Friday, January 22, 2016

The Slaver - Part 3 - One Out of Nine Hundred Ain't Bad

Lorin pokes a nearby captive who hasn't done anything worth mentioning since the start of the story, and when pressed the other man grunts that the baddies took Dana "a while ago" before sliding back into apathetic despair.  Our hero doesn't berate this unhelpful informant, however, which is good because it'd be awfully hypocritical considering how much time Lorin has spent moping.  Instead Lorin pulls on his chains with all his strength, feels them shift, and succeeds in working out a kink in the restraints, utterly failing to break free.

If at first you don't succeed, try it again while screaming your lungs out.  Several other captives, "glad to break the silence of this place," join Lorin in howling like monkeys and rattling their chains, until a door opens and some guards come out to tell them to knock it off.  In Lurgese.  Which only Lorin, "taught against some day of victory the tongue of the conqueror," can understand, but they don't know that until he starts yelling back in the same language.  Stupid, but not too different from a tourist in another country repeating what he says loudly and slowly in hopes that another person will suddenly understand English.

Lorin does not shut up, but dares the guards to come over and make him, insults their mommas, and then demands that they shoot him because he knows he has the "spacard" and would rather die now than later.  They shoot him, the end.

No, of course the guards aren't that competent.  They almost shoot him, but they get a look at the slave's "unnatural brilliance of eye and the grayness of the cheeks" and decide to bring in a (drunk) doctor to check on Lorin instead.  Our hero had been hoping to lure his captors within striking distance of his chains, but instead they actually take him out of the hold and escort him into the vessel's small, stinky infirmary to see if he really does have "spacard," evidently some sort of space illness "which had swept more than one ship into aimless orbits in space."

The author at least admits that a better-run ship would have checked for and possibly inoculated against "spacard" at the start of the voyage, an important lesson that he completely failed to remember when he wrote the Ole Doc Methuselah stories five years later.  I mean, losing an entire cargo of slaves to a pathogen is one thing, but accidentally bringing a plague to your homeworld would just be terrible for business.

Anyway, three guards bring Lorin into the infirmary, the doctor tells them to get him down on the table for an examination, and though the goons are leery of potentially getting the "spacard," which does not sound any less ridiculous after typing it out four times, they get in close to manhandle our hero.  At which point said hero promptly lays into them with the chains wrapped around his wrists.  Cue a non-Hubbard action sequence.

A gun came up and the wielder's face turned into a red spatter.  The medico squealed and then fell, his hands plucking at his head in lessening strength.  The third sailor would have run had he been between Kree and the door.  He was not.  His gun was smashed from his hand.  The horror of the slave's appearance and the death which had struck the others numbed the remaining man's mind.  He thought about his gun, but not soon enough.  The chain caught him against the bulkhead, and for two or three seconds he stood there.

Remarkable, isn't it?  The protagonist just killed four bad guys, all in a single paragraph, and without a single exclamation point.  There were no incredible acrobatics or anything involved in the struggle, just the brute force of metal bashing in heads.  Excuse me, three bad guys are dead, the last is still struggling on the floor, propping himself up on an elbow, and now Lorin's coming over and - well, now he's four for four.  Not bad for someone who spent the last indeterminate time period chained up and ill from his wounds.

With all his opponents down, Lorin proceeds to loot the bodies, grabbing all the guards' pistols and strapping the spares to his waist.  It's not like one man can use four pistols at once, right?  Then he takes a drink from a convenient flagon of water and eats some "condensed food" he finds stored in the infirmary... ewww.  I mean, if we're optimistic and assume that it is food and not a can of medical waste, would you really want to eat anything found in a drunken, sloppy doctor's work area?  

Following this questionable decision, Lorin decides that he really needs to take one of the guard's jackets and caps, and also takes a razor and some soap because he's getting pretty fuzzy.  I guess if he happens upon a mirror and sink during his desperate escape from servitude, he'll take a moment to clean himself up.  Priorities and all that.

