembles his "crew," all scrubbed and clothed and most importantly, not stinky!  It's time to tell them what PR is all about, prepare them for the jobs he'll have for them.

Madison stood up very straight.  His face began to glow.  His own love of his subject took over.  In a voice more suited to a cathedral, he said, "PR is one of the noblest pursuits of man!"

His audience was jolted.  They stared at him wide-eyed.

Madison was off.  His voice contained the caress of eulogy.  "Public Relations is an art that FAR transcends mere painting and crass poetry."

The audience gawped.

"It is," crooned Madison, "the magic of telling people what to think and bludgeons them to change their minds."

A roustabout called out, "Now that's more like it.  Do we hit soft to stun or hard to kill?"

Madison smiled a beautiful smile.  "You always hit to kill."

The gang buzzed and nodded.  "Got it," came from many voices.  Then someone in an aside to his neighbor confided loudly, "That's what his Lieutenant Flick said last night.  He's a killer!  One of the greatest murderers of all time!"

And they all start chanting "The chief!  The chief!  The chief!" and Madison bows out without telling them what PR is or preparing them for the jobs they'll be doing.  Gotta end these speeches on the high note, you know.

But he notices that Flick isn't there, asks the departing crooks about him, and learns that his driver is so sad he didn't even touch that driver footwoman he picked out as his personal whore, who complains that she can't do her job if he's suicidally depressed.  So Madison goes to try and cheer him up, asking about any other life dreams he could pursue, and Hubbard?  I know I gave Gris crap for mistreating his minions, like whatshisname the driver back in Book One.  But you didn't need to go to the totally opposite extreme!  A happy medium would've been fine!

In one of those plot-convenient coincidences, Flick's always dreamed of meeting Hightee Heller, the famous Homeview star.  But of course there's no way he, a man able to strongarm someone with an infinite credit card, would be able to attend one of her public appearances or find a way through a crowd of competing fans.  No, this dream, like his dream of robbing his own apartment, is doomed.

Madison went over to the window.  The mammoth dome of Homeview was gleaming in the late day sun.  Something clicked inside his head.

Could it be?  My god, it's... INSPIRATION!  Aw, it's been so long!  How've you been, buddy?

Lombar was trying to find Heller.  Madison also had to know.

Why?  What about lying about a guy in the media requires you to know where he is?  You did just fine back on Earth with a body double that looked nothing like Heller, and that was a planet used to PR.  You need to find Gris, though, remember that promise to Teenie?

The orderly outline of a plan began to form on the glass before his eyes in Old Century 10-point type.

1. On some off chance, Hightee Heller might know where Heller-Wister is.  If so, she might be tricked into telling Madison.

2. If she doesn't know, then she might have lines she can use--unwittingly, of course--to get somebody to tell her.
3. He would have to have an excuse to see her often so she could spill the information to him when she got it.

Didn't Lombar yell something about putting Hightee under surveillance or something?  Couldn't Madison use some Apparatus assets instead of doing everything himself?  Just askin'.

Then suddenly, the whole sheet jacked up and a banner, 22 point, all caps, seemed to flow across the glass:

BUILD THE IMAGE
BEFORE YOU FIT
HELLER TO IT!

It's even got a box around it in the book.

"YOWEEE!" shouted Madison.  He sprang into the air, he danced around the room.  He knew EXACTLY how to go about it now!

And it didn't even require a yacht.

Flick's confused, but Madison makes him promise that if he arranges that meeting with Hightee Heller, he'll give up trying to rob things, which Flick agrees to easily: "If I met Hightee Heller in person, I couldn't pull off no more robberies.  I'd be a changed man!"  Hellers are magic like that.

They get dressed and leap into action.

Madison rushed out, ecstatic with his plan.

Oh, he was really on his way now!  The smell of eventual victory was in the very air!  He could REALLY get on with his job with Heller!

Yes, now that all the nonsense with robberies and holograms has proved to be absolutely pointless, we can finally, finally progress with the thrilling main plot of a stupid publicist making up crap about a guy on another planet.   It just took seventy-odd pages after Madison became the planetary PR Czar for things to get in gear.

We're about halfway done with the book and our villain hasn't done anything yet.  But we're getting there!  Incremental steps towards excitement after long, pointless detours, that's the Hubbard way.


Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Part Seventy-Five, Chapter Four - The Death of a Dream

Madison and Flick initiate a tactical withdrawal, falling back to a more secure position in Flick's room, presumably under the bed behind a barricade of pillows and stuffed animals.  It's quiet, they're scared, and one thought dominates their minds - not "ghosts are real," but "THEY HAD LOST THEIR CREW!"  Because these chapters are all about minions, remember.

Flick had managed to get his gasping under control.  "Let me think.  Where could they have gone?  Ah, I have it!  That watchman warned me there were traps.  They've fallen into floor traps.  I think the lights must have gone out or something because we didn't see anyone drop,

You "think?"  Are you seriously suggesting that you were plunged into darkness without noticing?

but that is the only thing that it can be.  The crew must be up there someplace in floor traps.  We've got to go back up there."

So Madison and Flick return to the scary floor with a four-foot-tall stack of directions for the place's security systems.  They're able to get rid of that glass panel and hit the "General Disarm," but their search yields no sign of their lost "gangs," or for that matter any police, soldiers or assassins.

Madison mourned.  It was not only a haunted town-house, it was a hungry townhouse.  It had eaten up all their crew.  No wonder nobody had wanted to buy it!

Madison knows this building with trap doors and hidden security systems is eating the people inside of it much like he knows this building with hologram projectors is haunted.  Hubbard, why are you doing this to us?  What is there to gain from this stubborn stupidity?

Well, let's have another scary "haunting."  Or a "scary" haunting.  Or more accurately a "scary" "haunting."

They seemed to be in a big room but it was terribly dark.  Flick played his light through the place.  It seemed to be a tavern.  There were tables and chairs around on the floor and a natural wood bar, all polished.

Flick walked over to the counter and looked under it.  "A panel!"  He stabbed an eager finger in.

Abruptly the room was full of light.

It was also full of babbling sound.

AND AT EVERY TABLE SAT ARMY OFFICERS DRINKING TUP!

Yeah, I don't think a horrified all-caps exclamation works if it has one of your made-up alien vocabulary words in it.  It's just distracting, kills the drama.  Like mourning how your former friend killed all those "younglings" at the Jedi temple.

They were deep in conversations and laughing, very friendly to each other.  One group at the far end was singing an army song.  They all wore uniforms of long ago that were covered with mold!

A captain at a nearby table turned and seemed to look at them.  "Come in, drink up!" he said.

Flick fled as though pursued by demons!

Then Flick found out those were Madison's running footfalls behind him.

Friendly officers offering refreshments while wearing moldy uniforms!  Terrifying!  

Flick is quite put off by all this - "The ghosts of all his brother officers, long since dead, carousing in that tavern.  It makes your blood run like winter ice." - and laments that back home on high-gravity Calabar, corpses were polite enough to stay buried.  "(Bleeped) Voltar!  You mind what I say, Chief.  You murder any people on this planet, bury 'em with WEIGHTS!"

Well, that encounter's done, let's trigger the next one.  Madison and Flick wander into another room, which would be a bedroom if it had a proper bed rather than a sacrificial alter Flick recognizes as coming from Mistin (is that near Flistin or a typo?).  Madison presses a button.

A ROAR OF SOUND!

The whole window lighted up!

Through it one could see the red and glaring flames of a Hell!

Might be Christian Hell, might be Manco Hell, hard to say.

Devils were stoking a fire!

There was a long, drawn-out scream when two more devils threw a maiden into the scarlet blaze!

Flick had stopped, stunned, staring at the scene.

Madison turned around to look at the room.

THREE RED DEVILS SAT IN THE CHAIRS!

A dismembered man appeared, bleeding gouts of blood on the sacrificial altar!  Another devil above him brought down a knife!  The victim let out a scream.

The devil in the easy chair turned to Flick and said, "Stay around. You're next!"

Having devils sit in comfortable chairs is another way to kill drama.

Madison and Flick run into each other on the way out and escape crawling on their hands and knees.  "I don't like this place," says Flick.  And the worst thing?  They still haven't made the connection between the buttons on the walls they're pressing and the "ghosts" that appear immediately afterward.

Now they're in a "rather posh salon," and because these imbeciles have no sense of pattern recognition, Flick continues to press buttons on the walls.  But this time nothing scary happens, the switches only activate lights and such.  Until...

Emboldened, Flick touched another button.

Suddenly, the room was beautifully decorated!

There was a rug on the floor.

Vases with flowers appeared on small wall tables.

PAINTINGS APPEARED ON THE WALLS!

Hastily, Flick turned the switch off. Vases, flowers, rug and paintings vanished!

"OH, MY GODS!" cried Flick. "The objects of art we meant to rob are JUST ELECTRONIC ILLUSIONS!"

Releasing Brain Lock.  Subject Madison's intelligence increased from Insultingly Stupid to Balefully Moronic.  Accessing memory, activating logic centers.

Madison suddenly understood.  He had seen Lombar Hisst in his red uniform step in front of a thing the Master of Palace City had had placed before the build­ing, and an apparently solid Lombar Hisst, two hundred feet tall, had appeared over the building blessing it.

And you walked through holographic doors to get this far you drooling man-animal.

General Loop was crazy as a coot on scenery with his officers and devils and all.  But he was smart as a whip on theft and security.

THERE WAS NOTHING TO STEAL!

The guy built a holographic labyrinth to protect absolutely nothing.  Truly, he was a genius.

Tears were running down Flick's face.  With leaden steps he dragged himself away.  With a sad, sad voice he muttered, "There goes my dream," and fumbled off to the seventy-sixth floor, leaving it all to Madison to find the vanished crew.

