As we left our heroes... well, Heller and some ex-villains. Anyway, they'd just pursued Lombar Hisst, would-be dictator of Voltar, into the clutches of an underage sex fiend whom Voltarians are willing to treat as royalty. Teenie wants to exchange Hisst for Madison and Gris, Snelz wants to skip a few chapters and just grab the guy, but Heller is willing to play along since he knows "New Yorkers just like to bargain."
Or rather, Heller is willing to be unable to comply with Teenie's demands, since he doesn't know where Madison is and promised Gris a fair trial. "Stalemate," the narration assures us. Yes, Teenie's guards are all wielding melee weapons, and Snelz has a hundred men with firearms at his command. Yes, they wouldn't even have to kill anyone to solve this problem, just dial back their blastrifles to "stun" and knock everyone out, or get Heller to use a bluelight special or bombs that emit the soundwave that makes you surrender your prisoner to the nearest Jettero Heller. Yes, Heller could use his influence with Mortiiy or Cling to get Teenie's "royal" status rescinded. But we're not going to do any of those things, so the narration can say "The fate of Hisst, Gris and Madison was left hanging in the air."
Then we get to check back in with Madison and his film crew, who as I might have mentioned earlier, are just chillin' out in a kitchen with a bunch of drunk, sleeping Death Battalion troopers locked in a pantry. Flick notes that "the real sun" is now visible out the windows, as opposed to that weird sun you get through a time distortion effect, and wants to sneak out when it's dark and nobody can see them. Flip counters that the rebels will probably catch them at night 'cause of patrols - the solution is to sneak out when it's daylight, because then they can be seen in their Homeview uniforms, and everyone ignores Space TV crews. And certainly wouldn't confuse them for Apparatus collaborators.
And then... man, it's hard to even write about. If you've been with me this far, we've been through some pretty messed-up stuff. Murder. Rape. Murder followed by rape. But when Madison and his crew arrive where they parked their flying buses:
Flick stopped, appalled. A crashed warship, still smoking, had landed squarely on their four vehicles. All that remained of the Model 99 airbus was one angel lying face up on the splintered pavement, grinning vacantly at the sky.
It wasn't enough for Hubbard to kill the luxury tugboat, he did the unthinkable and murdered the luxury airbus just a few chapters later. It's like losing Aeris and then immediately leaving for a mission on Virmire. Wait, that might not work depending on how well you like certain characters. Dare I say I need to play more video games?
The film crew's attempt to leave is further derailed when the Retribution lands and Mortiiy enters the palace, along with minions bearing His Majesty's healing tub, and Hightee, Krak and Prahd carrying more canisters of wonderful Science. And following them with a pistol out, a pistol that he may or may not have remembered to reload, is Jettero Heller. Madison, expectedly, goes nuts: "Thirty-two point, OUTLAW STEALS CONFEDERACY!" Despite Flick's protests, the publicist gets the director and the rest of the film crew to swoop in, take names, do makeup, and get some lights and cameras rolling.
And the protagonists' reaction to having a bunch of strange people swoop down on the king and heir to the Confederacy? Stand and take it. They're only Homeview, after all, it's not like anyone's been using the mass media for their own nefarious purposes lately. Also, Heller can't recognize Madison because he's got a tinted Homeview visor covering the upper half of his face. It's so they can work under stage lights, you see.
"This is coming to you live, live, live from Palace City!" cried Madison into a separate mike, unheard by the procession but heard by everyone else on Voltar. "You are watching the triumphal entry of the outlaw Heller into the Imperial Palace. Exclusive! Live! Live! Live!"
"We're dead, dead, dead," groaned Flick.
Were we so lucky. The king and company are completely compliant with the director's directions, stopping the procession so the camera crew can get close-ups of the slain Apparatus generals blocking the path, or dramatically toppling a desk in the Royal antechamber, and then re-toppling the desk because they didn't do it right the first time ("Now register disgust!"). All the while, Madison provides commentary on Heller's actions - picking up the truncheon he dropped several books ago gets an "Outlaw admits kidnapping," and popping the top of the king's healing tub is "Outlaw gazes gloatingly on victim." It's all very amusing or something.
As the cameras roll, His Majesty regains consciousness, finds himself in his old chambers, reminds Heller that he told him to get him out of there, and thus reassures the Fleet and Army that Heller really isn't a kidnapper. They finally got off their asses and crushed the Apparatus to stop the chaos and destruction of the rogue agency's reign of terror, but now they know they're on the right side of this civil war - the Royal side. This actually annoys Madison since it goes against the "outlaw Heller" image he's wasted so much of our time building, but he decides "all was not lost; he would somehow handle it."
And the talking begins. Heller reveals that it was Hisst who was subtly assassinating the other princes, thanks to... man, I don't know, was it in all that evidence Gris had stockpiled? That and the fact that Mortiiy has been taking care of his father instead of murdering him in his sleep is enough to repair the rift in the royal family, though the proclamation revoking Mortiiy's rebel status helps, I'm sure. There's tears, the king calls the prince "son" a few times, and I'm sure it'd be very touching if I gave a damp fart about these characters.
Mortiiy moved over and knelt. Cling gripped the back of the prince's hand. Brokenly, he said, "If I had listened to you, this never would have happened. I am too old and too sick and too silly to rule. Anyone who can stand off the combined forces of Voltar for five years deserves to rule. Take the throne. I abdicate."
So the only qualification you need to run a hundred-world empire is to be able to sit in a mountain fortress while the Apparatus kills themselves against your defenses? By that logic Heller would be an ideal candidate for dammit.
A sigh of relief went up from the rebel troops and officers in the room. Even though they sided with Mortiiy, they were not rebels now.
That seems familiar. Let me just turn back to the last page, after the emperor makes that statement about ordering Heller to rescue him...
An audible sigh came from the Fleet and Army officers in the bedchamber. With relief they understood it had not been a kidnapping: therefore, by siding with Heller in this fight, they were not rebels!
If you wanted to make a case that the author couldn't be bothered to so much as turn a single page of his manuscript to check if he was being redundant, here you go.
Heller wants to go tow that bloody mountain back into place so the palace has power - yeah, he dropped it from a couple thousand feet, but just stick an extension cord near the black hole and you'll get all the juice you need, right? But before he can make good his escape,
Mortiiy looked up from where he knelt beside the container. His black beard suddenly bristled. "No you don't, Lord Heller! Leave that to the Corps of Engineers. Somebody else can play with mountains. Immediately assemble an Officers' Conference. We've got to settle several burning questions and decide some fates. You've got to help me get to the bottom of what tore this Confederacy to bits!"
The answer is "psychology and public relations," which we know because we've been watching the bad guys do their thing for the past ten books. But the good guys don't know all the details, so now we get to watch as they figure out and explain the plot we've already been through, all the while decrying the depravity of planet Earth for unleashing such poisonous ideas upon the galaxy. So that's the next hundred pages to look forward to.
Also, Heller's a Lord now. I can't remember if this is something they agreed to earlier, a spur-of-the-moment promotion, or the author getting ahead of himself.
Back to Chapters One and Two