Friday, February 28, 2014

Part Eighty-Seven, Chapter Two - It Sorta Rhymes With "Genius"

The Emperor is off having a good cry, while the assembled Lords and notables are all "upset because the Emperor had looked upset."  Gotta hand it to Voltar, it's good at training sycophants: Mortiiy's only been on the throne for a few hours now, and people are already basing their thoughts and feelings off of his.

Except for Heller, of course.  He hasn't yet had a reaction to his orders to destroy the planet he killed so many people trying to save, instead he's thinking about how hard it would be to get the general staff to agree on an invasion plan in the best of times, to saying nothing of these strained circumstances.  He stalls for time by spotting the Master of Palace City, pretends that the guy was giving him some sort of signal, and so adjourns the meeting for two hours so everyone can get some refreshments, thus leaving the Master to hastily plan how to scrounge up a serving staff from the local Lords' estates.

Then Heller turns to his archnemesis, that most hated of foes, Soltan... er, Madison, excuse me.  Wow, Gris stopped being relevant a long time ago, didn't he?  Heller gets Madison to confirm that he trained his film crew in the dark arts of PR, then orders that they all be put in electric shackles.

"At once, Your Lordship," the marine captain said.  "Can I raise the voltage a bit above the usual?  They wounded some of my men."

"No torture," said Heller, "although I must agree with you, it's tempting."

Our hero.  Madison tries to defend himself, arguing that PRing isn't a crime, but while Heller agrees that on Earth "you can start whole wars and ruin reputations and lives, and PRs just strut and laugh about it.  But here a million casualties aren't looked upon so lightly."  Hey.  Hey Heller.  See if you can finish this sentence: "fifteen million _______s."  Eh?  Eh?

Madison insists that if he hadn't put Lombar on the throne there wouldn't have been a popular uprising against the Apparatus, but Heller counters that if Madison hadn't gotten involved, Cling would have eventually recovered, declared Mortiiy his successor, "and there wouldn't have been a single shot fired."  Yep, the Apparatus and Hisst would've surrendered without a fight.  Gumdrops and chocolate milk for everyone.  And Madison, bless his heart, still thinks he's going back to Earth, and that Mr. Bury will surely understand that he tried his very best to make Mr. Heller-Wister nice and famous on an alien planet, despite failing to do so on Earth.

And so begins Madison's trauma.  Heller reveals that Mr. Bury works for him now, he has no plan of "inflicting" Madison on Earth again, and that last PR campaign was so effective that Mortiiy wants to blow up his homeworld.  I'm not sure why he needs to tell Madison this, 'cause the guy was in the same hall as him, but maybe the acoustics were bad.  And anyway, Madison didn't seem concerned with Earth's fate when the Apparatus was talking about invading, so why would he care now?

Then Krak shows up, and recognizes Madison as the fellow who she thought drove into a river.  And then, well, Krak has a good memory.  She also read lots of Earth newspapers during her stay on the planet.  So she tells Madison that she remembers reading something in one a few days after his reported death, something about his mommy.

"My mother?" said Madison, suddenly ashen.  "She died of grief over that death report?"

"No," said Krak.  "She got married in one of the happiest weddings I've ever seen photographs of!"

"Oh, my God!" said Madison and began to crumple. 

The author won't let his heroes physically torture Madison, but he'll contrive events so that they can psychologically destroy him.  "The woman Flip," that criminal camera crew member who's always wanted in Madison's pants for some reason, swoops in and embraces him, while Krak wonders why he's reacting so badly to her attempt to reassure him that he hadn't "ruined his mother's life with grief."  Guess she didn't consider that hearing Mommy had a fabulous wedding just two days after she thought you died might be a bit discouraging.

The woman Flip

The narration refers to her this way three of the four times her name appears in this chapter.  Is this a brain thing, I wonder?  The result of an elderly, dying author?  Or is Hubbard merely being nice and differentiating the woman Flip from the man Flick, because goodness knows I keep getting the names mixed up.

kissed Madison.  He stirred.  His eyelids flickered open.  He looked up at her.  She kissed him again.

"I've got you," said Flip with greedy eyes.

"Oh, my God," he wept, "there goes my genius!"

So... humor from female-on-male rape?  The figurative cherry on Madison's sundae of trauma?  Or is the author being benevolent here, and thinks he's doing Madison a favor?

Hubbard, at least in these books, is nice enough to ensure that all of his characters are getting some, even the worst of the villains.  They might not want to be getting some, and the some that they are getting may turn out to be an underage girl, a still-cooling corpse, or a transvestite KGB colonel, but nobody in this story is going home with blue balls, no matter how much they might deserve it.

Back to Chapter One

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Part Eighty-Seven, Chapter One - The Invasion of Earth

Having banned psychology and psychiatry upon the urging of Homeview editor Noble Stuffy, Emperor Mortiiy is ready to move on with this fact-finding conference, but Stuffy has more to say - he wants the new emperor to appoint a Royal Censor.  Mortiiy is shocked, and never thought he'd "see the day when newspapers would tolerate being told what they could and could not print.  Incredible!"

Stuffy reminds us that Voltarian print media used to be perfect, with each paper pandering to their readers without any competition.  But then something called yellow journalism arrived, and now "each paper finds itself vying with the rest to see which one can sell the most papers by telling the biggest lies." 

"The situation is entirely out of our own control.  Our reporters are lying, cheating, manufacturing false evidence, even our editors are whipping them on.  It began even before the Gris trial.  We publishers are helpless.  We want a Royal Censor we can resort to when a newspaper finds that it is being used as a tool for PR."

From this, we can assume that journalists on Voltar are pretty different from our inferior, lying Earth reporters, and have some sort of tenure system or other control over their publishers.  Voltarian publishers are unable to fire unethical reporters, or replace editors with competent, professional workers.  Owning a printing press doesn't necessarily mean these Voltarian publishers have any control over what they print.  They're virtually hostages to the guys who want them to publish stuff.

The alternative is to assume that Stuffy and his fellow space publishers are so pants-crappingly stupid they need a Royal official to tell them how to solve this personnel problem.

Mortiiy, already furious, becomes so confused by this request that he dismisses Stuffy, but the publicist wails that this PR is responsible for the riots.  Mortiiy wonders if it's some sort of "anger bomb," which again raises the question of why Earth is so terrible for exporting things like psychiatry and PR when Voltar already has devices capable of mind-control and irrational emotional responses.

At any rate, there's a - well, you might think that a hall full of Voltar's highest-ranking officials and the Emperor himself would have some pretty tight security.  Maybe multiple rings of defenses, checkpoints within checkpoints.  But instead, a group of Homeview people make it to the hall's entrance before getting into a scuffle with the Fleet marines guarding the chamber.  Heller (not Mortiiy) demands to know what the eff, and the Homeview guys shout that some fakers are on one of their commentary channels.

"The manager has been going crazy thinking he'd misplaced a Homeview team.  This isn't a Homeview team you've got in here.  This is Madison and his crew!"

"WHAT?" cried Heller.  "Captain, GRAB THAT TEAM!"

"ATTACK!" screamed Flick.

Well, it's been thirty pages since the Heller vs Hisst "battle."  Guess the author felt we needed some excitement.  But it's not even a proper Hubbard Action Sequence, most of it is summed up in a paragraph.  Madison's team of crack criminal correspondents draw daggers and charge, and the Fleet marines set their electric knives to "paralyze."  This would make more sense if the knives themselves were made out of an energy field like a lightsaber, so the author could say that the aliens toned down the voltage to a non-lethal setting, but as we've seen with Teenie's guards, Voltarian electro-weapons are sharp bits of metal wrapped in an electrical current.  So you stab someone in the gut with one, shock them, and then say they've been safely, nonlethally paralyzed.

At any rate, Flick and the other criminals are outnumbered two-to-one and get their asses stab-shocked while the real Homeview crew is "smugly taking pictures."  Heller demands that Madison be dragged out of the rabble, but the Earth publicist makes a dramatic entrance, stepping out from behind a light in the corner and informing His Majesty that he's mistaken about PR.

Heller lets him talk for almost a full page.  It'd have been nice if he saved us some time and told the guards to grab and gag Madison.

"PR," said Madison, "means, in your language, public relations.  It is, Your Majesty, of infinite use to a government."  His voice took on a crooning lilt.  "You can mold, sculpt and create in wondrous forms the opinions of the multitude.  It is not necessary even to be sensible in your government decisions when you utilize PR.  You can do anything you please and, by the beautiful techniques of imagery, bring about any public opinion that you might require.  You do not even have to be fair or just in trials.  If you, as a governing sovereign, do not like someone, he does not even have to be guilty of a single crime: you simply manufacture news stories and try him in the press.  You do not even have to bring him to court." 

You may recall that Madison didn't really work for the government while he was on Earth.  He was more a freelancer Mr. Bury would hire whenever he needed to destroy someone he didn't want to assassinate in more conventional ways.  So Madison really worked for the assistant of the man who controlled the government, people who didn't need to worry about public opinion in the first place.

"WHAT?" said Mortiiy, scandalized.

"Indeed," said Madison, "you may well stare in astonishment.  But it is true.  By manipulating public opinion, you can drive the mobs and riffraff any direction you want.  In fact, it was by the skilled use of the Gris trial that I was able, with PR, to bring these wonderful riots to a positive boil!"

"WHAT IS THIS?" cried Mortiiy.

"PR," said Madison.  "The whole planet of Blito-P3 is run on it."  His voice took on an almost singing tone.  "PR is the gift of Earth to a waiting universe."

You might also remember (me reminding you numerous times) that Madison was introduced as a clueless incompetent, whose demented attempts to make his clients famous always ended in their destruction, and that he regarded himself as a failure for that.  He was always worried that Mr. Bury would fire or kill him for making someone bankrupt or a social outcast.  But at some point he became some sort of devilish mastermind pleased with the chaos he created.

Heller sees "the embers begin to kindle" in Mortiiy's eyes and (finally) suggests that Madison shut up, but the publicist explodes that Heller-Wister is "a nobody, a nothing" who would be "shivering, unknown in some dark, dank cave" were it not for Madison's efforts.  And that's the last straw for the new Emperor.

