The not-actually-executed General Whip took a million men "spaceward ho" to Calabar, then managed to penetrate the rebels' communication network to speak to Prince Mortiiy.
"Your Highness," said General Whip, well known for his wit, "you will be pleased to know that I am officially dead."
"WHAT?" Mortiiy exclaimed.
"I am probably the only casualty in history killed solely by Homeview. I have a million army troops at my disposal just landed on Calabar. I pledge my honor as an officer no treachery is intended: their officers are all loyal to me. What does Your Highness wish to do with them?"
The defection isn't surprising, but everything else around it is. Why was Whip the only one to react to his not-execution? Why aren't any other generals defecting? Why didn't he call Lombar a minute after his "execution" and express his confusion? The answers are of course, "the plot requires it." The rest of the Army needs to be paralyzed with indecision, and Madison still needs to look like a master media manipulator, for there to be any sort of tension as we enter the climax.
Whip agreed to defend Calabar and loan Mortiiy's forces his transports in exchange for "a lock of hair from the head of Lombar Hisst when you amputate his windpipe." And that's what led up to Hightee Heller's big broadcast last chapter. So, mystery solved, and we're ready to get back to the present. Almost.
Without so much as a break in the paragraphs, we're suddenly with Captain Snelz at Camp Kill, a couple hours before Hightee's message. And - oh, hey! The author once again reminds us that Spiteos is an impenetrable fortress that no one, especially not Jettero Heller, could hope to overcome, but he also acknowledges that aircraft exist by mentioning that the Great Desert isn't exactly impassible, but that "a few suicidal civilian airbuses" had tried to cross it and attack, only to be shot down. I guess that's what the Apparatus air force was doing instead of keeping Heller from rescuing Hightee last book?
Anyway, it's been so long since Book One that I can't remember if Snelz got any backstory then, but here we're told that he has "the philosophy of a one-time Fleet marine," whatever that is, after getting the boot for cheating at dice. Now, he's still a cheat, a gambler, and a misogynistic pig currently curled up in bed next to a nameless prostitute, but since he used to be in the Fleet, he's actually a charming rogue with a heart of gold, totally unlike all those other Apparatus criminals, for whom a merciful execution is more than they deserve.
Someone shakes Snelz awake, and lo and behold it's Jettero Heller.
"I'm dreaming," said Snelz.
"You'll have nightmares if you don't get up," said Heller.
I think this is supposed to be witty and fun, rather than our asshole hero threatening his "friend" before ordering him to do his dirty work.
"My Gods, I got you safely out of here some time ago! What are you doing back?"
"A social call," said Heller.
"Who's he?" the awakened harlot said, staring up in sudden terror at a figure dressed in the scarlet of an Apparatus general.
"He's a Manco Devil," said Snelz. "Get out of here, you (bleepch), and don't open your face!"
The harlot fled.
Remember, Snelz is supposed to be a Han Solo-ish figure rather than a jackass in a wifebeater whose fifteen minutes of fame happen on an episode of Cops.
Snelz apparently has always dreamed of regaining his Fleet commission, and Heller is offering not just his old position as a lieutenant, but full colonel status. There's just a few catches - first is that the proclamation is signed by Mortiiy, not Cling the Lofty or even Hisst. Also, Heller has a job for him to do before Snelz hands in his resignation from the Apparatus.
So Snelz musters his hundred-man squad - a paltry number compared to the "horde" of Apparatus savages already defending Spiteos, soon to be reinforced by a hundred thousand more soldiers, all of whom will prove utterly incapable of putting up a real fight against the good guys. Heller leads his little parade across a bridge to the other side of that mile-deep chasm the Apparatus likes to throw people into. While allegedly inspecting the defenses, Heller starts sticking spear-like objects into the cliffside, much to Snelz' confusion.
"If you're trying to blow up Spiteos," whispered Snelz, "those little spears won't do anything. They're just rock-splitting missiles. We use them to prepare a breach in fortress walls. I know them. They won't make a dent in that castle."
Obviously the ancient architects of Spiteos built it out of some Super Stone shipped in from elsewhere, rather than the lousy local rock that's capable of being split by a bunker-busting bomb. Also, see if you can guess what Heller's going to do with those explosives.
After completing his "inspection," Heller lets Snelz dismiss his men and gives him one last set of orders, which we aren't told so not to ruin the surprise.
Snelz stared at him numbly. "I sure hope I am on the winning side," he said.
"Just make sure you are, Colonel," said Heller.
Yeah, that's what... he's checking.
And he slipped on the absorbo-cape, took hold of the space-trooper sled and, with a grin at the palsied Snelz, took off vertically, up into the stars like a ghost.
That's how Heller got to Spiteos, by the way: space sled. And I guess he found an invisibility cape jammed up his backside with all those "make you do a certain thing" magic patches of cloth and so forth. A Jettero Heller colonoscopy would be pretty surreal.
Maybe that's why Heller's the only one who uses these toys? Nobody else can find them? Or nobody wants to touch them after where they've been?
Snelz stood there for quite a while. There were no shots. He let out a sigh of relief. He knew now why the life expectancy of a combat engineer was only estimated at two years of duty.
Why, because they get other guys to do their jobs for them?
He looked at the musette bag in his hand. The life of a Fleet marine colonel, he mourned, was evidently far less than that!
Nah, it's okay Snelz, the narration referred to you as the future "hero of the Battle of Camp Kill." You'll be fine.
Tune in next time for the exciting Battle of Camp Kill! Which could... go either way?
Back to Part Eighty-Three, Chapters Six and Seven