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.
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.
Back to Chapter Three