Whatever, back to the hero. Now, Jettero Heller's always one step ahead of everyone. Though he presumably launched this mission in an appropriate flightsuit, somewhere along the line he's changed into a red Apparatus general's uniform, "just in case he got shot down." It's almost as though he's read ahead a few chapters and knows that he'll need to disguise himself as the enemy soon.
Currently he's flying his tugboat backwards across the desert towards the "yellow mist" that indicates where Palace City is forever thirteen minutes into the future, leaving it impervious to anything but ground traffic and air traffic and radio signals and air and sunlight. We're not quite told what Heller's towing - or rather pushing - for two pages, so the author can explain the odds that his character is about to be awesome for overcoming.
Heller admires the impenetrable defenses the Apparatus has added to the impenetrable city, a triple ring of "shellproof" bunkers, which is presumably why the rebels' air support isn't even bothering, spiced up with "electronic" barricades that instantly kill anything passing between their metal posts. But the biggie is of course the city itself.
The yellow mist was something else. Even without the outer defenses, no assault could penetrate it. The time factor was its safeguard. A shell fired at it in present time would explode in time that was already past and do nothing.
I think this is why Hubbard has Voltar use shells instead of more conventional energy blasts. My theory is that the author has recognized that he's had whatever energy waves carry Homeview or space radio pass through the time distortion without incident, and of course sunlight manages to shine on the capital just fine, so it looks like energy can penetrate the time barrier, and therefore excluding the energy from some sort of zappy cannon wouldn't make any sense. So, Hubbard Logic concludes, Voltar's military will have to use explosive shells to fight, to keep things consistent.
And this of course doesn't address why a cannon shell will get caught up in the thirteen-minutes-into-the-future gap and expire in some sort of yellow void, but spaceships, or people, or air molecules will be able to reach their destination. But by now it should be clear that L. Ron Hubbard is not a good author in general, much less a skilled writer of science fiction.
Furthermore, except at the gates, the whole thing was covered now with an electronic net, powered by the black hole in the mountain. This net shrouded warped space and any shell or tank or ship that tried to dive through it would be devoured both by time and energy.
And then he pulls a force field out of his ass that makes the entire physics-breaking, brain-shattering black hole nonsense completely redundant. Dammit, Hubbard.
It had only one point of weakness--where the vortex of the captive black hole curved inward at the back of the mountain in which the black hole was embedded. Only an engineer would know of that, but it could hardly be called a closely guarded secret: you couldn't shell the city through it because the mountain was in the way.
There's a theory that proposes how military technology swings back and forth between whether offense or defense is more effective. Like in the castle age you could get a lot of mileage from a bunch of rocks strategically stacked atop each other, but when gunpowder was invented warfare suddenly became a lot more fluid. I'm just curious how Voltar got to the part where armor on a tank still capable of flight is strong enough to ignore even the weapons of an orbiting warship, while offensive weaponry is incapable of dealing with a particularly large pile of rock, or even a small bunker.
If an enemy tried to slide a ship through it, the ship would have to be so small the assaulting force would be a nothing. It would also have to clamber over such gigantic rocks and boulders that only a suicide squad could get in.
See, the city's defenses are designed to deflect a direct, large-scale assault. A small, one-man fighter should be able to penetrate the outer defense. But the approach will not be easy. Heller will be required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide. It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below... wait.
He had used it once before when he brought the Emperor out. As very few people knew of it, he doubted it had been safeguarded.
Oh. Thanks for reminding us how Heller already penetrated the impenetrable defenses. I was getting worried for a moment.
Using his "view beams," Heller can see the Apparatus defenders watching the dust of his approach from ten miles away, which they're probably mistaking for an approaching rebel force. They're not firing all that artillery yet, though - what kind of big gun has a range of ten miles? Besides anything used on modern Earth, I mean.
It's only when Heller's closing to five miles that the artillery commanders start waving signals to the gun crews - not getting on their radios, mind you, but using little flags or hand gestures to communicate. But they immediately cancel their orders and get their men to go to ground, because they're finally close enough to see what Heller's towing/pushing.
