Friday, August 19, 2016

Slaves of Sleep - Chapter Twelve - Seal My Problems Away

And I guess nothing worth mentioning happened after the hearing, because we go from Palmer being escorted to an ambulance to Tiger - well, "Jan" in Tiger's body, but I'm going to call him Tiger until he acts like Palmer - getting jolted out of bed in Genie World.

At dawn the sound of ten thousand kettle drums struck violent at once shook the seventy-four from stem to taff!

"taff: (n.) taffrail; the upper part of the stern of the ship.  At dawn the sound of ten thousand kettle drums struck violently at once shook the seventy-four from stern to taff."

I tell you, nothing keeps a reader invested in the story's final confrontation than getting to flip back and forth between the action and the glossary.

Directly under the starboard gun deck, Jan leaped up, not yet awake but already aching from the concussion.

Yeah, this is problematic with the 'one soul, two bodies' mechanic this story operates under.  Like when Palmer is awake in Human World, he's got the shared soul on lockdown, right?  It's only when Palmer falls asleep that the soul is able to cross over to Genie World and have adventures in Tiger's body.  So how could someone get startled awake by a loud noise, then?  If someone shot a gun outside Tiger's window, or just reached and shook him awake in the middle of the night, would Palmer suddenly collapse in a narcoleptic fit so his soul could whisk over to animate Tiger's body?  Or what about that time Palmer had to stay up all night finishing his thesis?  Were Tiger's buddies all concerned because their friend just wouldn't wake up one day, no matter what they did to him?

Maybe it all works out somehow, and Palmer just so happened to fall asleep at the very instant Tiger heard the drums - wait, how do naps work?  Is that why I sometimes wake up for no reason at four in the morning?  My dream self is resting his eyes after a long day slaving for the jinn?

Anyway, the sound of feet on planks, the ruffling of canvas in the wind, and the groan of the yards - "(n.) a long pole, fastened to a mast, to which a sail is fastened" - means that a battle is imminent.  Tiger leaps to his feet, ready for action, but the marid guard outside the bars points a pistol at him and orders him to simmer down.  So for the next four pages, we get to experience an hours-long naval battle from belowdecks, locked in a brig.  The ship moves around and "heeled" at one point,

...Huh.  That's not in the glossary.

Well, Tiger can hear the sounds of guns firing and feel the ship shaking as it takes hits, so he passes the time spent sitting out the fight by talking to the guard about how he thinks the battle is going, how yeah, that last hit definitely hulled us, and it feels like one of the masts is down and dragging in the water by its rigging, but at least we'll be buried at sea inside a shipwreck instead of chucked into the water for the sharks, eh?

The marid is unnerved by all this casual talk about how screwed they are, but it's only when Tiger surmises that they've been grappled and boarded by another ship that the sentry finally leaves his post, allowing Tiger to use the Seal of Sulayman to effortlessly open the cell door.  See, he couldn't do that with a guy standing watch outside... even though marids are dimwits and Tiger has better reflexes than them... as well as an artifact that can blast a door clean off its hinges, or even explode the wall the door is set into... okay, if Tiger had broken out at the start of the battle, he'd have just Seal of Sulayman'd his way to victory before things even got exciting, and that would be an even worse climax than what we're left with now.

So Tiger escapes from his cell, climbs blood-slicked stairs to the main deck, and wow it's a mess - bodies are everywhere, there's only a few Tarbutón soldiers resisting the swarm of enemy sailors, and the ship they're fighting on is such a wreck that it's only being held up by the enemy vessels grappling it on either side.  Some bad guys spot Tiger, our hero snatches up a sword a dead guy won't be needing, and wouldn't you know it but three guys attacking at once can't overcome Tiger's defensive swordplay?  And of course none of them just step back, draw a pistol, and plug him in the chest, that wouldn't be heroic.  Hilarious, but not heroic.

But it just so happens that one of the ships clinging to the Morin is Zongri's flagship!  And one of the enemy officers boarding her is none of that than Zongri himself!  Awfully considerate of the level designers not to stick too many trash mobs between players and the boss.  So Tiger goes on the offensive, slashing up one enemy, driving off another, as he pushes his way along the mizzen, "(n.) the lowest sail on the mast or the mast aft, or next aft of the main mast in a ship (see diagram on page 298)."

And yes, the narration continues to refer to our main character as "Jan," but I refuse to.  Palmer is not a fighter in general, and not a cutlass-wielding swashbuckler in particular.  The most Palmer-ish thing he'll do over the next couple of pages is remember that the Seal of Sulayman is an immensely powerful magical artifact, and use it.

When he has a moment to catch his breath, Tiger is able to get a quick assessment of how the battle is going.  The good news is that Tarbutón's navy managed to whip together a scratch fleet of eight warships supplemented by some merchant boats, the bad news is that they're still horribly outnumbered by the Barbossi pirates, and the three Tarbutón vessels not locked by grapnels are currently legging it.  So it's not going too well.  Man, if only our protagonist had an immensely powerful magical artifact he could use to turn things around.

