Aware that five billion lives, some of them his friends,
The problem with making a drinking game out of this phrase is that it only appears in a certain section of the book.
and the future of a planet, Earth, would be determined in these coming minutes, Jettero Heller, combat engineer, not yet used to his new identity as the first Lord of the land, rose out of his chair on the dais and surveyed the turbulent room.
We're told that there's now three thousand people or so in the Grand Council chambers, while those watching Homeview in the streets have only increased in number. Apropos of nothing we're also told that "The new Emperor, Mortiiy, as was the custom, was leaving the conduct of the affairs of state to his Viceregal Chairman of the Grand Council, normally called Crown." So Voltar takes its royalty seriously, but the crowned buggers don't actually do anything, and yet the empire cannot function properly without them. Also, "Crown" is a stupid name for someone who doesn't actually wear one.
Heller stands, gives his golden tunic a tug, motions for another Royal Cymbal Clash of Silence, and makes his announcement - Hightee and the Nameless Master of Palace City have set up some entertainment in a nearby park, and everyone except the military leaders and the new Censor should go enjoy it. This gets a bunch of blank stares, and someone points out to "Crown" that they still haven't finished the proclamation about Earth's destruction. Heller insists that it's now a council of war, and therefore closed to the public, so "CLEAR THE ROOM!" Also, there's only fifteen hundred seats set up at the park. It's the threat of limited seating that finally gets them to leave. Voltar.
A certain journalist sticks around so Hubbard/Heller can yell at the media some more.
The Homeview director rushed up to the dais. "Please, Crown, Your Lordship, sir, can't I just leave one camera here? What you're taking up is historical!"
"No!" said Heller.
"Yes!" said the director.
"I have just begun to feel my privacy itch," said Heller. "In exactly ten seconds I will begin to think it has been invaded. GET OUT OF HERE!"
The director fled in fright.
Heller sent the guards, attendants and clerks away. He walked across the hall and barred the door himself--from within.
This would be a dramatic statement if the reader's response wasn't immediately "how would he even lock the door from the outside if he's in the room?"
Two new monitors in the hall are now showing that entertainment Heller promised, a stage and seats ringed by tanks and artillery, so we won't miss out on the show. In attendance are a bunch of nameless military dudes and the King's Own Astrographer, Heller's old buddy Captain Roke, who'll give some key testimony.
Heller starts by reminding everyone that His Majesty doesn't want to even hear about Planet Earth again, which Roke says is impossible since it's still on those damned Invasion Timetables. He brings up some visuals on the impractically-huge sixty by ninety foot... well, I'd say hologram, but there's no evidence it's 3D. Call it the Royal Jumbotron.
"There," said Captain Roke, "you see the scheduled Voltar invasions plotted for the next hundred thousand years. They take us as near to the habitable center of this galaxy as you can get.
Do you think they know about the supermassive black hole at the galactic center? Or do they assume that means all the really nice planets are just timeshifted into the future, safe from harm? Wonder why the Voltarians didn't settle those worlds first?
I am sorry, Jet my dear boy, and I am truly touched at your thinking of your old teacher and giving me my post back. I would like to show my appreciation. But neither I nor anyone else can fiddle about with the Invasion Timetables. Our forefathers charted them ages ago, even before the first colonists departed from the old galaxy. These tables are balanced against expected consolidation time of new acquisitions: there is no possibility, then, of overextension.
A civilization advanced enough to cross galaxies, and also to know that they won't be able to develop any further technologically or culturally, allowing them to precisely plot how long it takes to move to, conquer and consolidate another world. And a civilization assholish enough to take inhabited worlds by force rather than settle on uninhabited habitable planets, much less do some terraforming.
Hell, if your race can survive the long, cold darkness between galaxies, why do you need planets?
"There, right close to the top, you see Blito-P3. I'll admit that it is not the most important target on the table: it's an oddity in that there is only one inhabitable planet in the system.
Militarily, it would be of minor use in jump-offs to other targets later on, and even though it isn't vital, still, there it is. The invasion... let's see... yes... 115 years from today."
"And the tables have never been changed?" said Heller.
"No, my boy. Your ancestors and mine were pretty competent people. The only changes which have occurred have been to delay a bit or advance the times.
"Have the tables been changed?" "No, only a few times when they changed them." This book.
The last time the unchangeable invasion timetables were changed was when planet Chippo was scratched off them, after it developed nukes and went all World War III on itself, "resulting in a core boil" that reduced the world to a bit of dust. This is a pretty impressive feat, as an admiral explains even Voltar doesn't have anything capable of cracking the crust of a planet from orbit. So the people of Chippo must have gotten to the "inner face of the crust" and set off enough nukes to somehow boil the core, and of course that means the whole world blew itself apart. I'm sure the Chippo had a good reason to do it. Maybe they were worried about wandering poles?
As Heller puts it, the problem with removing a planet like Earth from the unchanging Invasion Timetables is that His Majesty was quite insistent that there be no cultural contamination. So an orbital bombardment is out - yes, they've got guns that can destroy a city in a shot, but unless you completely reduce the planet to dust it doesn't count. Even if they glassed Earth, there's still a chance someone could find a half-buried statue of Freud, and then it's all over. Drilling through the crust to set off planet-buster bombs would require landing a bunch of engineers and the scores of troops needed to defend them, because as we've seen Voltarians are incapable of infiltrating... Earth... um.
Anyway, the only solution a general can offer is "suicide battalions." Heller doesn't like suicide battalions, but that's the only way to avoid contaminating the soldiers trying to blow up the evil planet. There's no robotbrains or artificial intelligences capable of remotely operating mining equipment to set some bombs, and certainly not any AI smart enough to help pilot something like a tugboat.
Heller takes a moment to use a recording strip to play back Mortiiy's orders: "I never want to hear of Blito-P3 again! NEVER! Use one of those blank orders to dispose of Blito-P3, Earth, any way you see fit." Then he summarizes the situation: suicide battalions are the only way the Voltarian military can think of to destroy Earth without contaminating the rest of the galaxy, and since the Apparatus was looking at two and a half million men when they were planning their own invasion, Heller doubts they'll be able to find that many suicidal volunteers. A general warns that if they can't think of a plan they'll be violating their orders, and Stuffy reminds everyone that if nothing is done Voltar's population will start rioting again.
"We do thank you for your learned opinion," said Heller. He forbore to mention the role Stuffy had played in helping bring those crowds to boil. "I see on those end monitors that they're just about ready to start their entertainment. Let's watch it. Maybe we'll get an inspiration."
Well how about that, even Heller occasionally needs some "INSPIRATION!"
Back to Part Eighty-Eight, Chapters Six and Seven