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
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