Jan took a deep breath, not knowing whether he would meet with success or not.

He wrapped an arm about a halyard

"halyards: (n. pl.) rope or tackle for hoisting and lowering something (as sails).  Jan let go his jib and main halyards and guided the sail down into a restive bundle."

and gripped the ring.  "By the Seal of Sulayman!" he roared, "I command the sundering of every bolt and lock in those two Barbossis ships below!"

I mean, what are ships but a bunch of wooden planks secured together?  Locked into position, as it were. 

He reeled from the jerk he received.  The grapnels which held so tight to the railing went abruptly limp, their splicing unwound.  And then, slowly, the two Barbossi men-o-war began to fall apart!  Plank by plank they disintegrated, but all at once so that, within a minute or two they were nothing but floating wood upon the water, all snarled in hemp and canvas through which struggled hundreds of men, screaming with terror as they fought toward the maimed seventy-four.

Well, that was surprisingly effective.  Though I wonder why our hero didn't go for broke and try to sunder every Barbossi ship at once?  Did he think that'd be pushing the Seal of Sulayman's power past its limit?  It's not like he's making a show of force to try and convince the rest of the fleet to surrender right now, he's still focused on Zongri.

Zongri's focused on Tiger, too - when he hears someone invoking the Seal of Sulayman, he roars "YOU!  By RANI, today you die!"  And Tiger's like, nuh-uh, "Rani is dead!  Last night she died in a heap of rubbish just as I shall kill you!"  And I'd like to say that we get a proper pirate duel at this point, with acrobatic leaps and flashing cutlasses and biting quips, but the actual 'battle' is more along the lines of Zongri struggling to get up to where Tiger is clinging to the rigging while Tiger keeps invoking the Seal.

His first attempt is interrupted by a cutlass swipe aimed as his feet, but Tiger manages to command "that every Barbossi vessel be treated as these two."  And there goes the entire enemy fleet - splash, screams.  It's at this point that he suggests Zongri stand down before he blasts the wreck of a ship they're fighting on, but the ifrit is past reason and intent on ending his old enemy.  So Palmer Seal of Sulaymans the mast, because what is a mast but, uh, a big piece of wood locked into an upright position?  Anyway, it's easier to ride the plummeting thing into the water than diving a hundred feet from the rigging.

Tiger swims to and climbs back aboard the Morin, and finds that a lot of soggy Barbossi sailors have also gotten aboard and are preparing to overwhelm the ship's remaining crew.  So Tiger uses the Seal once more, commanding "that every weapon in Barbossi hands fall apart!"  Because... okay, I've got this, because what is a cutlass but a lot of formerly-molten steel locked in a sharpened curve?  And what is a musket but some metal and wood locked into the shape of a projectile weapon?

So it's at this point that the bad guys surrender, and by the time Zongri hauls himself onto the deck, there's twenty unfriendly guns aimed at him.  Tiger orders his enemy wrapped in chains and tells the ship's crew to get him and the other prisoners stowed before returning to  Tarbutón as quickly as possible.  Admiral Tyronin enters the scene and is astounded that Tiger has the audacity to take command of his ship, but our hero replies that "I'll be issuing orders for many a day to come" and tells Tyronin to get busy.  And since Tiger has that Seal of Sulayman on his wrist, the human crew all cheer, and Tyronin the jinni can only nod and comply.  Commander Bakon appears to pat Tiger's hand and say that he knew "Someday this had to happen.  God bless you, my friend," which would be a more touching moment if Tiger and Bakon's relationship had been built on-page.

With everything settled, Palmer goes into the admiral's cabin in search of "Alice" - not Wanna the temple dancer he rescued the chapter before last, consider her overwritten by Palmer's love interest.  Then there's a paragraph break, but I don't think it's a 'and then they banged' sort of paragraph break, Hubbard probably didn't want to write dialogue of Tiger explaining the situation to Alice.  Though I suppose they might have banged once he was done doing that.  Depends how far out they were from Tarbutón, I guess.

Fast-forward to later that afternoon as a grand triumph marches down the streets of Tarbutón to its palace.  There's prisoners in chains, captured figureheads from sunken enemy ships, and a golden litter that usually bears Admiral Tyronin, but now carries Tiger and a temple dancer.  Queen Ramus is understandably a bit gobsmacked by this, and makes shocked oaths like "By the blood of Baal!" or "By the death of the devil" as she tries to get a grip on what's going on.  Tiger just disembarks with Alice and bows to the queen, presenting Zongri and a host of other nameless captives.

Tiger also admits that last night he might have stolen a dancing girl and "caused a goddess of granite to be destroyed" and assumes that a cleric waiting by Ramus' throne might have some words for him, but when the presumably newly-promoted high priest steps forward to start haranguing Tiger, our hero has Commander Bakon haul him away.  Good talk.

It's not quite a coup, as Tiger explains to Queen Ramus.

