Monday, November 30, 2009

Part 2, Chapter 6 - Thirsty for Knowledge (and Potable Water)

After a "damp, cold, thoroughly miserable" evening in which Jonnie tried to stay out of the mud for as long as possible before giving up to sleep, our hero is still suffering from dehydration, having refused to drink from the muck mixed with slime that now fills his cage.

On the bright side, he knows that his tribal myths were right and he was wrong.

Terl visits, takes one look at the mud, and comes back with a table and chair, which Jonnie is disappointed to learn are not for him. Terl sets down the two books Jonnie found, as well as a strange metal disc about the size of two handspans. Suddenly, Jonnie has forgotten English measurements. Or else the "translator" did. Whatever. Moving along.

Jonnie goes for the book, but Terl indicates that he ought to check the disc first. Jonnie is suspicious (and bruised from the physical rebuke), and knows that "anything this monster was up to would be devious, treacherous and dangerous. That had been adequately proved." Hmm? Jonnie figured out that Terl intentionally let him out, as opposed to tracking him down? Other from that, nothing he's done has been particularly subtle. "The game was to bide one's time, watch and learn - and out of that possibly wrest freedom."

Remember, this is the cunning hero who tried to break out of his cell without checking his provisions first, and when that was thwarted, repeated the attempt three or four more times within the afternoon.

Terl's gizmo (whoops, sorry for the innuendo) has two "windows" and a lever on the front of it. The Psychlo flips the switch, and Jonnie's mind is completely blown when the device "talks." You have to hand it to him - you'd think at some point, between the Magical Flying Cockroach, death rays, and extrasensory perception - a person would become somewhat jaded when weird stuff starts happening around this monster. But not Jonnie, no, he's just as wide-eyed and amazed as he was the third time Terl caught him breaking out of his cell.

His handler grabs a fleeing Jonnie and forcibly sits him down to listen to the Magical Talking Disc. He shows the puny Earthling that there's a face in one window, scribbles in the other, and that moving the lever to different sides produces different sounds - English, and some strange language. After Terl points at himself, Jonnie surmises that the weird tongue is his captor's.

"Jonnie's interest was immediate, intense, and flaming." This is not a particularly important sentence, but I just wanted to call attention to it for all the ways it could be used out of context.

The Magical Talking Disc introduces itself: "Excuse me, but I am your instructor if you will forgive such arrogance. I do not have the honor to be a Psychlo. I am but a lowly Chinko." The instructor is "Joga Stenko, Junior Assistant Language Slave in the Language Division of the Department of Culture and Ethnology, Planet Earth."

And suddenly I remember that the conquering aliens only made an attempt to learn the planet's languages after they set up shop. So why do they call it Earth? Did they seriously rename their designation for it after learning what its previous, non-Psychlo inhabitants called it? Is this more of that ever-so-wonderful "translator" making us second-guess every other bit of information?

Just as suddenly, I remember the most important rule of Battlefield Earth: don't think about it, just keep moving.

The Chinko gives a brief tutorial, before concluding with "You will pardon my humble pretensions of learnedness. All wisdom abides in the Governors of Psychlo and one of their major companies, the great and mighty Intergalactic Mining Company, on which let there be profit!" Which again brings up questions of Psychlo governance, but I don't think the answers would be worth the effort of asking the questions, so again, let's move on.

Jonnie looks up at Terl and stares at the monster's wolf-like eyes with suspicion, but Terl gestures for Jonnie to continue. The Chinko starts going through the English alphabet - another setting starts lessons in Swedish (!) - and Terl opens up the primer Jonnie looted and points out the identical symbol. Jonnie understands. As a reward, Terl offers him two rats, but for some reason the starving caveman is reluctant to get some more meat.

Terl tries to take the machine back with him, but Jonnie stops him and stands defiant. The monster roars with laughter, exits, but leaves the machine behind.

There was much bitterness and determination on Jonnie's face. He had to know more. Much more. Then he could act.

The machine was still on the table.

Jonnie reached for the lever.

Not a bad way to finish the chapter, aside from the fact that Jonnie's patient, cunning behavior is completely at odds with his previous day in captivity. Let's be charitable and call that character development. Oh yeah, and Jonnie's forgotten his dehydration. We end at the bottom of page 71. Next chapter: shortcuts.

Back to Chapter Five

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