Monday, May 16, 2016

Return to Tomorrow - Chapter VIII - Many Partings and Unfinished Physics Equations

I guess it's a good thing that the Hound of Heaven wasn't running low on food or air or fuel or anything, since there's no mention made of it stocking up while at Johnny's Landing, or the quartermaster or whoever being distraught that with the colony abandoned there's no one to resupply them.  And of course the crew spent their time on the planet digging up radioactive material instead of hunting or foraging or whatever.  I guess you have to be overstocked like that when you're blindly traveling through space, hoping that society won't have collapsed the next time you're trying to dock and unload whatever crap you picked up on the last planet you visited.

Anyway, now that the business on Johnny's Landing is concluded, Corday is in a good mood, because

He was going home.  He had no idea of his distance from Earth, the number of ship hours which had elapsed or the number of years which had passed on Earth.  But he was young and with each passing watch the hope beat higher.  Perhaps less than fifteen years would have passed.  If that were true, then he could realize his goals.

'cause I mean what's a decade or two for Twue Love, right?  Surely whassername will be faithfully waiting for him, and then he'll show her father all the money he made on his involuntary trip to another solar system, and then-

Wait, is Corday forgetting that he promised Dr. Strange his "pay for the entire cruise" in exchange for not telling Jocelyn that Corday was raving about a mutiny during his illness?  Um.  Well, it was twelve whole pages ago, and surely a lot has happened since then.

So like I said, Corday's in a good mood.  He's doing his duty with gusto, mastering the Hound's steering and damage control systems, and getting so good at astronavigation that he's able to tighten up Hale's courses and save them some time.  He's chumming it up with a handful of other crewmen who are also eager to get back to Earth, he's put aside any thought of Queen's mutiny, and he's even tolerating Jocelyn as a necessary, temporary evil.

And he's also deluding himself.  Corday is still being haunted by the evil spirits of Physics, the poor bastard, and when he's working on something else he sometimes looks down to find himself writing out those relativity equations - but he always stops short of actually working through the math and calculating how much time has passed on Earth.  He's also entering the wrong watch number in his crappy personal log, or the same watch number repeatedly.

But whatever, man, it's just numbers.  Corday... oh, is this why?  Well, Corday gets clever and, get this, uses psychology on Dr. Strange.  I'd say it's bizarre for a Hubbard character to use the methods of the enemy like that, but 1) Dr. Strange isn't really an antagonist and 2) Hubbard heroes are pretty damn hypocritical.  Anyway, Corday is able to chat with the weirdo about how chess is not a game about luck, but "a truthful commentary on a man's brains," and starts betting on matches so that by the end of the voyage, Corday's won back not only his entire pay for the voyage, but three thousand spacebux extra, which combined with his cut of the uranium haul would equal about twenty-five thousand spacebux.  Bam, student loans are done.

You know, if it were me, I'd have put this explanation about Corday winning his money back near the start of the chapter, so there's not three and a half pages of him being happy while the reader is wondering if he's overlooking something.  But maybe that'd interfere with the pacing and use up space that should be prioritized for reprinting those physics equations.

Anyway, there's another nod to the fundamental problems with interstellar commerce when another crewman expresses his hope that Earth is still using uranium when they get back, and brings up that time two voyages ago where they ended up hauling in a load of gold (of course) that nobody wanted.  But What.  Ever.  Corday is gonna go home to Chica and get married and tell everyone exciting stories about the rough characters that might be encountered on the long passage.  The poor bastard doesn't realize that there's eight more chapters in this book, which probably isn't going to spend the last half of the story focused on his happy domestic life in New Chicago.  I mean, we haven't had the scene on the cover with the spacemen in ridiculous space helmets and rayguns.

Eventually Jocelyn interrupts Corday's daydreaming to give word that they'll be at Earth in ten watches, and

And then, swimming up at them, green and blue and shimmering was the loveliest sight in the heavens - Earth!  She came to them like a grand queen, robed in her silvery mists, attended by her page, the Moon.  And the Sun Corona flamed beyond her in a fireworks of welcome.

Not even a break in the paragraphs.  Guess the story's in a hurry to get back too.  Also, we didn't get anything like this when we visited Johnny's Landing, did we?  No brief paragraph about Corday's first look at an alien world, we just cut to him already looking down at it from orbit ten hours after arriving, while Gow-Eater blathered about diamonds and women.  Wasted opportunity, like a lot of that chapter.

Corday gets to fume and seethe with impatience for a bit, because even though they've back home, Jocelyn insists on waiting in orbit for five hours, sending Swifty and his plane to "Take a scout and locate any possible wars or commotions, taking due care to fly well beyond the possible ranges and accuracies of any new weapons."  Yes, the captain is ordering a pilot to somehow divine the capabilities of hypothetical weapons developed while they were away.  No, there's no one at a control tower planetside sending the Hound landing instructions or a warning to stay away from Eurasia because Russia is at it again.  No, nobody's listening to broadcasts or radio signals coming from Earth and discerning what the situation is based on them.

