For weeks the Countess Krak had been after him to give some serious thought to their plight but had made no penetration in his easygoing attitude. She was learning something about trying to live with a personality like his: with peril a constant companion, a combat engineer took joy in life when he could and tended to shrug off dangers he considered minor. But once he conceived that something should be done about a situation, his dedication to getting it handled was a little awe-inspiring.
So none of that "be polite, be efficient, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet" nonsense, the way of the combat engineer is to cheerfully ignore a "minor" danger like a reprisal by the conspiracy trying to take over your government up until you have definite proof that it exists, leaving you to desperately slap something together at the last minute to try and deal with it.
Krak's still hopeful that her future hubby will decide to abandon Earth to its fate, but instead he starts asking about that Prince Mortiiy currently leading the civil war on Calabar. She has "nothing good" to say about him, but Heller replies "Good, bad, what does it matter?" So she goes to fetch that super comprehensive Compendium that Gris imprisoned her with for no reason other than it would come in handy now, where it will provide more than two full pages of backstory.
Mortiiy, the book tells us, is the youngest of the emperor's three sons, and as such was allowed to have a Fleet career, where he distinguished himself by getting into brawls and receiving three court-martials, including one where he struck and killed a superior officer. But you know how it goes, "not tried due to Royal lineage," wouldn't dare to suggest that the people who run the empire are bound by its laws.
This all changed ten years ago when Mortiiy's oldest brother... uh, Nameless, died in a tragic flying limousine accident, and Mortiiy was recalled from killing his superiors in the Fleet to start princing it up. And while he supported his other brother Glit as the new heir to the throne, at one dinner he had too much to drink and accused "his father, Cling" of conspiring to kill Nameless, laying out a "wild theory" that a technician had sabotaged the car by his order. "His father, Cling" suggested that they question the technician in question, but of course Mortiiy had already killed the guy in a grief-filled rage.
Uh, publishers of the Compendium? Sure you wanna print disturbing rumors and conspiracy theories about the monarch offing his own children? These guys can totally murder you with absolutely no consequences, after all.
Anyway, that incident ended with Mortiiy under house arrest (murder is fine, but don't sass your dad), and then five years ago Glit was found dead after a sudden illness. Upon being informed that he was now heir, Mortiiy attacked and injured the two Lords playing messenger, then killed some more non-Royal and therefore unimportant bystanders on his way to his father's throne room, where he accused Cling of filicide in front of the whole court, renounced his part in the succession of the "throne drenched in family blood," took a potshot at His Majesty, killed his way out of the chamber, and stole a flying tank to make his escape. Which leads us to today, with Mortiiy revolting on Calabar and the Lords planning a conclave to decide who should be heir now that the direct line is either dead or banished.
And that's the backstory of the rebel we've been hearing about since Book One! The reason for the succession crisis that forms the bedrock of the plot! Glad the author find room to squeeze it in before the end of the story.
"So you see, Jettero," said the Countess when she finished reading, "if you are thinking of taking His Majesty to Calabar and joining the rebel forces you'd seal his fate. Mortiiy would simply kill him."
"Mortiiy is not a madman," said Heller.
Uh huh. Firstly, that has nothing to do with what Krak just said. Secondly, that seems pretty damn inaccurate given how many people Mortiiy's killed for no good reason. Or maybe Heller's just saying that yeah, Mortiiy has a murderous temper, but he isn't what you'd call insane? Just a Royal like good ol' Ivan the Terrible, or Vlad Țepeș.
"He'll do until one comes along," said the Countess. "He is no longer in line for the succession. The whole fighting force of the Apparatus, as we heard when we were on Voltar, is engaged in a full-scale attack to wipe him out."
I'm honestly not sure what Krak is saying here, whether she's arguing or agreeing with Heller.
Heller doesn't even respond, and instead marches out to talk to Captain Bolz, who is still upset that the base has gone Fleet. Heller asks that he take a cargo of drugs back to Voltar, then uses his Rockecenter connections to the I. G. Barben pharmaceutical company to whip up a ton of tablets that are half-and-half antihistamine and methadone, but labeled as amphetamines, and which ought to act sort of like amphetamines while counteracting the effects of heroin. You know, to help those drug-addled Lords withdraw more easily.
Then he goes over to Faht Bey who informs him that they've got five working freighters, and Heller orders that they "Disassemble the base and load it and all personnel." Now, the two Apparatus orders they read last chapter specifically mentioned that the Afyon area would be spared the Class One assault. Heller's decision to evacuate the base will save them from the Death Company battalion on its way to purge that base of any subversive elements, but he doesn't know about that battalion. So evidently Heller's cheated by reading ahead.
"It will take days," said Faht Bey.
"I hope not," said Heller. "If we do this right and we are quick, we can save this planet."
And if you'd taken these threats seriously all those weeks ago, you could already have been done with your defensive preparations. But that of course is not how those easygoing, vivacious space commandos roll.
I'd like to point out that one of the many advantages of democracy over an imperial monarchy is that succession crises rarely come down to a choice between a decrepit old invalid or a murderous conspiracy theorist. If the President chokes on a pretzel you've got a Vice-President, the Speaker of the House, the Senate's President Pro Tem, the Secretary of State, and so on, until the Postmaster General's taking charge of the country's irradiated ruins.
Wait, they changed that in 1971? Aww.
Back to Chapter Two