Friday, February 7, 2014

Part Eighty-Three, Chapters Six and Seven - Time-Traveling Radio Waves

The nameless Apparatus general enters the imperial bedchamber, which reeks of "old excreta and new vomit," and manages to shake Lombar awake.  His Majesty is still hungover and confused when nameless general reports that the Government City section of the Apparatus has been wiped out by rioters and policemen, but about the time Lombar gives him permission to call for reinforcements, the former dictator realizes he's wearing royal robes, people are calling him Your Majesty, and the coronation he vaguely remembers wasn't a dream after all.

He demands to know who's to blame for fulfilling his life ambition, and upon being told that it was Madison, Lombar flips out and orders a Death Battalion to find the publicist and his crew, and... put them under "close arrest."  Not throw them off a cliff, or shoot them, or schedule for them to be tortured to death.  Just put somewhere secure under guard.  A strangely merciful command, given what we've been told about Lombar in previous books.  It's almost as though the book's author needs Madison to be in a certain place at a certain time and can't think of a better way to set that up.

The general also relays a rumor that something important will be coming through the Homeview in half an hour, which we'll see shortly.  In the meantime, a hundred-man Death Battalion is sent to apprehend a dozen or so amateur photojournalists.  Madison's convinced that he could clear this all up if he just talked to Lombar, which the battalion captain takes as evidence that Madison hasn't been in the Apparatus long.  And then they're taken to a dungeon, which turns out to be an Imperial galley, and so not a real dungeon at all.

Flick takes charge and declares that it's a perfectly satisfactory holding cell for a bunch of harmless Homeview people like them, even while she slips a knife into her boot, the other ex-convicts start thinking about how to disarm their captors, and the crew's electronics man cranks up a portable TV to mask the sound of any struggle.  See, it's a good thing that Flick the bus driver hijacked the plot and recruited a bunch of criminals to rob an apartment he purchased with Madison's money so Madison could subsequently recruit them as his film crew so when Lombar got mad at Madison for making him emperor he could throw them in a not-quite-dungeon, and then...

Oh.  Um.  Checked ahead, and it looks like none of those criminal skills will come into play.  No dramatic escape from the Death Battalion or anything like that - Madison serves enough beer to get the guards drunk, they stick a hundred sleeping men in a side room, and walk out when they think it's safe.  The plot would've gone the same if Lombar had ignored them and they'd been hunkered down in a side room playing dice for the next seventy pages.

Guess we'll just move on to the next chapter.  Lombar starts off enraged that Madison jumped the gun on his coronation, convinced that if he'd only gotten more Lords addicted to the drugs, he could've been crowned without mass rioting.  The narration is thoughtful enough to explain to us that "He did not understand that it had happened through alcohol and LSD," but Lombar vows that "People were going to pay!  And pay in blood!"  I wonder when such a phrase could've been received as dramatic instead of hackneyed?  Surely even by Shakespeare's time it was getting stale?

After a mixture of heroin and speed called "speedball," Lombar feels a little better and holds an emergency meeting with his generals, redeploying Apparatus forces without of course interfering with those gathering to invade Earth, because Lombar needs the planet's drugs, because the book's author forced him to be too stupid to set up his own production on Voltar.  And then a general who has been checking his watch during the whole staff meeting announces that it's time for that mysterious Homeview message, so they turn on the TV.

Footage of a running battle is suddenly overlaid with one of "HIGHTEE HELLER!" speaking from what could be a spaceship - those have lots of "pipes and dials" around the back of the bridge, right?  Or maybe she's broadcasting from a boiler room. 

Her eyes were very intense.  Her voice was strong and clear.

"Citizens of the Voltar Confederacy!  Hear me!  His Majesty Cling the Lofty is ALIVE!  It was at his express command and wish that my brother, Royal Officer Jettero Heller, rescued him from captivity by Lombar Hisst.

Well, he gave his permission after Heller had already broken in, so I guess that counts.

"The Chief of the Apparatus murdered legitimate successors to the throne.  Then, by the use of poisons called drugs, he suborned the Grand Council and through this treachery has sought to usurp the throne! 

