Monday, July 25, 2016

Slaves of Sleep - Chapter Three - From Prison to Brig

Last time, on Dragonball Z, our heroes flexed and grunted for twenty minutes accompanied by cutaways to other characters remarking how powerful they were becoming.  Meanwhile in Slaves of Sleep, Jan Palmer endured a joyless family dinner, struck out with a cute stenographer, was rudely awakened by an occultist who broke into his home to break into a jar, and then learned that genies were a thing when an unbound ifrit expressed his gratitude by nearly bisecting his rescuer before cursing Palmer with "Eternal Wakefulness," leaving Palmer to be arrested for murder.

The narration insists that Palmer is just too stunned by these recent developments to protest as he's brought to a police station and led to a cell, but given the amount of backbone he's shown so far, I'm skeptical he'd offer much resistance even if he hadn't just seen a magical creature kill someone in front of him.  At any rate, Palmer isn't freaking out or anything, he's found a comfortable depression to sink into.

Seeing the cell and the cellmate and believing it was a cell and a cellmate were two entirely different things.  Jan sat down on a bunk and looked woodenly straight ahead.  He was in that frame of mind where men behold disaster to every side but are so thoroughly drenched with it that they begin to discount it.  It was even a somewhat solacing frame of mind.  Nothing worse than this could possibly happen.  Unlucky Fate had opened the bag and pulled out everything at once and so, by lucid reason, it was impossible for said Unlucky Fate to have any further stock still hidden.

Well, we've got a personified Fate again, though since this story predates Mission Earth I guess it's more accurate to say that this could be the genesis of Hubbard's melodramatic musings about an incarnation of predestination.  Also, the narration notes that the police station is crowded due to a "gang of counterfeiters," so that's familiar too.  Presumably they'll only be briefly detained before being executed.

The next three pages are all Palmer interacting with his cellmate, who goes through some distinct phases.  First there's the "That's my bunk" bit where he bullies Palmer into taking the drooping, stinking, pallet without any blankets.  Then there's the "What'd they baste you wit'?" bit where Palmer gets to explain that he's in for murder, only he didn't really do it, in fact it was a genie who picked up a sword and killed that man.  This talk of an "Igpit" confuses Palmer's cellmate, until he concludes the new guy is a "sniffer" like he used to be, and so the other prisoner decides to be a mentor of sorts.  He introduces himself as Diver Mullins, a pale, weaselly fellow who was arrested with $800 of another man's money in his pocket, and the narration tells us "There was no mistaking the evil in that face," we know he's a real bad guy.

Did Hubbard think that a handsome villain would confuse readers?  Thinking back, the only baddie who wasn't obviously weaselly or hideously deformed or just plain ol' ugly was Madison.

Mullins repeatedly proclaims that he doesn't doubt Palmer's story for a moment, but advises that our protagonist come up with something that will go over better with the judge.  But Palmer's too tired to really listen.  He thinks back on his encounter with Zongri and is "almost certain" that the jinni was speaking in Arabic, which Palmer doesn't know, but he was somehow still able to understand.  Then Palmer decides that "Perhaps it wasn't really Arabic," so... well, Hubbard, why'd you bring it up?  With this pointless train of thought abandoned, Palmer wonders about that curse of "Eternal Wakefulness," but isn't able to make much progress before nodding off.

The thing which happened immediately thereafter was the turning point in the life of Jan Palmer, for one - even beyond the effect of the murder.

I think it'd make more sense to bundle this with the murder, and just say that Palmer's life was turned upside down when that jinni escaped from its copper jar.

He went to sleep but he didn't go to sleep.

Don't groan, this sentence works, like going to the bathroom but not going to the bathroom.

He had a sensation of dropping straight down.  Heretofore he had been aware, in common with all men, of a delicious period of semi-wakefulness preceding and succeeding slumber.  But from that period he had always gone into a deep sleep (so far as he knew) or had come fully awake.  Now he felt as though the world had been obscured by a veil which no more than dropped than it was ripped startlingly aside.

Yes, Palmer is about to be confronted with the terrifying truth about the nature of reality.  You think you live in a world bound by rationality and science, but in fact...

A hail rang hysterically in his ears, "Breakers two points off the sta'b'd b-o-o-o-o-w!  B-r-r-reakers two points off the sta'd'b bow!  Captain, for the love of God, we're on the rocks!"

...you're really in a third-rate fantasy story, specifically on a boat, because the author was a sailor and wants you to know it.