It was a moment of agony and gloom.

Oh no.  Flick's dream of stealing something he legally owns has been crushed.  This cherished character we met less than half a book ago is now sad.  How will we ever find happiness again. 


Back to Chapter Three 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Part Seventy-Five, Chapter Three - The Haunting of Floor Seventy-Seven

All the convicts are scrubbed pink and tucked in, sleeping peacefully even though it's... when is it?  They picked up the cons last night, then robbed the clothing store later that night, then raided the food and beauty stores even later that night, but all the city lights were still shining when they were landing last chapter.  That is one full evening they had.

Anyway, it's probably dawn by now, and the "gang" is able to sleep not because they've been up for 24 hours or however long Voltar's day is, but because "they did not care what time of day it was: it was always night in the Domestic Confederacy Prison."  All that research about humans adopting a 24-hour-ish circadian research even when isolated from daylight apparently doesn't apply to these aliens who are otherwise completely interchangeable with humans.

Flick keeps going on about his dream coming true, how he's going to start planning how to rob their apartment after he has some sleep... and then the horror begins.

Flick gave Madison a single, cross-arm salute and turned to go to his own rest.

A wail was coming from somewhere.

Yeah, the onset of horror is quite sudden.

It got louder.

Someone was shouting a single word. And shouting it with panic that held the raw screech of terror!

So maybe they weren't shouting as much as screeching, eh?

It wasn't a word Madison knew. It was being repeated over and over.

Pounding feet raced toward them. A single man flashed by Madison's open door, screaming that word loud enough to hurt the ears!

"The sealer!" cried Flick. "Come back here!"

But the man raced screaming straight on, tearing through the berthing apartments of the crew, still screaming!

PANDEMONIUM!

Wish I'd thought to keep a "PANDEMONIUM!" count over the course of this, we've got to have broken ten cases by now.

All the cons are awake now, and eventually manage to corner and pin the spaz.  The horror writer explains that the screamer is from "the back country of Flisten, from his eye shape and long fingernails.  They're like monkeys, those people."  And even though racist horror-writer doesn't speak "Guaop," he thinks the word means "ghosts."  The closest Madison can come to imitating it is "slith-therg," in case you were wondering what this alien language sounds like.

From the guy's gestures, it looks like he was poking around on one of the upper floors when he encountered that "ghost."  And immediately, every single convict races towards the staircase to go see the spook in question, much like how stupid tourists out west will charge en masse to try and catch a glimpse of a grizzly wandering near the parking lot.  I didn't get any good pictures of it before it ran off.

Madison and Flick pursue, the latter complaining that "you're cheating!", when suddenly a forcefield shimmers into existence, cutting them off from the others at an intersection!  And by "forcefield" I mean "bulletproof glass panel" sliding out of the ceiling.  Wonder if Voltar space guns count as bullets for such purposes?

The gang, meanwhile, has split into three groups to search the corridors for that nasty "ghost."

Suddenly, the group in the right-hand corridor halted.

CHAOS!

On the other hand, since I didn't keep a "PANDEMONIUM!" count I never had to deal with the question of whether or not to count "CHAOS!" in a separate category or not.

They began to scream and retreat.

BLUEBOTTLES!

With raised stingers, a squad of police was charging straight at them!

"Oh, Gods, they were wise to us!" howled Flick.  "Come back here.  QUICK!"

But then the middle group starts to run from a squad of "SOLDIERS!", while the third bunch also flees because "ASSASSINS WITH ELECTRIC KNIVES WERE BEHIND THEM!"

Madison and Flick looked anxiously back into the right-hand corridor.

IT WAS EMPTY!

They looked into the middle corridor.

NO SIGN OF THAT GROUP!

They looked into the left-hand corridor.

NOBODY THERE!

THE WHOLE CREW HAD VANISHED!

Before you ask, no, the cons haven't "vanished" in the sense that they ran away, they've vanished while Madison and Flick were busy looking at the other groups.  The horror!

A wispy, filmy shape, a ghost indeed, drifted down toward the glass barricade and LAUGHED!

Oh, it was a horrible sound!

Madison and Flick fled.

I think this is a bit more stupid than someone who grew up watching TV freaking out when a "picture" moves within its frame.  At least with TVs you can usually tell when they're on, there's that hum of electricity, a bit of static, the heat rising from the screen.  Being able to convincingly disguise one as an oil painting would be a good surprise, but it'd take all of a second to realize the ruse.

This?  These people were literally walking through holographic doors last chapter.


Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Part Seventy-Five, Chapter Two - Docking Dangers

Voltar has stuff like Joy City, a hundred square miles of lighted signs making "a symphony of shapes and sparkles" underneath the flying buses, but it's not advertising, okay?  They're just, ah, designing memorable displays to create public awareness of the goods or services being offered by establishments.  Completely different.

After drooling over Homeview's distant big shiny dome headquarters surrounded by skyscrapers, any one of which could fit "NBC, CBS and ABC together," Madison is distracted by Flick slowing down for their landing at the townhouse.  We get another two paragraphs describing how huge it is, all "two New York City blocks wide and three long," and also how suspiciously grim it looks with the top four floors all windowless.  And then Madison realizes how high they are: "NOT as high as the Empire State Building," but still up enough to give Madison the heebie-jeebies.

So hey, why all this now?  Why not describe what the building looks like forty pages ago, when we first saw it, instead of spending those pages on Flick rattling off the place's history?

Anyway, we're trying to land, and the convicts are having trouble with the dot-based docking sequence, where you pull up alongside with the hangar deck, point your flying bus' nose at a colored light, and fly forward into what appears to be a steel wall.  The problem is that the cons are balking and the system isn't working, but Madison the Mauler is able to order them to move, and Flick eventually figures out that he forgot to turn on the landing lights.  Everyone - not just Madison, but all those people who have lived in this advanced society for all their lives - gasps with surprise as invisible tractor beams grab the flying buses and swing through hidden doors.  "The building swallowed them!"

Once everyone's good and digested by the building, Flick starts barking orders for the electronics people to fix the other airbuses with proper landing systems, and that everyone should get food.  Madison adds that these stinky Apparatus people need to "bathe, bathe, bathe" before bedtime.  And then Flick reminds them all that nobody's allowed off this level until they've planned how they're going to "rob" the four upper floors, otherwise "it would be cheating!"  I find myself in favor of someone crushing Flick's windpipe with a baseball bat, I'm not sure where that impulse is coming from.

Madison wanders off, "walking through doors that didn't open or close and he found it a bit disconcerting, but he supposed he could get used to it."  But he won't be allowed to remember it next chapter.  Instead he plays with a space tube transporter thingy that zips you down to street level and back in what looks like a free fall but is totally survivable due to space magic.  Madison's too chicken to use it himself and drops a bottle down it, which disappears and reappears in a moment.  I really like this sort of stuff, an ordinary man experimenting to learn how this alien world works, but unfortunately the author prefers to spend time emphasizing the bad guys' B.O.

The publicist continues to examine his spacious but spartan digs, but is interrupted when one of the circus girls, who he learned at some point was named Trotter, walks up to him.  She is of course smoking hot, freshly bathed, and happens to be wearing a bathrobe so open as to be covering nothing.  Trotter... wasn't he in Animal Farm?  Anyway, it's a seduction scene.  She tells him that none of those other criminals can be trusted, but Madison can trust her, because look, she's giving him back his wallet, which she'd stole from the beach so the others wouldn't steal from it.  Yes, she smuggled it out between her legs.  And "That isn't all you can slide there, hmmmm?"

Strangely enough, right after that line Madison proceeds to go through his wallet and count all his cash, even though it's just been doused in... cooties.  His gynophobia reasserts itself when Trotter continues to make advances, suggesting that the two of them hop into bed.  But Madison is a PR, he knows how to handle dames.  He tells Trotter that she's tall, handsome, and devastatingly graceful...

Her eyes began to glow.  Her bare breasts heaved with a shuddering sigh of delight.

"So therefore," said Madison, praying that his pitch would work, "I am saving you as the star of the very first porno movie that we make."

"A bare-(bleep) movie?" said Trotter.

I'd wonder if Madison wasn't taking advantage of a poor woman here, since she doesn't seem to fully grasp what a porno movie is.  But that former Homeview director or whatever was in jail for making porn on the side, so they ought to have some clue.  Maybe Voltarian porn is just PG-13 at most?

This could've been a very different book if Madison was an Earth porno director here to teach an alien race about smut.  Maybe if Hubbard had been born a woman he would've hated pornography the same way our world's Hubbard despised psychology, and written Mission Earth accordingly.  Maybe Battlefield Earth would be remembered as a milestone in feminist science fiction thanks to its indomitable heroine Chrissie, who took down an alien empire.  And maybe Richard Nixon would've become Pope, everything's possible in other dimensions.  I'm on a squidelope.

"Yes, indeed," said Madison, "with men climbing all over you and with the very best angles.  A whole mob of them, fighting amongst themselves to be the first to get you, while you stand proud and stately, pushing them off with your feet until at last, you drop a golden robe, baring yourself totally to the camera and then, disdainfully with scornful finger, point to the one you will take and you do it then on a silken bed while the others grovel weeping on the floor."

"Hot Saints!" said Trotter.  "And I'm the star?"

"Yes, indeed!" said Madison.

"Oh, blazing batfish!  I can't wait to tell the girls!"

She rushed out, robe flying.  Madison quickly figured out how to lock the door.

Bat.  Fish.  Batfish.  Batfishman!  A dark, brooding superhero haunting Slum City, wearing the form of the terrifying batfish to strike fear in the superstitious, cowardly criminal mind...

