Deep in the reeking hold of the Gaffgon, where darkness and misery and stench caught in the throat to strangle, Kree Lorin of Falcon's Nest came slowly to his senses and struggled to rise. But chains clanked to jeer his effort and pulled him down again. Stupidly he felt for his knife, then fumbled on the floor about him for his gun. The loss of the two served to speed returning sensibility.
I'd say Kree Lorin is a step up from Ginger Cranston, but Falcon's Nest? Wasn't that the name of Hitler's retreat? No, excuse me, that was Eagle's Nest, totally different. Definitely nothing to raise an eyebrow over, no matter how many blond heroes the author writes about, or how racist he may seem, or how authoritarian his heroes' methods are.
Lorin looks around, and is just able to make out "two tiers of captives" in the slave ship's hold. Evidently all hundred and fifty captives were shoved in the same vast chamber, which is lit by a whopping three light bulbs - wait, hold on. Two pages ago it was a line of 150 people being herded onto the Gaffgon, now it's
Here were at least three hundred human beings reduced to the last depths of degradation and despair, reduced even below the point of whimpering, as though they recognized already the finality of their fate, as though they knew that only two-thirds of them would reach Lurga alive and that half of those who remained would sweat out their lives in the factories and on the fields of that planet in the first two years of their captivity.
Guess the Lurgans picked up some other prisoners when we weren't looking.
So we've got a rehash of that wonderful chapter of human history, the Atlantic slave trade, complete with a big chunk of the prisoners dying en route to their new lives of servitude, just with the outrageous role reversal of honkies in the cargo hold. And like "The Great Secret" it's a story idea that falls apart when you transplant it to a sci-fi setting. Flying between worlds is a bit more complicated and expensive than floating a wooden construct across an ocean, you need to make sure you've got not just enough food and water to keep your crew and cargo alive, but also air and fuel. So given the increased initial investment in an interplanetary slave raid, wouldn't it make sense to try to maximize your return by keeping as many future slaves alive as possible?
Also, why do the Lurgans need manual labor on their homeworld? The Atlantic slave trade was about supplying workers for cash crops in the European empires' overseas colonies, they had plenty of peasants and lower-class workers to do manual labor back home. Yeah, you had to pay them wages, but you didn't have to pay for housing and food, either, and they were less likely to strangle you in your sleep with their manacles. So is there some catastrophic manpower shortage in this empire powerful enough to oppress other civilizations in this way? And where's the automation? Right now humanity hasn't gone further than the moon in our spaceships, and we're already worried about robots taking all the assembly-line jobs. Unless these captives are all highly-skilled technicians, what can they do in an advanced, spacefaring empire that couldn't be accomplished with cheap, obedient machines?
Maybe I'm giving these guys too much credit. Maybe it's another case of a civilization skipping key Industrial Age techs as they rush for a Space Race victory.
Anyway, Lorin spends about a page in absolute denial, imagining himself coming home to the family stronghold with the partridges he bagged in hand, a "lackey" taking off his spurs as Lorin tells his father about his hunt, and then there'd be the big celebration for his 21st birthday. He's too upper class to be a slave, dammit! And he's not just an aristocrat, he's a trained warrior!
He, Kree Lorin, was a soldier! His father had fought in those last devastating wars. He himself had been trained to the rifle and grenade. And in anticipation of yet other battles and revolts, he had been made to study the tongue of the Lurga Empire, the structure of spaceships, the rudiments of that vast complexity which was military and mechanical science in the year of the Defeat Thirty-nine.
He has, in other words, all the knowledge and skills that will justify his successful escape at the end of the story.
Once Earth had had its fleets to scourge the blackness of outer space. Once Earth had been a proud mistress of great empire, not a vassal planet led willfully into decay by the conquerors. He, Kree Lorin, had been brought up a soldier against the day of revolt-
Man, why's everyone got to be out to build themselves an empire? What's wrong with a democratic federation of worlds or an interplanetary confederation of equals? You really need to belong to a state that can subjugate others in order for you to feel good about yourself? Looking at you, Putin's Russia.
Oh, and I guess the raid took place on planet Earth, reduced to a pre-Industrial feudal society after a devastating defeat at the hands of an alien empire. Well, I say alien, but the slavers aren't even referred to as Lurgans, that name is conjecture on my part. Instead the narration just refers to them as "sailors" or "guards," and there's no description of them that makes them sound different from humans (or any description at all, really). The illustration accompanying this story depicts Captain Voris as a fat guy with a heavy beard and hairy arms, the same size and shape as the line of prisoners passing before him. "Voris Shapadin" doesn't sound any less human than "Kree Lorin," his rank was "feldcapal" which sounds like a mangling of the British rank of "field corporal," so for all we know the Lurgans or Lurgese or whatever come from a former human colony that has risen up to turn the tables on its former imperial master.
