Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Part Seventy-Eight, Chapter Five - Sand Bombs

Now that France has been put in its place, Heller works on dealing with the Afyon base itself.  Regulations state that you can't abandon such an installation, not so much because the natives might uncover evidence of an alien infiltration, but to keep anyone from using the place for piracy or smuggling.  It'd be a real shame if a primitive civilization that hasn't gone further than its own moon managed to capture a "hidden" base you knew the exact location and layout of, after all.

To do this, Heller uses "metal-disintegrator" mines, which "cause an atomic shift of heavier metals to silica: with a surge of enormous heat from the converted atoms, every piece of metal that comprised the hangar area would become sand."  The result is a "flash of fire" and wall collapse that would be ignored as just another earthquake, quite different from what would happen if Heller dirtied his hands with our crude Earth explosives!

And by "use" such devices I mean that Heller rigs the place to blow and hands the detonator off to his prisoner, Captain Bolz, who hates the Fleet in general and Heller in particular.  Yes, Heller announces that he's going to leave first and will therefore trust this antagonistic smuggler with the fate of the base, telling the captain to press the big red button once the Blixo leaves. 

"What will happen?" said Bolz.

"Well, don't experiment," said Heller.  "The Blixo had better be up there a couple miles when you do it.  Every piece of metal in this hangar will disintegrate.  A human body contains a lot of iron

A whopping four to five grams.  That's like .15 ounces!

and anybody standing around will also become sand.  So don't leave anybody in here."

And the ship is supposed to be a "couple miles" away when he triggers these devices.  How far away is, say, Gris' villa from the base?  How many bystanders might end up vitrified by these fancy space bombs?

Bolz of course smiles, agrees to Heller's orders, and privately vows to do no such thing.  He wants to keep smuggling booze in from Earth, you see.  So that's the reason for the regulation of base destruction - because this mighty space empire's intelligence wing is so undisciplined, such a bunch of thieves and scoundrels, that they're liable to desert and run a pathetic little smuggling operation out of an abandoned hole in the ground.

Because none of these Voltarians seems interested in trying to produce their own supply of these goods.  Can't produce drugs on Voltar, have to ship them in from Earth.  Can't buy a book on wine-making and grow some booze on Manco, have to ship it in from Earth.  At least European traders tried to get spices and such to grow back home.

Heller's farewells with Izzy and Bang-Bang are so important that the author spends a whole sentence on them, in which we're told Heller called them to say that he was taking a brief trip, "and rang off quickly so that they would not suspect this 'little trip' was forever."  I'm sure he had tears in his eyes afterward.  It was probably a very touching moment.

Then he gives Odur, who the narration only calls "Oh Dear," a letter for Lombar Hisst!  The catamite is quite reluctant to touch such a dangerous message, until Heller points out that the consequences of not delivering it would be even worse.  He also makes a point about showing Odur and Bolz a sick old man in a bacta tank being wheeled into the luxury tugboat by a doctor, which does not raise their interest in the slightest.

And then it turns out there is one Voltarian who is trying to reproduce something from Earth - Heller hears some yowling and learns that the Countess Krak has decided that it's mean for Mister Calico to fly all the way home without getting laid, and so has brought along an assortment of other calicoes, including a few males, to avoid inbreeding in this starting population of nine specimens.

Heller huddles with the officers who will be piloting the six freighters assembled to evacuate the base and finalizes the plan.  He'll be going ahead to set things up and will meet them at a rendezvous point near the star Glar, a seven-week voyage for those pathetic non-tug engines.  Prince Mortiiy's territory, in other words - Heller thinks that a single, small installation's worth of supplies and personnel will be welcome on Calabar, a big developed planet that's been holding its own against the Confederacy and Apparatus for years now.

He admits that this defection is partially to save Earth from Lombar's wrath by turning his attention elsewhere, but Heller also thinks that without Fleet or Army support, Lombar will "shatter himself against the hundred-thousand-foot peaks of Calabar."  And that's why that letter he left in the untrustworthy care of Captain Bolz is so very important - it's a big "neener neener come and get me" to Lombar Hisst. 

Heller waved a hand to the captain of the Blixo, "Be sure you have a good passage to Voltar!" he shouted. He went into the tug's airlock, closed it and sent the Prince Caucalsia spaceward ho!

Boy, it sure would be bad if Bolz ignored Heller's commands about destroying the base and hurrying home to deliver the letter, wouldn't it?  But for that to happen Bolz would have to be some sort of self-serving pirate who ignored his mission to ferry drugs so he could cram in more contraband scotch.  The sort of person Heller would have to be a complete idiot to trust, in other words.

Back to Chapter Four 

1 comment:

  1. It doesn't make sense that Heller was so smart in the first few books when Gris was narrating (up until Madison's news article), but he's acting so dumb now. What happened? The plot gave him the idiot ball?