Anyway, there you have it, lads: when a woman you aren't interested in is trying to jump you, all you gotta do is promise to film her having passionless, punch-clock intercourse with random men, and she'll be so pleased that she'll forget about having sex with you and run off to tell her girlfriends how lucky she is to be a porno star.  Just another life lesson from Mission Earth.

Having dodged that dangerous pair of X chromosomes, Madison reflects on how he's the master of PR and all that, fooling the reader into thinking we're about to finally start the book's main plot.

The movies he was going to make had nothing to do with Trotter.  They would have everything to do with creating a brand-new image for Heller, one that would be stamped forever on men's minds: an outlaw!  Hunted and chased by everyone!  Famous beyond belief!

He turned back to the window.  I wonder, he thought sadly, where Heller-Wister is right now.  Already wanted on a general warrant, he was probably alone and shivering in some dark cave, unknown and depriving posterity of his potential notoriety.  Well, he thought, with a confident smile, I can remedy that.  With this crew I can do anything!

Oh my, won't Mr. Bury be proud!  What a triumph for good, plain, old-time Earth PR!  What an opportunity to show what he could really do!

And now con-man Madison is gone, replaced by his more familiar characterization as a colossally deluded moron trying to make a man on another planet famous in all the worst ways so that his boss several light-years away will be happy.  I think I prefer the con-man characterization more, since I dislike stupid characters who accomplish everything by accident.

Tune in next time for a g-g-ghost story!


Back to Chapter One

Monday, November 25, 2013

Part Seventy-Five, Chapter One - Smells

So we've got our "gang" of potential PR-ists, and they've got clothes now, so you'd think we'd be ready for Madison to finally start PR-ing Heller's brains out.  We're nearly two hundred pages into the novel, after all, so we're running out of time for him to do some evil deeds for Heller to combat in Book Ten.  But no!  We're gonna spend a chapter dwelling on the fact that the Apparatus is stinky!

The Apparatus Stink is irritating Madison's nose, he mentions as much to Flick, and is recommended to try a "chank-pop" without any further description.

Madison got one out: it seemed to be just a small round ball.  He twisted and turned it, trying to make it do something.  In the dimness of the airbus he didn't see the indented line that you press.  He, in some annoyance, tried squeezing the whole ball between his palms with force, the way he was sometimes able to crack walnuts, a small fruit of Earth.

The mind-boggling thing about this paragraph is that the author decides to explain what a walnut is, not the stupid "chank-pop."

To cut a long page short, Madison squeezes too hard, shoots himself in the eye with the cap, and gets a concentrated blast of "summer blossom sighs" to the forehead.  Laugh at the physical comedy!  Laugh, damn you!

By now they're flying over the shopping malls between Commercial City and Pleasure City, albeit malls populated by only a few stores.  The closest two happen to host the imaginatively-named Restaurant Supplies and Beauty franchises, and Madison demands a stop.  All those criminal chefs are ordered to get comestibles from the first store.  "Get anything you want," "WHAT A CHIEF!" and so forth.

While they see to the, ugh, gang's food supply, Madison runs into that Beauty Supplies store... wait, it was just Beauty last page... and demands "SOAP!  And LOTS of it!"  A salesman gives him a little bottle of ultra-concentrated stuff.

"No, no," said Madison, "I'm trying to get rid of Apparatus stink."

"That," said another clerk, "would be VERY bene­ficial.  In fact, I wish we could sell you a solvent that would get rid of the whole Apparatus."

Remember that by the time Monte Pennwell assembles the epic tale of Mission Earth, the Voltarian government has somehow buried the existence of this secret state department that even random beauty parlor workers knew about at one point.

He had their interest now.  "I've got fourteen women and thirty-four men.  They haven't shaved, they haven't bathed, they haven't cut or coiffed their hair for years.  They STINK!"  He looked around.  The stacks of goods bore no placards or advertising signs.  "I need stuff to cut beards and hair, shave them and polish their teeth, make them look like high-class people and also to cut toenails and make them tan--and no chank-pops!"

Interesting that Madison knows that these aliens polish their teeth with space wizardry rather than use a toothbrush like primitives, as well as that tanned flesh is associated with class on this planet, not, say, the porcelin white skin tone of someone who never had to go outside for work.  Or the solid black skin of a scion of Old Voltar.  Or the flushed red flesh of one touched by the Blood God.  Nope, just like on 1980's Earth, high class means a fake tan.

Well, if this alien society was too imaginative and different it wouldn't be satire, eh?

"High-class people?" said another clerk.  "From Apparatus thugs?  Sir, we heartily agree.  You DO have a problem.  Come on, boys, let's help him out.  Start getting what he needs."

"In QUANTITY!" said Madison.

They laughed and began to rush around with carts, grabbing big boxes and cases and grosses of this and dozens of that.

This is all so unfair.  Those poor criminal chefs and secretaries have been in the Apparatus for less than a day.  If Madison hadn't decided he needed a film crew recruited that night, half of them wouldn't be in the Apparatus at all.  Their stench isn't even exclusive to the organization, the other convicts at that prison smelled as bad.  And I bet Heller got pretty ripe spending weeks behind enemy lines doing commando stuff instead of showering.  But we're expected to judge books by the smell of their bindings, and since the Apparatus is clearly the worst of the worst, they must have an appropriate odor.

While examining all the beauty products, which sport numbers instead of proper labels, Madison ruminates on Voltarian society.

These people had so much technology, such a stable economy, such cheap fuel, that they weren't fixated on having to market some new invention every day, and lives were not lived around logistics as they were on Earth.  PR was a creature which had grown out of advertising, and these people, despite their high culture, had never developed it. 

Um, what?  Post-WWII America had advanced technology, a stable economy, and cheap fuel up until the oil crisis of the early '70s.  America was also very much accustomed to advertising - part of developing an advanced, consumer-based economy is finding ways of encouraging people to buy your products, after all.

That meant that they would really have no inkling of PR.  It made him feel powerful.  He could, he realized suddenly, get away with anything, no matter how old and stale, and never even be suspected.

Madison was trying to think of some of the oldest and hoariest PR tricks that had long since become pure corn on Earth.  He realized they would all work, even selling the Brooklyn Bridge, and he began to laugh in delight.

Now come on, that's not PR, that's a con.  And from the crimes of some of those prisoners, clearly these people are familiar with fraud.

This is all getting out-of-character for Madison.  He sounds like an egotistical shyster looking forward to swindling a bunch of rubes, not a blithering idiot who sees nuclear war as a way of helping his client.

A clerk had paused with a piled-up cart.  "I'm glad you're so pleased, sir.  I wanted to ask you if you'd also want some paint masks and party things."

"Oh, there'll be a party," said Madison.  "In fact, it will be a ball!"

"Right, sir, we'll add it to the order," and the clerk rushed on.

And that's a natural place to end the chapter, only Hubbard spends a third of a page discussing how the flying buses are so full that crates have to be strapped to their roofs.

Tune in next time as we... park the buses.


Back to Part Seventy-Four, Chapter Eight

Friday, November 22, 2013

Part Seventy-Four, Chapter Eight - Madison Follows His Nose

Madison, Flick and the criminals are back in Commercial City, circling the Classy Togs factory complex and worker quarters, "a miniature city in itself."  Thanks to the Angel Bus' screens, "tuned to night frequency," they can see all the reassuringly familiar textile factories (chimneys and all) as well as their destination, a warehouse.  Flick mentions that this place supplies the best clothing for the Confederacy's rich and famous, including Hightee Heller.  This is like the second time he's namedropped her, so as you might guess she'll be making an appearance in a few chapters.

They land next to the warehouse, and Madison's uneasy.  Not only is their getaway vehicle eminently recognizable, but they'll be doing this robbery with a herd of nudists.  A few of those naked criminals, the technical experts and the like, inform their bosses that they'll need to take over a nearby watchman's office to disable the alarms on the warehouse.  Unfortunately there's a security guard on station, and none of the crack convicts Flick recruited is a "slugger" capable of subduing a single night watchman.  But Flick's not worried - he already has a killer on hand, see.

Yes, Madison the PR master is now ironically a prisoner of the very reputation he crafted to... well, that doesn't quite work, Flick's the one who decided Madison's some sort of modest murderer, while Madison's done nothing but protest to the contrary.  So it's more accurate to say that once again Madison is a prisoner of his drivers' delusions.  Even so, Madison realizes that "his control of the gang was on the line," so he has to act.  Because remember, the story is about gangs now.

The publicist shrugs off some cons who want to come with him, explaining that he doesn't want "any witnesses to learn how I really work."  The POV stays behind with Flick and the others as Madison disappears into the guard's office, the watchman at the window vanishes, and soon enough Madison returns, having unlocked the warehouse.  As "forty-eight naked cons slid like whispers" into the building, Madison, his hands "BRIGHT RED!", warns them not to look in the watchman's office if they want to keep their lunches down, but encourages them to take all the time they need.  Flick's concerned that there might be other guards on patrol, but Madison snorts that "They're not roving anymore."  Oh boy.  Do you think he murdered them.

There's about half a page of the convicts picking out clothes that I'm going to skip, but while he waits on them, Madison has a revelation.  The warehouse is stinky.  But it's not because of the clothes in it, it's because even after their sea bath, those convicts are stinky.  And the Apparatus is stinky, almost exactly the same type of stinky!  "The Apparatus smell was the smell of convicts!  So THAT was why it stank!"  Incredible!  Using nothing but his feeble brain and the power of his nose, Madison has deduced that the organization that recruits criminals like Flick is made up of criminals!