Book Ten and I'm still boggling at how you would write a story hinging on the bad guy controlling the government through drug addiction in a setting where there's perfectly good mind-control helmets available.

"At the ancient fortress of Spiteos, long since believed abandoned and radioactive, Hisst has stored enough drugs to poison this entire nation.  And he intends to do so!

Wonder why he wasn't doing that alrea- oh, that's right, he needs to import them from Earth.

"Here in my hands you see the Royal regalia: the scepter, chains and crown."  She held them up. 

Ta da.  Magic shiny rocks, making everything official.

"Army, Fleet, police, officials and citizens!  Cast off the usurper!  Rally to His Majesty and my brother Jettero Heller!


And of course, Heller is shoehorned in as the great populist leader, even though he's only been on Voltar for a matter of minutes over the past month or two.  But it's a good thing Madison's efforts to paint him as a notorious outlaw were entirely ineffective, eh?

As expected, the Apparatus clowns conclude that they're (bleeped), but Lombar has them eavesdrop on some encrypted military channels.  The Army concludes that without a specific order from the "Lord of the Army" they're going to stay neutral, so they're not a threat yet.

"Get the Fleet!" said Lombar.

The general threw more levers and shunted to the decoder. As they were thirteen minutes in the future, they had the advantage of selecting any part of current signals as though they were past.

So... the Fleet message hasn't been made yet.  But the timeshifted radio in the capital has already received it, the whole message, but it's also able to rewind time some more and go back to the beginning of the message that hasn't been my brain.

Setting aside the time-raping rewind function, does this mean that Hightee's announcement arrived simultaneously at the capital and the rest of the Confederacy, despite the timeshift?  Or did it arrive thirteen minutes early at the capital, and then nobody made any moves to prevent it?  No scramble to jam all Homeview bands, or puzzle out where she was transmitting from and blow it away, or make an announcement refuting her claims before she made them?

What is the point of the thirteen-minutes-into-the-future madness?

After some blurs, the general settled in on the beginning of a Fleet transmission.  The others in the room were very tense.  An awful lot depended on this: if the Fleet stayed neutral, too, they could still win.

Horsefeathers.  You're getting your ass kicked by mobs of civilians.  There is no working government for you to control.  You're losing men by the thousands.  And... argh, you know what?  Right before going into detail about the Fleet message being thirteen minutes from the past or whatever?  The narration described the Army feed as "live."  Dammit Hubbard.

Anyway, the Fleet guys conclude that there's no way to verify whether Hightee has the true Regalia, or whether her claims about Spiteos are accurate, so they're staying out too.

"There you are," said Lombar.  "We are still in control.  Issue Imperial Orders to the Army and Fleet, commending their neutrality and confirming it.

Before they decide to be neutral.

Issue a statement to Homeview that it is a lie that there are any drugs at Spiteos, that the statements of Hightee Heller are simply a misguided effort to protect her brother.

Before she makes them.  Just... this is a very inconsistent application to the timeshifting function of Hubbard Black Holes.

Lombar reminds everyone that there's no way anyone could cross the desert to check for drugs at Spiteos (what are they gonna do, rent a flying car?), and that the Apparatus could hold Spiteos for years, and as for Palace City, "Not even the combined Fleet and Army could take this place.  It's been tried."  And isn't that interesting?  Voltar's perfect, benevolent monarchy has had to defend itself against the combined forces of its army and fleet?  Guess that's what you get for letting non-Royals in the ranks.  Riffraff.

We end the chapter with Lombar getting up to take a flying tank back to Spiteos, and ordering another hundred thousand Apparatus soldiers to defend its all-important drug supply, because once again, they are wholly dependent on shipments from Earth.

He put on his cap and started to leave.  Then he turned to them.  "And you can stop this 'Your Sir' business, all of you!  For better or for worse, I took the throne and don't forget it!"

"Yes, Your Majesty!" they chorused and promptly knelt.

The good news is, they'll all be dead in due time.  For now we begin Mission Earth's entirely one-sided, unexciting, anticlimactic "Nerve-Shattering Climax!"  A brain's a bunch of nerves or something, right?  In that case, this whole series has been pretty nerve-shattering.

Back to Part Eighty-Three, Chapter Five

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