"Why, you infernal snot!" he stormed at Madison.  "How dare you insult one of the bravest officers that ever lived!  You're a snivelling coward in the bargain!  You know very well an officer is forbidden to duel in his monarch's presence.  Well, I will take care of that!"  And he drew his hand blastgun to shoot! 

It's one thing to introduce something that set the Confederacy on fire, and then try to tempt the Emperor with your foul promises.  But insult Jettero Heller?  Unforgivable. 

Mortiiy barely restrains himself, remembering that he's Emperor now and needs to put his muderin' days behind him, but announces that "At LAST we've gotten to the bottom of it!"

The snarling rage struck fear into the tense hall. "A thing called PR mangles a million people in the streets, with tens of billions of property damage! 

Point of order: all PR did in this case was give the public information about what the Apparatus was up to.  They did the rioting.  None of what "PR" said was actually false, and if more conventional Homeview coverage had said the same things you'd see the same response.

A P. T. Barnum gives us abominable freaks!

Poor P.T. Barnum.  He only got dragged into the story fourteen pages ago, and he's already up there with the CIA and psychiatry as one of the book's big bads. 

A CIA/KGB gives us a rotten, foul organization called the Apparatus! Two insane fake 'sciences' named psychology and psychiatry lying to the entire population!

No, just a couple dozen housewives.

Drugs shatter the lives of whole cities and subvert the government! 

Yes to the latter, no to the former.  At least on Voltar.  And at any rate, the problem is that drugs are illegal, remember?  They can't hurt anyone if they aren't profitable, right?

My two poor brothers dead, my father ruined in health and myself consigned to five years of Hells!  And where did all this come from?"

Lombar Hisst's thirst for power?

He brought his fist down on the board.  "A planet called Blito-P3, Earth!  WE HAVE BEEN INVADED!"

Whoooaaa!  What a wacky turn of events, dude!  Earth invaded an alien planet!  How craaaazy!

And by "invade" I mean one stupid alien took some of the worst parts of Earth culture and used them in a coup that's baffling in how close it came to succeeding.

Mortiiy straightened up.  His face was very grim.  But he had regained his self-control.  He spoke now with kingly determination. "I know now why things went wrong with Voltar and I know where the disease came from.  Primitive, decadent or decayed civilizations can be very dangerous to associate with.

Says the feudal emperor in his gilded palace ruling a thousands-year-old empire that is still following a schedule of conquests drawn up millennia ago because they can think of nothing else to do.

It can be like putting a patient with a contagious illness into a roomful of healthy people.  A higher strata of culture can be pulled down and fouled by such association.  We have seen these before in our history and we are far from perfect. 

I'll be damned, the author wrote something I agree with.

"But never in my whole career, which has contained extensive travels, have I ever in my life heard of such a putrid and degenerate society as that of Blito-P3, Earth!"

Ever been to Slum City, with those "electric penis stimulation" services?  Or the Army officers' club and brothel, with a floor devoted to farm animals?  Well, Royalty probably wouldn't descend to such squalor.

Mortiiy takes a moment to tear up while gazing at the portraits of his father and two dead brothers, and while trying to hide his weeping gives his orders: Lord Heller is now the permanent Viceregal Chairman, and will complete this conference while the emperor retires to work on a replacement Grand Council at his leisure - the Emperor isn't ordinarily supposed to be involved in this sort of stuff, see.  To show how unimportant his position is, Mortiiy signs six blank proclamations, and tells Heller to "dispose of Blito-P3, Earth, any way you see fit!"  Dun-dum-duhn!

And there's a nice dramatic moment for the chapter to end on, don't you think?  Well, you're wrong.  The author spends another three paragraphs on Mortiiy's abrupt departure, the nobles' quick attempt to bow him out, and Mortiiy swiping at his eyes when he's out of sight, so blinded with tears that Krak has to escort him to his chambers.  "He had loved his brothers very dearly.  And knowing now, at last, what really had caused their deaths had brought the fact home."  Earth killed his family, you see.

Or in other words, right when we, the reader, are supposed to be concerned about the fate of the billions on Earth, the author tries to make us sympathetic for the wrathful, trigger-happy tyrant who lost his two brothers to royal politics.

Back to Part Eighty-Six, Chapter Eight

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Part Eighty-Six, Chapter Eight - Sex, Drugs, and That's About It

Last chapter the Heller-chaired meeting of Voltar's most noble nobles prevented the Apparatus from ever happening again by outlawing "those criminal patterns of intelligence" they imported from Earth.  Let's see what else we can learn about how to solve Earth's problems by watching how Voltar deals with the same issues, shall we?

Mortiiy wants to pick a new Grand Council, a general reminds him that the previous Council is now a bunch of drug-addicted losers, and Mortiiy unfortunately doesn't roll his eyes and say "which is why I want to pick a new Council."  An admiral wants to hurry up and ban drugs, but Mortiiy wants more information.

The admiral in charge of medicine

Wait, what?

said, "We never used them in the Confederacy.  We used various gases for surgery and such.

You'd think an admiral would know that drugs can inhaled as gases, but I guess that's why they made him in charge of medicine.

From what I've seen of drugs, they're poison." 

Anything's a poison if you take it in too large a dose.  Granted, depending on the substance the lethal dose can be very small.

Another admiral, this one with the more logical jurisdiction of "contraband and space patrols," informs the meeting that Voltar's drug problem started with Lombar Hisst, who got the idea from... well, you can guess what shows up on the display panels of the conference hall.

Mortiiy, from the higher level, stared down at it.  He read it. "That's impossible!" he said.  "A whole planet going crazy with drugs?"

"That's the analysis, Your Majesty," said Bis. "They take them morning, noon and night. They feed them to the schoolchildren,


the workmen


and the aged.


They even fight their wars with soldiers drugged to the hilt."

It takes a lot of antacids to deal with the stress of combat.

"That's Blito-P3 again!" said Mortiiy.

"It was Hisst's secret weapon against Voltar," said Bawtch, crawling out from under the table.  "That was why he was mounting that premature invasion of Earth.  To get more drugs so he could cave the Confederacy population in."

"It ought to be invaded," snarled Mortiiy.  "But not to get more drugs."

I'm under the impression that Hubbard spent a lot of his time at sea in an altered state of consciousness, so I'm wondering what the deal is with this anti-drug crusade.  Did he realize, toward the end, what his recreational habits had done to his body?  Was he trying to deflect allegations of drug use in the least subtle way imaginable?  Or - and this is a stretch - is all this a subtle satire of the rabid anti-drug culture of the late '80's establishment?  Is Hubbard presenting the world not as he sees it, but as they see it, to show readers how warped such a worldview is?

Probably not, since the rest of the book consists of the author's rants about psychological Nazis being behind everything.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the book's anti-drug angle, 'cause Heller once again comes to the rescue and explains that while drugs are a "rotten business," banning them doesn't work - Lombar already made such an order, and it only protected his own monopoly.  On drugs he couldn't reproduce.  So he could keep importing them from Earth.

At any rate, the solution is to completely decriminalize and ignore the drug problem, because drugs are only a profitable business when they're illegal (just ask the tobacco companies).  And drugs stop messing people up if you don't look at them, I guess.  So Mortiiy rescinds the anti-drug law, and that's that, problem solved.  Especially since the only drug-production facilities on Voltar are Teenie's marijuana gardens.

Continuing a theme of nepotism and unqualified government officials, someone suggests that since the old Grand Council is going through the shakes and watching purple spiders crawl out of the ceiling, they could simply appoint the sons of all those Lords to fill the posts.  But, ahah, the problem with that is Teenie kinda, uh...

Bis leaned over to his admiral senior and that worthy said, "Gentlemen, Your Majesty, I have bad news for you there.  Without a single exception, the sons of Lords here have become catamites."

"WHAT?" said Mortiiy.  "Where did that come from?'' 

Depends who you ask.  Some say it's something latent and natural that you can either express or repress, others think that your sexual orientation is a decision you consciously make at some point, which may be influenced by demons.

"Your Majesty," said the admiral, "we regret to tell you they were suborned by a very corrupt and perverted young girl who arrived here a few months ago and who, without doubt, should be executed for actually teaching sexual irregularities.  I understand they are common on her home planet.  She is an Earth girl.  She comes from Blito-P3."

"THAT planet again!" said Mortiiy. "First freaks, then corrupting governments with intelligence, then drugs and now catamites!" 

Can I just point out (for the nth time) that Voltar had catamites before Teenie showed up?  Twolah and Odur, remember those guys?  Or maybe the author's about to explain that they weren't gay until Hisst read about sodomy in a report on Earth?

No, he's not, because the proceedings are interrupted by Daily Speaker publisher Noble Arthrite Stuffy, who's been trying to be heard since Crobe came up.  He wants a law to ban the practice of something called psychiatry and psychology.

"Why?" said Mortiiy.

"Your Majesty, those two subjects claim that sex is the basis for all motivation."

"That's nonsense," said Mortiiy.  

Yet hard to argue against if you use these books as evidence.

"But it's just some crackpot idea."

"No, it isn't, Your Majesty," said Noble Arthrite Stuffy.  "Those subjects are a pack of falsities and lies that are used to undermine the population, corrupt them and hold in power vicious governments run by insane men!  Psychiatry and psychology played their role in bringing about the chaos we have just been through.  Abolish them quick!"

And Mortiiy asks, that's absurd, where did these ideas come from?  And the other guy says, the Aristocrats!

Stuffy demurs to go into detail about how these false doctrines managed to overthrow Voltar's government, at least in public.  Which is really convenient for the author, since in this case psychology was only used to influence a small group of wives, so they could pressure their husbands into letting Madison publish his stories.  Hardly the sort of apocalyptic "undermine the population" scenario we're supposed to be scared of.

Krak interrupts the meeting to whisper the latest update on the former monarch's condition (sleeping) into the new emperor's ear.  Even though she spent an appreciable amount of time on Earth, and played a... supporting role in the overthrow of Hisst, she wasn't invited to this council to decide the fate of the Confederacy.  Yet she still manages to contribute before the author sidelines her once more, answering Mortiiy's request for more information about psychology.