Swifty doesn't come up with anything, so they end up landing in New Chicago at dusk, an event that takes all of a sentence.  Before he can go tearing off, Corday is summoned to Jocelyn's quarters by Snoozer, who has washed her face for once.  Corday says goodbye to with a pat on the hand and an "Aye, aye, countess."

You know, I may have to give Hubbard some credit here.  This may actually be foreshadowing and not something that was random and kind of creepy when first introduced.

Corday hasn't been in Jocelyn's quarters before, but don't expect a good, fat paragraph detailing all the fascinating nick-knacks that have built up over decades/millennia of adventure or anything that might help characterize this cruel and aloof captain - all Hubbard has to say about the room is that it's big and has some old flags in one corner.  As Mistress Luck is polishing Jocelyn's pistol... um, his actual handgun.  And holster.  Ahem.

Anyway, Jocelyn bids Corday sit down and, not unkindly, gives him a little speech, which I will abridge even further while quoting one or two high points.

"You are very young," said Jocelyn, "and you have a very great deal to learn.  But with application you may possibly some day make an excellent third in command."  He stretched out his legs and began to toss a small deck knife from hand to hand.  "You possibly conceive your liberty to have been violated when you came with us

Jocelyn is still an unrepentant dick, by the way.

and doubtless have many complaints of your treatment aboard.  I see you still bear two small scars on your right hand.  I am sorry, Mr. Corday, that such measures were necessary.  There is much you don't know."

Spoiler alert - nothing we learn by the end of the story will make us feel that Jocelyn has the moral high ground here.  He is simultaneously an enormous dick and full of crap, a veritable anatomical wonder.

Alan twisted around in the chair, trying to be polite. He could afford politeness now.

If it were me, I'd get through this meeting without punching Jocelyn only by thinking about how I was going to get off this ship, go home, grab a ray gun, walk back onto the ship, and put a new porthole in Jocelyn's forehead.  Corday may be a bigger man than I am.

Jocelyn goes on for another page about how the Hound will be in port for the next ten days or so, though they'll relocate slightly so they can get new engines installed.  When Corday says that he has no intention of signing up for another voyage, Jocelyn makes a remark about how "There are worse things that could happen to a man," but does write up some paperwork and pays out twenty-four thousand dollars for... huh, are these US dollars?  Jocelyn doesn't have to mix in the currencies of other worlds to get the full amount?  Did he have to adjust the pay for inflation?  Or are wages as stagnant in the future as they are now?

Whatever, Corday gets his spacebux and is free to go.

Alan stood up.  He gave a brief, formal bow to Mistress Luck and another to Captain Jocelyn.

"You will not reconsider now?" said Jocelyn.

This is like tying a guy up, force-feeding him sauerkraut for two months straight, untying him, and acting surprised that he would rather have a hamburger and french fries than more of the thing he didn't want in the first place, and only ate because you forced him to.

"You may not like what you find, Corday.  Believe me, the first return-"  He bit it off and stood up, not offering his hand.  Hard bitterness came suddenly back to his handsome face.  "I see that you won't.  Good-by [sic], Mr. Corday."

On his way out, Corday encounters Snoozer waiting wide-eyed in the passageway, and gives her a tip for some soap, "countess."  He also sees Jocelyn pour some powder into a hard drink, drain the glass, and hurl the empty container to shatter onto the floor.  Corday then pats Snoozer on the head and- okay, when you put the actions in that sequence it's a bit disjointed.  Maybe put Snoozer a bit further away so the light-hearted parting and dark drama don't overlap.

Or maybe it's all drama, because Corday thinks he can hear some girl sobbing as he heads to the gangplank, but he decides its "Some ship kid without shore leave," because who else could possibly be sad to see him go?  Certainly nobody he's bonded with over the voyage.

In leaving he noticed that his new-rigged sheeves had operated smoothly and that the gangway reached the precise distance to the ground.  And then, without another glance at the ship, hailed a hovering cab.

I've paged ahead to try to determine whether the cab was waiting expectantly around the spaceport, or whether it was literally hovering over the ground.  At best Hubbard says it "skimmed" along at one point, but that's still a bit ambiguous.  But hey, we're back on Earth now!  Corday is looking forward to being reunited with that girl of his and living happily ever after!  It's only been...

Well, the author's being coy and hasn't told us how much time has elapsed just yet, to deepen the upcoming shock.  But shouldn't that have been a part of Jocelyn's sales pitch?  "Kid, it's been-" oops, I won't spoil things just yet.

Back to Chapter VII

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