Monte scampers out to watch the incoming spaceship land. It's coming in so fast that he's at first afraid that it will crash, but of course at the last second it pulls out of its dive and "settled on its tail so gently, it hardly bent the grass."
Again, I'm perplexed why a society with hover tanks and other antigrav devices would design spaceships that land on their tails. I'm also confused why you'd land such a ship on the grass rather than a launch pad, since you'd set the lawn on fire if you took off like that. This would also make disembarking more difficult, as the pilot has to throw out and slide down a safety line to reach the ground, while if he'd put down on some ventral landing gear he might've been able to extend a stepladder or something. But I'm just a stupid Earthling, what do I know?
The ship's pilot is in "a pale blue civilian suit, without ornament but of expensive cut." Remember, Heller is rich as balls, and while he's too heroically modest to slap a lot of bling on his clothes, we need to recognize how pricey they are regardless. After someone still inside the ship tosses him some luggage and packages, the pilot ignores a flight crew belatedly wheeling out a stepladder to walk Monte's way.
IT WAS JETTERO HELLER!
He was quite tall, very slender, the sort of man who even in late middle age keeps himself in condition. Although his features had thickened, he was still a very handsome fellow. He fixed his gray-blue eyes upon me.
Pretend to be shocked that the man who Krak mentioned was coming home last chapter did, in fact, come home this chapter.
Heller asks if Monte's the guy he heard was meeting with Hightee, and our current narrator introduces himself. Then he asks if the spaceship, which is of course a tugboat, is Tug One. Even though Monte wrote about how the ship exploded in the Great Desert a century earlier, he recognizes its description from the story he's assembled, identifies those awful Will-be Was engines, "distinctly saw silver handrails" when Heller opened the airlock, and furthermore it has Prince Caucalsia written on the nose. Heller frowns and denies this charge, and mentions that it sounds like Monte has been "gossiping" with the ladies of his family.
Monte proclaims himself an investigative journalist here to write a story on "Your Lordship, Sir"'s life, and "Just call me Jet" agrees to help, leading the twit inside. After Heller hands over packages meant for Hightee and Krak to a nearby minion, Monte talks about his would-be publisher, also giving us some exposition about the pathetic state of Voltar's media. Before Monte started his Mission Earth project, no one had made the connection between the famous racer, athlete and space commando Jettero Heller and "the enormously popular and fabulously wealthy Duke of Manco." Nobody asked who the new Viceregal Chairman of the empire was when he came to power a hundred years ago, and nobody in this backwards civilization obsessed with Royalty and hereditary titles was able to figure out where the newest Duke of Manco came from. And again, there is not a single published biography of Heller.
Monte also mentions how he got into the Apparatus vaults at Spiteos, hoping to "trick" Heller into making some sort of incriminating comment, but the guy's reaction is only a bland "imagine that." Heller then moves the conversation to - this is not a terribly exciting chapter, I'm sorry - Monte's personal life, and our narrator complains some more about nobody taking his writing career seriously, and his family trying to get him to marry Lady Corsa of Modon. We end up learning a lot about Heller's views on marriage.
"Lady Corsa?" he said, wide-eyed. "Why, she's the heiress to half of the planet Modon!"
"She's awfully athletic, half again my size. And she has no soul at all! She thinks writing is a waste of time."
"But, good Heavens," said Heller, "you'd wind up one of the richest men on Modon in another half-century. The lands of that planet are legendary for their productivity and the uplands are beautiful and full of game. A paradise!"
This doesn't sound like something you'd expect from a guy who fell in love at first sight with a woman who didn't officially exist, and who only restored Krak's land and title after she procured the means for it. Should we go back and re-examine Krak and Heller's courtship? Could there be evidence that he was interested only in a fling with an attractive psycho until he learned about her true identity? Did he only commit to marriage after learning that she should own the demesne of Atalanta, and was so swept up in the Prince Caucalsia legend that he decided to seal the deal and take the lands?
You can if you want. I've got The Invaders Plan buried under a stack of other Hubbard crap, and there may it rot.
Monte bemoans how "provincial" such a life would be and stresses the importance of his writing career, so Heller takes pity on the guy and settles in for the biographical interview. Monte turns on his generic recording device and mentally prepares himself for the "adroit and tricky questioning" that would unravel the greatest conspiracy of all time.
"I was born," said Heller, "in Tapour, Atalanta Province, planet Manco, 127 years ago."
I was tense. His eyes took on the hue of nostalgia and reminiscence. Now I would get down to it.
"Then," said Heller, "I lived until now. And here I am."
I felt the very room spin. I opened my mouth. I closed it.
A bland and innocent smile remained on Heller's face.
And so the hero, like the book he stars in, knowingly and maliciously wastes our time.
While Monte is still reeling from the impact of Heller's trolling, Duchess Krak comes in.
Some footfalls were sounding in the hall. The Duchess of Manco swept in. Despite her age, she was beautiful. She was wearing a dinner gown that shimmered blue and yellow and seemed to reflect the color of her hair and eyes. Had I not known how old she was, her skill at makeup would have had me fooled.
So did the author forget that Monte met her last chapter? Or does Krak Wearing Makeup count as a separate character warranting another introduction?
Krak chides Heller for surprising her with an early return and for his "jokes" with Monte, whom she says is only trying to get him the recognition that Heller deserves. Heller deflects this by agreeing that he wants recognition "that I'm starved. What's for dinner?" And that's all Monte was able to get out of his visit to the Duke of Manco. We're not told whether he went home crying immediately or tried and failed throughout the rest of the evening to get Heller to cooperate, but either way, it's pretty sad.
So you see?
HE IS STILL ENFORCING THE HUGEST COVER-UP THE CONFEDERACY EVER SUFFERED!
Pretend to be shocked that the guy who went through such lengths to bury the existence of planet Earth a hundred years ago is still doing so today.
But there is still time, dear reader, there is still time. The sacred Invasion Timetable can yet be restored and executed. However, as Shafter is reminding me, I have not told you all.
Yeah, we've learned what happened to Earth and Heller and some other nominally good Voltarians, but we haven't gone into the fates of the other half of the cast. Next time we start tracking down the book's outright villains.
Back to Envoi I-ii and I-iii