As dawn nears, all those stinky criminals get their new costumes loaded into the buses, but some are still curious about how Madison dealt with the guards.  Madison, humming a happy tune to himself, keeps them away from the gruesome scene, insisting that he doesn't want them to stink up their new clothes with vomit. 

Another convict tried to peer in and Madison shooed him off.  "What'd you use?" the convict said.  "You didn't have any weapon."

"My bare hands," said Madison.  "I love the feel of the running gore when I rip out throat arteries.  So smooth, so slick.  And it has a lovely smell.  You should taste it!"

The convicts let out a gasp.  One retched.  They stared at Madison.

He shooed them off to the air-coaches and sauntered after them, humming his little song.

Even Flick is acting respectful towards his boss, and Madison is quite pleased with himself.  Of course all he did was use that "UNLIMITED pay status" to buy the warehouse and keep the guards out of sight while the cons "steal" everything.  It's about as obvious as the "haunted" apartment turning out to have holographic ghosts in a few chapters.

Madison's hands were doused in red ink, in case you cared.

BARE-HANDED!  And he liked it.  Oh, Flick told himself, by Gods, they'd have to think twice before they crossed the chief.  A REAL murderer for sure!  A PROFESSIONAL!  And he LOVED HIS WORK!

This is just confusing, Madison's rant being interrupted with Flick's thoughts and immediately going back to Madison. 

"We're heading for Joy City right now, sir," said Flick.

Madison heard the tremor, the fear and the respect in that voice.

It made everything complete.

He had total charge of this crew!

And he had to do that because his crew consists of criminals because we can't have Madison doing something as simple as hiring a team from Homeview with his "UNLIMITED pay status."

It didn't hurt at all to use the techniques of PR to improve one's own image.

Now he could REALLY PR Heller-Wister!

Gonna Public Relations your brains out, baby.

Alright, this whole bit with Madison using PR to gain control of his gang - it's not in itself a bad idea, or even poorly-executed by Mission Earth's dismal standards.  If you're trying to establish that a character is a master of deception, able to construct a fearsome persona for himself or others, having him bluff his way into control of a gang helps prove this.

The problem is doing this in Book Nine when the character first appeared in Book Three.  You should not need to establish your villain's credentials right before the story's climax!

Also, Madison's stupid shtick is that he's clueless about the effects of his campaigns and how he actually destroys peoples' lives.  So if he's trying to PR himself here, to be consistent he'd have to do something stupid like try to convince the gang he's an undercover cop and get lynched.  And if he doesn't, and successfully brands himself as something he's not, now he's got to question why all his other attempts went wrong, and why trying to brand someone as an outlaw when they are not expected to be an outlaw might cause them consternation.

But this is Mission Earth, where thinking isn't allowed.  Else you might start to wonder why you even need to finish the Heller-Wister Case if you're now a PR Czar on another planet with an unlimited paycheck.


Back to Part Seventy-Four, Chapter Seven 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Part Seventy-Four, Chapter Seven - The Confederacy's Worst Criminals Frolic and Have a Sing-Song

All the convicts soon to form Flick's Best Gang Ever!! and Madison's Crack PR Team are loaded up in their buses, but nothing's moving because Flick's gone AWOL.  Madison tracks him down to the Angel Bus, hunched over a computer screen, looking at maps.  See, Flick knows that the best way to train a gang to rob a building is to run around in caves, but unlike his native Calabar, Voltar is strangely lacking in suitable caverns.  So he's found some ten-thousand-year-old ruins on the other side of the Bilke Mountains that would be just as good, except the non-gilded airbuses they hired for the convicts can't fly at fifty thousand feet!

The difference between these chapters and the rest of Mission Earth is that a character in the story is actually acknowledging what a stupid waste of time this is.  Madison tries to get Flick to go back to the townhouse they just bought, but Flick retorts "That would be cheating!"  Madison threatens to take his "gang" there, the prospect of a "gang war" spooks Flick, and they agree to only occupy the first of the five floors until they're ready to rob their own bloody apartment I hate this book so much.

But just when you thought the plot was ready to shudder forward three paces, Flick announces that unloading fifty ragged, filthy passengers would attract the po-po, and declares that they're going to Classy Togs Warehouse to get them some swanky clothes.  His footwoman in particular has "awful big breasts and is going to need a big selection to choose a uniform from, or we won't get a fit."  And of course they're going to steal everything even though they have that unlimited pay grade, because this story wallows in stupid like a pig in muck.

Oh no!  The flying convoy gets going, but after a bit Madison looks back and finds "NO COACHES!" are following them.  There's even "NO BLIPS!" on the radar!  Who would have thought that a bunch of criminals suddenly released and given transportation might make a runner?  Madison and Flick take the Angel Bus and backtrack, soon spotting "A BLIP.  TWO BLIPS.  THREE BLIPS!" parked on the beach.  When they land to investigate, they find that "THE COACHES ARE EMPTY!"  What drama!  What suspense!  Did some sort of space monster eat everyone, did they slip off into the desert, or did they-

The group wasn't inland.  It was down in the surf.  Were they fighting?

The Model 99 swooped nearer and landed with a thunk in the sand.  Madison leaped out.

Convicts were running everywhere!

"WHEE!" they were shouting.  "WHEE!"

Madison caught an arm of a naked woman as she raced by.  But she was gone, shouting, "Whee!"

-go streaking on the beach.  Okay.

The cons heard Flick talking about getting new clothes, and decided that they should get rid of their old ones.  Immediately.  And then run around naked on the beach squealing like schoolchildren.  Flick and Madison are heavily outnumbered, so they have to humor their new workers as they start a bonfire, hold hands, form two rings around it, and start rotating in opposite directions in a sort of dance... I guess these are hippies?  On top of being evil PR workers-to-be and criminals?

Then, mysteriously, sweetbuns and sparklewater from the lockers of the Model 99 began to get tossed from hand to hand.  They had robbed the airbus!

Then they were all sitting, toasting sweetbuns on long sticks and guzzling sparklewater from jugs.  And somebody began to sing a song! 

And here's a cheer
To the boys in blue
And here's to the cons
They love to screw.
So let's screw the blueboys
Screw, screw, screw.
And chaw [sic] on their carcasses
Chew, chew, chew!
Up their butts
And off with their nuts
And here's to a life of crime!

No, looks like they're evil criminals who just happen to like to sing and hold hands.  And despite their song, this is an entirely non-sexual naked beach romp.  At worst there's some horseplay with people getting tossed into the water.

Is this real?  Did somebody sneak some chapters from a different story into this one and change the names to fit?

Madison tries to wrap things up, but some naked circus girls grab him, strip him, and toss him into the water.  Then some other cons pick him up and carry him out, and oh, it's very tense and frightening!  Madison is sure they're "going to wipe him out!"

In the lights from the bonfire and the car, eyes were glittering.  Like wolves?

Suddenly they began to chant, "Hup! Hup! Hup! Hup!"  Was this some sort of a convict or guard cry that marched them about?

They were going to the fire.  Were they going to throw him in?

They were marching around the fire.  Some sort of savage ritual.  "Hup! Hup! Hup! Hup!"  Like Indians or wild animals!

Oh, L. Ron.  Also, I think this is the closest we've come to a proper Hubbard Action Sequence since Madison's heart-stopping ordeal in Teenie's bedroom.

Then suddenly they all stopped.  A male voice--the director's?--began a chant, calling one line and being answered by all the rest.

"Who's the gang?"

"WE'RE THE GANG!"

"Who's the mob?"

"WE'RE THE MOB!"

"Who's the chief?"

"HE'S THE CHIEF!"

And threw Madison in the water!

He came up spluttering.

They paid no further attention to him.  They were now trooping off to the air-coaches.

And when he gets his clothes back, his identoplate's still there, but "HIS WALLET AND FORTY-EIGHT THOUSAND CREDITS WERE GONE!"  Goodness knows where a bunch of naked criminals are hiding that much cash.

And that's the chapter.  Flick invents another sidetrip for us, but we don't even get started on it so we can have a bunch of naked beach hijinks.  We are on page 188 of Book Nine, people.  We have a book and a half to wrap this story up.  And this is how the author has plotted his sci-fi espionage romance satire epic.


Back to Chapters Five and Six 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Part Seventy-Four, Chapters Five and Six - An Ideal Gang and a PR Crew

Madison tries to explain to Flick that now that they own the treasure-laden townhouse, there's no reason to rob it.  But Flick continues to exult "all my dreams are coming true!" and tells Madison not to worry his pretty little head as he once again drives off against his boss' orders.

Have a splash of color.

A vast sea was on their left and they were speeding along the coast, a greenish surf drawing ribbons of foam upon the sand in the dimming light.  Great scarlet clouds, far to the west, were catching the afterglow of the sun.

Presently, in the fading twilight, the beaches gave way to cliffs and black mountains began to silhouette against the stars.  Suddenly Flick pulled his throttle back and pointed.

A huge ebony bulk lay just ahead, sprawling along the top of cliffs that fell a quarter of a mile, sheer, to the sea.  Battlements that covered acres were blacker against an ink-dark sky.

Flick's dreams have led them to the Domestic Confederacy Prison, a former Army base now housing the Bluebottles' worst prisoners, an inescapable oubliette for all the scum the Apparatus doesn't take for itself.  And it turns out any dope in a flying bus can land right in the courtyard without having to call ahead or anything.

At least the guards notice and advance warily with guns drawn, but Flick shows off Madison's identoplate - when's Madison going to get that back? - and explains that "PR man" means "parole officer" and demands to speak to the "warder."  Technically he already is, but the guard knows that Hubbard actually means warden and so takes them to the guy running the prison.

