The first thing Lombar Hisst wants to know is whether Madison's figured out how to get the Army and Fleet following Apparatus orders, so they can jump into the quagmire on Calabar while the Apparatus invades Earth. Keep in mind that as far as we know, he hasn't heard anything from that Death Battalion he sent over. Imagine if he got some space mail the next day saying that they secured the Earth base, purged enough malcontents to get things moving again, and that the first resumed drug shipment is in the cargo hold of the ship that sent the letter, no need for an invasion after all. Boy would his face be red.
Madison replies that the most important thing right now is to build Hisst's imperial image. They both agree that Lombar needs to look "Totally formidable" in Hisst's words, while Madison is more flowery: "A man of iron will. One who will brook no nonsense. The public yearns for strong and merciless control. The figure of a vengeful God." Ah, so like Insert Political Figure Here, then. Oh, those silly Political Figure's Party. Now as it happens, there's a presumably anti-Gris riot going on in Slum City as they speak, a prime opportunity for Hisst to show just how formidable he is.
In just under two hours, Lombar and Madison are off in the former's flying tank. Which seems like a bit of an oxymoron, now that I think about it. The key characteristics of a tank is that the thing is tracked, unlike an armored car, and designed for front-line combat, unlike a bulldozer. So if it's swooping around in the sky, strafing targets in attack runs, is it still a tank? Or is it like the Hind "flying tank?" What's a better term for it, superheavy gunship? Hovering armored weapons platform?
Madison described the event as a "riot," but there's a stage waiting when they land, two whole Death Battalions are on hand to keep order, and the crowd is so well-behaved that the main issue is keeping more people from coming in than keeping the ones present under control. And wait, wasn't the Death Battalion secret or something? And if they can spare two companies for a "riot" in a slum, just how badly overstretched are they?
Lombar takes the stage in his devilish red uniform, reading a speech Madison spat out the night before with the help of his horror writer. Madison's camera crew is on hand, as well as others from Homeview channels wanting in on the scoop. And here's the thing - the narrator assures us that they're sending the footage "to all Voltar and, on delay, to every other planet." So they can send audio-visual signals across a planet easy-peasy, and with an unspecified but probably not too bad delay to the other 109 planets in the Confederacy.
So why are communications with Earth limited to physical mail?!
This is an innocuous little line where the author accidentally shines a spotlight on how painfully contrived his plot is. Just imagine if Gris had been required to regularly sit down and send off a video report, and received feedback from Lombar after a day or week or however long it takes Homeview video space magic to travel through the aether. No extended period of Gris in the back of a limo with his victims. No attempts to kill Heller before his boss authorized it. No Voyage of Vengeance while Gris struggles to find "INSPIRATION!" for how to stop Heller from ruining everything. Hell, he probably wouldn't have lasted a book before Lombar recalled him for gross incompetence.
I think this may be worse than the Apparatus' one-way radios. And all because Hubbard added a little detail about network broadcasting to Lombar's big scene.
It's a pretty standard dictator speech, all things considered. Law and order over mob rule, don't question the government, that sort of thing. It also cheats: Lombar declares "I stand here, strong and powerful, formidable and determined to crush all opposition to the sovereign state." Look, you can't just tell the audience how they're supposed to view you. That makes me want to watch Futurama.
Hisst insists that the Apparatus are men of honor and valor, and dumps all the blame for Gris' deeds on Gris himself. "My very soul cries out to do him justice. With these two hands I could separate his spine, vertebra by vertebra, and take the utmost pleasure in it. I would love to deliver him even into the hands of this mob and let him be dismembered!" And all this talk about vertebrae and dismemberment really gets the crowd cheering, let me tell you.
When the hysteria died, Hisst swept on. "Alas, His Majesty lies ill, too ill to be disturbed, and in this time of public crisis, I do not wish for anything but tranquillity [sic]. I am therefore carrying forward His Majesty's deepest wish and I am assuming the temporary powers of Dictator of Voltar."
There was a shock of stillness. The crowd stared. They had never heard of such a post or position.
Trying to wrap their feeble alien brains around the concept of a git giving orders without a crown on his head, I expect.
But the speech gave no time for discussion. Lombar had never heard of the position either. He had not read the speech beforehand. But suddenly, although he could not imagine what it might embrace, he accepted the post with a surge of unbridled elation. It was the stepping-stone he had been seeking.
Filled with divine fervor, he read on, "I pledge on my honor to bring peace to Voltar, tranquillity to its people, and I will stamp out ruthlessly any dissidence or question that will damage the state. I am backed by the sterling and honest officers of the Apparatus and I will gather in the support of every other branch of service, or else!
One uncooperative branch would be the Royal prison, currently refusing to bring Gris to justice. Luckily Lombar promises the well-behaved mob that the new tool called psychotherapy will deal with him, and the crowd, under the assumption "that psychotherapy must be some kind of torture," hur hur, cheers and cheers. When the speech is over, the dumbstruck Death Battalion has to keep the crowds of delighted admirers away so that Lombar can get to his hovering armored weapons platform.
"My Gods, Madison," he said, "your genius is almost as great as mine. But this post of dictator, won't it have to pass the Grand Council?"
Madison handed him the G. C. order, all stamped and signed. Only two members had been present but the pages were good pages. They had done what Teenie told them to.
"A man named Napoleon," said Madison, "moved from dictator to emperor with ease."
"GODS!" said Lombar, quivering. And for minutes he just stared into space.
Remember, it's not enough to wield absolute power over a hundred worlds, you've gotta be referred to properly while doing so.
With all of his problems solved thanks to the magic of PR, Lombar belatedly remembers to ask what kind of "new long-distance method of execution" this psychotherapy is, but Madison advises his boss to let him worry about that. So Lombar "nodded and forgot about it."
Sadly, the author doesn't, and so another unappealing bit character will be dragged out of Book One to resurface solely to torment Soltan Gris. Because remember, all this stuff about making Hisst dictator is just so we can get to Gris. And all the stuff about Gris is so we can properly make headlines about Heller. Because even though at this point Madison has total control of the media and his boss is more powerful than ever, it doesn't matter because all the stuff about Heller is to make a Mr. Bury on Earth happy.
And then Madison will be able to... to return home, somehow, and live his life of brief periods of PR work punctuated by long periods of hiding with his mommy for fear of punishment due to him accidentally ruining his clients... and it's better than being the number two man to the most powerful figure in an alien empire, because...
The important thing is that we're about eighty pages from the end of the book. That at least is clear.
Back to Part Seventy-Nine, Chapter Six