These next two short paragraphs explain so much of what makes Mission Earth terrible.
Heller had gotten a drink of sparklewater, eaten a sweetbun, washed his face and changed to a golden Lord's tunic that the master had dug up, but he had girded it with his officer's belt and sidearms. He took his place now on the dais.
The author focuses our attention on Heller's physical well-being and appearance, putting him in a commanding role at the center of attention, but burying his thoughts and emotions, so that Heller best expresses himself through action. He is both superficial and closed to us, yet we are supposed to care about and emphasize with him.
The Countess Krak sat down on a small stool to the side and slightly behind his chair. She sat there as though in mourning, suffering and silent.
Krak is miserable and Heller either doesn't notice or doesn't care. He didn't explain his actions before going into that room with Teenie, and he hasn't done so between rousing Krak from her faint and getting her to the conference room. Krak, despite occasional outbursts of agency in earlier volumes, has returned to her passive role, only able to sit and suffer from want of her beloved's affections. She is a helpless inferior in this relationship, subject to the cruel whims of the man she inexplicably wants to marry.
We go immediately from Krak is Miserable to whimsy, as Heller's attempt to use his gun like a gavel is interrupted by a proper fanfare, and the orchestra maestro winks at him. Heller has to repress as laugh as he holsters his weapon, realizing that "like Mortiiy, I've got to realize those days are over." Tee hee. See to your fiancée, you tremendous dickwad.
There's an "instant rushing snarl" when Heller announces that they're ready to deal with the Earth girl and her catamites, which causes him to mutter to himself "I've got to play this very, very cool," because otherwise how would we know what goes on in his head? The crowd of notables is baying for blood, and Heller announces that he's conducted a quite severe treaty with this Hostage Queen of Flisten... huh. Wonder what Flisten's reaction to this is? Maybe they're ready to disown this "queen" who claims to represent them.
Doesn't matter - Heller declares that "Mere execution is too quick," and Teenie, her servants, and the catamites, and Madison, and his film crew, all need to suffer more than that. So they're being exiled to a "barren rock far out in the ocean" and cut off from the outside world, to "sink, alone, in the infamy of their own Hells!" There's a standing ovation as the crowd goes wild, and Heller passes on the proclamation for everyone to sign.
But wait a minute. To punish these people, for whom a quick death is too merciful, the good guys are going to ship them off to some isolated location and leave them alone. This sounds strangely similar to Voltar's approach - and therefore the ideal approach - to mental health, which is to ship any mentally-disturbed individuals off to an isolated camp until they start acting normal again. Interesting.
It's only now, four pages into the chapter, that Heller interacts with Krak at all. He subtly passes her the toy he picked up last chapter, a kid's play camera.
"There was no Homeview around," he whispered, "so I had to do it myself."
She took it. Such devices have ten minutes of picture time in them. On the back is a little screen that shows what has been shot. The things are just junk and the quality is awful. Two-dimensional.
And here's another one of those odd little moments, a shift in verb tense that reminds us that some alien historian is supposedly telling us this tale based on historical records and interviews. Or possibly that the author's brain was dying while he wrote this.
Below the level of the table, Krak turned it on, feeling very sad.
Wonder what she's expecting to find? If she's sad about viewing the footage, does she think Heller filmed his indiscretions with an underage girl, and wants to rub salt in her wounds by showing it to her? She's not feeling hopeful or confused, so obviously she's assuming the worst. Why is she watching, then? Guess she's so well-trained now that she can torture herself.
The video-camera-player instead shows Heller negotiating with Teenie with his pants on. He explains how it'd be best if she left the palace, which she's okay with so long as she can bring her crop of pot, a request Heller agrees to. He'll surrender Madison and his crew into her custody, but warns that there's a bunch of criminals in that gang, so she'd better keep them behind bars. And the "barren rock" he wants to exile Teenie to is of course Relax Island, with its luxurious accommodations and extensive dungeons - Heller visited it once while surveying after an earthquake, you see. It's nice if you don't mind the occasional volcanism.
As for Gris, we finally get the full terms of his sentence: his "final execution" (as opposed to his first and second executions) via gibbet and exposure in front of a Royal prison will take place after a life sentence in a jail designated by the Hostage Queen of Flisten. In other words, he'll sit in Teenie's cell until he croaks, then they'll dangle his corpse back on the mainland until it falls apart.
"Now, I'm only doing this because you intimated you simply wanted to keep him in a dungeon. I wouldn't have suggested he be turned over to you if I thought you were going to torture him. I don't hold with torture."
"Oh, I won't," said Teenie. "I just want the comfort of knowing he's nice and safe in a quiet dungeon. I give you my word I won't even touch him."
Teenie, you may remember, is a compulsive liar.
So the evil Madison has been condemned to life on an island paradise having sex with a woman who isn't his mother, Gris isn't even going to be tortured a little, much less executed for all his murders, and Teenie gets to party with five hundred studly nobles and a small army of catamites. This is... justice? Punishment?
Well there's obviously no way to reform any of these characters, no discipline of mental health that could be used to unravel their problems, but it wouldn't be heroic for Heller to have anyone executed, even if that someone is Gris. But you might be wondering why they have to go to Teenie's island, and why they can't revoke Teenie's title and put Madison and Gris in a Royal prison instead of a tropical resort. That's because the author wants to have his cake and eat it to, as we'll see later.
[Krak] whispered to Heller crossly, "You shouldn't have made me think you were doing something else! You and your jokes!"
"It wasn't a joke," said Heller. "Maybe those catamites will get the idea they should be men. I couldn't arrange any treaty in a room with all that yowling, but maybe, too, it helped her pride to make them think it was her feminine charm that had worked."
"Your mental well-being was way, way down on the list."
Krak snorted. "You and other people's feelings!"
"Keep that camera and strip with my files," said Heller. "I might need it to safeguard my own reputation or defend myself from your accusations in some fight."
"Oh, Jettero, I was just fooling. I've learned my lesson. I'm not jealous anymore."
And there you go - Krak learned her lesson! Teach her to ever doubt the fidelity of the incredible Jettero Heller. Well, obviously she did doubt it, and did assume the worst about her future husband. But she was a good girl and took it rather than trying to do anything about it, and that's what matters.
"Oh, yeah?" he said in English.
That made her laugh. "Jettero, it's not my jealousy that's liable to come between us: it's your awful sense of humor!"
And your emotional distance, inability to communicate, smug pleasure in misleading others...
"You just laughed," he called to her attention.
That broke her up. The world looked much better.
But that was that world, the world of Voltar. The fate of another world, Earth, would be settled forever this very night!
And in a pretty amazing way, let me tell you. We just have to slog through another forty or so pages to get there.
Back to Part Eighty-Seven, Chapter Five