Man, this is the Saturnian situation from "Space Can" all over again, except these guys don't even have pointy heads. And I'm once again more interested in the backstory and implications of this conflict than whatever the protagonist is doing in the story.
Lorin's monologuing is cut off by choking despair, but before he can wallow in self-pity for too long, an amused voice recognizes him as Kree Lorin, and laughs that he's now in the hold of a slave ship. It's the defiant girl from the start of the story, and as Lorin stares at her,
He knew her now. The peasant girl of Palmerton. The peasant girl he had seized off the dusty road, lifting her saddle-high to attempt a kiss upon her lovely mouth. His own cheek stung for an instant in memory.
Oh goodie, one of those aristocrats. Man, why can't society ever slide back into feudalism while still retaining some degree of gender equality, or at least a modicum of respect for women?
Yes, this was she, Dana of Palmerton, whom he had afterward tried to bring to Falcon's Nest by bribing her slut of a mother. Dana of Palmerton, who would rather live in a corncrib a free woman than a pampered slavey in mighty Falcon's Nest!
Wow. Imagine that. Someone not liking the idea of being a slave.
Dana can't stop laughing - as a lowly commoner she was "made for a slave," but being in chains next to Kree Lorin, "the young hawk of Falcon's Nest," is just too delicious. And the only reason Lorin doesn't strike her is because he's still too tired and beaten to muster the effort.
I'll give this to Hubbard - he is a pro at making the reader hate his characters. We've only been with Lorin for three pages, and I already don't care whether he lives or dies, and would be entirely satisfied with him getting sucked out a hull breach.
Dana at least is gracious enough to come to his side when Lorin slumps in defeat, and uses some precious water from her cup and a rag torn from her dress to clean his injuries. Granted, she keeps a "detached disdain" during her ministrations, but Lorin puts up with it because of how much better his wounds feel. He doesn't actually thank her or anything, but not hitting her probably counts as a good deed, right? We have to work our way up to baseline human decency, here.
Lorin takes some more shocks, first when he feels the ship lift off and take flight, then again when he realizes something.
He, Kree Lorin of Falcon's Nest, had been accustomed to obedience from the people of the province. Just how or why he had never bothered to reason. He had not questioned his right until now that he was robbed of it. She, Dana of Palmerton, had a better command of the situation than he. She was therefore higher, somehow, than he. She, suddenly, was the superior being.
Ah, see, it's not just an "dramatic escape from slavery" narrative, it's also a "haughty aristocrat learns to respect his inferiors" sort of dealie. Action and character development, who could ask for more?
Our hero tries to reassure himself by repeating "I'm Kree Lorin, from Falcon's Nest," but the words seem meaningless even to him, and so we pass into a misery-based timeskip.
Air was too precious to be changed. Water was too scarce to be wasted.
So all the slaves died of oxygen deprivation? That seems to go against the captain's objective of selling them for a profit, but whatever.
And capsule food, a thing to which these people were not used, accelerated their enfeeblement.
I do believe this is the only time in a Hubbard story that I've seen him mention 'condensed' future food like The Jetsons' food pills.
Such stress pressed down their perceptions, and they might have been a week in space or a year for all they could recall. At first they had sometimes talked, sometimes there had been at attempt at song. But now no talk and certainly no song could be found in them.
The bad guy Voris makes an appearance to pick out the eight prisoners who are dying and need to be chucked before they waste any more air. Our hero Lorin is too depressed to react, though the scrappy Dana at least throws a pannikin at a guard (ooh, real hoity-toity way of saying 'cup,' Hubbard). Instead Lorin reflects on his family's arrangement with the peasants of Falcon's Nest, how they forced tribute from them in exchange for promises of protection, an arrangement that hardly endeared his family to their subjects. And now he's left a life without filth and suffering for an existence as a slave, and so on, and so forth.
The only interruption from the monotony of the voyage is when the bad guys search all the prisoners for knives, after finding one on a dying captive... wow, really? Didn't do that at the very start? Didn't run your slaves through a metal detector? Typical Hubbard villains. Well, when they do that, Dana strikes out at the sailor pawing her, which makes Captain Voris laugh, but also pay her special attention.
And so it is that the next time Lorin comes out of his funk, he realizes that things have changed. His wounds don't hurt, it's like he's thinking clearly for the first time in ages, and he finds that the chains and shackles next to him are empty.
Yep, it's not just an "escape from slavery" story, or a "proud noble learns humility" story, Lorin also needs to hurry to save his love interest (i.e. the only female in the story) from an "I have you now, my pretty" situation.
At least it's a Hubbard character trying to prevent a rape this time.
Back to Part One