Friday, October 28, 2016

Typewriter in the Sky - Chapter Seven - Bad Times in Tortuga

The plot is moving again, so Mike, as Almirante Miguel Saint Raoul de Lobo, sets out from Nombre de Dios at the head of a mighty fleet escorting treasure ships as they pass through the pirate-infested Caribbean before going home to Spain  All the while he has to deal with lingering existential concerns.

This world was so real to those who lived in it.  They lived and were born and they got sick and felt pain and died.  And they looked up into the blue, wholly unconscious that they might well hear the rattling of a typewriter's keys and smell the horrible pipe which Horace Hackett clenched in yellow teeth.  From whence had this world come, whither would it go?  These people all thought they remembered long pasts and ancestors.  They were convinced that their progeny would continue up the ages.  They believed in their ingenuity and trusted their calculations.  And yet-

At which point Mike has to stop and go back to thinking about Hackett's history writing villains, he's not interrupted by anything.  I just have to say, this passage fits the story it appears in, since it's about a real person somehow getting sucked into a work of fiction.  But if you combine it with the "You are the Entity" speech from Fear, well... it's just kind of interesting that someone who spent his life using other people for his own gain also wrote about characters who discovered they were the only 'real' people in the world, and everyone around them was just a set of props or automatons.

Back to the voyage - Mike has a strong instinct to sail right back to St. Kitts, use what he's learned about the town's defenses to take it with barely a fight, and take Lady Marion as a hostage in case Bristol isn't among the slain.  All of the captains under his command keep recommending that he take such a wise course of action.  But, because Mike knows how this universe works, he knows that if the designated bad guys think something is a good idea, there must be something wrong with it that the designated hero will be able to take advantage of.

So when the treasure ships are sent on their way and Mike and his captains have a conference about what to do next, and someone named Fernando suggests attacking St. Kitts while the wind is a certain way, Mike explains that no, they won't be doing that - instead, the fleet will be hitting the pirate haven of Tortuga.  Mike plans to burn any ships they find there, so Bristol won't be able to add them to his fleet, and the settlement itself will be destroyed - "with all due humanity, of course."

Fernando is astonished, since he'd heard rumors about a very important woman at St. Kitts, but Mike grins and insists that it was all for the benefit of any eavesdropping Indian spies loyal to Bristol.  So Fernando can only gush about his almirante's brilliance and Mike congratulates himself for defying the plot and writing his own destiny.  Then he has to go on to plan the campaign, but it's fine, Mike is suddenly as good a naval strategist as he is a swordsman.

One paragraph break later and we're at Tortuga, as Mike's fleet approaches under cover of the pre-dawn mists.  He reminds his captains of the battle plan - bombard the defenses, then send in the landing parties, simple stuff that even a hack writer could come up with - but he also adds something his men weren't expecting.  He commands that "There will be no ravishing of this town.  There will be no useless slaughter.  We are here on a military objective and civilians are not fair game."  This confuses the Spaniards, since after all Tortuga is inhabited by filthy Englishmen and evil Frenchmen in league with the pirates that have been preying upon the Spanish for so long, but the officers nod their agreement and go back to their ships.

Then Mike's flagship drops the battle flag, the bombardment begins, the marines set out and...

Well, if you were expecting an action scene, or even a Hubbard Action Scene, sorry to disappoint you.  The fight for Tortuga reads more like an after-action report than an exciting battle.  We're told very quickly that the raid only lasted for six hours, and it was unpleasantly one-sided.  All the town's menfolk were out hunting in the island's interior, so some of the defensive cannons were crewed by women and children, who were killed during the bombardment.  Only a hundred fighters mustered to contest the Spanish landing, and since they were outnumbered five-to-one they were handily massacred.  And then the Spanish troops forgot or ignored Mike's orders, and the targeted strike against a pirate base turned out into an all-out massacre.

Mike tried to sound a recall, to no avail, and then landed with Trombo - what's Trombo's official position, anyway?  Does the Spanish navy has a position for a Big, Dumb Henchman?  Anyway, Mike can't get his men under control, and can only watch helplessly as they loot homes, chase screaming women through the burning streets, torture priests to death to find out where they've hidden treasure, and turn cannons on the houses of holdouts.  Trombo just says that the soldiers are "mad and drunk" and will surely listen to the almirante tomorrow, and helps himself to a keg of beer to help pass the time.

So we get about six pages of various atrocities interspaced with Mike sitting as a helpless, fuming bystander.  If you've seen some Hollywood "historical" action dramas like The Patriot you should know what to expect.  The only development worth mentioning is when Mike spies a group of men grappling with a filthy, bruised woman in a torn dress who is trying to get her hands on a cutlass, and he quickly leaps into action to intervene - it's Lady Marion!  How dramatic!  How convenient!

At point-blank he let a sergeant have a ball in the stomach and a sailor the other in the face.  And then his rapier was out and shimmering greedily.

"Let her go, you illegitimate sons," snarled Mike.

The soldiers can't make out their commanding officer under all the smoke, so they charge, and two get cut down in the space of a sentence - again, this does not read like Hubbard's normal action scenes.  The rest try to dogpile our hero, but then Trombo roars and starts pulling them off Mike and dashing their heads against the wall, charming.  Lots of brains getting let out of skulls in this story, I've noticed.

In the end, Mike is able to stagger to his feet and approach Marion.

"Miguel Saint Raoul de Lobo," said Mike, bitterly.  "Admiral of this rabble.  Your arm, milady, so that I can escort you to the safety of my flagship."

She started to object and then understood the folly of staying here.  She straightened up and with a slight curtsy, took his arm.

And so ends the Spanish "raid" on Tortuga and the chapter.  On the bright side, all the twenty-thousand casualties were nameless extras in this literary B-movie Mike has somehow found himself in.  And we've learned that he can try to steer the plot to an extent.  But we've also learned that when you're cast as the main villain, in command of a bunch of bad guys, they're going to act like bad guys no matter what orders you give them.  And when the author desires you to get swept up in a love triangle, you're damn well going to find your love interest even if you're specifically trying to avoid her.

Back to Chapter Six

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