Guess none of those Army troop transports had any weapons. So either the Fleet has a monopoly on spaceships capable of shooting at the planet, which is dumb, or these transports weren't meant to be used for a ground assault. But if the latter was true, why would those transports be used to take the Army forces to a hostile, rebel-held planet? It wasn't like the Army was going to transfer into properly armed ships, were they? Or maybe Hisst is an idiot sending the wrong forces to do the wrong job.
Anyway, Heller's up in Mortiiy's flagship the Retribution, preparing to launch. He's got the Countess Krak and Hightee Heller along, of course. I guess they need Hightee to rally the populace against the Apparatus, but Krak's not contributing anything, so I wonder why they bothered to bring her.
Wait, Krak is contributing:
"I think it's time," he said. "That battle looks about over."
"Oh, Jettero," said the Countess Krak, "can't you let somebody else do it? Guns are still firing from the castle! It's dangerous!"
Heller said, "Life usually is. Now, don't follow me down too close, as I may still draw fire."
Yeah, someone needs to be around to explain how dangerous the situation is, tacitly affirming Heller's bravery and awesomeness for diving right into it. And Hightee's had too many lines already.
Also, what better time for a combat engineer to get involved than the tail-end of the fighting?
"I think," said Mortiiy, "I should make a pass with the Retribution. This ship is armored and can stand some heavy jolts."
But not armed, or else you could've spanked the camp from orbit without endangering your men.
"No, Your Highness," said Heller. "You're carrying valuable cargo: yourself, my sister and my lady love, to name a few. I've just run out of heroic speeches, so goodbye."
You can't very well try and spare your men some enemy fire if that would jeopardize Heller's meaningful others, after all. It's not like those rebels down there have names or anything.
Heller pops in the tugboat and dives into the battle, taking a bit of fire from Spiteos' guns, which are yes, firing shells, not energy blasts. Again, this'll be explained in a few chapters.
He suddenly dived straight down into the mile-deep chasm. As no one had ever anticipated an attack from there, defense artillery on the castle top had never been installed to depress so low.
Yeah. That nice, protected approach to your headquarters? Well, who'd want to attack from that angle?
Heller ignores the rotting corpses splattered on the ledges and outcroppings of the clips, and dodges molten rock running down Spiteos' sides as a rebel ship... engages the fortress... W-well! They do have guns, but, obviously they couldn't bombard the Apparatus base from orbit, because they needed to capture it intact! Which is why Heller... had Snelz... blow the hell out of it with a bomb, and he's about to...
How the hell do these people conquer planets? At least the Psychlos were smart enough to send in a drone to neutralize the enemy with gas before mopping up any resistance. You hear me, Hubbard? You're making the Psychlos look good! The big, dumb bad guys from your last book are better tacticians than the good guys of this one!
Heller stays down in the chasm for a bit, waiting for the friendly spaceship to knock a few more guns off Spiteos, thus begging the question why he didn't wait to launch until after resistance was fully pacified. While he's down, he inspects those spear-like explosives he stuck into the canyon walls. Now, two chapters ago, Heller crossed a bridge to the other side of the canyon, where Spiteos was distinctly visible "across the gap," and there he placed those explosives. But this chapter acts as though the explosives were set "in the chasm side of the castle." So I'm very confused.
Anyway, someone in the castle above him notices the tugboat hovering down in the canyon and drops a hand grenade, of all things. Heller responds by standing the tug on its tail and activating the blueflash. You know, the magical light that knocks people out? The device that only Heller uses? There's certainly no mention of those Army transports using it to conk out the Apparatus battalions last chapter. And - argh! Just last book, Heller used a bunch of blueflash-equipped drones to rescue his sister! Why didn't he do that again?! Why can't anyone else use his tactics?!
Heller also hits the button that turns his spaceship silver, for maximum visibility, and sure enough the nearby rebel spaceship holds it fire. Why he couldn't send a radio transmission, since the enemy already knows he's there, remains a mystery. He checks that the Retribution is still in position overhead, and then...
If you have explosives capable of blasting apart rock, and an enemy fortress situated at the lip of a mile-deep chasm, the obvious solution would be to collapse the part of the chasm it's sitting on into said chasm, yes? Assuming, of course, you didn't have any sort of orbital ordinance capable of turning the castle into a pancake.
Well, that's not good enough for Jettero Mothercrunching Heller. He straps himself in, hits some buttons on the control panel, and
With the speed of a vaulter, he went straight up, flat against the castle wall.
Over the top of the battlement he went.
With a sudden dart, the tug levelled out.
It lanced across the top of the castle, away from the chasm.
A blastcannon roared close to him with a flash.
His tractor engines were screaming like banshees!
He pushed all his throttles home. Planetary drives, Will-be Was, tractors, everything!
