Then he has to fire a warning shot at some telltale movement near the drone's front. Zzt's still causing trouble. Jonnie wishes he had a grenade or something to flush the Psychlo out, since all the armored surfaces are making bullets ricochet around dangerously. At an impasse, he decides to worry about Zzt and Nup later and hurry and find a way to stop this gas drone.
Little does he know that he's observed by Zzt's little mirror the whole time. Dramatic musical sting!
Since he lacks the tool to cut the super-duper-invulnerable Psychlo metal, Jonnie decides to twist some nuts. He pops off a floor panel in front of his plane, removing eight nuts - I'm not sure why we need to know how many bolts he loosened to open this particular panel, but Hubbard thought it was worth mentioning, so I'm passing it along.
This reveals an engine housing the size of a one-story home (as opposed to the rude huts Jonnie grew up with). We're once again assured how humongous the gas drone is and that it's carrying "tons and tons" of toxic gas, but I'm still fuzzy on the dimensions. It's weird - Hubbard was able to tell us exact distances for things like the dogfight with Terl, but he hasn't taken the time to spell out the size of this bomber. Big enough to block a hangar door able to launch three fighters simultaneously, so... big? Forty feet wide? Sixty? Of course, this depends how big the freakin' Psychlo aircraft are, which of course has been left to our imagination, along with their appearance.
Jonnie realizes that he's looking at one of the drone's "space translation cubicles, mostly empty but served by an enormous number of points that jutted into them. Each point had its own coordinate message, and these points had to be cleaned." So there has to be a way to get to them. And sure enough, he finds a panel, held down by four twelve-inch nuts.
And so we reach the most tense and exciting part of this section, where Jonnie struggles to loosen four huge nuts while taking occasional potshots at Zzt to keep the Psychlo suppressed. It kinda helps if you remind yourself that the survival of mankind hinges on Jonnie being able to perform vehicle maintenance. But not really.
While working on Nut #3 Zzt starts yelling "If you monkey with those motors this thing will just crash!" Oddly enough, this doesn't deter Jonnie. And then our POV once more flips to Zzt, who is antsy for other reasons, too - he's noticing little sparks around him, particularly near the exhale valve on his "breathe-mask" and even little molecular flashes in his head (!!!). No big explosion yet, even though way back in Part 4, Chapter 9 Ker assured us that just "one isotope" of "radiation dust" is enough to cause a "spark-flash" that'd disrupt a teleportation platform.
Anyway, Zzt realizes that Jonnie might be throwing around radiation, so he tries reasoning with the man-thing.
"You've got a mask!" roared Zzt. "This kill-gas won't blow back in the drone. Just wait until it lands!" The stupid, filthy animal. Damn Terl!
"How about other people down there?" said Jonnie.
That shut Zzt up for the moment. He could not work out how something happening to somebody else had any bearing on what one would do for himself.
"Kill-gas." Really? Also, notice the subtle little "Psychlos have no sense of altruism" thing there. These aliens aren't evil in that their goals and philosophy clash with humanity's. Well, they do, but more than that the Psychlos are Eeeeeevil, mustache-twirling villains who pray to Evil Gods, spend their time blackmailing and murdering each other, and rule the galaxies as despotic overlords despite lacking the sort of social cohesion necessary for conquering Antarctica.
Anyway, Zzt freaks out some more as Jonnie fiddles with the motors, but the human is sure Zzt won't charge. The Psychlo doesn't. Instead, the next time Jonnie pops up from his work a fifty-pound floor plate ricochets off a skid strut like a cannonball and hits him in the back of the head.
The assault rifle flew from his clutching hand and went out into the dark. Holding somehow onto consciousness he fumbled for the revolver. There was nothing but darkness in front of his eyes.
Note that two paragraphs previously Jonnie "laid down the assault rifle and ducked" to work on a nut, but there it goes, tumbling from his hand. We don't need no stinkin' continuity.
Still, any chapter that ends with Jonnie being severely injured is a good chapter.
Back to Part Thirteen, Chapter Nine