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