Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Part 11, Chapter 7 - Shiny Yellow Metal

On Day 60, after constant mining in search of gold, the vein faults and disappears completely. Jonnie and Friends have been scouring the ruins of Denver for gold in case this happened, and have recovered a pitiful two ounces from bank vaults and jewelry shops. Fortunately the local mining companies carved their receipts into stone tablets instead of quick-decaying scraps of paper, so the humans know where the gold was shipped, and where it might possibly still be found.

A flight to New York reveals "buildings mostly knocked down but some gold vaults, tunneled into and empty," while Fort Knox is "just a gutted ruin." So yes, those of you who've seen the Battlefield Earth movie, the book is marginally less stupid in that regard.

They had come to the conclusion that the Psychlos, as much as a thousand years ago, had thoroughly gutted this planet in search of gold. They must have even taken it from corpses in the streets, rings from fingers and fillings from teeth. Possibly this, along with the Psychlo sport of hunting humans on days off, accounted for the thoroughness of population wipeout. There was evidence that in the early days of conquest they had even massacred people just for their rings and fillings. They began to understand Terl a little better in his dangerous enterprise to possess the yellow metal for himself. To the humans, the metal meant very little: they had no experience of using it in trade; it was pretty and didn't tarnish and was easily pounded into shape, but stainless steel had a lot more utility. Their own ideas of trade and thrift had to do with useful items that were real wealth.

This from the guy who spent years on the high seas dodging the IRS and founded a "religion" where you shell out thousands of dollars before learning all your problems stem from an alien emperor with a ridiculously overcomplicated approach to population control. I think it says a lot about Hubbard's failures as an author and a decent human being that he has more in common with Battlefield Earth's pathetic and farcically-evil villain than its Marty Stu.

I wonder how many years it took the Psychlos to strip Earth of its gold? City by city, corpse by corpse, good grief that's a monumental task. If they didn't rely solely on foot work, they'd have to have had some sort of gold-detecting scanners... which somehow missed The Lode... eh, not worth the effort of thinking about, really.

Ten days after losing the vein they find it again. In case you were worried.

Jonnie and some less-important cast members poke around the Denver office of the U.S. Mint, hoping for more gold and also searching for that mysterious tank the Psychlos attacked but was never deployed by the military (you remember it, right?). They find a large mound of former vehicle, and whaddya know but the tank "was so thickly built that it had endured the rust of time." The difference between it and the surrounding heaps of rusted metal that used to be cars is an inch or so of armor plating.

Our hero busts into the "tank" and lo and behold, it's actually an armored car filled with two hundred pounds of gold ingots. How convenient. Sure it's not the ton that Terl is demanding, but it's better than nothing. Good thing the Psychlos, who scoured every inch of the planet for the yellow stuff, even stooping to pry it off the fingers of corpses, didn't notice a truck packed with gold bars sitting in the street. They thought it was a tank, which is an easy mistake to make - every time the UPS truck rumbles by, I fire rockets at it thinking it's an attacking enemy T-80. They're usually good sports about it, though.

So all in all the humans have three hundred pounds of gold for Terl. The historian confirms my suspicions and brings up the admittedly mythical science of alchemy, then spends an evening trying to learn how to transmute rocks to more gold. Meanwhile, parson whatshisname checks on the Village of the Idiots and passes on Aunt Ellen's love to Jonnie. Characteristically, Jonnie has no response to this besides suspecting that the parson is "sweet" on the old lady and wishing him luck. That's... generous of him?

They felt bad they couldn't warn other peoples on this planet.

If they failed, man might indeed become extinct.

So to reiterate, on the verge of waging war against the mightiest alien empire ever to exist, our heroes feel "bad."

Next chapter, more miracles.

Back to Chapter Six

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