Two thousand credits, a whole year's pay, is enough to make the warden compliant, and Flick is given access to the prison records and population.  See, among his many dreams being realized these past few chapters has been to lead a crack gang of outlaws, so he's gonna recruit one from the lowlifes at the DCP.  He's even going to draw up a list first.

IDEAL GANG

1 Female for a footman in the car to fool with and feel up when I have long and tiresome waits.

5 More drivers for getaway and loot coaches and in case I get tired driving.

3 Chefs for cooking in relays 24 hours in case I get hungry at odd times.

1 Sealer to climb up walls and open windows and roof traps in places I think I might get dizzy or my shins barked.

1 Purse snatcher to get keys to houses and opening plates to avoid making noise by breaking locks.

1 Electronics security expert that knows all about security systems and can defeat them.

1 Salesman to fence loot for me so he gets caught and I don't.

1 Good-looking girl to clean up my room because I hate making beds. Ha. Ha.

6 Whores to sleep with and cook for the rest of the gang so they leave mine alone.

This.  Is.  Inane.  Watching Hubbard dip into his boyhood fantasies of gangsters and outlaws wasn't enough, now we're watching a character in-story do the same thing!  All we need now is for Flick to draw up a blueprint for the Best Treehouse Ever and blow forty thousand credits on the biggest, oldest space oak on Voltar.  

I'm only going to comment briefly on how staggeringly dumb it is to try and recruit chefs from a prison instead of hiring chefs.

While Flick finishes up, Madison notices some odd symbols and categories on the computer screen, indicating felons with an advanced education, former circus performers and ex-Homeview cameramen.  So the publicist makes his own list.

Two hours later and Madison's nauseated after having helped Flick interview 480 prisoners to pick 48 recruits, fourteen women and 34 men.  By this point we've been repeatedly reminded that the Apparatus has a trademark stench associated with it, and how filthy and disgusting and unhygienic everyone involved with the group is, but it turns out Domestic Police prisoners can be dirty and stinky too.  Hence Madison's tender tummy.

The warden warns them how dangerous this pack of killers is - especially the women - and muses how strange it is that the government pays the Bluebottles to prevent crime and the Drunks to commit it, funny old world.  Then he gives a little speech to the scum squad, threatening them with terrible punishments if they ever end up back in prison, saying that they're only as free as Madison lives so they better do what he says, "You belong in Hells, not in free air," etc.

Then some Zippety-Zip airbuses pull up, and while everyone embarks, Madison checks the list he made to make sure he got everyone he needs.  It's a good indication of how broken Voltar's legal system is, if there was any doubt after all that "if you try to pay with a counterfeit bill, you're executed" idiocy.

1  Director, ex-Homeview, who had been making porno movies on the side.

2  Cameramen who had been caught selling government supplies.

3  Set men whose sets, because they had sold the fasteners, had fallen down and killed actors.

1  Horror-story writer who had frightened an audience of children into convulsions resulting in deaths.

5  Reporters who had been caught accepting bribes to omit names, and other similar crimes.

1  Studio production secretary who had been accepting bribes to ruin the careers of actors.

2  Actors who had been doing long stretches for impersonating officers of various kinds to shake people down.

5  Circus girls, educated and statuesque, who, variously, had been doing time on long sentences yet to be served for rolling drunks, extorting money, setting up people for hits.

6  Roustabouts who had been doing lots of time for mayhem and assault, amongst other things.

2  Drivers skilled in heavy vehicles who had been doing twenty and thirty years respectively for pillaging their trucks.

2  Cooks, experienced in crew logistics, who had been doing time for selling stolen food.

This is the Domestic Police's most notorious prison, housing some of the Confederacy's worst criminals, and they've got people down here for selling stolen food.  Y'know, maybe that's the point.  Maybe the Confederacy is so pure and awesome and untainted by psychology that crime is so rare, petty theft is the sort of thing that makes you a master criminal.

Or maybe this book is stupid, one or the other.

All this to say, Madison is pumped, because if these vicious criminals, these embezzlers and pornographers, really concentrate, they can "lay aside the killer stamp" and appear honest and persuasive.  With a bit of coaching, they may be something he could work with.

A glow of eagerness built up to a fiery excitement within him. What luck!

HE HAD HIS CREW!

The exact people he needed to get on with his job!
He felt he could rise to heights now never before achieved!

This might make sense.  Hubbard wants to convey how PR crews are composed of circus performers and dirty secretaries - criminals, in other words - so he had to make the plot lead Madison to a prison, a slave to the whims of his driver, so that instead of using his unlimited bank account and media czar powers to get a proper Homeview crew, Madison would have to literally recruit a bunch of criminals.

On that thought, why couldn't Madison wait until the morning, go to Homeview, and use his unlimited bank account and media czar powers to recruit a proper camera crew?

Oh, how lucky Heller was, to have him for his PR!

He must not let anything stop him now!

Hilariously, the very first line of the next chapter is "There was a holdup on departure."  It's so perfect that I'm sure Hubbard didn't plan it.


Back to Chapter Four

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Part Seventy-Four, Chapter Four - Why Spend Billions When He Could Steal Thousands?

Previously, on Mission Earth... Madison's driver dragged him off to buy an expensive and garish space bus.  That was it. 

Madison, already a car buff, began to warm to the vehicle.  It certainly was FLASHY!  Even the angels at the four corners had a sort of wild grin on their faces as though they were going to show the world. 

Show the world what?  Anything in particular, or just general showing?

He thought for a moment of his poor Excalibur, probably on the river bottom still in New York, far away, and then dismissed it.  This was a car that performed like a jetliner, with no wings.  It wasn't chrome-plated.  It was gold-plated!  Every button was a precious stone.  The seats were like sitting on a cloud.  He forgot the Excalibur.  This was a PR car to end all PR cars!

Ah, so the ostentation of the vehicle symbolizes Public Relations' prioritizing of style over substance, the wealth the profession squanders on such pageantry, and the shallowness of its practitioners for - oh, wait.  The book's hero is riding around in a luxury tugboat.  Never mind.

Madison signs the paperwork, they leave the dingy old Apparatus space bus at the dealership, Flick keeps jabbering about how all his dreams have come true, and Madison tries to remind his driver who's in charge here.

"Flick," he said, "I'm sure it's a joy to drive this thing and she is a beauty, I admit.  But I see it is now afternoon and I should not be wasting the day."

"Never you mind," said Flick.  "Don't you fret.  I can tell you're new here.  An Earthman, isn't it?  I didn't know we had such a planet but I don't know them all.  So you just let me handle this so you don't get lost."

So instead of going to the Homeview headquarters, Madison's once again along for the ride as Flick hijacks the plot.

They leave Commercial City, which sells things if you're noble or have a big enough checking account, and go to Joy City, where military personnel on leave can pay to have sex with animals like they do on campaign.  Luckily Flick isn't interested in indulging that particular sin at the moment, and instead takes Madison to a slab of a building "that must be eighty stories high and which covered an area of what might be six New York City blocks."  The top five floors form the townhouse of the late General Loop, who was in charge of the entire Confederacy's electronic security.  It's full of a bunch of antique treasures, undoubtedly arranged with great taste and panache.

Flick wants to rob it.  Sure, it's got the best anti-burglary systems known to space man, but Flick figures if he tells its owners that he wants to buy it, they'll show him those systems, so he can later defeat them.

Just as a reminder, last chapter Flick bought a space bus with an UNLIMITED PAY credit card.  But he still wants to rob this place.

They land on the roof and talk to a guy, and Madison's displeased with this latest diversion, until he hears why nobody has bought this place yet.

"Oh, they're crazy, of course," the old man said, "but they think the place is haunted."

That was all Madison needed to get along: the robbery of a haunted townhouse.  What a headline THAT would make!  He tried to think of something that would dampen Flick's enthusiasm.

So if I'm reading this right, Madison is now interested in Flick's plan to rob the haunted mansion as good PR, but is simultaneously trying to think of a way to dissuade Flick from robbing the haunted mansion.

The writing in this chapter is... well, see for yourself.

But the old man was talking, "You can't get into this place without help," he said, climbing in.

"I know," said Flick.

"So I thought I'd better come up in person with the box.  They're all waiting for you down below, so if you'll just move this airbus ahead to that small white dot you see there, we'll go in."

Flick, quivering with expectancy, moved the car as stated and the old man pushed at the side of the box.

SWOOP!

Hidden doors whose edges had not been evident activated and they were still sitting in the airbus but it was now sitting in the center of a palatial living room!

Flick wants a tour and the serious-looking men are reluctant but then Flick whips out Madison's identoplate "like a stage magician" and they read the "pay status UNLIMITED" and gasp and gawk and take them on a brief tour because the townhouse is stupidly impractically big.

There were apartments beyond count, some quite ele­gant.  Some were like the palatial cabins of ships at sea, some were like those of spacecraft.  Some looked like hunting lodges.

Some would wonder why one man would need so many rooms in such a large apartment.  Some would wonder why the author felt the need to provide such an impractical abode for his book's characters.

There were several bars as big as a tavern, chairs and tables and decor approximating styles of different planets.

How would Madison know?  How could he tell the difference between furniture from Calabar and Manco and furniture from two different nations on Manco?

There were kitchens that were complex mazes of electronic cooking gear which sent viands upwards which would then appear magically on tables in dining salons without having seemed to travel.

There were rooms which contained such a multitude of screens that one got the impression he could look at any band or transmission on any planet anywhere.

They came to an auditorium that would seat at least two hundred people and whose stage revolved or simply flapped back when another decorated stage rose.

I think somewhere out there, surrounded by quantum and nanomachines, is a parallel universe where L. Ron Hubbard never went into pulps, but had a humble yet satisfying career writing articles for travel magazines, promotional material for car companies, and hotel brochures.

