Four hours later Madison, in a hurtling Model 99, was hot on the trail.
Either "hot on the trail" of a man who's been in prison for the past indeterminate amount of time, or "hot on the trail" of some schemes and blackmail that are even older, and therefore, colder.
He had been very intrigued by the information that Gris had been "set up." He also knew from recent past experience that the media here had a nasty idea that one should have documents and proof for stories. While this was far from insurmountable--one could always forge and find false witnesses--it might save him time if he could get his hands on the real thing and, thanks to Too-Too, he was certain that, somewhere, a lot of evidence existed.
You'd think the Space CIA might be able to do some of that forgery stuff and allow Madison to get stuff in the papers that way, but then we'd miss out on all the drugged-up sex on Teenie's private island, and then what kind of book would we be reading?
Madison's trying to talk to Old Bawtch, but en route gets a call to report to Lombar Hisst instead at his office in Government City. Luckily Flick knows the way.
"You can't miss it," said Flick. "Upper end of the town, on the cliff above the River Wiel. You can always tell it from the dead bodies in the streets around it."
"I hope you're joking," said Madison.
"Well, yes, actually I am," said Flick. "He has a chute so he can dump them into the River Wiel."
As developed a planet as Voltar occasionally sounds like, you have to wonder whether those corpses end up in some downstream settlement's water supply, or if farmers notice them clogging the irrigation system from time to time. And whether after thousands of years of this there's not a carpet of bones and soggy bits lining the river bottom, or dams formed from Voltarian remains. And then you may wonder how the Apparatus hopes to keep such activities secret, or whether it's one of those not-secrets like how psychology rules Earth and Rockecenter used to run the planet.
Wait, did Heller do anything about psychology? He killed its main puppet, but the whole machine is still there, right? Or has he dismantled that by getting drugs decriminalized?
Getting distracted. Madison et al fly to "the oldest and most decayed part of Government City, and the Apparatus, while not the oldest, was certainly the most decayed part of the government and had fallen heir to it." The statues are "missing heads and legs," presumably reduced to torsos hovering over the ground. We're also told that the Apparatus isn't all that old, "as things on Voltar go," but we're not given a more specific age.
Something is obviously up, given the vehicles of the Apparatus Command Staff parked out front, and sure enough Madison is dragged into a military meeting in an underground chamber more like a cave than an office. "It also stank." The red-uniformed generals of course look like Manco Devils, Hisst is similarly colored, and I applaud the author's restraint for not having the gathering lit by eerie torches while the screams of the damned echo into the chamber.
But then there's one of those moments that jars the reader out of the story, such as it is, as the narration assures us that the aforementioned generals look demonic "in the recorded strips of this meeting." Ignoring the fact that the super secret subversive intelligence agency is keeping video records of its nefarious schemes, this is is presumably meant to explain how Monte Pennwell is able to assemble this turd of a tale after these events take place. Yet just a page earlier we got to read about Madison's driver and the driver's footwoman bickering over whose uniform was getting moist from ogling the staff of Teenie's island psycho-sexual therapy resort, and I doubt Madison was keeping painstaking audio-visual records of that nonsense. By trying to assist the reader's suspension of disbelief, the author instead sabotages it.
As for the topic of this meeting of devils and demons:
"This is Omaha" the staff officer said. "According to earlier intelligence advices, it is a sort of military nerve center. Estimates are that it will take a million men, after it is occupied, to hold the position and fan out eastward."
"A million men!" commented a general. "That means no supplementary reserve."
For reference, the Allies fielded about five and a half million men in just the last two years of the European theater of World War II. Also, why do you need to occupy the enemy's "nerve center," why can't you just blow it to hell? You don't need it, you've got your own nerve center in orbit.
"Well, if we are denied the right to simply bomb New York..."
"That has to be denied," said Hisst. "It would obliterate the installations that must be seized in operational condition in New Jersey. That requires a solely infantry approach, moving through cities on a slaughter basis. Are you afraid of casualties?" he asked the first general with a sneer.
Alright, a few things. Why is the "slaughter basis" required? Wouldn't it be easier to use a show of massive force to try and coax a surrender? Sure, it might not work, but at least giving it a try could save an enormous amount of trouble.
Second, if you really are set on killing as many people as possible, don't you have any weapons that could do this more efficiently than a million men going about shooting folks? Nerve gas, neutron bombs, black holes that shift the population thirteen minutes into the future, anything? Also, do you not have any weapons capable of hitting New York without also hitting New Jeresy?
Thirdly, what needs to be seized in operational condition in New Jersey? There is no intrinsic characteristic of the region that makes it essential to drug production; it has infrastructure for that purpose, yes, but an alien society capable of fabricating gold ought to be able to whip up a pharmaceutical factory in short order. If it's a matter of expertise, why don't you abduct those people and take them to a factory you control, on your own planet, so you aren't reliant on one complex dozens of light-years away?
