Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Part 17, Chapter 8 - Oh Yeah, the Prisoners

Jonnie spends a moment outside next to the dilapidated truck containing the radio batteries and explosive fuses that were traded for two women and a Scotsman. Then he goes over to the captured Brigantes. Yes, even though nary a word was said about them for the past two chapters, seventeen of the grenade-flinging morons survived the ambush to be taken captive by Jonnie's forces. The leader, with eyes "like scummed pools" notices Jonnie.

"Why did you fire on us?" he demanded. It came out as "W'y ja fur awn oos?" English, if you could unscramble it.

That was our courtesy translation, the rest of the Brigante dialogue is nice and authentic.

"Captunk" Arf Moiphy of the "fit'commando, occapaychun fierces, Yarmy of Hauter Zairey" asks if Jonnie's part of the long-promised relief force or the United Nations. Jonnie knows little about either, but Arf is tight-lipped when it's his turn to answer questions, since he "Doan hefta answer nuppin bot name-rank-and-serial-number."

Fortunately, Russians are intimidating, and Moiphy spills that his commander, General Snith, is two days away. The prisoners are searched for weapons and prepared to be bound, but Moiphy asks to "attembt" to his wounded. When Jonnie agrees, the good captain grabs a sturdy club and in seven heavy swings, brains his wounded men. No one is able to interrupt him at any point during this, of course. Afterward, Moiphy extends his hands to be tied and says "Thanunk you." And so the chapter and section ends.

So yeah, that's the Brigantes. African mongrelfolk, degenerate accents, slavers, and a questionable approach to health care, what with the "kill the wounded thing." I'm trying to think of a real-world culture that had similar practices and am drawing a blank. You just can't do that and survive as a people for a thousand years. Like the Psychlos, the Brigantes are gratuitously and unrealistically evil, a society you're supposed to feel good about the heroes annihilating, without actually thinking about how it could possibly operate.

Oh, and apparently the two old ladies that got sold off to the Psychlos were Brigantes, not emissaries from the world government. Thank goodness I clarified my misunderstanding, the story would make no sense otherwise...

Back to Part Seventeen, Chapter Seven

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Part 17, Chapter 7 - Little Ol' Lady Smoothies

Now that Dunneldeen and the ambush party have been sent off, Jonnie proceeds to explore the abandoned base. Four levels of offices, shops and hangars all left like their inhabitants had stepped out for coffee, lights on and pumps running. Judging by the leaky, moldy rec center, Jonnie hazards this was a bad posting even for Psychlos.

Guess they aren't jungle creatures. So what kind of critters are the Psychlos? Did they evolve on the snowy tundras of their homeworld? The dense, coniferous forests of the highlands? Did they used to be marine mammals that hauled themselves out of Psychlo's indigo seas? Hard to guess. All we know about the planet is that there's a graveyard and a corporate headquarters.

Jonnie finds the base's radio logs (printed paper, of course) and learns that these Psychlos had been monitoring the humans' chatter, but is interrupted by a Russian who found a half-empty breathe-mask. This means the aliens couldn't have left more than nine hours ago. The hangars only contain some trucks, mining equipment, and a pair of derelict tanks. Jonnie orders the flatbed trucks loaded up with supplies and the flying mining platforms used to fire mortars from - he wants a squad to tail the Psychlo convoy, delaying their escape by blowing over trees to block the road, which will stop the unstoppable Psychlo armor in its tracks.

And then someone finds the shooting range on one of the lower levels, and the bodies.

In the middle of a veritable lake of congealed blood lay what must have been two old women. It was hard to tell from the scraps. But strands of gray hair, brown skin and ripped clothing lay, with scattered bone chips, in two mounds. The mangled messes and some spent blast gun cases told their story.

Several Psychlos had stood here and bit by bit, inch by inch, with hundreds of carefully nonlethal shots, had carved two women apart.

So the Psychlos' hasty evacuation was not so hasty as to prevent some pointless torture of a pair of world federation emissaries. Or the fact that their supplies are limited and every bit of ammo precious.

When Doctor MacKendrick angrily demands to know why the Psychlos would do such a thing, Jonnie informs him that "It gives them pleasure. They think it's delicious. The pain and agony. It's about the only time they feel joy."

But this doesn't really go with what we've seen of other Psychlos. The ones in Colorado didn't have a weekly session of torturing some animal to death, they played ring-toss. They were more concerned about cut wages than sating their racial bloodlust. Ker seems well-adjusted enough, and Chirk is more stupid than nefarious. With the exception of the laughable Terl the Psychlos were just a bunch of big, hairy lummoxes doing their jobs.

I guess this torture room is a way to make us feel better about Jonnie trying to blow up their planet.

If you want your villains to be irredeemably, gratuitously evil, do a better job. Instead of showing them playing drinking games or ring-toss, have them tearing apart captured bears or wolves in an arena. Don't show them fretting about a human peeing on their floor, have them decorate their rooms with bones and viscera. Don't make the aliens a threat that kills any humans who wander near, make them a threat that hires hunters to actively track down and capture humans for their bloodsports or torture shows. Don't have herds of buffalo wander by their bases, have the surrounding wilderness eerily empty of wildlife, after generations of animals learned that these lands are death.

The cliffhanger for this chapter is the recovery of a Scottish tam-o'-shanter (bonnet) in the pool of blood.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, June 28, 2010

Part 17, Chapter 6 - Chrissie's Probably Making Clothes Somewhere

I'm trying to figure out where Chrissie and Pattie went. From my reading of Chapter 4 it sounded like the two got roped on Jonnie's plane along with Robert the Fox, but they haven't made an appearance since then and I can't find any mention of the girls in the next hundred pages. I guess there was a second plane that Robert switched from to be with Jonnie? So they're in Scotland, maybe?