Madison got the distinct impression they were not seeing everything there was to see in these rooms.  Some­thing odd about it all, something strange.  Spooky.  Part of it was that there seemed to be windows but they were all black.

So the guy who built this place was big on electronic security, and lived in a society with hologram projectors, but people still think this place is haunted.  If I solve the mystery early, can I go home?

One of the old retainers talks about the place's security systems, Flick gushes to Madison about the half a million credits' worth of loot in this building, and I want to cry.  Pay status UNLIMITED.  Access to the billions of spacebux in the empire's treasury.  Why do we have to do this?  Why did Hubbard populate his books with stupid characters?  Why did he invent this subplot?  Why do these books have to hurt so much?

And it doesn't get better.  This stuff goes on and on into the middle of the book.  (Bleep).  (Bleep)!

The butler, or something, acknowledges what an idiotic idea this huge "townhouse" is, since it's under one deed that can't be broken up to make it a hotel or whatever.  Madison tries to bid too low so he and Flick will have to give up and do something to further the story's plot, but in a hilarious bit of irony the old man accepts his offer of twenty thousand credits.

Madison blinked.  Then he suddenly realized the offer was about four hundred thousand dollars!

Numbers mean nothing.  You have infinite money, you're on another planet, this book was written decades ago and inflation has happened.  Stop using numbers, Hubbard.

Well, I say that, but if you look closely at the sums...

HE HAD BOUGHT A HAUNTED TOWN-HOUSE!

Holograms.  You saw Hisst become a big red space devil just a few chapters ago, you're just not allowed to remember that for fifty pages.  Also, you're supposed to be a product of psychology and therefore atheistic and soulless and... I'm really surprised I'm so bothered by this.  Is this a delayed response to the Teenie chapters?  Or is the fact that this chapter doesn't even make sense in-story what sets it apart?

Tune in next time as Flick, who is now a more active protagonist than Madison, assembles a crack team to rob the treasures he already owns thanks to a credit card worth infinitely more than what he hopes to steal.

This book.

  
Back to Chapter Three 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Part Seventy-Four, Chapter Three - Wish Fulfillment

It's not that we're going to watch Madison go car shopping.  We're watching Madison watch somebody else go car shopping.  In space, if that makes things more interesting.

Flick's driving the airbus like crazy, so Madison's tumbling around with all the food like a load of laundry in the dryer.  He hasn't even given his driver any orders, but Flick knows where they're going: Commercial City and the Zippety-Zip Manufacturing Outlet.  Flick literally flies through the front doors to land in the showroom.

This is unusual enough to make the salesman noticeably grumpy, but not grumpy enough to actually call the cops or kick them out.  Mr. Chalber asks how he can help them, and Flick points up at the ceiling.

Up there, on a transparent sheet suspended by cables,

So Voltar has the space magic to make floating furniture for your bedroom, but they've still got display pieces dangling from wires.  Huh.

was a vehicle on display, visible from the air if one looked through the high windows or glass dome.  It was utterly huge: it had a flying angel in lifelike colors protruding forward from each of its four corners and it appeared to be solid gold.

Again with the frakking gold.  It'd be refreshing to read about an alien culture with an avaricious approach to mud - its rich earthy scent, its deep brown splendor, its heavy cool moistness, by the Space Gods they'd kill for the stuff!

Also, what colors are "lifelike" for angels?  Did the artists work from photographs?  Is there an angel preserve on Calabar, where hunters can occasionally get permits to bag a few in order to keep the numbers down?  Or are these Manco Angels?

"That, that, that!" said Flick.  "I've wanted it for years!"

"Oh, I am sorry," said Chalber, "that's the Model 99.  There were only six of them ever built and they were used for parades and vehicle shows.  It's sort of our symbol of excellence to show what Zippety-Zip can do.  It's not for sale."

"Oh, yes, by Gods, it's for sale.  Look at that sign on the window.  It says, 'We Sell Everything That Flies.'"

I can't help but feel like we've lost the plot.  We spent all those chapters watching a sex show, and just when it looks like our patience has been rewarded with a step towards our viewpoint character actually doing something that will affect the course of the story, here we are sitting in a showroom watching our viewpoint character's driver argue with a salesperson over a car.

"Well, that's just a figure of speech," said Chalber.

"You better start figuring," said Flick.  "I WANT THAT AIRBUS!"

And since the main character is really Heller, all the tension from the sections focused on Madison is supposed to come from how the publicist will make life difficult for Heller, or pollute Voltar with psychology and public relations.  We're like in a subplot's sideplot.  With some gear and a pair of binoculars, we might be able to see the main story after a hard climb.

It's not just that this gaudy angel-car is super rare and exclusive, the salesman is also reluctant to part with it because Flick isn't - you guessed it - noble.  Madison has to try and keep a brawl from starting, but Flick's pretty serious about this.

"Listen yourself!" said Flick.  "That 99 has a bar, a toilet, a washbasin with jewelled buttons.  It has a color organ and every known type of screen and viewer.  The back seats break down into beds that massage you.  The upholstery is real lepertige fur.  It flies at six hundred miles an hour and can reach any place on the planet non­stop.  It is fully automatic.  It is completely soundproof and it is pressurized for flights up to three hundred miles altitude.  When you land, a piece of the back end pulls out and becomes a ground car and you don't need to walk.  The Model 99 has tons of storage cabinets and you can even hide a girl under the seat."  He shook his fist at Chalber pugnaciously.  "I've had dreams of driving one around, snooting at all the other traffic and I'm NOT going to be stopped!"

It's all so damn tiresome.  Precious ink and paper wasted so the author can drool over luxurious items for his characters to enjoy.  Is this how Hubbard found wish fulfillment?  Or did he think his readers were so shallow as to sigh over imaginary people's imaginary cars?

The salesman explains that the Model 99 is worth approximately thirty thousand spacebux, Flick mentions Madison's "Pay Status UNLIMITED" identoplate, and that seems to be that.  "Baby, come to your Daddy Flick!"  End chapter.

I guess... yeah, this must be satire!  You know, like in James Bond movies there's always a spiffy car, and it gets its introduction in Q's lab, and there's a few shots of it zipping along to a dazzling location, and exactly one superfluous chase sequence where it gets to use its rockets or ejection seat, and other than that it's totally unimportant to the story.  This isn't a complete waste of time, it's satire, so there.

Tune in next time as Flick buys an apartment.  Just like James Bond always... dammit.


Back to Chapter Two 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Part Seventy-Four, Chapter Two - Four Hundred Billion Cups of Coffee

That's right, Voltar doesn't have anything like credit cards.  The Countess Krak thought hers (well, Gris') was a magic piece of plastic full of an endless supply of money.  Guess they operate entirely on cash?

On his way out of the Finance Department, Madison stops by the withdrawal desk to ask for fifty thousand spacebux, which the cashier girl warns would make "an awful wad" and ruin his suit.

She came back with a neat pack and while she was stamping things, Madison looked at the banknotes.  It was the first time he had seen any Voltar money up close.  It was gold-colored paper, quite pretty.  It sparkled.  He petted it.  Very nice.

Always (bleeping) gold.  The Psychlos were monsters because they conquered worlds for it.  Gris is a greedy villain because of the lengths he went through to get it.  And yet the author's just as obsessed with the stuff as his evil characters are.

"You wouldn't have some idle time tonight, would you?" asked the girl hopefully.

Madison ran.

Certainly the behavior of someone who joked(?) about rape last chapter.

Madison saddles up with Flick in the airbus, who is "STARVING!" and eager to go grab some hot jolt and sweetbuns, which along with chank-pops and sweetwater seems to form the entirety of Voltar's alien cuisine.  But when Madison tries to buy some goods from a street vendor with a thousand-credit bill, he's told that it's too much - two space coffees, four space buns, and a pack of space cigarettes will only cost a tenth of a credit, or as Madison puts it "ten cents."  Upon further questioning, the vendor explains that a good pair of shoes would only cost a credit and a half.

Madison did a racing calculation.  He had been thinking in terms of dollars.  As close as he could guess, one credit must be worth at least twenty bucks!

He sank back on the seat in a sudden shock.  He didn't have a billion-dollar drawing account.

HE HAD ONE FOR TWENTY BILLION!

And?  See, there comes a point where slapping more zeroes on a number just doesn't mean anything.

According to Ask.com, Microsoft spent $11.5 billion on advertising in 2010, and while that's a bit ridiculous, at least advertising produces a tangible result - sales figures.  Microsoft has to convince people to shun penguin-based operating systems and buy Call of Duty for the tenth time to play with an oversized controller instead of a mouse and keyboard like God intended.  The advertising is an investment that pays off in the form of purchases.

With publicity, though, you're dealing with the intangible called "fame."  Madison's tiny little mind isn't trying to make Heller-Wister rich or move Wister-Heller commemorative T-shirts, he's attempting to make him a legend.  How do you measure that?  Polls of name recognition among Voltarians?  Total air time among media outlets?  How do you even blow twenty billion on publicity?  Stupid question, I'm sure we'll find out.

So you might as well give Madison two hundred billion dollars, or twenty bajillion dollars, it's just as nonsensical.

Flick reaches for Madison's identoplate, sees the "Pay Status UNLIMITED?" marking, and has a little freakout, eyes "jiggling."  Thanks, Hubbard, for that horrifying mental image.  The vendor offers a paper voucher for a wimpy tenth of a credit, and it sounds like Madison has to stamp it with his identoplate to authorize the sale.  So, something like checking, or an IOU?  But Voltar hasn't made the connection between electronic ID cards, credit, and easy cashless transactions.  No place for Maddy to swipe his card and deduct ten cents from his account.