Escape sequence start.  Lorin moves into a long and open corridor, spies a ladder leading up and a guard at the top facing the other way.  Sneak attack pistol-whip to the back of the head followed by a finishing strike, then he struggles to stuff the body behind a hatch and out of sight, but the bad guy is just too big and a boot sticks out.  Our hero does his best and moves on to the next level.

Now, this is all taking place in the Gaffgon, a slave galleon big enough to carry hundreds of people, but still able to land on and take off from a planet without any problems.  But as we see when Lorin explores the new part of the ship, it also has a boat deck for all the "spaceboats."  Not skiffs or atmospheric craft to assist in a slave raid, we saw all the slavers operating on foot, and these things aren't simple escape pods either.  Oh, and the spaceboats are all stored in "bulges which jutted into the ship to preserve its streamline," because aerodynamics are so important for this wallowing space barge.

It's a good thing Lorin was taught the language of his enemies and the rudiments of space flight, because he's able to break into one boat, look over its control panel, and conclude that he can probably fly it.  But it's not time to escape just yet, there's still a damsel in distress to un-stress.  Lorin passes through a dormitory and another slave hold before finding a ladder to the bridge.  But just as he peeks into the top deck, alarm "gongs" begin to sound - someone noticed that boot sticking out from behind a bulkhead, or found that the doctor's stash had been raided.

As Lorin watches, a bleeding Captain Shapadin bursts from his cabin, demanding to know what's going on and ordering someone to stand guard over "that hellcat!"  As Voris rushes to check out the Number 3 hold and a bridge officer returns to his "tubes" ...really?  Going back to the tubes?  Even after we started with a nice, sensible viewscreen?  I'm not mad, Hubbard, I'm just disappointed.

The tubes prove distracting enough that Lorin is able to creep into the captain's cabin undetected, where he finds a bruised but unbowed Dana backed against a table, holding her dress together with one hand.

And then she saw Kree and recognized him.  Her body started and her face flooded with incredulity.  And then a mist swam before her eyes and she stumbled toward him.

It's amazing how a male protagonist is able to suck away any sort of agency from a female character in a story like this.  Dana was doing fine up until now, she was snarking about a stupid prince even after she got captured, she was defiant when Lorin was moping, she was even holding off the slaver captain while Lorin was eating powdered dingbat and stealing a razor.  But now that the story's hero is here, she doesn't have to do anything.  Lorin takes her by the hand, says "Come on!" and drags her behind as they escape.  He doesn't even give her a spare pistol.

A sailor steps into the cabin, and immediately gets shot between the eyes.  Lorin runs into the bridge, shoots the officer on watch before he can react, and then uses "flame cartridges" to smash up the vessel's engine and fire controls.  Dana contributes by screaming "Look out!" so Lorin can dodge a... well, I'm not sure.  We've mentioned flame cartridges, but these weapons don't spurt fire on people like a flamethrower, Lorin's victims have all been "shot."  Presumably they're some sort of energy weapon like your standard sci-fi blaster, except in a moment a near-miss will kick up a chunk of metal, which suggests a solid projectile.

Anyway, Lorin dodges the "shot" and blasts another mook before resuming the exciting escape.  Except it's so exciting that he takes a wrong turn and drags Dana to the wrong side of the boat deck.  He hasn't inspected any of these ships here or picked out which one he intends to escape on, and rather than wasting time by checking if any are spaceworthy, it's much better to spend time blundering through rooms to reach the other side of the ship.  They cut through a pantry and dislodge some servant who runs off screaming before our hero can murder him, and then reach a little armory of sorts with two riot guns left behind.  But Lorin isn't familiar with these weapons and doesn't know if he can reload them, so he sticks with the pistols on his belt.  Dana of course shows no interest in acquiring a weapon to defend herself with - why does she need one with this hero around?

Through that door is the starboard boating deck with that one dingy Lorin looked over, its hatch still open and waiting.  But we can't let this story end without a Boss Fight, so Voris Shapadin and a squad of nameless henchmen pick that moment to stumble upon the escapees.  Lorin stuffs Dana into cover before getting into a firefight, and there's an attempt at drama from our hero's limited ammunition - he's down to his last gun, which has ten shots remaining.  And I'm not going to try to go back and figure out how many flame-bullets these things had and how many Lorin's fired over the course of the story.  Ten shots?  Sounds good, author.

