Maybe Heller should've browbeaten Bolz into getting that letter back posthaste. Or maybe he should have given it to a trusted subordinate to take to Voltar, like one of the base personnel who thinks he's the greatest thing since sliced space bread. Hell, he's got the superfast tugboat, maybe he could've zipped back to Voltar himself, blown a raspberry over the videophone, and skedaddled on to Calabar before Lombar realized what was happening.
Bolz is now king of the Apparatus hole in the ground, and doesn't feel like following Heller's orders just yet. Over Odur's protests, Bolz gives a crewman an order to load those drugs when they arrive, meets up with Ters (evil laugh) the limo driver, and heads off to Istanbul to see a widow friend of his. And now we know why Gris' driver was never punished for his crimes, so Bolz doesn't have to call a taxi.
Poor, abused Odur gets to pace in the hangar all next day and next night, until a drunken Bolz staggers back at two in the morning with a load of counterfeit Turkish scotch and lipstick smeared all over him. They get loaded up and ready for take-off in an hour, but wouldn't you know it? Right when they're about to leave:
There was an abrupt roar overhead.
Wonderingly, thinking a freighter might have come back, Bolz got down off the ladder and stared up at the hole through the mountaintop.
The black tail of a warship was sliding in!
Just imagine the view from outside, a spaceship pointed upright, sticking its ass into a mountaintop.
Plain upon it was the symbol that looked like a fanged snake. And some letters!
THE 243RD DEATH BATTALION!
The hulk, too big for this hangar, came down with bristling guns. It hit the floor with a thud.
So the spaceship too big to land in the hangar just landed in the hangar. Uh...?
However on Earth they landed, a hundred armed soldiers soon flood into the hangar, seizing the Blixo's captain, crew, and catamite. A Captain Flay introduces himself and demands - okay, let's stop a minute. All these Apparatus officers have names like Flay or Stabb or Maim or whatever. So is this a translation convention? Their names are really zt!Rmdi and Illillib, the Voltarian words for "flay" and "stab," and they're being rendered in English for our benefit? Unlike other characters such as Jettero or Prahd, whose names have no English equivalent? Or do these evil characters just happen to have violent-sounding names? It's a staggering coincidence either way.
What am I saying, of course the Apparatus is so self-consciously Eeeevil that their soldiers would pick violent appellations in an attempt to strike terror in the hearts of the righteous. Like how Soltan Gris became... never mind.
(editor's note from the future: well, the alien publisher behind this story has changed some names to protect the innocent, so the question is why they decided to give the Apparatus characters such stupid names)
Anyway, Capt. zt!Rmdi demands to know what's all this then, and where's the rest of the base personnel. Bolz tries to tell him he's carrying drugs for Voltar, but of course the soldiers find all the scotch and conclude he's a smuggler. Odor squeaks that he's got a message for Lombar, but his identoplate reads "clerk," not courier, so obviously he's lying. The captain decides to interrogate Odur by having his men bend him backwards against a blastgun.
"Make him talk!" said Flay.
They pulled on Oh Dear harder.
"You better talk! You know where they have gone well enough. Don't lie again. TALK!"
Oh Dear went into a high-pitched keening as his spine stretched and cracked. He was able to get out, "I have a despatch. I have a despatch. I have a despatch! I must get it through!"
"To Hells with your despatches," said Flay.
Oh Dear had fainted.
He was probably lying about that letter anyway. No need to look for it. Clerks never carry messages anyway.
Flay gave a signal and soldiers grabbed Bolz. One of them pulled his head back with a handful of hair and another hit him in the body with a fist.
No, not the body! That's the worst place to get hit!
Bolz grunted with the force of it.
"Where have they gone?" demanded Flay.
"They did not tell us!" cried Bolz.
The colonel snapped his fingers and an officer put a light in his hand. Flay walked up to Bolz and shined the light in his eye. "Are you lying to us?"
Bolz writhed, trying to get away from the light. The only thing which was registering with him was that this colonel might discover that he intended to keep this base for his own use.
"His pupillary reaction," said Flay, "shows that he is lying! Hit him!"
Uh huh. That... sure is a way of determining who's telling the truth. But hey, you know what might be more reliable than the "if his pupil contracts from a bright light, he's lying" method? Something we whipped up on Earth - I know, who'd have thought? - called the polygraph. It's not close to perfect, and some folks consider it pseudoscience that has no place in a legal investigation, but others swear by it. It's not like we have a "hypno-helmet" that might force a prisoner to tell the truth or anything. That'd be real useful during interrogations, boy!
Captain zt!Rmdi continues to yell at and hit Bolz, Bolz continues to scream that he doesn't know anything, and if you imagine this taking place in a CIA black site in Uzbekistan it becomes uncomfortable commentary on our wonderful "War on Terror." But then a meaty fist just happens to connect with the detonator in Bolz' pocket - of course he was carrying the thing he had no intention of using! - in just the right way.
There was a searing flash throughout the hangar!
The Death Battalion, the warship, the Blixo, the crew, Captain Bolz and Oh Dear glowed, suddenly outlined in incandescence. They shifted color upward from red to yellow to violet. They went black. They turned to silica, momentarily holding shape, then they became molten glass.
No one in the base was left alive.
Maybe Voltarians... and Antimancans... and Flistens... just have a lot more iron in their bodies? Even though Heller referred to them all as "humans." So do these bombs make the iron in a victim's body spread, so their entire body is transformed to sand? Or can it turn water, meat and bone into sand too? If so, what's the point of going on about the iron? Or is the idea that the iron in our body is all that's keeping us from drying up and blowing away?
The wall boxes that held the beams in place turned into sand which, under the ferocity of heat, turned to liquid dribble.
So the bombs turn them to sand, then explode anyway? Again, what's the advantage of not using a more conventional explosive?
And then with a shuddering roar, the walls of the hangar twisted and began to cave in.
The slide of rock went on for quite a while.
Fantastic heat fused the inside of the mountain.
Then there was nothing left of the Earth base.
Job well done! Instead of using a former Apparatus cave as a hideout, any space pirates would have to use one of the countless other caves on the planet as a hideout, caves that the Apparatus wouldn't know about because they weren't a former base site.
And buried there, because of the delay and self-interest of Bolz, lying under the pile of shuddering glass which had been Oh Dear and under the countless tons of boiling silica above it, was the ash of the despatch which had been designed to stave off an invasion of Earth.
It would never be delivered.
So is there another Apparatus fleet en route? Lombar sent that warning saying he'd invade if the drug supply ever got interrupted, in response to the drug supply getting interrupted, which made Heller and the others assume that the Class One invasion was already underway in response to the infraction they were just informed about, because Lombar is that stupid. But we've only ever seen this disciplinary Death Battalion sent to Earth, and now that their targets have all fled or died, they don't have any reason to stick around.
Ha, except that the Death Battalion was just one-shotted. Since it's quite unlikely that they were smart enough to use the buddy system, leave someone in orbit to monitor the situation and send word back and all that, now we get to wonder how long it will take Lombar to realize his first reprisal attempt was swallowed up by a traitorous planet, and what will happen next. Man, it sure is exciting when everyone's incompetent and has the logistical skill of a bag of onions.
Wait a minute, if everyone in this chapter died in a sandy/fiery explosion, how did Monte Pennwell, who we must remember is writing this for us, know what they were saying or thinking? Maybe the Blixo suffered an engine failure before takeoff, panicked at the sight of the Death Battalion, and triggered the sand bombs as a "take you down with me" measure? My suspension of disbelief can only go so far, Hubbard!
Back to Part Seventy-Eight, Chapter Five