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 marineHas got a hungry (bleep).We're the heroes of the battle,As long as it's in bed.The reason I'm a Fleet marineIs better left unsaid.I'm loyal to my seniors,As long as they are bold.But I don't think I'll live long enoughTo see them very old.Come march upon the spaceways,And help me sing this song.The one thing that I'm sure ofIs that if you're a Fleet marineYou 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