Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Part Eighty-Three, Chapters Three and Four - Lombar Gives His All for the Confederacy

Unabridged version here.

Madison's Homeview minions release the palace staff, who have been locked in their rooms for months, so they can help get the throne room all set up for Lombar's coronation.  One of Madison's crew is in charge of costumes, others work on lighting, there's all the circus folk to be coached on how to behave during the performance, etc.

In case you were wondering about the setting:

The vast domed hall was a thousand feet in diameter and a hundred feet from golden floor to sky-blue ceiling.  On the dais solidly sat the mammoth throne of Voltar, of shimmering violet stone inset with jewels.  It was dusty and as cold as a tomb.  It took two hundred staff half an hour to sweep it down and polish it up.

It's no Volkshalle, but it's a start I guess.

Meanwhile Lombar is still bluescreening in the antechamber, wondering how the Emperor's absence got leaked to the public.  Madison speculates that Lombar's drug intake made him talk in his sleep, and gives him another hit of LSD-laced booze, which should be working in about twenty minutes.  Lombar also gives last-minute commands to the departing Fleet and Army, ordering them to kill everything on Calabar since Hisst is "pretty certain" the Emperor is already dead.  And Madison is, of course, still hugging himself over the headlines to come.

At that moment, despite earlier setbacks, he was absolutely certain that he would shortly have the most immortal outlaw anyone had ever heard of.  Eventually, of course, Heller-Wister would be caught and hanged but that always happened to outlaws and was to be expected.  Meanwhile, what headlines!  And, oh, my, wouldn't Mr. Bury be pleased!  Red carpets for Madison the length and breadth of what might remain of Earth.

See, Madison's admitting the Earth will probably be totally destroyed in the wake of the Apparatus invasion, so the smart thing would be to have him throw in with the winning side and focus on making Lombar famous - which would work because Madison always destroys the people he tries to help.  He could even keep working on Heller this way, making him an outlaw not out of a mindless devotion to his last job, but because Lombar wants the Fleet and Army to go after him.  The character could've made sense, Hubbard!  The plot could've worked!  Why did you have to embrace the stupidity?!

By Chapter Four they're ready to begin.  Flip and other circus girls come in to strip Lombar, naturally commenting on his "nice (bleep)" before putting him in some celestial-decorated "shimmerfabric" robes.  Lombar's still balking because it is of course death for a lowly non-Royal to don a Royal robe, so Madison gives him more LSD.

Now, I don't know much about recreational drugs beyond that I won't be able to win any arcade games if I use them, but Madison informs us that when LSD first kicks in, "Set," or the state of the user's mind, becomes important, so he assures Lombar that he's "the most powerful being in the universe."  Or maybe it's "Setting," as Lombar is led into the throneroom with music blaring and holographic crowds of Lords bowing and scraping.  Why doesn't the Apparatus use these sort of illusions when it comes to blackmailing people?  Why didn't Madison rig up a virtual Heller to run around and make headlines?  Would the plot be any different if this was a crowd of Homeview extras forced at gunpoint to play dress-up?

Live on streaming video, Lombar is led before the imperial throne.  A "pontiff" and "priests" of Voltar's nameless, generic deities perform rites over the kneeling despot and hang him with gilded iron regalia.  Lombar bends the papier-mâché imperial scepter, forcing someone to run on-set and straighten it.   Boggle at how we've got true-to-life holograms in the same room with high school theater supplies.  The whores dressed as priests forget the crown, hurriedly retrieve the still-wet gold-painted prop, and inexpertly stick it on Lombar's head before reciting the sacred words "I think it will stay on" to the whole Confederacy.

In case you haven't noticed yet, this is intentionally farcical, unlike the rest of the book, which is unintentionally so.

Madison suddenly realizes he forgot to write the announcement speech for this occasion.  Someone trips over a wire and unplugs something important.  With nothing going on, Lombar starts to get restless on his throne.  And at this point any humor from these pages has since faded, making the reader almost feel sorry for this pathetic group of people utterly failing in their attempt to put on a dignified ceremony.  But that doesn't last long: Flip notices Lombar getting antsy and so sticks her hands through an unseen slit in the sides of his robes.

And just like that, the sympathy is gone, and things get uncomfortable, if not gross.

The electronics get replugged, and while Lombar is... being convinced to remain seated, "four, count them, four" holographic angels swoop down to declare that "Well, Hisst, old boy, you finally made it and it's about time!"  Hisst is now very happy with the world, and the camera focuses on his face.  Madison finally takes up a mic.

"Ladies and Gentlemen of the Voltar Confederacy," he said, "we have just brought you live, live, live, the crowning of Lombar the Magnificent. Due to circumstances beyond our control, a hiatus has occurred in the Royal line of Voltar. The outlaw Jettero Heller stole Cling the Lofty and it was vital during this time of national unrest that the throne be filled. In a self-sacrificing moment, Lombar Hisst, lately Chief of the Apparatus and more lately Dictator of Voltar, heeded the resounding demands of the multitude and took the throne by popular acclaim. This program has been brought to you by the courtesy of the Grand Council. Long Live Lombar the Magnificent. He will give his all."

And thanks to Flip, Lombar, well, does.  No doubt his expressions and panting really made an impression on his new subjects.

Back to Chapters One and Two 

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