Since this is a standard action story with a standard action hero, the battle's outcome is never in doubt.  Lorin and Dana are able to carefully make their way to the boat's hatch, step by step, as "Cartridge by cartridge" Lorin picks off foes.  The last bullet, of course, goes into Captain Shapadin's... well, he's hit and goes down, don't sweat the specifics, or decide for yourself where the flame-bullet went.  The villain is slain, hurrah.

The heroes duck into the spaceboat, Lorin pounds the "jet buttons," the outer doors open and suddenly the little craft is accelerating so fast that it blinds the escapees.  A few moments later Lorin reduces speed and starts working out how to use the "jet helm," then looks around.  The Gaffgon is gone, but one star in the void is bigger than all the others, and our hero can see a planet orbiting it.

Kree became aware of the girl beside him.  Her wonderously blue eyes were fixed upon him as though she were hypnotized.

And then, as though she herself had only begun to believe it, she said "You... I... escaped!"

It's not actually stated whether this nearby planet is Earth, though.  If it is, this raises some questions about exactly how much time has passed on the slave ship, how fast it was going, and how the hell it hoped to make the trip between the Sol System and wherever Lurga is without everyone aboard dying of old age, to say nothing of running out of air.  If it isn't, this raises the amusing possibility of our heroes triumphantly landing on what turns out to be Lurga itself.

He was getting his equilibrium back now.  He grinned at her.  She dropped her glance in humility and leaned a little closer to him.

"I... I'm sorry for what-"

"Sorry?" said Kree.  "Sorry for what?"

Good question.  Dana's comments towards him in the cargo hold weren't exactly pleasant, but it's hard to blame her for laughing at the thought of some stuck-up feudal lord having to share a lowly fate with a humble peasant.  And she already earned good karma from tending to his wounds.

"But you... are a... a very brave and-"  She looked at him mistily.

"Brave?  Why," said Kree with an offhand wave of his arm, "why, of course I'm brave.  I am Kree Lorin.  Kree Lorin of Falcon's Nest."

And a dumbass.

Lorin manages to dupe some even stupider guards into putting him in a position where he can escape, then he subdues them, frees himself, and grabs a handful of guns.  Then he stuffs his extra weapons down his pants and goes all Bruce Willis on the rest of the bad guys.

There were three hundred other people in that cargo hold.  One of at least three cargo holds.  Potentially about a thousand other slaves, other people, were on that ship.  And it didn't occur to our hero to free any of them, hand them his extra weapons, lead a proper uprising.  For the slavers to hold out against those odds they'd have to be well-armed, organized, and have a solid amount of manpower, none of which we saw as one twerp was able to blast through whatever resistance the Lurgese put up.  But instead Lorin was concerned solely with saving himself and that hot chick who hates him, and didn't spare another thought for anyone else sitting in chains in the bowels of the ship.

And not only did he fail to free anyone else, Lorin smashed the ship's controls.  Disabled its weapons, so that even if the slaves managed to free themselves, they'd be helpless against another vessel.  Disabled its engine controls, so even if the slaves took over the Gaffgon, they could only fly along its current course until they all expired in the void or smashed into something.  Their only hope would be if anyone had the mechanical skill to fix a spaceship and knowledge of how to operate a Lurgese vessel, which as we've seen is something rare and restricted to nobles like Lorin.

But other than that, good job, Kree Lorin, you rescued the girl and can now return to your kingdom or whatever Falcon's Nest is.  Except it's just been depopulated by alien slavers, so there goes your economic support and manpower in case of war, thus breaking your feudal power base.  All this is assuming the nearby planet is Earth, and the "spaceboat" can get there a lot faster than the Gaffgon can get away from it, because there can't be much air on that thing.  And did you take the time to pack any food or water?

Well, he did pack that razor.  At least he'll be a clean-shaven corpse.

Back to Part Two

1 comment:

  1. So that's the end? I was wondering if I missed the paragraph where you said he freed the rest of the slaves, but he really didn't.