"They're awful.  The governments there use them to maim and kill and drive people insane when they don't like somebody.  They teach all the schoolchildren they're only animals so they'll act like animals."

"That's good enough for me," Mortiiy whispered back.

Two "expert" witness' testimony is all he needs to ban something.  But hey, a twofer for this chapter!  Solved Voltar's drug problem (by ignoring it) and rid the world (a few ladies) of psychology forever!  We'll be wrapping up this story in no time, right?  Right?

Madison's furious, though, and vows to keep fighting for the truth that "men are just rotten animals."  He does this by blabbering on about Heller's "gun moll" influencing the new monarch.

Little did Madison know that he was about to precipitate the wipeout of the planet Earth!

Well, as long as Earth wore its helmet and kneepads and was going at a safe speed, it ought to be okay.

Back to Part Eighty-Six, Chapters Six and Seven

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Part Eighty-Six, Chapters Six and Seven - The Root of All Evil (Involves Clowns, of Course)

So imagine you're working in the Imperial Palace, and several weeks ago things went to hell.  A bunch of criminals in official uniforms took over and let the place rot around them, and you were eventually imprisoned in the Royal basements.  Then there was a horrific battle going on above you, with a mountain torn out of the ground, terrifying explosions, spaceships falling out of the sky onto the capital, the works.  And then you're finally rescued by Jettero Heller, only so you can get up there and clean the Grand Council hall after the "last druggy days of Hisst" left it a dusty shambles.

Heller also laments that the Apparatus nicked all the "gold and jewelled clothes and diamond-studded banners" that once decorated the hall, but soon is distracted by the sheer volume of people filing in - high-ranking officials, military commanders, etc.  Also, Madison's film crew is there, despite Flick's pleas that they make a run for it since their careers are over - Homeview's showing celebrating crowds in the streets chanting praises of Emperor Mortiiy, after all. 

"That's the point!" said Madison.  "We've lost our riots!  You'll never make a PR man, Flick.  I've lost client exposure.  Somehow I've got to try to make it up and repair the image!"

"You're crazy," said Flick.

"Of course," said Madison.  "That's why I'm a genius.  As soon as this conference convenes, I can keep a running commentary going and, hope against hope, regain the initiative!  All is not lost, Flick.  Don't despair.  I've still got a chance to make Heller an immortal outlaw yet!" 

So Madison's openly crazy now.  Or maybe he admitted that before.  Which doesn't really jive with psychology's lies about curing people of mental illness, but then again inconsistent characterization is Madison's characterization now.

The new Emperor enters the chamber and immediately shows how qualified he is for the post by failing to call the assembly to order.  So he takes the only logical action.

"Heller!" yelled Mortiiy, "For Gods' sakes, get up here on the dais and take the post of Viceregal Chairman of the Crown!  Maybe you can be heard above this mess!" 

Yeah.  You might be more surprised that Heller wasn't adopted by the dying king, but hold that thought.

Heller blinked.  It was the most senior aristocratic post of the realm.  But, obediently, he jumped up on the dais beside Mortiiy.  Heller raised his voice, using the piercing tone of a Fleet officer, "The meeting is called to order!" 

This is pretty bizarre.  The books' been beating in our heads with the notion that Royal bloodlines are imbued with all the natural qualities of benevolent leadership, and here we have a monarch deferring to someone with the special Fleet training to yell very loudly.  So Navy trumps Royalty in the end.

Heller drew his hand blastgun, set it to "noise" and fired it in the air. There was instant quiet.

"The meeting is started!" said Heller. 

Mortiiy couldn't do that, see.  Also, if guns have a "noise" setting, could you set them to that "sonic saw-toothed wave for terror" and make anyone you shot at run away?  Or is that too sophisticated for a handgun, and something you could only cram into thousands of tiny bombs?

Madison's just thrilled that Heller's drawn his gun and uses it as a gavel, gushing "The outlaw Heller is calling his bandit crew to order!" and getting the cameraman to zoom in on the weapon.  Meanwhile, Mortiiy is starting his speech: Empire of 125,000 years, never before seen this sort of disorder (despite admitting to past civil wars), a million dead in the streets (that few?  Heller killed way more than that!), tens of billions of credits in property damage (or two hundreds of billions of US dollars).  Before starting a new government, Mortiiy wants to "root out this disease" that caused all this chaos and destruction, so it will never happen again.

Everyone's quick to snarl the name of the hated Lombar Hisst, but Mortiiy suspects there's more to this than one man, and asks for more information.  And so an Apparatus clerk who knew Hisst when he was young comes forth - none other than Old Bawtch.  And he explains that "it was the freaks" that started it all.

Brace yourself, this is going to get really stupid.

Once upon a time, Young Bawtch was putting away some survey pictures...

"I was filing a pack of photographs from a circus run by P. T. Barnum.  It had a two-headed calf (that's an animal) and a boy with a dog face (a dog is another animal) and two women joined physically called Siamese twins and some others, and this young Hisst picked them up and began to laugh.  And then he said, 'With cellology we could go that one better' and he took the whole pack.

"Then the next thing I knew, he had fished a criminal cellologist named Crobe out of a prison and they began to make freaks and sell them to circuses. Those were the first freaks ever exhibited." 

The circus.  The (bleeping) circus is what started all of this.

The worst part is that, if Hisst had just stumbled upon a different set of pictures, we could've had the Apparatus running around in rainbow wigs, white makeup and big red noses.  That'd add a whole new dimension of terror to the Death Battalions, don't you think?

"How disgusting," said Mortiiy.  "'P. T. Barnum', you say?  That doesn't sound very Voltarian.  I never heard of any circuses by that name."

"No, Your Majesty.  I didn't make myself clear.  The freak idea came from Blito-P3.  Locally there, they call it Earth."

This is going to be a theme for these chapters.

The circus got Hisst very interested in Earth, and soon he was rising through the Exterior Division Intelligence, a special division had been created for that planet, and then the whole organization had its name changed to the Coordinated Information Apparatus.  It's not the author's shallow parody of the CIA, see, it's a character's in-story imitation of that organization.

Bawtch goes on to explain how the Apparatus ripped off the worst of Earth's government agencies - the Provocation Section was inspired by the KGB, the Death Battalions came from the SS, from the CIA came the idea of "an independent military force that would fight wars without the approval of the government," and the FBI showed them "the pattern they use of ruling the whole land by blackmailing legislative representatives and keeping those bodies in a state of terror by manufacturing crimes that never happened--called Abscams."  Sting operations are a type of state terror, right?

Everyone snarls with anger upon hearing that all these groups came from the same planet, and Madison is all too pleased to remind his live audience that Heller spent a year or so on Earth.  Then Bawtch reveals the real reason Hisst was so interested in Earth: the Rockecenter family

"They sprang up from a man who was a servant-raper about a century ago.  The fellow sold a poison called crude oil for a cancer cure.  He was a commoner.

Disgusting!  If you're going to rape servants, at least be of Royal blood so you can have some bastard pretenders to the throne for your heirs to struggle with.

He brought up his sons to be thieves and one of them made a fortune out of this crude oil and then, by manipulating it and banks and taking over and using Earth intelligence services, he made himself and his generations that followed virtual emperors of the planet.  Hisst was fascinated.  He had never imagined before that it could be done.  He himself was a commoner from the gutters of Slum City and he dreamed that if he followed this pattern, he could become Emperor here.  And he did, even if very briefly."

"You say all this happened," said Mortiiy, "on the planet Earth?  Incredible!  What a weird place that must be!"

It's even weirder now, let me tell you.  For one thing, a whole country - well, just ask the guy next to you about something called Russia.

With all that settled, Mortiiy is confident enough to open a vote to abolish the Apparatus forever "and prohibit use of these criminal patterns of intelligence from Blito-P3," which passes with overwhelming assent.  Yep, it's back to good old-fashioned drive-by scans of the planets you're going to conquer in the name of your ancient ancestors. 

And meanwhile Madison is still providing commentary that Heller used the name Rockecenter on Earth, and studied Earth intelligence.  "He was feeling very hopeful now.  He was building Controversy.  He was getting Coverage.  His Confidence was rising."  This will not matter.

Back to Chapters Three, Four and Five

Monday, February 24, 2014

Part Eighty-Six, Chapters Three, Four and Five - Afterglow?

I think Hubbard was running out of steam by this point, 'cause we get a bunch of short, two- or two-and-a-half-page chapters all in a row.

As we left our heroes... well, Heller and some ex-villains.  Anyway, they'd just pursued Lombar Hisst, would-be dictator of Voltar, into the clutches of an underage sex fiend whom Voltarians are willing to treat as royalty.  Teenie wants to exchange Hisst for Madison and Gris, Snelz wants to skip a few chapters and just grab the guy, but Heller is willing to play along since he knows "New Yorkers just like to bargain."

Or rather, Heller is willing to be unable to comply with Teenie's demands, since he doesn't know where Madison is and promised Gris a fair trial.  "Stalemate," the narration assures us.  Yes, Teenie's guards are all wielding melee weapons, and Snelz has a hundred men with firearms at his command.  Yes, they wouldn't even have to kill anyone to solve this problem, just dial back their blastrifles to "stun" and knock everyone out, or get Heller to use a bluelight special or bombs that emit the soundwave that makes you surrender your prisoner to the nearest Jettero Heller.  Yes, Heller could use his influence with Mortiiy or Cling to get Teenie's "royal" status rescinded.  But we're not going to do any of those things, so the narration can say "The fate of Hisst, Gris and Madison was left hanging in the air."

Then we get to check back in with Madison and his film crew, who as I might have mentioned earlier, are just chillin' out in a kitchen with a bunch of drunk, sleeping Death Battalion troopers locked in a pantry.  Flick notes that "the real sun" is now visible out the windows, as opposed to that weird sun you get through a time distortion effect, and wants to sneak out when it's dark and nobody can see them.  Flip counters that the rebels will probably catch them at night 'cause of patrols - the solution is to sneak out when it's daylight, because then they can be seen in their Homeview uniforms, and everyone ignores Space TV crews.  And certainly wouldn't confuse them for Apparatus collaborators.

