On a lonely mountaintop of Calabar and in the screaming wind, Jettero Heller stood, stung by the horizontally hurtling snow, half-blinded by the night, surrounded by thirty blastguns ready and eager to blow him apart.
Blinded by the absence of light, yes.
It had taken him many days and several different applications of command location geometry to find the headquarters of Prince Mortiiy.
Good old command location geometry. Even when dealing with a communications network capable of brisk interplanetary data exchange, it's still reliable for pointing out precisely where a planet's head honcho is hanging out. And of course nobody but Heller has figured out how to do it, or else the Apparatus would have nuked Mortiiy already.
Heller was able to get the tug through both the Apparatus blockade and the rebels' space defenses by "Using one identification or another," which Apparatus infiltrators haven't figured out how to do, and his ship is currently hanging in orbit invisible thanks to that absorbo-coat, which no one else uses, even when they're trying to invade a rebel planet. Guess the combat engineers have a monopoly on useful military equipment and skills, and all the Army grunts and whatnot get to die so the elites feel special.
He had come down here in a spacetrooper sled; he was chilled to the bone; his oxygen was almost gone and they were standing on what was a "hill" for Calabar but which was nevertheless thirty thousand feet. Gun flashes flickered on the distant horizon, a burning city was a patch of pink smudge.
There was a dimly seen figure about fifty feet away, hidden by a rock.
Out of sight yet visible, gotcha.
Through his face mask that also had an amplifier speaker, Heller called, "I will have to stand closer to you to give you my message." Thirty blastguns in the ring around him twitched.
Use a radio, dude. Easier on your lungs and their ears.
The amplified voice came from behind the rock, "You're close enough. I can't believe that the great Jettero Heller, idol of the Fleet,
Come on, you do Heller too little credit. Talk about how the whole empire is in love with the guy, and that he's related to a famous and beautiful movie star. At least mention his space-dodgeball career and beautiful golden hair.
wants to come over to the rebels. I am very well aware of what a combat engineer can do. Give me your message from there."
So Heller was obviously able to get into the rebels' communication network to arrange this meeting, but didn't feel like using that network to communicate. Guess he left all those untraceable space phones back on Earth.
He wants to know that visible guy hidden behind the rock is really Prince Mortiiy, and the visible guy hidden behind the rock wants to know that the shouty man is really Jettero Heller. Heller tries to prove his identity by mentioning how Mortiiy was wearing slippers when Heller met him as a cadet, but Mortiiy met a lot of cadets. In the end he decides that it really is Heller because "Only Jettero Heller would be crazy enough to try to penetrate these lines making all this noise." You know, instead of using a radio, or getting Mortiiy's cell number.
Heller and Prince Mortiiy walk a bit away to have a mano-a-mano conversación, the former having some difficulty in the planet's "1.5 gravity," though of course that didn't affect Heller's piloting or ability to make the landing. Heller mentions the five ships' worth of technicians he has on the way, which Mortiiy is unimpressed with because he has a full planet on his side (or at least the two billion people on it that haven't been killed yet). Who'd have thought, a nod to realism?
So Heller gets to mention Mortiiy's comatose, drugged-up daddy being in the tug's cargo hold. Mortiiy's disappointed that daddy's too unconscious to declare him an un-rebel or abdicate or anything, and also realizes that the missing monarch would be an absolute Apparatus magnet. Then the prince realizes - "It has just come to me with a shock" - that Lombar was probably the one who arranged for his brothers' deaths, not dear old daddy, so maybe this vicious civil war that's claimed billions is just a silly misunderstanding. Oopsie!
At any rate, in the space of three paragraphs Mortiiy declares that Heller is "A LIVING BOMB!" who is "sitting on a shell that is about to explode." But Heller proposes that they gamble on His Majesty waking up in the next couple of months to un-rebel Mortiiy and make him successor, ensure the Fleet and Army stay out of the conflict, and that the Apparatus will batter itself to death on Calabar's mountains.
Not proposed is any attempt to spread the word that Lombar Hisst and the Apparatus are trying to take over the Confederacy by hooking the Grand Council on drugs and manipulating the king. See, Mortiiy is officially out of the succession, and since announcing that they have a comatose emperor wouldn't immediately get him the crown, neither he nor Heller see the need to reveal Hisst's coup. I guess that would make Heller a real media outlaw and spoil Madison's fun.
In the end, Heller proposes sending a message to Hisst saying "nah-nah we've got the king on Calabar, come and get me," just like we discussed earlier.
"Royal Officer Heller, you are insane!"
"That may or may not be," said Heller, "but I can hazard that such a message would drive Hisst close to or over the border into insanity. You were an accomplished Fleet officer, Your Highness. You are aware of the principle that unstabilizing enemy command can often get him to do something rash, foolhardy or do nothing at all."
Nothing helps you plan like ensuring that your opponent's behavior is utterly unpredictable.
"Don't lecture me on strategy and tactics, Officer Heller. I was fighting battles when you weren't even weaned. There is another principle and that is, when an opportunity presents itself and one does nothing, one is almost certain to lose. Yours is the craziest battle plan I ever heard of. I will adopt it. Go bring my father. I give you my word I will not kill him. We will put him in a nice, safe cave. You can put the rest of the plan into effect. He may, as you say, recover. Until then, we live on hope. You are crazy, Officer Heller. I like you. MEN! UNTIE HIS HANDS!"
So we're friends with Mortiiy now! The hotheaded young prince who murdered a bunch of people after his brothers died in tragic but suspicious accidents, got drunk and accused his father of murder based on nothing but suspicion, and then killed an undocumented number of people during a rampage through the palace, precipitating a long and bloody civil war.
No wonder he gets along with Jettero "I Accidentally Russia" Heller. They can have a friendly competition over whose gross stupidity has resulted in the larger body count, argue whether Heller personally throwing a comet to wipe out millions of Russians is more impressive than Mortiiy sparking a war that's claimed billions.
Back to Chapter Five