"No," said the first general. "I was simply hoping that some way the Army could be coerced into participation. We only have about four million troops. When distribution to other continents is examined..."
"We could simply concentrate on the United States," said another general.
Four million alien space marines versus two million American soldiers, three hundred million civilians, and the Second Amendment.
"No, no, no," said a general with artillery badges. "There are more than twelve nations that are nuclear armed, according to reports. Failure to make this an infantry action on all continents could result in some hysterical nuclear involvement. If the objectives of the chief are to be attained, we have to prevent their use of hydrogen bombs from one country to another across oceans. I think you would find the objective areas totally contaminated and unusable."
So four million space marines have to launch multiple, simultaneous and devastating offensive deep strikes to secure an entire planet's nuclear stockpile, then somehow go on to achieve their actual objectives. Or maybe the plan is to get those soldiers engaged in population centers as soon as possible, because who would nuke their own territory just to stop an alien aggressor from conquering the planet?
At about this time Madison's escort announces the Earthman's arrival.
All eyes swivelled to Madison. (To do him justice, he might not have understood completely that what was under discussion was an invasion of Earth, for the meeting transcripts do not, of course, give internal thoughts of those speaking. Madison's own logs shed no light on this.)
Another reminder that this tale was somehow assembled by a historian. Also, he "might not have understood" that this was an invasion meeting?! With talk about occupying Omaha, infantry slaughtering their way through cities, and worries of a global nuclear response? Is Madison that stupid, Hubbard?
The generals start grilling him for information that it really would have been nice to extract from him ahead of time. One asks Madison about the "thermal penetration potential" of an MX3 nuke, but Madison shrugs off the question with talk about how the program was canceled for being too expensive. Another asks about potential anti-satellite (and therefore anti-spaceship) missiles, to which Madison replies that Russia might have some, he may have heard something like that in the news. The aliens ask him to show him this "Russia," and he pulls up a map. Yep, there it is. That's a country called Russia all right. The narration reminds us that Madison had no way of knowing that Russia had nobly been sacrificed in the name of world peace and wandering poles.
And that's it. Lombar kicks everyone out, demanding an operational invasion plan by tomorrow based on the knowledge that 1) four million men will have to hold a whole planet and 2) keep it from using nukes, of which 3) the MX3 has been canceled, while 4) Russia exists and may have anti-spaceship defenses.
But Madison hangs around, asking about Gris, who Lombar complains is that cause of all this bother: the Blixo missed out its last drug shipment, and the lazy bastard - being the only agent on Earth tasked with keeping track of military stuff - never kept up his intelligence reports, so now Voltar is going in blind. Lombar even tried to have Gris assassinated in prison, but all three attempts failed.
Madison insists that it's better to have Gris talking, and asks whether there's a reason Lombar doesn't want him to, which makes the guy laugh about Gris' name being on everything and how nothing could be proved, while the narration pipes in that Madison's notes mentioned that "with Lombar, he very often felt like he was dealing with someone who was quite insane." If you'll think back to the start of the book, one of the first things Madison realized after meeting Lombar was that the guy was cuckoo, so this is totally superfluous information. Was this chapter written immediately after Hubbard inserted the bits with Monte Pennwell or something? Or did he forget about Monte until now and is belatedly trying to explain how the historian got his story right?
The publicist floats the idea of a public trial in the media, leading to a conviction in courts. Lombar is more concerned with getting the Army and Fleet on his side so he can have some forces left to deal with the Calabar situation, but Madison assures him that PR can do that too, get Voltar's military "chasing after Heller like mad dogs!" And even, as a reminder, make Lombar look like an emperor. Guess Hisst forgot about that little moment.
Hisst's yellow eyes grew round and then began to glow. He stood up, towering over Madison a foot. He took one of Madison's hands in his and stroked it. Then he turned and bawled toward the door, "CHIEF CLERK! GIVE THIS MAN MADISON EVERYTHING HE WANTS! EVERYTHING, YOU UNDERSTAND, OR I WILL HAVE YOUR HEAD!"
So Madison has been made Voltar's PR Czar... again. He has the full support the Apparatus... again. He has an unlimited budget... again. But now he'll be using all of that and his PR skills to simultaneously make Gris miserable for Teenie's sake, make Lombar look imperial, turn the Fleet against it's favorite son, and most importantly of all, make Heller a famous outlaw so Mr. Bury back on Earth will be happy with Madison!
See, we're not going in a circle, we're going in a tight outward spiral, so that each revolution brings us incrementally further along the plot. We might get nauseous along the way, but I'm sure there were warnings to that effect at the start of the line to the ride.
Back to Chapter Two