Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Part Eighty-One, Chapter Five - That Was Fast

After all that effort to make Gris the entire Confederacy's hate sink, coverage of the trial is shoved aside for the next three days in favor of the Hightee Heller situation.  Madison - not Lombar - orders all military channels to carry an ultimatum:


Which Madison leaks to the papers on Wednesday night anyway.  I can only assume the days of the week are a translation convention, and the execution is really scheduled for Terlsday or something like that.  Though it might've been nice for Madison to discuss scheduling a story or such for Wednesday only to be reminded that he's on an alien planet by one of his coworkers.  Or at least an alien planet different from the Earth presented in these books.

After the leak airs, there's riots everywhere, the Apparatus, Army and Domestic Police have their hands full keeping order, and then it's the big day.  And we shift into present tense for some reason.

Hero Plaza is a circular expanse.  It is two hundred yards in diameter.  There is nothing there but clear pave­ment since it is often used for affairs of state.  In the exact center is a completely plain circular pillar fifty feet tall and about twenty feet in circumference, led to by three circular steps.  The only decoration or inscription is on the front edge of the top step: it says Dedicated to the Heroes of Voltar.  Madison had chosen it carefully.

Kind of a boring monument.  Also, only three steps to get to the top of a fifty-foot platform?  And why tell us the circumference of a circle when we're probably only interested in its diameter, and not in doing geometry to determine that?

The eight avenues leading out of the plaza are blocked by Apparatus tanks, and then Heller's sister, Hightee, gowned all in white, the dress' shoulder artfully torn, "without her gloves now," and golden hair "like a halo," is chained to the pillar.  She shouts a warning into the microphone of Madison's camera crew, telling her brother, Jettero that "They mean to kill you!" before a Death Battalion general clamps her mouth shut.

And then things started to go slightly wrong.  Possibly the crowds-which, despite roadblocks, had gotten into the boulevards-had been in the grip of unreality.  This couldn't possibly be happening: it was too monstrous.  But when the Apparatus general had dared to actually touch Hightee to silence her, a roar and mutter had begun to rise.

It would've been nice to establish that Voltar has very sensitive norms regarding bodily contact, or something like that.  Maybe try to explain why this is a big deal for a better reason than that it's happening to the beautiful and talented Hightee Heller, Jettero's sister.  Just a suggestion.

There must have been a hundred thousand people in those boulevards. There were only two or three thousand Apparatus troops forming barricades to block them.

The barricades buckled.

There was a roar of Apparatus stunguns.

Missiles flew from the crowd!

Apparatus troops charged them!

The Domestic Police were conspicuously absent. The Apparatus knew very little about crowd control.

But they're planning on invading an alien planet with a mere four million men.  And hope to rule a 100-world empire.

For twenty minutes there was hand-to-hand fighting.

The crowd in three boulevards managed to break through the barricades.  The tanks at the plaza end had to swivel their turrets about and fire.

Then the boulevards were full of stunned and bleeding bodies, civilians and Apparatus alike.

Two Apparatus relief regiments came in and boxed the mobs in the streets from the far end.

All said, it takes until past 10 o'clock for order to be restored.  They had tanks, they were up against a bunch of unarmed civilians instead of gun-toting militias defending their homes against alien invaders, and the Apparatus still struggled.  But remember, we're supposed to be deeply concerned at the notion of these guys invading Earth.

Madison evidently picked this plaza because there's plenty of room for Hightee's brother, Heller to land troops if he feels like it, and Madison's not worried for his own safety since Heller can't use artillery for fear of hitting his sister, Hightee Heller.  He's more concerned of "getting into the cameras" and plans on hopping into a tank when the action starts.

Madison had his eye on the big clock in a tower a thousand yards away.  He supposed that Heller would wait until the last minute.  At least he hoped so.  He had no slightest notion that Heller would surrender.  Besides, it would have wrecked his plans.

And I can't help but wonder - I'm sorry, Hubbard, I really ought to be passively enjoying your work instead of thinking so much - whether Madison strictly needs Heller for this.  The publicist has a pretty clear idea of what he needs Heller to do, and back on Earth he was smart enough to hire a "body double" to do exactly that.  He now has unlimited funding and an empire at his disposal, so why doesn't he do the same thing here?  Use "cellology" to make a credible faux-Heller and have him running around, robbing banks and all that stupid stuff?  Obviously Madison has no problem with repeating himself, since he's doing the same damn things on Voltar that he did on Earth.  Did it just slip his mind?

