Friday, April 9, 2010

Part 11, Chapter 10 - The Beginning of the Beginning

So Terl takes his gold to an "ancient smelter," which sounds like it used to be a human metallurgy facility that somehow survived a thousand years without maintenance. Par the course.

He doesn't notice a small hole drilled in the shutters he closes, and after sweeping the room for surveillance equipment attributes the dust drifting down from above to rats. Meanwhile, someone turns on two button cameras.

Terl dumps the gold into a cauldron and melts it down, taking care not to vaporize any of it beyond recovery. Then he starts pouring the goods into a mold of a coffin lid - all coffins are locally-made, you see, and due to accidents stemming from bodies that died from radiation, they're all required to be leaden. Make golden coffin lids, spray them with a lead-bismuth coating, and ta-da! The perfect way to smuggle treasure.

Lead was a glut on the market on Psychlo. They had lots of that. They also had plenty of iron and copper and chrome. What were scarce were gold, bauxite, molybdenum and several other metals. And what was absent, thank the evil gods, was uranium and all its family of ores. So the coffins were always made of lead, stiffened up with an alloy or two such as bismuth.

Where to start... well, looks like whatever process went into the formation of planet Psychlo was able to turn the element Chromium into Chrome plating. Also, he actually says "thank the evil gods." This is... I'm speechless. This is supposed to be a book for grown-ups, right? Pure science fiction, right? Then why is the villain acting like a Saturday morning cartoon bad guy, and actually acknowledging how evil he is? And what evil gods?! What gods, period?

I guess I wasn't that speechless after all.

There's a tense moment (for Terl anyway, I stopped caring a long time ago) when he doesn't have quite enough gold for a tenth lid, but he fills up the rest with lead. And there's description of him using "mittens" (ever heard of gloves, Hubbard?) and dregs and demijohns of acid, but I'm skipping it. In the end, he gets his treasure-caskets.

Just in case it wasn't obvious that Terl is Eeeeeevil! we learn that despite all the shenanigans at the minesite, Terl had to drop a blasting cap onto a bunch of miners and sabotage a "tri-wheeler" to bring the number of yearly fatalities up to a full ten.

So Terl carefully marks a little "x" in the corner of his ten gold-filled lids and carefully writes down their future occupants' names, dates and numbers. Then he loads everything up and heads back to base, not noticing that the hole in the shutters is now repaired, or an air vent opening and retrieving the two mini-cameras.

Guess what? When at the morgue, Terl doesn't notice another hole drilled through a wall this time, or another camera that activates after he waves his sneak-sensing probe around. And then, while he's replacing the existing coffins' lids, he talks to Jayed's corpse.

Jayed's was the last one. "Jayed, you silly crunch, what a crap lousy I.B.I. agent you were. It ain't smart, Jayed, to come in here worrying your betters. And what did you get for it?" Terl picked up the lid he'd made,checked the name. "A coffin and a grave burying you under the phony name of Snit."

The glazed eyes seemed to regard him reproachfully.

"No, Jayed," said Terl. "It will do no good to argue. None at all. Neither your murder, nor that of Numph, will ever be traced to me. Goodbye, Jayed!" He slammed the coffin lid down on Jayed.

Sad thing is, at this point such gross incompetence just isn't surprising anymore.

With no thought as to how he'd later recover ten x-marked coffins after they're interred on Psychlo, Terl goes off to bed, again not noticing his silent observers.

Four hours later on this Day 91, Jonnie, Robert the Fox, the council and team members concerned went over and over the picto-recorder pictures. They must not miss the tiniest possibility or the largest option. They could not afford to miss. The fate, not just of themselves, but of galaxies depended upon making no mistakes.

This grand statement is supposed to evoke suspense, excitement. But mostly I'm just dreading the next wave of stupid, and feel sad and achy. But yeah, we're at the bottom of page 359 and the great battle promised in Battlefield Earth's title is imminent. Set your expectations for "low."

Back to Part Eleven, Chapter Nine

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