And then... man, it's hard to even write about.  If you've been with me this far, we've been through some pretty messed-up stuff.  Murder.  Rape.  Murder followed by rape.  But when Madison and his crew arrive where they parked their flying buses:

Flick stopped, appalled.  A crashed warship, still smoking, had landed squarely on their four vehicles.  All that remained of the Model 99 airbus was one angel lying face up on the splintered pavement, grinning vacantly at the sky.

It wasn't enough for Hubbard to kill the luxury tugboat, he did the unthinkable and murdered the luxury airbus just a few chapters later.  It's like losing Aeris and then immediately leaving for a mission on Virmire.   Wait, that might not work depending on how well you like certain characters.  Dare I say I need to play more video games?

The film crew's attempt to leave is further derailed when the Retribution lands and Mortiiy enters the palace, along with minions bearing His Majesty's healing tub, and Hightee, Krak and Prahd carrying more canisters of wonderful Science.  And following them with a pistol out, a pistol that he may or may not have remembered to reload, is Jettero Heller.  Madison, expectedly, goes nuts: "Thirty-two point, OUTLAW STEALS CONFEDERACY!"  Despite Flick's protests, the publicist gets the director and the rest of the film crew to swoop in, take names, do makeup, and get some lights and cameras rolling.

And the protagonists' reaction to having a bunch of strange people swoop down on the king and heir to the Confederacy?  Stand and take it.  They're only Homeview, after all, it's not like anyone's been using the mass media for their own nefarious purposes lately.  Also, Heller can't recognize Madison because he's got a tinted Homeview visor covering the upper half of his face.  It's so they can work under stage lights, you see.

"This is coming to you live, live, live from Palace City!" cried Madison into a separate mike, unheard by the procession but heard by everyone else on Voltar. "You are watching the triumphal entry of the outlaw Heller into the Imperial Palace. Exclusive! Live! Live! Live!"

"We're dead, dead, dead," groaned Flick.

Were we so lucky.  The king and company are completely compliant with the director's directions, stopping the procession so the camera crew can get close-ups of the slain Apparatus generals blocking the path, or dramatically toppling a desk in the Royal antechamber, and then re-toppling the desk because they didn't do it right the first time ("Now register disgust!").   All the while, Madison provides commentary on Heller's actions - picking up the truncheon he dropped several books ago gets an "Outlaw admits kidnapping," and popping the top of the king's healing tub is "Outlaw gazes gloatingly on victim."  It's all very amusing or something.

As the cameras roll, His Majesty regains consciousness, finds himself in his old chambers, reminds Heller that he told him to get him out of there, and thus reassures the Fleet and Army that Heller really isn't a kidnapper.  They finally got off their asses and crushed the Apparatus to stop the chaos and destruction of the rogue agency's reign of terror, but now they know they're on the right side of this civil war - the Royal side.  This actually annoys Madison since it goes against the "outlaw Heller" image he's wasted so much of our time building, but he decides "all was not lost; he would somehow handle it." 

And the talking begins.  Heller reveals that it was Hisst who was subtly assassinating the other princes, thanks to... man, I don't know, was it in all that evidence Gris had stockpiled?  That and the fact that Mortiiy has been taking care of his father instead of murdering him in his sleep is enough to repair the rift in the royal family, though the proclamation revoking Mortiiy's rebel status helps, I'm sure.  There's tears, the king calls the prince "son" a few times, and I'm sure it'd be very touching if I gave a damp fart about these characters.

Mortiiy moved over and knelt.  Cling gripped the back of the prince's hand.  Brokenly, he said, "If I had listened to you, this never would have happened.  I am too old and too sick and too silly to rule.  Anyone who can stand off the combined forces of Voltar for five years deserves to rule.  Take the throne.  I abdicate." 

So the only qualification you need to run a hundred-world empire is to be able to sit in a mountain fortress while the Apparatus kills themselves against your defenses?  By that logic Heller would be an ideal candidate for dammit.

A sigh of relief went up from the rebel troops and officers in the room.  Even though they sided with Mortiiy, they were not rebels now. 

That seems familiar.  Let me just turn back to the last page, after the emperor makes that statement about ordering Heller to rescue him...

An audible sigh came from the Fleet and Army officers in the bedchamber.  With relief they understood it had not been a kidnapping: therefore, by siding with Heller in this fight, they were not rebels!

If you wanted to make a case that the author couldn't be bothered to so much as turn a single page of his manuscript to check if he was being redundant, here you go.

Heller wants to go tow that bloody mountain back into place so the palace has power - yeah, he dropped it from a couple thousand feet, but just stick an extension cord near the black hole and you'll get all the juice you need, right?  But before he can make good his escape,

Mortiiy looked up from where he knelt beside the container.  His black beard suddenly bristled.  "No you don't, Lord Heller!  Leave that to the Corps of Engineers.  Somebody else can play with mountains.  Immediately assemble an Officers' Conference.  We've got to settle several burning questions and decide some fates.  You've got to help me get to the bottom of what tore this Confederacy to bits!"

The answer is "psychology and public relations," which we know because we've been watching the bad guys do their thing for the past ten books.  But the good guys don't know all the details, so now we get to watch as they figure out and explain the plot we've already been through, all the while decrying the depravity of planet Earth for unleashing such poisonous ideas upon the galaxy.  So that's the next hundred pages to look forward to.

Also, Heller's a Lord now.  I can't remember if this is something they agreed to earlier, a spur-of-the-moment promotion, or the author getting ahead of himself.

Back to Chapters One and Two

Friday, February 21, 2014

Part Eighty-Six, Chapters One and Two - The "Nerve-Shattering Climax"

Well, Heller's screwed.  He's out in the open area around a "no swimming" pool, and Lombar Hisst is hunkered down in a mostly submerged tank's turret aiming a blastrifle at him, a weapon capable of firing so fast that it's been described as a "flaming spear" or "flaming scythe."  Guess the planet is truly doomed.  Villainy is about to be victorious.  You could call this a disaster.  Maybe afterward Krak will go on a voyage of vengeance - okay, I'll stop.

Jettero Heller pulled up.  He was almost to the edge of the pool.  There was no cover. 

Stationary and totally exposed, Heller is blown in half by concentrated fire from Hisst's

He could hear the din of battle somewhere in the sky.

He thought if he could only get his hands on Hisst he might end this.  But in that split instant it looked like Hisst was going to end him instead. 

Stationary, totally exposed, and uselessly reflecting on his half-baked plans to "get his hands on" the man who usurped the throne, Heller is reduced to a steaming pile of ash by Hisst's

Heller had a handgun.  It was almost totally discharged.  He doubted it would even cause a bruise at this distance. 

Stationary, totally exposed, unarmed, and making a mental tally of all the things he's done wrong, Heller is take the bloody shot already, Lombar!

Hisst fired.

Heller had jinked to the left.

The shot missed. 

Of course.

Of course the bad guy, who has the good guy in his sights, holds his fire until the last second.  Of course he goes for a single shot instead of spraying the whole area in blast fire.  Of course he misses that single shot against a totally-exposed and formerly-stationary target.

But Heller had drawn as he jumped.

He didn't fire at Hisst.

Heller fired at the water between him and the tank.

An enormous spray shot up! 

As a result of shooting his depleted handgun that could barely cause a bruise, right.

Heller hides in the water under the tank, while Lombar remembers that his gun has an Extremely Rapid Fire setting and hoses down the pool around him, creating a "boiling spray."  Heller has to protect his ears from the "concussions" of Lombar's energy weapon, but isn't, say, boiled alive as Hisst discharges a similar weapon to the one Heller recently used to turn a patch of desert into magma.  Our hero finds an air pocket trapped under a "tread fender" on this flying tank, realizes the shooting has stopped, and surfaces to find Hisst no longer in the tank.  Instead the Apparatus chief is swimming towards the shore of the pool, and Heller quickly follows.

Lombar reaches the edge first, pulls himself out, and once again has Heller at his mercy.

Hisst unslung the blastrifle and pointed down.  He pulled the trigger.

It was wet and shorted out.  It did not fire. 

Could've been worse.  He could've missed again.  The ammo clip could've fallen out of the gun.  It could've slipped from his wet hands.  He could've panicked at the sight of Heller, thrown down his gun, and run away screaming.  Compared to all that, the weapon shorting out because it got wet is pretty dignified.

Panicking because his weapon is useless and he now recognizes Heller, Lombar throws down his gun and continues to flee, running up a nearby flight of stairs.  Now, if you've managed to piece together a working geography of these books' setting, good on ya!  Way to put more effort into the story than it deserves!  Anyway, you might have an idea whose palace Lombar is about to run into.  Or maybe you're familiar enough with narrative conventions to realize that there's a character we haven't seen for a while who needs to be dealt with before the story can end.

He was grabbed suddenly from either side.

Two men in silver livery threatened him with electric battle-axes.

Lombar stumbled to his knees. He looked up and stared into the face of a teen-aged girl--Teenie, Hostage Queen of Flisten.

"You are my prisoner," she said. And to her men, "Take him inside and knock him out if he so much as twitches!"

Now, if it were me writing Mission Earth - well, first I'd probably be considering suicide, but after I'd come to terms with what I was working with, I'd have stuck this chapter in Part Eighty-Five so that the cliffhanger wasn't whether Lombar was capable of shooting Heller.  A story like this, there's no doubt in the reader's mind that Heller is going to survive to the end, and get a castle and all of the money and millions of worshipers.  This development works as a end-of-Part cliffhanger because it's a legitimate puzzle that the hero will have to work out.  Or rather a more legitimate puzzle, this is still extremely stupid.

Heller finally gets out of the pool and comes up to Teenie, and she repeats her statement about Lombar being her prisoner.  By now Snelz and the Absolutely Useless have caught up with our hero, who notices that Teenie slipped into English to say "Clear off, buster," is chewing gum, and more to the point is "awfully immature, young," because the key to Teenie's character is that she isn't sexually mature yet, to add that illicit thrill to all the times the author has her get naked or engage in sexual activity.