Heller was hard put to keep them twirling. They seldom if ever got this close to Palace City.
Heller is towing... the wind. He's attached his tractor beam to air currents caused by
They were the spinning result of temperature differences between the burning desert floor and a common icy wind that blew a mile above the surface.
Yeah, thanks. Heller is using invisible beams of force to tow, or push, a variation in temperature and the corresponding meteorological phenomenon. He's locked on to a clump of air molecules with more or less energy than their surroundings. And he's moving this intangible volume of air across the desert with his spaceship.
Unless I'm wrong and Hubbard means to say Heller has locked onto a column of swiftly rotating air, and has dragged it out of the weather system that spawned it to become some sort of free-range cyclonic menace. Or rather several columns of air.
They picked up the violent green of copper sands, the glistening yellow of feldspar and the orange scarlet of alloys of iron, and made colorful, writhing columns, from three to eight thousand feet tall, that danced like Demon chorus lines.
Only by jockeying his tractor beams from right to left and imbalancing them could Heller keep them spinning. It required considerable attention and deftness on the towing throttles.
Yeah, you don't want to get your... tornadoes imbalanced by... moving them too much.
The good news is I've completely forgotten about the damnable black hole time dilation.
But they were a common sight, even if awe-inspiring, to anyone who had to live around or in or flew over the Great Desert.
They had lots of power in them. One of the reasons it was almost impossible to cross the Great Desert is that a man on foot could be sucked up and hurled a mile into the air. On some other planet they might have been called tornados [sic] or twisters. Heller had once seen a whole house, incautiously built by some unwary prospector, sent a mile in the air here in the Great Desert.
Wait, no. Tornadoes are spawned from the reaction of cool, moist air created from a bad storm reacting with the updraft of the rest of the weather system. Something that requires an accompanying storm, in other words, but there's no mention of that here. This sounds more like a dust devil in that it's forming in a clear sky, except those are too weaksauce to be worth bothering with.
Guess Hubbard knows more about alien meteorology than I do.
Now, those bunkers are completely impervious to harm, but nobody put any of the artillery pieces in them. Instead all the Apparatus ground troops - waving their arms at each other instead of using radios - get the capital's defenders to run into the trenches and bunkers, abandoning the exposed guns as they take shelter. And even though this society has artificial intelligences capable of helping run a spaceship, they can't attach one to a gun so it can fire without a human sitting in a trench next to it.
And no, the capital of the empire doesn't have any aircraft to defend against approaching spaceships, or SAM batteries or anything. Only artillery cannons in the trenches surrounding it.
Heller, jockeying tractor-beam throttles and flying now on a curving course, began very neatly to place the wind devils around the yellow mist in a circle, a hungry, obscene chorus line of glittering colors shrieking out a mocking song of doom.
Guns were torn from their mountings, bunker covers were ripped loose,
These are the "shellproof" bunkers, remember.
beam screen antennas became junk, electronic posts were bodily sundered out of the sand, and at one underground entrance, where there had been a jam-up, Apparatus soldiers were seized. All of it went hurling high, high, high into the air! Wherever the bottom of one of these twisters touched, there was instant disaster! The bases of them whipped about like snakes, eating holes wherever they went. They were funnels of chaos, devouring everything with an appetite that fed only the green and dusty sky high overhead.
See, no storm cell.
So Heller breaks physics to use tornadoes to wreck the defenses around Palace City, without the enemy getting a single shot off, and without harming the objective itself, because how could a tornado get through the time distortion? That's just ridiculous. But really, this was only a diversion.
He flexed his fingers: he had almost blistered them with the friction of jockeying the traction throttles. He flew off now to the north and went about his business. He was going to begin the real reason he had come here by himself.
Wait, if pushing with a tugboat tractor beam could be as useful as pulling, why they hell didn't they put another tractor beam emitter on the front of the ship, so it didn't have to rely on physically pushing its loads into place?
Also, if the tug's engines are all at its rear, so it can better physically push its loads into place, how the hell was Heller flying backwards?
Back to Part Eighty-Four, Chapters Four and Five