Flick got his eyes in focus.  He went into sudden motion.  He scribbled on the paper and stamped it and said, "THROW THE WHOLE CONTENTS OF YOUR CART IN!"

The old man looked at the paper in shock.  Then he hastily began to pitch things through the window.  He barely managed to tip up the last tray when Flick took off.

"HOT SAINTS!" cried Flick as he raced into the air. "MY DREAMS HAVE JUST COME TRUE!"

Dreams of living off nothing but coffee and pastries, huh?  Well, too each their own.

At least we've figured out the exchange rate.  So another character in Mission Earth just received a ludicrous amount of money, and you know what that means: chapters devoted to frivolous, tasteless purchases.


Back to Chapter One

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Part Seventy-Four, Chapter One - Don't Spend It All At Once

Yeah, now we start a new Part.  Guess the "Madison is now PR Czar!" chapter ending was a better turning point than that "Heller is oblivious!" ending.

Teenie wasn't terribly impressed with the news that Madison is now a media god, and ordered him to get to work delivering Gris' head - "rotting preferred."  The publicist hurries off before she suspects that he's more interested in making Wister-Heller famous so that a man on another planet will be impressed.

Madison knew the image he would have to complete: it was that of a folk hero on the model of Jesse James, and how well he was researched in such images now-in the yacht he had travelled all over studying famous outlaws.  Heavens, he fairly ached to put it into effect.

Wonder if he's done any research on whether Voltar has a history of such "heroes."  Maybe crime is so rampant and rebellion so rife - since the emperor's old and heirless, after all - that nobody's going to be impressed by another Fleet officer going rogue.  Maybe Voltar's so lawful and obedient that such a treason would be considered taboo, something painful to even read about.

Aw, who am I kidding, Voltar's just a medieval Earth with space magic but no psychology or drugs.  They probably love cowboys and gangsters even though they haven't had a Wild West or Prohibition.

He knew just how to attain results: Coverage, Controversy and Confidence.

What he lacked here on Voltar were Connections, another C which he had always had on Earth.

But there's a fifth C, too: Currency.  To that end, Madison gets his driver to take him to a place he can get his identoplate changed.  While Flick prattles on about being glad to no longer have to eat "stale sweetbuns out of garbage pails," Madison plans his approach.

Madison was not paying much attention.  He was trying to work out how he would go about setting up in such unknown terrain.  Then he got off into headlines that kept drifting through his head: 18 point, FLEET OFFICER GOES RENEGADE but he kept discarding them.  They were sort of pale and lacked punch.  He realized this would require a lot of careful planning to really make it good. He had no support troops, he had no lines and the fact that these people on Voltar were ignorant of real PR was both a blessing and a curse.  Every trick of the trade would be brand-new to them, but on the other hand, there were no traditional supports.  It was sort of like a man approaching a virgin: the question was, how willing would she be to be raped?

I was following along just fine until the last line, Maddie old bean.  I guess this is further evidence that Madison has a vocabulary problem.

Also, author, why are you having the publicist who's terrified of women use a sex analogy?  For that matter, where did he pick up all this military lingo?

Eventually they get to the Finance Department desk that handles Identoplate Changes, and this is all kinda confusing.  Madison's carrying the paperwork for his new pay raise in person to the central office.  There's no ability to, say, pass the document to a clerk in Palace City, who enters the pay raise into the Apparatus computer network, which will then pop up whenever someone scans Madison's ID.  He's gotta take it to a central location and get his identoplate - which contains enough science to alternate between displays of his picture, thumbprint, pay grade, etc. - manually switched to a different value.  It seems a bit backward, is what I'm saying.

The clerk is of course flabbergasted by the order for "UNLIMITED PAY?" and soon Madison is surrounded by security, but the order is all official and genuine and everything.  The real question is how to handle the nebulous title of "PR Man" and what budget he'll be drawing from - naturally, there are separate accounts for the Apparatus, Palace City, and of course Royal expenditures.  The Apparatus is overdrawn, only half of Palace City's budget is being used due to its tanking population, while Royal expenditures are at an all-time low.  This is what happens when you try to run a galactic empire while keeping an imperial government.

Everyone's confused and afraid that Madison will use his bottomless credit card to buy Industrial City or something.  But all Madison asks for is a pay status on all three accounts, and he agrees to sign a statement that the most he'll ask for at once would be, oh, let's say a billion spacebux.

And the clerks go for it.  "It would keep the computers from locking up," after all.  Identoplate Pay Status: Unlimited.

Madison accepted it with a very straight face.  Never in his whole career had he ever had a billion-dollar drawing account!  Oh, what he could do with that!

First, it's not dollars, it's spacebux.  Second, what could you do with that?  What's the exchange rate between US dollars and Voltarian credits?  Will a billion spacebux buy you a planet, a mansion, a breakfast, what?

They had the look of men who had bested him.  And he was very solemn as he walked away.

A BILLION-DOLLAR DRAWING ACCOUNT!

I guess we're supposed to be impressed, and assume that Voltar works exactly like Earth does.  Which it doesn't, as we'll see next chapter.


Back to Part Seventy-Three, Chapter Five 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Part Seventy-Three, Chapter Five - It's Not Real Until You See It on Homeview

Three days after the previous chapter, and back on Voltar, Madion's big moment has arrived, and boy is he stressed.  So stressed that he can only express his discomfort in unwieldy, twisted sentences.

Keyed up until it felt his whole insides were going to rip asunder, Madison would know now, in just minutes, if he was to stride on to victory or be left expiring in some unpleasant Voltar gutter, a loser cast away.  Just a hair's width of miscalculation could expose all and even bring him death.

For three days he had worked and worked hard, with the knowledge that a failure at any given point in a complicated chain could leave him lost and condemned forever upon this distant strand and it would wreck forever his last chance to finish Heller.

It's not just a matter of life and death, it's a matter of being able to write more newspaper stories about Wister-Heller!

We get a recap of the steps Madison had to take to get this far.  First was getting "the son of Snor" to get daddy to stamp an order giving an alien total control of Homeview, but since Snor was passed out from too much The Drugs, Snor Jr. had to steal the official stamp.  The alien network's manager was not happy about the order, and gave Madison a lousy film crew as protest.  Then a page had to sneak a pre-written order to change a certain building's name into the Grand Council and get one of its drug-addled geezers to sign it without reading the thing.  Then there was a bribe, and a bunch of Teenie's pages pressuring Lords to show up for a certain event, and directing Lombar through it... "HARROWING!" stuff.  But after all of that nonsense Madison finally has something to show his boss.

So Lombar's slouched behind his desk, and Madison's trying to figure out how Homeview transmissions work when time and space are being given a wedgie by black holes in bondage.  He accidentally shows us an example of alien entertainment, "Family Hour," a woman "rocking a child and crooning" as an announcer drones about "the joys of motherhood," the benefits of breastmilk, and the wickedness of animal milk, because animals hump each other in the dirt so their milk only imparts "lust and greed."  I guess there's nothing good on TV no matter what planet you're on.

Then Madison's program comes on, images of ancient "SCHOOLS!" followed by someone talking about what buildings are named after which royals.  But then the speaker talks about changing times and an order from Lord Snor of the Interior, to change the Royal Page School's name to the Hisst Royal School.  And because the building is associated with the Apparatus, if in name only, it's a run-down building even "shabbier!" on film than it was in person.

Martial music!

And here came Hisst striding along to go between the twin lines of waiting Lords, each Lord flanked by a son or a page.  They were pretty drugged-up Lords but at this distance one missed it.

NOW, right here, this was the tricky part!  If the cameraman erred in any way, Madison was dead, dead, dead!

If you're wondering why this is supposed to be exciting, Madison hasn't actually reviewed the footage yet, so he doesn't know if the drunk cameraman did a decent job.  So get back on the edge of your seat.

Hisst strode between the two lines.

THE FIRST ONES BOWED!

Then, as Hisst passed, there was bow and bow and bow.  The sons and pages were tugging at their sleeves and every Lord was bowing very low.

On-screen, Lombar stops on an illusion projector, which creates a 200-foot hologram of him, "like a gigantic red Devil," to pat the school's roof.  The crowd (of pages) cheers, Hisst marches back past all the Lords who bow again, and that's that.  Madison cuts the "recording strip" (screw digital data storage) off before it goes into the afternoon vespers at Casterly Church.

Lombar roused himself.  He pointed at the screen and said, "Play that again!"  Was he angry?  Was he pleased?  Had he suspected?

Madison suffered the agonies of the damned while the strip ran through once more.

Then Lombar uttered a shuddering sigh.  He said, "They bowed to me."

Then he sat there for a while.

Then he said, "They bowed to me, Lombar Hisst, a commoner."

Then he shook his head.  He said, "If I hadn't been there myself, I would never credit it!"

Yeah.  That's not a stunt double, that's Lombar at the school.  He was there, he walked right past those bowing Lords, he saw them bow not once but twice.  But he had absolutely no reaction until he went back to his office and watched it on TV.

Guess he's crazy or something.

Then he sort of rotated his head and blinked his eyes and said, "Lords? Bowing to a commoner?"  Then, "It's never happened before in the whole 125,000 years of Voltar history!"

That's not my typo, for whatever reason these two "Then" sentences form a paragraph.

Then he was blinking rapidly. "It can only mean one thing. They knew about the angels!"

"Well, I wouldn't count on them bowing all the time," said Madison. "After all, we have to prepare the minds of the people to eventually accept you as Emperor."

"Yes," said Hisst. "Yes. We have to prepare their minds." And he was off into some daydream, spinning in who-knew-what part of the universe.