Teenie admits to being an Earthling, but still insists she's the Hostage Queen of Flisten and therefore properly Your Majesty.  Heller refuses to kneel and fights the urge to laugh, but introduces himself as a representative of Prince Mortiiy.  The conversation is interrupted by an Apparatus spaceship falling out of orbit into a nearby park, with no ill effects for the cast.

At this point Teenie reveals what's going on - once Palace City's time distortion was torn away, it suddenly became capable of being attacked, because what else is the Fleet going to do, fly a ship into its airspace?  So the Fleet and Army declared for Mortiiy and promptly blew that Apparatus invasion fleet out of the sky.  They couldn't do that weeks and weeks ago to stop the millions of deaths, see, because then there'd have still been a few Apparatus schmucks in Palace City, which is impenetrable, and... well, Prince Mortiiy would have had to set up a new palace somewhere, and all those government officials would have had to move their offices.  It'd have been terribly inconvenient.

Heller suggests that Snelz and his men strip to the waist so they look more like rebels than Apparatus defectors, and while Teenie appreciates the "God (bleeped) striptease," she still demands that they negotiate with her for Lombar's custody.  She'll hand over Voltar's first and worst dictator if they give her J. Walter Madison, who Heller is shocked to learn is on Voltar, and Soltan Gris, whose survival Heller must have already learned about through Homeview.

"And I want to point out that this territory I am standing on is the domain of the Hostage Queen of Flisten and happens to be inviolate.  The only way you are going to get Lombar Hisst is swap [sic]!"

This is hardly unexpected.  Good has triumphed over evil, the bad guy is in a cage, and it's only a third of the way through the book.  As in Battlefield Earth, Hubbard is going to treat us to a long, dull, drawn-out denouement.

So, hope you enjoyed The Doomed Planet, 'cause it's all downhill from here.

Back to Part Eighty-Five, Chapter Six

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Part Eighty-Five, Chapter Six - Jettero Heller vs. Lombar Hisst, Round Two

Did Hubbard know about video games?  Because I'm starting to think we're in a video game.

There's armies fighting for control of the planet, but they're not accomplishing much.  It doesn't matter if there's a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand soldiers, nothing gets done until Heller takes action, infiltrating the enemy citadel to plant explosives or yanking a mountain out of the ground to remove an objective's defenses.  The rebel troops are about as effective as friendly foot soldiers in a game like Dynasty Warriors, and enemy troops exist to be cut down by the score by Heller.

I bring this up because Snelz' platoon consists of a hundred men, and they will soon prove to be absolutely useless.

Heller, Snelz and the Absolutely Useless drive through Palace City, passing abandoned artillery pieces before arriving at the grand staircase leading to the Imperial Palace, with Lombar's flying tank parked in front of it.  Nobody says "hey, free tank!" or secures it or anything, instead Snelz - or possibly Heller through Snelz - orders his men to disembark, and while the two named characters and the bulk of the force prepares to move into the palace, a platoon is left "to cover the entrance."  This will prove to be wishful thinking.

After taking a moment to observe the fierce warship battle going on high above, Heller and his lackeys move in through the undefended palace.  Last chapter he admitted that those bombs that made scary noises wouldn't have affected anyone with enough walls around them, but happily no one capable of armed resistance has been left in the building.  Snelz detaches men to guard doors as they progress, and as they near the Emperor's chambers they can hear Lombar ranting about the traitors surrounding him.

"One of you helped 'Heller to move the mountain!  I know it was HIM!  Don't deny it!  Another one of you just ordered Palace City evacuated!  And now THIS, now THIS, now THIS!"  There came a roar of pure animal rage.

Shrieks of terror.

"Lombar!" came a bellow.  "Put down that gun!  Listen to reason!"

There came a shattering roar of a blastrifle on full automatic! 

I've always wondered about dysfunctional dictatorships.  In Stalin's Russia the ruling party was so terrified of the man that they'd applaud on and on for minutes for fear of being the first to stop clapping, lest he take offense to that.  Then there are those cases where the supreme leader or rebel warlord is the type who shoots his men himself.  But there's never a general who says "screw this guy" and pops the dictator when it's clear he's a deranged teamkiller, exchanging prolonged uncertainty and terror for short-term uncertainty and terror that might result in the removal of the hated figure.  

Panic-driven bootbeats rushed from the antechamber.  Red-uniformed Apparatus generals, spread out, came around the curve in the corridor where Heller stood.

The insane roar of the blastrifle from the antechamber was mixed with the even more berserk rantings of Lombar Hisst.

Heller, Snelz and Snelz' men can hear this, and know Lombar has a gun at this point, and know that he's coming.  Heller tries to get ready, but gets tripped on a general sprawled on the floor - and besides, his pistol is out of ammo, 'cause the seasoned space commando forgot to reload it after using it to fly.

Snelz' men are all busy ducking into side rooms, "diving out of the path of fire."  So Lombar, charging along, screaming, "rifle blazing" at nothing in particular, is able to get by Heller and the vanguard of whatever constitutes to bulk of a hundred-man force.  And none of them can turn around and shoot the loonie in the back.  He's probably running super-fast due to all the drugs he's taken or something.  Probably hacking, too.

The guys guarding the main entrance have had even more time to get ready, and even though nobody seems to have a radio to send a warning their way, they've heard the screaming and gunfire, there's a tide of panicked leaders fleeing the building, and they were ordered to cover the doors anyway.  But lo and behold, they're still "taken by surprise," even though Lombar's first action is to shoot down some more fleeing generals instead of all the guys not pointing guns at him.  And none of Snelz' men can bring a weapon to bear in time to hit Lombar before he shoots over their heads and makes them all duck.  And then none of them recover in time to stop Lombar from running past them and jumping in the unsecured tank, though they do mange to get some ineffectual shots off once he's in and the hatch is closed.

All this to say, it's obvious why Heller's the only one in the whole damn galaxy who can get anything done.  None of the other soldiers know how to fight.  Granted, Heller forgot to reload his gun, but if he had remembered you can be sure he would've shown that Lombar a thing or two!

Here's a suggestion for how to make this work: have Heller and his men get to the doors of Lombar's meeting room while it's still in progress and demand his surrender.  Lombar flips out and cuts down the other generals, but when Heller and co. charge in, there's no sign of him - Lombar used one of the emperor's old escape tunnels to cheese it!  So there's a desperate running search of the palace, only for someone to spot Lombar as he ambushes the guards at the entrance from behind, then steals his tank.  Now, I know this wouldn't require everyone in the story to be an incompetent idiot, but I think it could work.  Just an idea I had.

Heller's in hot pursuit, and tries to grab onto the tank as it takes off, but Lombar fires the weapon Heller's hanging on to so that he falls off.  The tank proceeds to rise from the ground, bounce off a statue, drift into a park, and knock over another statue.  It's still low to the ground, and Heller deduces that Lombar is "trying to go between two palaces and get cover" as opposed to flying at supersonic speeds away from the battlezone.  This ironically, the author tells us, takes Lombar over the very once-lit pools that Madison saw Teenie bathing in, so that even in the midst of this climactic action scene we are reminded of the underage boobies that have appeared in this story.  Thanks, Hubbard.

So Heller runs up and takes over one of those abandoned artillery cannons, spinning its wheels and looking into its sights to take aim at his target.  I'm not sure what he's thinking, Lombar's tank survived the ground-zero shockwave of an explosion that tore apart his command center, and indeed was "built to withstand a warship's cannon."  If that armor is proof against the sort of heinous firepower an orbiting battleship can deliver, a portable field piece isn't going to

Heller fired!

The heavy blast hit the tank below the right rear rollers and up into its belly.



The tank did a complete forward somersault, 

No, hold on.

Okay.  Maybe the tank is impenetrable to enemy fire that hits its sides, or top, but not its underside.  Because why would you need armor on a flying tank's underside?  Yeah.  It's weak on the underside.  Next to the rollers.  The rollers of the flying tank that can withstand starship ordnance.

leaving a blazing loop in the air.

It hit the center of the lowest pool with a whistling sizzle and splash!

Heller was off the cannon and running toward it.

Then suddenly the turret opened.

A blastrifle came into view.

Heller was totally in the open. There was no cover. He was unarmed.

What was Step Two, hero?  What are you trying to do?  If you wanted to kill Hisst, why not hit him again with the only cannon in the galaxy capable of taking out an invincible flying tank?  If you wanted to capture him, why didn't you keep the cannon trained on him and demand his surrender?

Tune in next time to see if the book's villain is capable of hitting an unarmed target who's totally in the open.

Back to Part Eighty-Five, Chapters Four and Five

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Part Eighty-Five, Chapters Four and Five - The Pantsing of Palace City

Heller's lying in the desert somewhere between Spiteos and Palace City, feeling the "hammer blows" of the merciless sun.  And I hate it when I'm forced to do this, but I've had to go back through previous books in the series to try and figure out the whole lighting issue.

Three chapters ago Heller was experiencing the "twilit gloom" of Palace City, now he's a few hundred miles away and in the "glare of the desert sun."  When he raided the capital in Disaster everything was "night-lit palaces" and dark grounds.  When Madison reunited with Teenie in Villainy Victorious, first he passes through buildings "basking in greenish light," then later "the light seemed bad: apparently in this place they followed day and night, and this must be dusk," then he strides into the "Voltar night" when he leaves Teenie's palace, and later returns "at the crack of dawn."

From this, we can assume that the area within a Hubbard Black Hole's time distortion is affected by day-night cycles.  Now, since things like air, radio transmissions, people and vehicles are able to go through the time (bleepery) just fine, one might assume that sunbeams could too - all the black hole would do would make the local daylight thirteen minutes closer to sundown than the surrounding area, since... no, wait.  If the sunbeams are from thirteen minutes ago, then as the day neared its end, the light in Palace City would be brighter because it came from a sun thirteen minutes higher in the sky... or no, because Palace City is thirteen minutes in the future, it would be darker because the sun in its sky is closer to the horizon...  Dammit, I'm going to end up trying to graph this, and it's going to be a fruitless effort.

