Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Great Air Monopoly - Part Two - Survival

So the Morgue has been 'sploded, and Big Lem Tolliver and his goons are rounding up all the slaves who had been crowding around it in hopes of getting some sort of medical assistance, the poor, deluded sods.  No, none of them were hurt or killed by the exchange of starship-grade weaponry or a spacecraft being slagged, they're still able to whine about needing air.  Big Lem just grumbles "teach you to breathe air you didn't pay for."

The big bad is in a hurry to leave, because this wrecked spaceship looks "a shade too hot for me," which reminds me - isn't the Morgue nuclear-powered?  Needs a fission reaction to get going, and an atomic "pile" to run?  Might be a bit dangerous if one of those exploded right next to you.  You'd probably need to take a shower afterwards, really wash your hands to get all those radiations off.

Since those "Persephon-castes" were greased by Ole Doc, Big Lem's flunkies will have to take over walking the weak and gasping slaves to wherever it is they're going, which upsets them.  That is, upsets the goons.  The slaves being upset is pretty much a given.  Anyway, our villain gives a little speech explaining why he gets to ride home and they don't.

"If I say walk, you'll walk," said Big Lem.  "And if I say walk straight out into space, you'll walk.  And if I say hoof it from here to Galactropolis, you'll walk every condemned light-year of it barefoot.  If I can't have my orders obeyed, who can?  And if you can't obey Big Lem Tolliver, you can't obey nobody.  Who thought up this company?  Who makes it work?  Who handles all the paper work and hires politicians and abdicates kings when he chooses?  Who keeps the whole confounded planet running and your belly full.  Lem Tolliver, that's who  And what's Air, Limited but Lem Tolliver?  And what's Arphon but Lem Tolliver?  And that makes me a planet."

Yes, "paperwork" is rendered in two words in the text, and yes, a rhetorical question is missing a question mark.  But there, the bad guy has done his best to make us hate him so we'll be happy when he's defeated at the end of this 45-page story.  Maybe if the author had more space to work with, Tolliver could be something more than just another arrogant bully who somehow managed to get a world under his thumb... but given the 'depth' of Mission Earth's villains, I don't think we can blame the medium for this story's shortcomings.

Just before everybody leaves, they spot someone crawling out of the Morgue's wreckage, dragging another someone along with them.  Tinoi, Tolliver's number two, swoops in to grab Her, the missing slave, who turns out to have a name after all... man, what does it say when we learn an 'important' character's name from a mid-level bad guy, and not our hero as he's trying to 'romance' her?

Anyway, She is Dotty Grennan and was enslaved specifically for Tolliver, but now she has an enormous burn on her face that claimed one eye, so the bad guy's interest has waned.  They still add her to the slave train, though, "Some men will buy anything."  Maybe market her as a fixer-upper?

The prisoners' departure is delayed when some of the slaves are too busy gasping for "Air!" to walk, so Big Lem reluctantly lets his men get some "charges," little cylinders marked "A. L." that are exploded to release a green fog that revitalizes the slaves.  This is probably a Clue we should note as we unravel the mystery of the Great Air Monopoly.  Now let's split up, gang.

Big Lem watched the crowed move off.  He knew Tinoi would probably be carried most of the way in litters made by Connoly and he understood what would happen to a couple of those younger girls.  And he knew a dozen would be sold and reported dead.  But Lem Tolliver could appreciate that kind of loyalty and wouldn't ever have understood another kind of man.  He grinned as the last of the disappeared in the trees and without another look at the smoking spaceship, boarded the Southcraft Raider and took off.

If you feel like we're forgetting something, well done, you're smarter than a Hubbard Villain.  Yes, nobody noticed who Grennan pulled out of the wreckage with her, nobody checked the other scorched form laying on the grass, and nobody put a blaster round in the forehead of a helpless victim who was presumably part of the crew of the ship that threatened the Raider.  And this is how Ole Doc is able to wake up an hour later.

He spends some time enjoying the breeze and scents, marveling that "It was quite novel to be alive and so glad to be alive," which seems to suggest that Ole Doc is really suicidally depressed all those times he's singing space shanties or whimsically solving a planet's problems.  Eventually he takes notice of the state of the Morgue, and finds that while the upper turret is mangled and there's a hole in its twisted keel, most of its innards are intact, and "her tubes at one end and her texas on the other were untouched." And now you know about the archaic custom of naming ships' cabins after states recently added to the Union.

