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.
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?
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