This is all besides the point, because from its presentation, it looks like Hubbard has decided that the time distortion acts as a big tinted window, so that at it's brightest the Palace City sun comes across as a greenish or yellowish haze, creating at best twilight conditions.  Which means that sunlight can be added to the list of things like artillery shells when it comes to objects that inexplicably can't cross through a timeshift.  And raises questions like how the palace is able to maintain all those gorgeous gardens in such dismal lighting, or the long-term psychological or health affects of a royal dynasty never seeing proper sunlight, and the resulting political consequences.

Anyway, we're supposed to be worried for Heller because he's stranded in the desert, and a bunch of dust trails from Apparatus desert patrol cars are approaching.  Just because the Apparatus has flying tanks doesn't mean it has to use them instead of ugly little dune buggies, you know.

Heller checked his handgun.  If fired at stun, it still had a few shots left: not enough to take on ten cars of a desert patrol.  He felt in his belt: he had no spare batteries.  Yes, he decided, he was getting too old.  After this, if he lived through it, he would sit before the fire with a rug across his knees and, in a quavering voice, tell his grandchildren never to become combat engineers.  It got to you in the end.  You made mistakes you could not possibly afford.  And there went the hopes of grandchildren.

Ladies and gentlemen, Jettero Heller is officially too old for this (bleep).  

But instead of some dangerous Apparatus soldiers who could surely I can't finish that sentence.  Anyway, it's Snelz and his patrol, hooray.  He knew Heller would go for Palace City after wrecking Spiteos, recognizes the tug wrecked nearby, but apparently missed the hole "mountain soaring fifty thousand feet into the sky to crash into the desert" thing, because all he comments on is the yellow time-distort haze being out of place.

There's a cute moment or something when Heller says they're going to Palace City, Snelz argues that a fake Apparatus general doesn't outrank a newly-reinstated Fleet colonel, and then tells his men to accompany Heller to Palace City anyway because ""It's what you suggested to a superior.  And I just happen to be in a benign mood."  And then Hubbard ruins that moment, because I guess his songwriting muse was acting up the day he wrote this chapter, or he didn't want Heller and Snelz to get to Palace City just yet, and so he decided to stick in a page-long song for our enjoyment.

The Fleet marines, 
The Fleet marines, 
Have comets in their crap. 
The Fleet marines, 
The Fleet marines, 
Drink liquid lightning pap. 
The girls all run to Mama, 
The farmers hide their stock, 
For they know a Fleet marine 
Has got a hungry (bleep). 
We're the heroes of the battle, 
As long as it's in bed. 
The reason I'm a Fleet marine 
Is better left unsaid. 
 I'm loyal to my seniors, 
As long as they are bold. 
But I don't think I'll live long enough 
To see them very old. 
Come march upon the spaceways, 
And help me sing this song. 
The one thing that I'm sure of 
Is that if you're a Fleet marine 
You won't live very long! 

Voltar's finest, a bunch of sex-crazed animal (bleepers) who can't keep a tune to the end of the song.  Just imagine how they'd turn out if they were ever introduced to Psychology!

The yellow and green and red desert fled under them.

Heller had one more target: LOMBAR HISST!

And there's the end-of-chapter, tension-building, stating-the-obvious moment.  Chapter Five kicks off with the great battle of Palace City, which is initially much more of a fight than the massacre at Camp Kill, but will soon end in a similar way.

The rebel forces, in the interim, had landed in the desert well south of the city.  The rumble of guns and flashes of explosions tore the air in that sector.  They evidently had found a weak spot in the outer three rings of defenses and were hitting it with ferocity.  Apparatus artillery was holding the rebel fleet at bay and the result was a massive infantry action that must be taking a heavy toll of lives.

So remember when Heller tore up all the defenses and forced the Apparatus troops to hide underground due to the raging dust devils assailing them?  Well, the tornadoes have disappeared, the defenders rushed back into position before the rebel troops arrived, and it turns out the gun batteries are fine after all.  And all those rebel spaceships can't put up a fight against ground-based defensive fire simultaneously trying to fend off a ground assault.

Heller spots the Apparatus invasion fleet in the sky to the east with a "Hello, hello, hello," which disturbingly was also his reaction upon first spotting the love of his life.  He and Snelz immediately deduce that this reserve force will hit the rebels in the rear, which Mortiiy's forces apparently haven't considered, as they're making no effort to engage the waiting spaceships or deploy troops to counter such a flanking maneuver.  Maybe they haven't noticed the fleet of nearby spaceships, much like how Camp Kill didn't notice the enemy armada hanging over its heads earlier.

At any rate, instead of sending a message warning of the imminent attack, Heller motors on to Palace City.  He takes a side entrance whose defenses were properly wrecked by the tornadoes, an entrance the rebels aren't taking advantage of, news that again he doesn't share with his allies.  Heller isn't good at communicating important information, as I may have mentioned earlier.

He drives up to the paltry hundred defenders of this back door, claims to be a general with urgent intelligence on the rebel attack, and passes through a checkpoint with a flash of an identoplate.  They travel through "a very different-looking Palace City, exposed now to the glare of the desert sun," its lighted fountains no longer running and the golden buildings blinding instead of tastefully slathered in precious metals.  Heller's also dismayed to see marijuana growing in the fields, while Snelz is more worried about all the intimidating but nervous Death Battalion mooks guarding the palace proper.  Snelz fulfills his purpose as a satellite character to Jettero Heller by reminding the audience how dangerous these guys are, and how insanely brave Heller is for stopping in their midst, so that when Heller effortlessly defeats them we'll be properly impressed.

Heller "order-suggests" that Snelz and his men cover their ears, then gets out to talk to the Death Battalion.  And an enemy colonel comes over and says "You're in our field of fire," and then Heller's like "You're in ours," and then he hits the remote to trigger all those magic balls he dumped on Palace City a couple chapters ago.  The pellets "go off" without a particular sound associated with them, and the Death Battalion guys all scream like little girls and run around in circles like headless chickens, before fleeing the city, running into the other Apparatus defenders and spreading the panic, so the Apparatus defenders are all fleeing into the desert or running headlong into the rebels' firing lines.  And the only part I embellished was saying that the screaming was like little girls', the running around in circles is right there in the text.

So, what magical plot device did Heller extract from his ass this time?

"Several thousand small noise bombs," said Heller.  "I earlier fired them in for a diversion.  They emit the sonic saw-toothed wave for terror.  You can signal your men to uncover their ears now."

Snelz listened to the screaming rout at the south end of the city.  "Comets, I'm glad I'm on your side," he said as he passed the signal to his men.

It's good to be on Heller's side: who else in the entire Voltarian military has things like decoys that pull off enemy fire, or sonic bombs that make the enemy flee in fear, weapons that would be extremely useful when assaulting an enemy fortress?  And who else is brave, heroic and handsome enough to use such devices on the battlefield?

I just imagine somewhere on Voltar is a cutting-edge military R&D facility, making personal cloaking devices or force fields or smells that make people surrender to the nearest enemy, and everything created there gets stuck in a huge warehouse next to Voltar's Ark of the Covenant, sealed up with a "Reserved for Jettero Heller" stamp on it.

Back to Chapters Two and Three

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Part Eighty-Five, Chapters Two and Three - Rocky Mountain High

We've got a case of Schrödinger's Mountain, where Heller may or may not be towing millions of tons of rock in his battered luxury tugboat.  There's no way of telling because the cockpit's filled with smoke, and I guess flying with nothing being pulled behind you feels the same as flying with a mountain dangling from your tractor beam.

But first, the author would like to remind you how special his main character is.

Many a fellow officer had often teased Heller about his "built-in compass."  Sometimes on a warship flight deck he would sense that the gyros were in error.  Seniors would ignore him but he would persevere and they would, finally, to get some peace, order a technician check.  An error was always found but sometimes it was as little as a thousandth of a degree.  And even though this would make a significant mistake in course travelling at septuple light speed, nobody ever believed he could have detected it.  Any gyro, they had said, is liable to be out a thousandth of a degree.

The reason Hubbard brings this up is because right now Heller can't tell which way is up, dramatic sting.  Even though Heller's superhuman enough to detect thousandth-of -a-degree fluctuations in a spaceship's gyroscopes, the spacetime distortion of the nearby blackhole is messing up his sense of direction.  I guess he's trying to gauge his position thirteen minutes in the past or something stupid like that.  Oh, and black holes are totally safe to keep next to your capital, by the way.

He did not know how fast he was going or even if he was going.

His object was to get this mountaintop several miles from Palace City.  If he did that, the command area of Voltar would drop back those thirteen minutes and appear in the same time band as the planet itself.  Then, unless something else happened, the rebel forces could launch an assault and, with luck, break the defense perimeters and seize the place.

Hisst drove his tank right into the capital, but for some reason a hostile army can't do the same.  Also, why is the black hole's effects limited to time distortion, what about space?  It'd be hilarious if Heller was towing the whole of Palace City along with the black hole installed next to it.  Astoundingly stupid too, but no more than anything else we've read so far.

Anyway, the tug is on fire, it's filled with smoke, and though the windshield "SHATTERED!" last chapter it "didn't seem to be letting in any air" somehow, go figure.  It's broken enough for Heller to stick his arm through, though, and he fires his blast pistol out the window and tries to judge how far he is from the ground based on how long it takes him to hear the explosion.  This doesn't work, so far all he knows he's upside-down.  Black holes keep you from noticing blood rushing to your head, too.  And they're still totally safe.

The tug gives another warning about the Will-be Was engines being about to explode, so Heller decides to cut them off along with the tractor beam.

With a scream the planetary drives hurled the tug ahead like a streak of lightning!

Heller was hit with the time-transition nausea!

He shot through into planetary time!

The desert sun glared!

Well, the desert sun of thirteen minutes before the twilight of the palace, right?

He hastily shut the planetary throttles. Instantly the tug began to fall.