Ole Doc tries to get up, but discovers to his discomfort that "his palm was seared away and his wrist sprained or broken," and one of his boots was "almost seared off."  But don't worry, his foot is fine underneath it, and despite being pulled out of a burning spaceship there's no lung damage from smoke inhalation or fumes - not that the author thinks to mention it.  Evidently Ole Doc's stupid cloak protected his torso, which suggests that the gaudy piece of fabric is some sort of special material in addition to being an eyesore, but Hubbard doesn't spell this out.

Our hero then notices that "the young woman" was missing, and I had to spend a couple of minutes flipping ahead through the rest of the story to confirm that there is no indication that Ole Doc ever got the girl's name.  He never refers to her as Dotty or Miss Grennan, and even the narration continues to call her "the girl."  And yet Ole Doc invited her to his quarters, presumably in anticipation of some obligatory rescue sex.  Did they not introduce themselves at any point, or were they in that much of a hurry to get their clothes off?  Wait, no, Ole Doc was spared grievous bodily harm because he had his stupid clothes on...

Whatever, Ole Doc realizes that either the girl or Hippocrates must've been the one to pull him free, and then realizes his slave is still unaccounted for.  He searches the ship's texas as well as the "tube rooms," but can't find any sign of the weird little alien.  He gets his hopes up when he hears clanging from the galley, but it's the fully-baked birthday cake being ejected from the oven.  A thousand years in the future we'll have automated ovens that can eject a cooked confection instead of burning it, but aren't quite advanced enough to put on the icing and candles for you.

Ole Doc closed the galley softly as though he had been intruding on a private life and stood outside, hand still on the latch.  For a long, long time he had never thought about it.  But life without Hippocrates would be a desperate hard thing to bear.

Yet we never see Ole Doc applying those vita-rays or whatever to keep his sidekick as immortal as he is.  But that's probably against the rules or something.  Immortality is only for those elite few who are heroically keeping everyone else in the galaxy stupid, not their slaves.

Ole Doc gets an "amputator" from the operating room that "would saw through diamonds with cold fire," more than enough to carve away at the battered door to the dorsal turret, as well as some ropes and mattresses to get the 500-kilo alien out.  He uses a thermometer to see what parts of the metal are hotter than the rest so he doesn't accidentally slice through Hippocrates, and eventually uncovers his slave, who "lay curled into himself as though asleep," pinned down by a melted girder and seared black from the heat of it.

The slave still has a pulse, and Ole Doc carefully extracts him from the turret, but he's actually a bit out of his depth here - even though he bought Hippocrates at an auction two to three hundred years ago specifically because he was curious about the unspecified alien's anatomy, our hero never actually got around to figuring out how the frog-lizard works!  In fact, "Other than diet, which was gypsum, Ole Doc knew nothing about the slave."  Wow.  Wow.  Little blighter lives with you for three hundred years, is your faithful servant as you travel around the galaxy, reminds you to take the medicine that keeps you alive, and you didn't show a modicum of interest into the fellow, huh?

So since "Hippocrates was physician to himself," Ole Doc has to search the tiny cabin he's given to his slave behind the galley, but can find nothing but some black ink, white paint, and "some amulets which looked like witchcraft."  Defeated, the doctor checks Hippocrates again, finds his heart beating fainter, and so searches the galley for a stimulant since he's seen the alien drink before.  Instead he finds an unfinished letter - a sheet of paper, with ink blots on it from the pen - that Hippocrates had addressed to a Bestin Karjoy of Minga, Arphon, whose father evidently can fix up an "old complaint" Hippocrates is experiencing.  And getting this letter transcripted and sent somewhere would have cost five dollars a word, "outer space rates."

I need to read some other classic sci-fi stuff, see if other authors had this blind spot when it came to how we'd send messages in the future, because good grief.

But Ole Doc has a name now, an objective to head towards, and a real mission.  He writes the unconscious Hippocrates explaining where he's going, which reminds him to treat his wounded hand.  Ole Doc does so hastily by jamming his forearm into a "catalyst vat," healing the wound too fast so that it would scar instead of regenerating perfectly, but "what was a scar?"  The Morgue's gig survived the explosion, and so Ole Doc hops into the vehicle and sallies forth to save his slave.

And now we know why that girl slave only had her name mentioned once, and not by her obligatory love interest - she's not really important to the story beyond serving as a distraction at a critical moment.  Ole Doc's not wondering where she went, he's not all that interested in this "air monopoly," and he's certainly not worried about those hundred or so humans sentenced to miserable bondage.  But someone broke his manservant, so he's off to get Hippocrates fixed, and will just so happen to save that girl and end the air monopoly and all that rot in the process.

Back to Part One

1 comment:

  1. Wow, the sexism in this thing is just horrible, isn't it?