Friday, February 26, 2010

Part 7, Chapter 8 - Ker Blabs, Jonnie Watches

And suddenly we're no longer at The Lode, or even Jonnie's work camp, but the Psychlo minesite over a week later.

Jonnie's on Windsplitter being suspiciously casual - he's got a remote-control "picto-recorder" set up in a tree to spy on the teleportation site. And... flashback. I should've seen it coming.

At some point days earlier Jonnie complained about a broken personnel carrier, so Terl sent Ker over to the work camp. Jonnie acts all buddy-buddy to the midget Psychlo, giving him a "spare" gold ring and calling them "shaftmates," a Psychlo miners' term for "a pal who pulled one out of a cave-in or a fight." Ker is suspicious that Jonnie wants something, but the human just jokes that he might want somebody killed, and a good laugh is had by all.

And then Jonnie starts asking questions, and Ker provides answers.

The amiable security risk lets slip that Day 92 is the semiannual firing day, a "slow" firing when they exchange personnel and ship back corpses. We finally get an explanation on why the corpses get to sit around for months in a freezer - a normal "fast" firing "is all right for dispatches and ore, but a body would get ripped up in the transition." Only a three-minute long "slow" firing can send living things - or corpses - without problems.

Ooookay. So somehow inanimate objects are unaffected by forces that rend slightly softer cargo asunder? Or maybe teleportation has a disruptive effect on biochemistry and - you know what, it doesn't matter. This is just another inexplicable rule of the universe that exists to justify the story. There has to be occasional slow firings so Terl has a specific deadline for his project. That's all there is to it.

So what's the deal with the dead Psychlos being shipped home? Well, Psychlo (species) law requires all cadavers to be sent back to Psychlo (planet), where each fallen Psychlo (individual) is entombed in a cemetary "way out of town in an old slag heap, and nobody ever goes there. But it's in the contract. Silly, ain't it?"

Yes, Ker. Yes it is. The Psychlos don't want any enemies to get a hold on their dead to make a bio-weapon or something. So instead of promptly cremating the bodies, or having them naturally-shredded in the process of a "fast" teleportation, they instead keep the corpses in an unguarded freezer for several months until they can be shipped home and put in a necropolis, which given the pan-galactic scale of the Psychlo empire and the thousands of years of the civilization's history, must take up most of the planet.

After unwittingly conspiring with aliens out to destroy his species, Ker leaves. Jonnie tells Robert the Fox that he knows how Terl plans on smuggling the gold back to Psychlo (planet), "in coffins!", so at at a later date he can dig up the corpses and retrieve his gold, and nobody will ask any inconvenient questions or anything.

So yes, the answer to "why are the Psychlos, an evil race that places no value on its citizens' lives, taking pains to keep their corpses intact for a proper burial?" is "so Terl can smuggle his gold in coffins."

It's like when L. Ron came up with the clunker, he took the first few ideas that struck him as some sort of divine revelation that could not be altered, so he had to bend over backwards to justify them instead of altering the original ideas to make more sense. Or like he plotted out Battlefield Earth out loud one rainy afternoon in front of a bunch of flunkies, and every time one dared to ask why the story was happening like it was, Hubbard came up with any lame excuse necessary to avoid revising stuff.

And wham, we're back at the minesite in the present. A bunch of lights flash, an annouccer says stuff like "coordinates holding!", and three hundred Psychlos teleport in, all bored and seeming "half-asleep" as medics check on one who collapsed and Terl starts patting them down for contraband. "To Jonnie on the knoll, this mass of creatures were in discreditable contrast to the Scots who were interest in things, and alive."

Hubbard wasn't Scottish, was he? They're obviously his favorite kind of human (besides himself), I'm just wondering why. Did a Scotsman save his life? Did he dig the kilts?

Jonnie learns something from his observations, that teleportation motors couldn't operate during a teleportation "firing" due to interference. Which is another strong argument for using an alternative form of propulsion, you frakking imbeciles.

An hour and a bit later, everything's ready for the return "firing,"cleaners sweep the platform for any trash, and Terl leads a convoy of coffins from the morgue. Jonnie detects nothing but faint resentment from the "savage jerks" manning the consoles for the dead Psychlos going home. Before the exchange is completed, he waxes poetic in an internal monologue.

Jonnie envisioned that far-off planet, universes away, purple and heavy like a huge discolored boil, infecting and paining the universes. He knew there were scraps of its space right in front of him, linked to the space of Earth. Psychlo: a parasite larger than the host. Voracious, pitiless, without even a word for "cruelty."

It occurs to me that Jonnie might not have a word for "love." He never says those three important words to Chrissie. He worries about her once or twice, but there's little attachment or attraction, just a disconcerting possessiveness. The idea of her getting eaten bothers him in the same way the thought of someone stealing his big-screen TV bothers him Just sayin'.

Also note that for some reason, despite the "exchange of space" going on, air doesn't seem to get transported along during the teleport. There's no mention of a noxious purple cloud expanding over the arriving workers, and with the amount of teleportation going on Psychlo (planet) would have lost its atmosphere by now, were it not being replenished by (snicker) rocks.

The teleportation over, Terl snaps at Jonnie for hanging around where everyone can see him, and acts spooked when Jonnie starts blabbing about giving his report. Jonnie manages to sneak back that night under a "heat shield" to retrieve the camera, but wonders "What was up with Terl?"

Jonnie, please. You've figured out everything else, this shouldn't be hard.

And after an unusually long chapter, Part Seven is over. Yay.

Back to Part Seven, Chapter Seven

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