"Your rule has not been onerous to his land," said Jan.  "Pray retain the throne.  I care not for its worries."

"You... uh... what?" cried Ramus.

"Unless of course," said Jan, "you want every human being in this world to awake this instant and so swarm over you and put you down.  I dislike threats."  But he touched the glittering seal upon his hand and all saw it and recognized it.  In that instant the army set up a great shout for Tiger and almost brought the roof down on their heads.

So if you were wondering whether this hero would use the incredible power of the Seal of Solomon to free the humans of Genie World from bondage... well, now you have your answer: nah.

So Ramus gets to keep her throne, and the jinn get to keep their slaves.  The captive Barbossi sailors can be shanghaied into Tarbutón's navy once they get it rebuilt, and Tiger suggests that Zongri be sentenced to ten thousand years hard labor.  Ramus is surprised that Tiger is still giving orders.

"You said I was to rule."

"But not against my wishes," said Jan gently.

Ugh, how is this better than him just seizing overt power, Hubbard?

So Ramus "sighed quiveringly" and makes Tiger's order a reality, and that's the Genie World situation sorted.  Now we just need to wrap up the main plot in the last three pages of the story.  Palmer-in-Tiger already has been explaining the situation to Alice-in-Wanna, and has some naval officers fetch some thugs, a fishmonger's wife, and a fourth guy, the Genie World counterparts of Shannon, Green, Aunt Ethel, and Judge Todd.  They're brought, weeping and horribly confused, before Ramus' throne, where Palmer explains that they're not crazy, they're just in the magical land their souls go to when they fall asleep, and their condition won't last for long.  And while Queen Ramus has power over life and death in this realm, she "might be persuaded to spare your lives and merely imprison you if you undo a great wrong in another world."

Or in other words, our hero is holding a gun to a judge and demanding that he overturn a sentence - "You can expect execution here if restitution is not made there.  Am I making myself clear?"  Yes, Ethel and everyone are all scumbags trying to get Palmer carted away so they can take over his fortune, and Palmer obviously isn't insane if his talk about genies turns out to be true, but Palmer isn't trying to reason with Judge Todd.  He doesn't say that the judge's experiences in Tarbutón make it clear that Palmer is perfectly sane.  He goes straight to the death threat.

Huh, guess the mild-mannered scholar became a Hubbard Action Hero after all.

So these human prisoners are thrown into the palace dungeons, Ramus says that "Baron Tiger" can have an entire wing of her palace and tells a genie noble to go "buy a hundred serving wenches for her Ladyship," because it's always satisfying when our hero's girlfriend has slave labor available.  Everyone loves Tiger for saving the city from pirates, all the jinn are too scared of the Seal of Sulayman to ever go against him, and his counterpart in the other world is set to be freed from an asylum with his vast fortunes restored.  Happy ending get.

Alice was beginning to lose some of her fear. She looked searchingly at Jan's face and then squeezed his arm.

"Then it's true," she whispered. "It's true, it's true, it's true!"

And Jan gave her Tiger's swaggering smile and, content, she walked proudly beside him, returning the bows of the multitude through which they passed.

The story ends with an excerpt from a nameless Seattle newspaper, explaining that an embezzling businessman named Nathaniel Green committed suicide, and that Jan Palmer had known about Green's actions but "did not wish to mar my honeymoon or worry my bride" by dismissing him immediately.  And then the article goes on to describe how Green was behind Palmer's false imprisonment in an insane asylum and apparently murdered Professor Frobish to cover up his embezzling and get Palmer framed.  And "Though Judge Dougherty says that this is the case, no post mortem action is to be taken against Green and so the matter is closed."

So wait, what just happened?  I thought Palmer agreed to have Green's Genie World counterpart merely imprisoned, so it's unlikely his "suicide" is the result of that other Green dying.  So could Green just not take waking up in another world every time he hit the hay?  Is this the first and only time in the story that the Curse of Eternal Wakefulness really does a number on its victim?  Or did Green know that Palmer finally took a look at the company finances and had discovered Green's theft?  Then why did he kill himself when Palmer was busy boinking Miss Hall, why not make a run for it while they were busy?  And how are they going to pin Frobish's murder on Green when any competent investigation would show that Green only set foot inside the crime scene on the heels of two policemen?

What a problematic way to end a problematic story.  At least we learned that Judge Todd's last name is Dougherty, since Hubbard finally bothered to make up a proper name for the character in literally the very last sentence of the book.  

Back to Chapter Eleven

1 comment:

  1. "So if you were wondering whether this hero would use the incredible power of the Seal of Solomon to free the humans of Genie World from bondage... well, now you have your answer: nah."

    I wasn't "wondering"; I assumed that's what this story was about. He just saves his own skin and gets the girl and that's it? Humanity isn't freed from slavery? I guess Hubbard will rectify this later when Johnny Goodboy blows up entire planets for the sake of Earth's future... or was that just to assert his dominance over the universe so he could be worshipped as a Hubbard Action Hero?