The tug surged, snapped back, surged, snapped back. It was all he could do to stay in the pilot seat, even with belts!
With yank after yank he was trying to pull the whole vast castle over!
Yep. Blow a crack in the sheer cliffs beneath the castle, then attach a tractor beam to it, and tug it over. The tractor beam of course affects the entire castle Spiteos, and doesn't, say, pull a stone slab out of the outermost wall. And the castle of Spiteos of course is so impenetrable and indestructible and solid that it will fall over as a single piece, instead of having chunks torn off by this lunatic with a tractor beam.
And of course nobody but Jettero Heller had the idea to use such powerful devices for battlefield demolitions, rather than simply nudging battleships into drydocks.
There's a lot of noise for another half page, but eventually,
Behind him he heard a moaning cry as though some monster was dying.
Then there came a tremendous roar, enough to shake a planet.
The tall, tall castle of solid black rock had turned over on its side.
It was followed by the death rattle of falling stones.
Heller turned off the tractor beams and a few boulders dropped out of their invisible net.
And now a tractor "beam" is a "net." You shoot something with them, and the invisible pulling energy loops around the target, enclosing it, so that it can be moved as a unit rather than torn apart. But we can't, say, shoot ourselves with a tractor beam to create some sort of force field. That would detract from the excitement of Heller flying around in a fragile tugboat, after all.
The whole point of this was to expose the Apparatus' drug supply - Heller had figured out where the opium and heroin stores were, and managed to break the castle just in the right place to spill the drugs out "like vomit that had been thrown up by a stricken beast." And the Retribution, like all good battleships, has cameras capable of recording this from low orbit, and transmitters able to override Homeview to broadcast the footage.
As an added bonus, "literally thousands" of starving prisoners boil out of Spiteos to freedom.
They were spreading like a swarm of insects from a disrupted nest, uncounted numbers of them. Even from this height their naked filth, rags and protruding bones were showing. Starved into near insanity, frenzied now in their sudden freedom, they raced away, scrambling over the debris of the wrecked castle, fanning out across the plain.
Oh that's right, Spiteos has political prisoners. So is that why the rebels didn't bombard the place? Except there certainly wasn't any talk of rescuing prisoners. And Heller still had Snelz blow the hell out of the place, which certainly would endanger any prisoners beneath it.
The Retribution's several cameras were following various mobs of escaping prisoners. Heller smiled. What a black eye for Hisst: the "deserted" fortress was shown to be an Apparatus prison.
The Confederacy is in flames. Millions are dead. Cities on every world have fallen into chaos as enraged mobs try to tear apart the forces of the Apparatus usurper with their bare hands. Citizens have been hearing of the Apparatus' many, many crimes for weeks now. Why are you still trying to build a case against Lombar Hisst?
And then he saw something that caused him to freeze.
The real purpose of this raid was to display to Voltar that Spiteos did contain drugs. The cameras had caught them strewing across the plain.
Guess the prisoners were just a pleasant surprise.
But now a group of prisoners, reaching that spot, starved, must have thought it was edible flour.
That's understandable. When hungry, I often eat handfuls of pale powder in hopes that it is flour, and not something like arsenic or salt.
Fully two hundred of them had stopped. They scooped up handfuls of it, tasting it.
Heller clipped on his powerful speakers.
Standard on all tugboats, don'cher'know.
"GET AWAY FROM THAT!" he shouted down. "DON'T EAT THAT STUFF! IT'S POISON!"
While the cameras are rolling, some of the prisoners go into "agonizing convulsions" before rebel soldiers start trying to round them up.
Some of the prisoners, instead of welcoming deliverers, began to fight like madmen! They had gone crazy with chemicals even after just a taste!
Later they would find that a lot of what the prisoners had grabbed was not morphine or opium or heroin but the adulterative elements which were there in vast supply to be used in cutting, and they included powdered strychnine.
But the picture said to any viewer all it needed to say. True to Hightee's statement earlier that day, Spiteos was full of something stored by Hisst to be used against the population and that something drove men mad!
At this point I can only assume the good guys missed Lombar's coronation, and haven't yet noticed the flames from Voltar's burning cities.
And here was Hightee's voice again, ringing loud and clear:
"Citizens of Voltar! You have seen that what I told you is true! ARMY, FLEET, POLICE, ALL DECENT MEN, HEAR ME! SLAUGHTER THE APPARATUS AND HUNT AND KILL THE USURPER LOMBAR HISST!"
In short, keep doing what you were already doing. But because I've now told you to keep doing what you're doing, it makes me look like a revolutionary hero.
Well that was all kinds of stupid. Next chapter we'll check in with the big bad, see how Lombar's doing in his explosion-proof tank.
Back to Chapter Two