Then he saw what some of this was about.

He had pulled the mountaintop fifty thousand feet into the air.  The range of those shots was too extreme and they had also gone outside the space warp.

So he shot the desert... thirteen minutes ago?  Been hilarious if he hit his own tug during his approach.  And then there's a time paradox because Heller kills himself before he can go forward in time to shoot the not-bullets that killed him, and the universe comes to an end, and they all died happily ever after.

Heller's still befuddled and lost, and what's more, the tug's controls are no longer responding.  So he grabs that space-trooper sled of his and in an exciting action scene flies it through the broken window which again, air cannot go through.  Unfortunately, it's while he's in free-fall that he notices that his rocket sled is currently as "CHARGE ZERO!"  The seasoned space commando and pilot forgot to refuel his vehicle, so we could have an attempt at excitement this chapter.

The desert below was coming up in a huge cone: one spot in the middle was motionless, everything else was speeding away.  That's where I splash, thought Jet.  Then he thought, the blazes I do!  He still had the hand blast-gun hanging on him by its lanyard.  He recovered it.

After watching the distance to the ground tick from ten thousand feet to two hundred, and while falling at what the narration assures us is "terminal velocity for a man for Voltar," Heller fires his pistol at full-blast, full-automatic.  The recoil almost tears the gun from his kung-fu grip, and the experience is "like cushioning yourself against a brick wall with a palm," but he manages to slow himself to come to a hover ten feet over a stretch of now-molten desert, before turning his gun to the side to knock himself twenty feet sideways.  There he lands with "nothing bruised but his pride."

Hubbard?  It's hard to feel like the hero's life is in danger when it's clear he's living in a cartoon.

Just after he gets to his feet, Heller is knocked down by a "CRRRRRUUUUUMP!" and a shockwave.

Dazed, he looked up through the rushing dust.

The yellow haze! Three miles to the south!

The mountaintop, still travelling upward, had curved over in a parabola and, carrying its warped space, had struck!

It had not exploded.

Underneath that yellow mantle of warped space there must be a hole in the desert floor as big as any ever made by a meteor--no, an asteroid! Thank Heavens it had not been travelling very fast!

Billions of tons of rock just fell to the ground from a height of fifty thousand feet, landing just three miles away, but no sweat.  Hey wait - how could it hit the ground?  If a shell fired at a patch of warped space won't hit, it stands to reason that a patch of warped space flung at the ground would miss too, because there won't be anything to collide with at that moment.  So shouldn't the mountain disappear into the planet's surface, and then fart into existence somewhere underground thirteen minutes later?  Or thirteen minutes ago? 

Oh, and the tug's dead.

Then he saw the tug.

It had flown even higher into the air after he had abandoned it.

It was falling in crazy spirals as though in pain.

It almost righted itself.

Flames were spouting from the gaping holes in the shattered hull.

In case you haven't noticed, the remainder of the chapter will consist of one-sentence paragraphs.

It tried to stand and then fell over onto its back.

It struck!

A flash of fire like a supernova was followed by a bloom of red.

He was on his knees when this one hit him but it sent him skidding back.

Was he knocked down by the shockwave, or from emotion?

Poor tug.

He wondered if it had had anything to say as it expired. 

Probably "vehicle maintenance advised."  And no, Heller always refers to it as "the tug," not "Corky" like he did for a handful of chapters two books ago. 

It certainly was giving itself a soldier's funeral--all flame and smoke!

Let's take a moment to reflect on the loss of Prince Caucalsia, formerly Tug One, and very rarely "Corky the Talking Tugboat."  The author wasted a lot of ink describing its lavish interior, it disappeared for roughly half the series, and it broke physics as a propulsion system.  See you in hell, you stupid spaceship.

Wait, if those Will-be Was engines were all about tricking time, shouldn't they explode near the time distortion of a Hubbard Black Hole, or at least - (bleep) it, it's dead, time to quit worrying about it.

Then suddenly he realized that all this commotion would be visible for miles!

It could not help but bring him company!


Oh, right, Heller's alone in a desert three miles away from an enemy fortress.  Meh.  He can just shoot his pistol to fly away or something.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, February 17, 2014

Part Eighty-Five, Chapter One - Landscaping

I think these are Mission Earth's "gas drone" chapters.  Much like how Battlefield Earth's protagonist found himself piloting a one-man vehicle to stop an invincible bomber and save the world, here Heller and his tug are up against an invincible fortress he must overcome in order to... well, get the Fleet and Army off their asses?  So they can save the world?  From bad guys who have no control over the world, and who just died in the thousands to a bunch of ragged rebels?  But oooh, they have a bunch of reinforcements, so they're totally dangerous ineffectual morons.

As expected, the author spends some effort hyping how impossible Heller's task is.

The place was considered completely impregnable, and so it was.  For 125,000 years it had dutifully protected the crowned heads of the Confederacy.  It was a symbol, an ultimate in authority: four hundred billion people on 110 planets regarded it, as much as the Emperor himself, the LAW of the land.  So long as Palace City held, it would be obeyed.  Heller was about to show that it was vulnerable, if he could. 

Thereby undermining the location's authority and thus the authority of the emperor himself?  I've already read ahead, but I can't remember any exploration of the fallout from Heller's actions.  Guess we'll see.

The risks were fantastic, the odds going for success were minuscule.  But that was a way of life for Jettero Heller, combat engineer.

Repeatedly and decisively overcome obstacles that the author insists are insurmountable, that's the Jettero Heller way.

Heller's objective is buried under a mountain to the north of the city, the black hole installed when Voltarians first conquered the planet.  There's a moment of nausea when he passes through the time distortion - the "electronic net" from last chapter doesn't cover the mountain that generates it, of course - and then he's in.  It's evidently twilight, thirteen minutes into the future at the palace, even though the Curbstomp of Camp Kill started in the "early afternoon" and there's no indication of what time Heller arrived at Palace City with his load of dust devils.  It's possible that that the black hole really does mess up sunlight, but I'm pretty sure we had sunshine when Madison visited the palace last book, and anyway that would raise questions about air supply and other inconsistencies.

He starts off by using one of the tricks recently installed on the tug, a tube-launched "hexagonally-shaped object" Heller sends over the mountain towards the palace.

It was an attractor-target.  Any automatically aimed weapon, seeking to shoot, would find that target irresistible: even though his ship was spotted and fire opened up, the gun controls would choose instead the attractor-target-he hoped.

And of course there's no attempt to explain what about this target is so attractive, or why the surely top-of-the-line defenses of the imperial palace haven't been modified to overcome such countermeasures.  More to the point, if there were automatically-aimed weapons around the palace, why the hell aren't they shooting at Heller?

He also launches a hundred thousand "radio-triggered balls" to scatter over the palace outskirts, which we'll see more of later.  And then Heller gets to work with his "disintegrator-slasher," capable of making a "cut one molecule thick" through anything.  A disintegrator-slasher, commonly used to carve up buildings for demolition.  A disintegrator-slasher, which Heller did not use when demolishing Spiteos a few chapters ago, and which apparently everyone else forgot about when they decided that nothing could possibly remove a mountain.  A disintegrator-slasher, which we have not seen mounted on any weapons of war, to possibly counter tank armor capable of withstanding orbital bombardment.

In other news, I've invented a perpetual motion machine, but it's too heavy to wear on my wrist to power my watch, so I chucked it in the garbage next to the time machine I used to make yogurt until I decided I preferred store-bought brands.

By the leaking, but "not dangerous," gamma radiation coming from his objective, Heller knows that the black hole is near the bottom of the mountain, rather than near the top like he'd hoped.  But there's nothing for it, it has to go.  See,

You couldn't put a beam into it: it would just absorb anything like that.  You couldn't throw a bomb at it: it would take half of Voltar with it.  Heller was simply going to saw the mountaintop off and tow it away--if he could!

So... argh, this hurts.  So a black hole is a region of super-duper gravity that munches anything near it, yeah?  And it's got an orbit and movement relative to the center of the galaxy and other celestial objects as usual.  So what's more likely, that the black hole is going to continue to stay in its position relative the planet it's attached to, or be moved along with the mountain encasing it?  Since a beam, presumably including tractor beams, can't touch it, does this mean that Heller's going to move a black hole by pressing rocks against its side?  The side from which nothing can escape?

Maybe things are different when you're dealing with a whirlpool of magnetic force that produces power, (bleeps) time up its backside, and can be safely stored underground right next to your capitol. 

Heller starts sawing at the mountain with his disintegrator-slasher.  The basalt rock "was HARD!"  The sawing laser "was LOUD!"  I wonder what would happen if you shot a disintegrator-slasher at the palace?  It's not a shell, so would it penetrate the time-space (bleep)ery?  After working the beam back and forth for a bit, and sure that he's missed some spots, Heller resolves to hurry it up and attach the tractor beams.


A shell slammed into the mountain.  They had spotted him!


The attractor-target, thank Heavens, was pulling the cannon wrong in aim.  

Though not actually at the target.  So does it work like a gravity well?  You aim at Heller near the mountains base, the attractor pulls your auto-aim up towards it near the mountaintop, so your shot ends up shooting slightly over Heller?  Wha?

Just one of those shells landing and this tug would go up like smoke: no armor.

Why not?  Why, if you can put armor on a tank so that it still flies at five times the speed of sound, wouldn't you spare a bit of armor for spacecraft?  Particularly one expected to hold its shape while pushing around battleships.

Heller's got the engines going as hard as they can, there's explosions all around him, infantry packing blastrifles are within spitting distance, but the mountain ain't moving.  "THE WINDSCREEN SHATTERED!" but it's unclear whether it's due to engine stress or enemy fire.  If it's from the dinky little blastrifles, how did the tug survive ramming that flying cannon two books ago?

After taking another glancing hit, Heller decides to hide on the other side of the mountain for a bit - and not, say, use that "disintegrator-slasher" to carve up the offending enemy infantry.  Instead he hits the remote for that little distraction he scattered earlier, which should be going off in intervals, and then begins making a circle of the mountain, dropping the hundred "down blast shatter mines" he had packed for just such an emergency.  But he's greeted with another "BLOWIE!" as he comes back into sight of the city, because whoopsie, the radio signal of his remote couldn't penetrate the mountain!