Of course, just because Hisst is in favor of preparing minds for his ascension doesn't mean Madison doesn't have to wheedle him to actually follow through with giving this PR master authority and an unlimited budget.  But eventually the brain-rotted head of the Confederacy signs the order, and Madison scampers out while Hisst continues to replay the tape of those bowing Lords.  See, what Lombar didn't notice - while he was present at the film shoot - was that all those Lords were actually bowing to Queen Teenie.

Madison's knees stopped shaking.

He clutched his goodies to his bosom and sped out of the palace.

Just gonna say, if you're expecting your sci-fi espionage romance satirical epic to be taken seriously, ya might not want to use the word "goodies" at any point.

Though distant still, victory beckoned loud and clear just over the horizon.

HE HAD HIS CHANCE AT HELLER!

Wild exultation began to pound through him as he finally believed himself that it was true!

And no matter what you're writing, try to avoid phrases like "he finally believed himself."

HE WAS THE ABSOLUTE CZAR OF PR ON VOLTAR!

Yes, PR Czar of a planet with no experience in that media "technology."  Plus, Madison just saw that having official authority doesn't mean people will be inclined to cooperate with you, and they may in fact give you drunk cameramen out of spite.

But whatever, nothing can stop him now, boy Heller-Wister's in for it, etc.  This is exciting and dramatic.

Did we ever clear up why Lombar couldn't order the Lords to bow to him on threat of losing their drug supply?


Back to Part Seventy-Three, Chapter Four

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Part Seventy-Three, Chapter Four - Two Alien Infiltrators Keep a Low Profile

Krak is so important that friggin' La Guardia clears all its runways in anticipation of her landing.  Krak's such a VIP she gets a motorcycle police escort on her ride home, sirens blaring.  Kraks' so beloved that the penthouse maid is in tears when she returns, while Izzy, Bang-Bang and Twoey are "bowing and beaming in adoring welcome."  And no matter how much the author makes the other characters in the story love her, he can't make me consider her anything other than a psychotic mental rapist, because that's how she acts.

After being given literally a foot-high stack of credit cards (money = love), some footmen bring in a gold-framed blow-up of a New York Grimes headline stating "NO DECLARATION!  LEADERSHIP OF PRESIDENT BRINGS U.S. FROM BRINK OF WAR!"  Krak is baffled why all the boys think it's funny.

Somewhat petulantly, when she could be heard, the Countess Krak said, "You might at least tell me what you're laughing at!"

"It's for the wall of Jet's study," said Bang-Bang.  "We had it specially reprinted and framed."

That told her nothing.  

Well, yeah.  Why would they feel the need to keep you, a woman, part of the loop?

She turned to Jettero.  "And it was mean of you to leave me hanging in midair about Bury and some woman."

Jettero laughed.  "Well, it got you aboard that plane, didn't it?  And without a word of argument about how you should stay in Turkey."

See, guys?  If you tell women things, they'll just end up disagreeing with you.  Give them nothing but instructions and life is so much easier.

That made her laugh.  "Oh, Jettero!" she said. "Living with you has its moments! 

And ladies, this is nothing to be upset about, it's actually endearing.  Exciting, even.

Life is certainly never dull.  Now please tell me what has been going on."

Well, since she asked nicely, the boys finally fill her in on everything that's happened with Rockecenter and Bury.  Which is to say Heller still "kept leaving out pieces of it that had to do with how he had accomplished certain things," so not to make her worry her pretty little head, you know?  It doesn't quite work, and Krak still gets scared that a combat engineer saw some actual combat.  She repeats that Rockecenter is in fact dead, but Heller points out that Rockecenter is sitting right next to them: Twoey is even scheduled to give a speech to that Swillerberger Conference.  Bury wrote it, but pigs are of course going to be added to the agenda.

"Oh, Jettero, be serious," she said.  "I'm sure there's some kind of plan or program."

"Yes, ma'am!" said Jettero.  "You've put your lovely finger right on it.  There certainly is.  At four o'clock this afternoon we're due over at Bayonne.  And it's very important that you dress well and look very proper and prim, for if you are acceptable, we can then schedule the engagement party."

Krak's mistake was not saying "please."  Now she doesn't get any more vital information until tomorrow, if she's lucky.

"Acceptable to WHOM?" she wailed.

"Well, I can't call her by her title yet because she won't be invested until Saturday.  And that's the other thing I've got to take up with her, the coronation party. 

Oh don't you dare.

And we have to decide upon the date of the engagement party, but I should say it should be the following week."

"Jettero, I feel like I am going faintly insane."

Waaaay ahead of you, lady.

Since they have an appointment, Krak and Heller are rushed in their fancy car, escorted by a pair of tanks - perfect for navigating busy city streets and dealing with traffic, you know?  And Heller is of course flippant and evasive about their purpose.

"Do they always escort junior officers with tanks?" said the Countess Krak.

"Well, no," said Jettero.  "They're probably afraid that I will forget to turn in my sidearms.  One signs for them, you know."

"Jettero, for Heavens' sakes, be serious!  I'm worried sick about this Voltar situation."

"If you go worrying about everything all the time, all you get done is worrying," said Jettero.

"Some worry is necessary," said the Countess.

"You'll never be a combat engineer," said Jettero.

Commandos should never worry about things like enemy attacks and so forth.  No need to make soldiering stressful.

"I'm not trying to be a combat engineer," she wailed. "I'm trying to become the wife of one."

Maybe you should be reconsidering at this point.  You still have jealousy issues, hate his career choice, and the two of you have zero chemistry and a distinctly unhealthy relationship.

On the other hand, I despise you two so much that I kinda think you deserve each other.  It's a puzzler.

"Ah, well," said Jettero, "it's a good thing you decided to put your mind on that.  Here's your crucial test.  We've arrived."

Arrived at Babe Corleone's high-rise, to be more specific.  Everyone is of course very pleased to see "the kid and his moll," and with all those mobsters eying her, Krak self-consciously feels like "she was wearing everything backwards and missing a slipper," not like she's just stepped into a room full of thugs and murderers.  I guess the mafia has a lot of fashion sense?

Babe's yelling at someone to get "those sons of (bleepches) in Chicago to throw their God (bleeped) drugs in Lake Michigan and begin running rum or I'll put a hundred hit men on their tails," which is to say they should stop selling drugs and start selling drugs.  Heller presents his fiance, Babe recognizes her as a countess, which puzzles the Countess, and then the mob boss, having exchanged no dialogue with Krak, announces that she's so beautiful that Heller needs to marry her right away.  Because that's what's important in a marriage.

After a while, the giantess put her in a chair like Krak was some kind of porcelain and, gazing at her with admiration, offered her a silver box with Russian cigarettes--which of course Krak didn't smoke--and called for cookies and milk for Jerome.

We are going to run this stupid "Heller looks like a boy and will be fed as such" thing into the ground.  I bet the last thing he eats before leaving Earth for good is some bloody milk and cookies.

Babe and Heller talk and plan the engagement party.  Krak sits there silently, being pretty, like a good future wife should.

They were finally being shown out and Mrs. Corleone turned to Jettero at the door.  She said, "No wonder you would never touch those girls at the Gracious Palms!"

Kissed on both cheeks and getting into the Silver Spirit again, the Countess Krak's head was in a new whirl.  What girls?

I honestly thought that Heller had fully spilled the beans when he and Krak made up on the yacht several books ago.  I thought he finally gave a complete account of his experiences on Earth and decided to stop keeping secrets from his girlfriend.  But it turns out I sorely overestimated the wonderful Jettero Heller.

This is a long chapter.  Heller finally talks about the Gracious Palms, and Krak decides "he was quite witty and charming about it and she forgave him."  They eat a fancy dinner, the tank crews and police escorts get tables too.  They go to a boxing fight, the tank crews and police come too, Krak doesn't understand why the combatants never kick each other.  They have a second supper and pick up some TV network heads, and everyone laughs when someone tells the story of the time Heller smeared spaghetti sauce over the face of Police Inspector Grafferty.  Only two hours after going to bed does Krak find an opportunity to have her future husband listen to her concerns, which is a pretty understated way to imply that they spent the intervening time doing things that made a proper conversation difficult.  Some unusual subtlety there, Hubbard.

Heller insists that it'd take "at least a million men" to conquer a planet like Earth, men that he's sure Lombar can't throw at him if he's still busy with the rebellious Prince Mortiiy, not to mention the fact that the Fleet and Army still hate him.  Krak has a woman's intuition, so she wonders if something like PR could turn all of Voltar against Heller, but Heller scoffs at this - "That goofy PR technology isn't even known there."  And there's no way that an agency that's imported drugs from Earth for x number of years could also have picked up some of its media "technology," right?

In short, Heller refuses to waste any more time worrying that his enemies may do anything other than what he expects them to.

And though he smothered her with kisses and though he soon had her mind on other things, he did not, that night or in the weeks to come, succeed in smothering her worries.

Somehow she KNEW it was far more dangerous than he said.  But he wouldn't even listen!

Krak, what about your relationship with Heller makes you think he's interested in communicating with you in the first place?

So that's our Earthly interlude.  Everything's going so swimmingly that surely something bad's about to happen.  Heller still has trouble telling his girlfriend things, and it'd be nice to say that his aggressively casual response to the threat of Hisst's retaliation may be a sign of how worried he really is, were it not for the fact that he's being exactly as flippant as he's been from the start.  Krak still has jealousy issues but now that she's stopped hypno-helmeting people, she's reverted to a passive love doll for Heller to show off.  Twoey still has a thing about pigs.  Babe still has a warped sense of morality when it comes to her illegal activities.  Bang-Bang and Izzy barely got any screentime, but I still dislike them.

No rape or murder going on right now, but Earth doesn't have anything else going for it.  Might as well get on with Madison's adventures in Relating to an alien Public.


Back to Chapter Three