Palmer has just enough time to realize he's holding a ship's helm before the boat crashes into a reef with an impact that "rocketed him all the way across the quarterdeck, from binnacle to scupper."  Sleepy crewmen stumble out of the fo'c's'le, sails are deployed so the ship "picked up a bone and scudded back into the safety of the sea," someone yells "Lively now," and I'm sure somewhere there's a reader whose soul is singing as the author paints a picture of an experienced crew working the properly-described rigging while an officer bellows authentic orders, but that reader isn't me.

Once the crisis is over and the ship is safely sailing through the night, its captain comes for the helmsman caught asleep at the wheel.  Said captain is an ifrit, huge and fanged with eyes of flame, and he keeps talking about some troublemaker named Tiger being responsible for it, even though it's Palmer he's kicking around.  How odd.

This gross dereliction of duty means that only a taste of the "cat" is a suitable punishment, and for an extra bit of sadism the condemned is sent to fetch it.  Oddly enough, Palmer goes along with this, even though he has to get directions to where the flail is stored, making other crewmen ask "Tiger" if he's ill.  The narration informs us that Palmer's head is still "roaring and spinning," probably so we'll conclude that he's so befuddled that he can't protest as he's ordered to retrieve something which will shortly be shredding the flesh of his back.  But again, I'm skeptical that Palmer would be capable of standing up for himself even in less confusing circumstances.

Palmer eventually finds the flail in a room amidst muskets and cutlasses, and though it's called a cat o' nine tails this one has twelve, and is so heavily-studded with brass that Palmer can barely carry it back to the captain.  He willingly removes his shirt, willingly bends over a rail, shrieks in agony after the first hit, and then Palmer is properly motivated to drop to his knees and beg forgiveness, stammering that he has no idea where he is and as far as he knows he just got here.  So either the threat of horrible pain wasn't quite enough to get Palmer to stand up for himself and he changed his mind after getting a taste of the lash, or else the blow from the flail knocked his backbone into working condition.

The jinni captain is quite astonished to find "Tiger, of all men, beggin' for mercy and lying in the bargain," before sending him below for a proper inspection - maybe getting thrown to the deck when the ship ran aground did something to Tiger's head.  Palmer lets himself in the captain's quarters and takes a moment to collect himself, only to be shocked again when he looks into the room's mirror.

Yes, now that he made a closer examination, it was himself.  But what a difference there was!  He, Jan Palmer, was a thin-faced, anemic fellow, but this brute who was staring back at him was bold of visage, brawny of arm, tall and... yes, he had to admit it, not bad at all to look upon.  

It's not gay if you think your reflection looks good, even if you don't fully recognize it.

But the knife scar which ran from the lobe of his ear diagonally to his jawbone... where had that come from?  He felt of it and peered more closely at it.  He didn't really object to it because it didn't mar his looks but, in truth, rather gave him an air.

Puzzled, he looked down at himself.  His blue pants encased very muscular and shapely legs.  His bare chest was matted with blond hair.  He looked back at his image as though it might solve the riddle for him.

At least he kept his pants on.

The captain, who will get a proper name two chapters from now, be patient, is flabbergasted that Tiger had the temerity to let himself into his quarters, though that might prove that there is something wrong with him.  He inspects the sailor's skull, threatens a terrible punishment if this is all a trick, and again is astonished when "Tiger" flinches back in fear.  Palmer tries to explain that the last thing he knew he was sleeping in a cell in Seattle, Washington, a port the captain has never heard of.  But when Palmer gets to the part of his story where a ifrit burst out of a copper jar, the captain realizes that Palmer is talking about Earth, and when Palmer mentions the name Zongri, the captain is astonished to hear that the old heretic has been freed.  And when Palmer says he got cursed with Eternal Wakefulness, the captain rants about Zongri's foolishness and how carelessly inflicting such a curse is just "like him."

So unlike in the "real" world, Palmer actually finds a sympathetic ear in this one.  Cap'n Nameless for the Moment gets Palmer to swear to keep these details to himself, and has him put in the brig under guard by a reliable marid - we'll get to those later too.  And so the chapter ends with our hero, once again, being escorted to a cell.

You can probably guess what that Curse of Eternal Wakefulness does by now, and if not don't worry, the book will explain it... eventually.  If you do have a guess of what this curse has done to Palmer, you won't be too shocked next chapter when we go back to Seattle.


Back to Chapter Two

1 comment:

  1. Am I sensing another Gris-Heller Dichotomy in this story?

    ReplyDelete