Smoke's filling the tug, the talking ship tells him that the Will-be Was engine room is on fire, fluids are filling the flight deck, but Heller keeps on trucking, dropping his last mines and grabbing the mountain with his tractor beam again.  There's a lot of noise and tension as he hangs in the air, shaking from the awe-inspiring forces coming out of his spaceship's keister, but finally there's a roar from behind him, the enemy fire stops, and the tug is moving again.

Heller couldn't see.  His screens were not working to be seen by.  He could only guess what was happening.  Was he going forward with the mountaintop towed behind or wasn't he?

And is there any way this could be presented that wouldn't make physicists weep and audiences laugh?

This isn't Heller nudging a weightless spaceship into position, or pulling a bunch of ice out of Saturn's orbit through space, he just tried to pick up a mountain with a tugboat.  Regardless of whether you had an unbreakable tractor beam connecting the two, and no matter how powerful the engines are, how the hell is a ship - which the author frequently reminds us is unarmored and vulnerable to infantry weapons - going to stay together as it pulls thousands of tons of rock up into the air in defiance of gravity?  If time-raping Will-be Was engines are pushing one way, and a mountain's worth of weight is pulling the other, what's that going to do to Prince Caucalsia?

Less than you'd expect, as it turns out.

Back to Part Eighty-Four, Chapter Six

Friday, February 14, 2014

Part Eighty-Four, Chapter Six - Reap the Whirlwind

Wait a minute, if Lombar's tank was impervious to anything the enemies around him could have shot him with, and was capable of hitting Mach 5 in a matter of seconds, easily outpacing even the spaceships hanging over the battlefield, why did he have to go through such ridiculous measures to disguise himself as a misfiring wreck?

Whatever, back to the hero.  Now, Jettero Heller's always one step ahead of everyone.  Though he presumably launched this mission in an appropriate flightsuit, somewhere along the line he's changed into a red Apparatus general's uniform, "just in case he got shot down."  It's almost as though he's read ahead a few chapters and knows that he'll need to disguise himself as the enemy soon. 

Currently he's flying his tugboat backwards across the desert towards the "yellow mist" that indicates where Palace City is forever thirteen minutes into the future, leaving it impervious to anything but ground traffic and air traffic and radio signals and air and sunlight.  We're not quite told what Heller's towing - or rather pushing - for two pages, so the author can explain the odds that his character is about to be awesome for overcoming.

Heller admires the impenetrable defenses the Apparatus has added to the impenetrable city, a triple ring of "shellproof" bunkers, which is presumably why the rebels' air support isn't even bothering, spiced up with "electronic" barricades that instantly kill anything passing between their metal posts.  But the biggie is of course the city itself.

The yellow mist was something else.  Even without the outer defenses, no assault could penetrate it.  The time factor was its safeguard.  A shell fired at it in present time would explode in time that was already past and do nothing. 

I think this is why Hubbard has Voltar use shells instead of more conventional energy blasts.  My theory is that the author has recognized that he's had whatever energy waves carry Homeview or space radio pass through the time distortion without incident, and of course sunlight manages to shine on the capital just fine, so it looks like energy can penetrate the time barrier, and therefore excluding the energy from some sort of zappy cannon wouldn't make any sense.  So, Hubbard Logic concludes, Voltar's military will have to use explosive shells to fight, to keep things consistent.

And this of course doesn't address why a cannon shell will get caught up in the thirteen-minutes-into-the-future gap and expire in some sort of yellow void, but spaceships, or people, or air molecules will be able to reach their destination.  But by now it should be clear that L. Ron Hubbard is not a good author in general, much less a skilled writer of science fiction.

Furthermore, except at the gates, the whole thing was covered now with an electronic net, powered by the black hole in the mountain.  This net shrouded warped space and any shell or tank or ship that tried to dive through it would be devoured both by time and energy. 

And then he pulls a force field out of his ass that makes the entire physics-breaking, brain-shattering black hole nonsense completely redundant.  Dammit, Hubbard.

It had only one point of weakness--where the vortex of the captive black hole curved inward at the back of the mountain in which the black hole was embedded.  Only an engineer would know of that, but it could hardly be called a closely guarded secret: you couldn't shell the city through it because the mountain was in the way. 

There's a theory that proposes how military technology swings back and forth between whether offense or defense is more effective.  Like in the castle age you could get a lot of mileage from a bunch of rocks strategically stacked atop each other, but when gunpowder was invented warfare suddenly became a lot more fluid.  I'm just curious how Voltar got to the part where armor on a tank still capable of flight is strong enough to ignore even the weapons of an orbiting warship, while offensive weaponry is incapable of dealing with a particularly large pile of rock, or even a small bunker.

If an enemy tried to slide a ship through it, the ship would have to be so small the assaulting force would be a nothing.  It would also have to clamber over such gigantic rocks and boulders that only a suicide squad could get in. 

See, the city's defenses are designed to deflect a direct, large-scale assault.  A small, one-man fighter should be able to penetrate the outer defense.  But the approach will not be easy.  Heller will be required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point.  The target area is only two meters wide.  It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below... wait.

He had used it once before when he brought the Emperor out.  As very few people knew of it, he doubted it had been safeguarded. 

Oh.  Thanks for reminding us how Heller already penetrated the impenetrable defenses.  I was getting worried for a moment.

Using his "view beams," Heller can see the Apparatus defenders watching the dust of his approach from ten miles away, which they're probably mistaking for an approaching rebel force.  They're not firing all that artillery yet, though - what kind of big gun has a range of ten miles?  Besides anything used on modern Earth, I mean.

It's only when Heller's closing to five miles that the artillery commanders start waving signals to the gun crews - not getting on their radios, mind you, but using little flags or hand gestures to communicate.  But they immediately cancel their orders and get their men to go to ground, because they're finally close enough to see what Heller's towing/pushing.

Wind devils!

Heller was hard put to keep them twirling.  They seldom if ever got this close to Palace City.

Heller is towing... the wind.  He's attached his tractor beam to air currents caused by

They were the spinning result of temperature differences between the burning desert floor and a common icy wind that blew a mile above the surface.  

Yeah, thanks.  Heller is using invisible beams of force to tow, or push, a variation in temperature and the corresponding meteorological phenomenon.  He's locked on to a clump of air molecules with more or less energy than their surroundings.  And he's moving this intangible volume of air across the desert with his spaceship.

Unless I'm wrong and Hubbard means to say Heller has locked onto a column of swiftly rotating air, and has dragged it out of the weather system that spawned it to become some sort of free-range cyclonic menace.  Or rather several columns of air.

They picked up the violent green of copper sands, the glistening yellow of feldspar and the orange scarlet of alloys of iron, and made colorful, writhing columns, from three to eight thousand feet tall, that danced like Demon chorus lines.

Only by jockeying his tractor beams from right to left and imbalancing them could Heller keep them spinning.  It required considerable attention and deftness on the towing throttles.

Yeah, you don't want to get your... tornadoes imbalanced by... moving them too much.

The good news is I've completely forgotten about the damnable black hole time dilation.

But they were a common sight, even if awe-inspiring, to anyone who had to live around or in or flew over the Great Desert.

They had lots of power in them.  One of the reasons it was almost impossible to cross the Great Desert is that a man on foot could be sucked up and hurled a mile into the air.  On some other planet they might have been called tornados [sic] or twisters.  Heller had once seen a whole house, incautiously built by some unwary prospector, sent a mile in the air here in the Great Desert.

Wait, no.  Tornadoes are spawned from the reaction of cool, moist air created from a bad storm reacting with the updraft of the rest of the weather system.  Something that requires an accompanying storm, in other words, but there's no mention of that here.  This sounds more like a dust devil in that it's forming in a clear sky, except those are too weaksauce to be worth bothering with.

Guess Hubbard knows more about alien meteorology than I do.

Now, those bunkers are completely impervious to harm, but nobody put any of the artillery pieces in them.  Instead all the Apparatus ground troops - waving their arms at each other instead of using radios - get the capital's defenders to run into the trenches and bunkers, abandoning the exposed guns as they take shelter.  And even though this society has artificial intelligences capable of helping run a spaceship, they can't attach one to a gun so it can fire without a human sitting in a trench next to it.

And no, the capital of the empire doesn't have any aircraft to defend against approaching spaceships, or SAM batteries or anything.  Only artillery cannons in the trenches surrounding it. 

Heller, jockeying tractor-beam throttles and flying now on a curving course, began very neatly to place the wind devils around the yellow mist in a circle, a hungry, obscene chorus line of glittering colors shrieking out a mocking song of doom.

Guns were torn from their mountings, bunker covers were ripped loose,

These are the "shellproof" bunkers, remember.

beam screen antennas became junk, electronic posts were bodily sundered out of the sand, and at one underground entrance, where there had been a jam-up, Apparatus soldiers were seized.  All of it went hurling high, high, high into the air!  Wherever the bottom of one of these twisters touched, there was instant disaster!  The bases of them whipped about like snakes, eating holes wherever they went.  They were funnels of chaos, devouring everything with an appetite that fed only the green and dusty sky high overhead. 

See, no storm cell.

So Heller breaks physics to use tornadoes to wreck the defenses around Palace City, without the enemy getting a single shot off, and without harming the objective itself, because how could a tornado get through the time distortion?  That's just ridiculous.  But really, this was only a diversion.

He flexed his fingers: he had almost blistered them with the friction of jockeying the traction throttles.  He flew off now to the north and went about his business.  He was going to begin the real reason he had come here by himself.

Wait, if pushing with a tugboat tractor beam could be as useful as pulling, why they hell didn't they put another tractor beam emitter on the front of the ship, so it didn't have to rely on physically pushing its loads into place?

Also, if the tug's engines are all at its rear, so it can better physically push its loads into place, how the hell was Heller flying backwards?

Back to Part Eighty-Four, Chapters Four and Five