Then Madison heard it.

A sort of booming sound.


Madison looked up.  For an instant, he could see nothing.  Then he glimpsed a blur that was travelling high at some ferocious speed.  What was it?  Some strange kind of racer?

His view was suddenly blocked by a swinging gun.  The tank was pointing at the sky.

A cry rose up from the held-back mobs.

It could only be Heller.  But the high ship was going right on by!

Thousands of ground troops, nearly a dozen tanks, but the Apparatus has no aircraft to help secure this area?  Is this regular Apparatus incompetence, or is Madison deliberately making things easier for Heller?

The tanks shoot at the passing ship, but their... projectiles pass right through it, it's an illusion.  Then one of them adjusts its aim, "THERE WAS A HUGE EXPLOSION IN THE SKY!" and pieces of non-illusory spaceship rain down on the plaza.  The barely-contained crowds loose a "shrieking moan," Heller's sister, Hightee, bursts into tears.  Flames shoot up in the distance as the ship crashes "apparently into a warehouse," certainly not a residence or hospital or anything, that's something one of Gris' out-of-control vehicles would do.

Madison looked at the tanks.  He felt that his plans for great PR were gone.  He supposed that Heller had been killed.  It would make such brief headlines!

...That's it?  That's the reaction to the apparent death of the guy you're trying to make famous?  That's your response to all those weeks of planning and manipulation coming to such an unsatisfying end?  And you don't even mention Mr. Bury, whose favor you hoped to gain from all this nonsense?

It's... we're supposed to believe that Madison is so obsessed with Heller that he'll continue doing the Wister-Heller case even after being brought to an alien civilization, so eager to please his Earth boss that he thinks Mr. Bury is more interested in how famous Heller is on another planet than he is that Madison visited another planet.  And this is Madison's response to Heller's unsatisfactory demise?  He's sounds disappointed that a restaurant closed down!

But then he saw a tank officer pointing.  The arm was stretched upward.

A thousand small objects were drifting down out of the blue. They were above this whole area

Yeah, a weird thing about this chapter is the use of "this"es.  Madison refers to "this tank" when he plans on hiding during any fighting, and now there's this "this."  Like the verb tense shift in that descriptive paragraph earlier, I can only assume that the author gradually dying while writing the story had something to do with it.

Hmm, I made myself sort of sad.

and made a mile-diameter circle of their own.

They came lower and lower.  A tank suddenly opened up to try to shoot at least some of them out of the sky.

Madison saw a distant one wink.

Then he had a sudden impression that all the world had turned blue.  Painfully, unbearably blue!

He went unconscious.

Only because cameras kept running would he find out what happened then.

It's a Blueflash, of course.  You know, the magical blue light that knocks people out.  The light Heller used during his landings on Earth.  The light that you'd think his fellow aliens would figure out countermeasures for, or plan against.

Surely Heller isn't the only person in these books who has one?  Didn't the Apparatus use it at some point?  Hell, why didn't the Apparatus use it two pages ago when they were in danger of being swamped by an angry mob?

Everyone within a mile of the site gets KO'd, then a gas bomb envelops the whole plaza in a fog, so we get audio only of the rest of the rescue.

Then there was the pulsing sound of spaceship drives.  That first ship must have been a drone.  Heller's had not been touched. 

Oh thank the wood gods!  Imagine if Heller and Krak had to drive around in a spacecraft that didn't have marble floors and golden toilets and a 3D theater system. 

There was the thump of a landing in the mist.

Then the click of airlock latches.

Heller's voice!  Very softly, "Oh, I am so sorry I had to knock you out."

Shortly another click of latches.  Then a throb of drives.

Half an hour later, Madison came awake.

The mist was gone.

There was nothing in the plaza but two broken chains.


Oh, I thought you said "nothing but Hightee in the plaza" there, thanks for clarifying.

The only thing remaining is a note pinned to the column, a doctored "excursion ticket" reading "A ONE-WAY TRIP TO HELL NINE FOR LOMBAR HISST."  Madison is all too happy to get it on camera, start some headlines about


Madison had done it.  He had converted Heller into an outlaw that could now be chased by every active unit in the whole Confederacy!

Which, since the Fleet is on a lockdown enforced by the Army, consists solely of the Apparatus.  So Madison has succeeded in getting Lombar, who hates Heller, to hate Heller, and send the Apparatus after him, which is what he already ordered.

What, in this 459 page book, did Madison actually accomplish?

Back to Chapter Four 

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