Eh, it's not like Chrissie and Pattie are worth worrying about. Now that they aren't captives any more, they serve no purpose to the plot.

So, back to Africa. Jonnie and his soldiers secure a landing field and start poking around the abandoned compound that supplies the mine near what "old man-maps said had been called Lake Victoria," which is now called the Body of Water Formerly Known as Lake Victoria.

He spots a "fuel and ammunition manufacturing unit" that's been ransacked, showing frantic activity. The flattened foliage along the roadside suggests a big ol' convoy went through days or weeks ago. Jonnie's uneasy - besides the fact that there's a thousand Brigantes lurking nearby, it looks like the Psychlos have access to heavy vehicles, perhaps tanks, and his men can't fight armor in this "water-satured, hemmed-in forest."

This confuses me. Wasn't this the terrain that the tanks were ill-suited for? Didn't Jonnie bring any of those bazookas that took down (some) Psychlo warplanes? And isn't close, dense, low-visibility terrain with lots of hiding places for ambushing infantry a tank driver's worst nightmare? Oh, but Jonnie can't have air support, so it's an untenable tactical situation.

Dunneldeen lands, Robert the Fox runs up, and the bigwigs have a meeting. Jonnie theorizes that a Psychlo convoy hit this place for fuel before going back to the nearby minesite. Dunneldeen recalls that particular base put up heavier resistance than others, i.e. they managed to almost launch some planes and set up some anti-air weapons that mildly inconvenienced the single Scottish aircraft, even wounding its copilot. 'deen's reconnaisance reveals that the Psychlos at that base have reopened their hangar doors (the Scot pilot blasted them closed) and have planes hidden beneath the treeline - Mark 32 ground attack craft, heavily-armored.

And no, in the weeks since the great uprising nobody's launched a follow-up attack on these guys. You can't expect military operations to continue when the Jonnie Goodboy Tyler's in the hospital, can you?

Jonnie guesses these holdouts are desperate for breathe-gas, and have spent days building up their fuel and ammo reserves for an attack on the biggest supply of the hilariously explosive gas - the Colorado minesite! Dramatic musical sting!

So our heroes resolve to ambush these attackers before America is threatened. Jonnie dispatches some men under Ivan to hold a mountain pass with heavy weapons, including bazookas and mortars, with Dunneldeen as air support. Jonnie and the others will stay behind to deal with those Brigantes. And that's it for this chapter.

Oh, and the battle last chapter, with the "we surrender" at the end? Yeah, I don't know either. No mention is made of it in this chapter, and there's no prisoners around. Maybe it was a fake surrender?

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, June 25, 2010

Part 17, Chapter 5 - Jungle Japes

Jonnie and Co. land at the hydroelectric plant, an old human ruin built over by the Psychlos, the facility automated and self-maintaining, of course. Then the humans follow a power line through the rain forest for three days, knowing that it'll eventually lead them to the Psychlo compound. This takes them from Lake Victoria in the East African Plateau to the Ituri Forest in the former Congo (referred to as Haut-Zaïre in the book), which depending on how close to the lake they landed is a trip of a hundred miles or so. Not bad for three days' hiking through dense jungle with "buckskin and moccasins and a limp."

There's the expected rain forest imagery - vines "wrapped like gorged serpents," a "warm waterfall" of constant precipitation, etc. Along the way the expedition spots elephants, buffalo, gorillas, antelope, two species of big cats, crocodiles, monkeys, peacocks, and most intriguingly a "giraffe-like animal." Presumably this is an okapi, from which the Okapi Wildlife Reserve that contains a fifth of the Ituri Forest derives its name. I'm just wondering where Jonnie learned all the other animal names, and how he intuitively knew that the okapi is more closely related to a giraffe despite looking like a weird zebra, and for that matter how Jonnie knows what a giraffe looks like.

In other words, we're in Darkest Africa, which the narrator insists has never been fully explored despite the presence of tribes who actually live in it. I guess this is a grab at the pulp-era "fearless adventurer" story, as if Hubbard couldn't restrict Jonnie's heroics to one genre, or else realized that the sci-fi angle of his story kinda sucked.

They find the compound, which looks deserted, but Jonnie knows that Psychlos never wander about outdoors. While Robert the Fox mumbles about there never being "a more unplanned raid," Jonnie scans the area for tracks - not tire tracks, but the crushed underbrush left by the floating devices of Psychlo ore trucks. Which makes the earlier comment about tanks not being able to handle the terrain all the more nonsensical.

Anyway, reconnaissance is interrupted when Colonel Ivan knocks out someone. The interloper "might have been any nationality, or any color for that matter," his face "scarred and brutal," and he wears a monkey-skin tailored like a military uniform. Ivan got a poisoned arrow in his canteen but is otherwise fine, but then Jonnie notices the captured Brigante has a grenade with a Psychlo fuse, and a Psychlo radio. Then, an explosion! Gunfire! Action!

There was an instant hammering of assault rifles.

Bursting grenades racketed and smoke poured through the rain.

Running feet of men covering each other as they went forward in alternate waves.


Russian and Scot battle cries!

Then a lull. Then another furious hammer of assault rifles.

Another lull.

And then the attackers surrender.

Yes, that was the fight scene in its entirety. It's not really worth mentioning, and could easily be summed up with "there's some noise, but the Brigantes surrender," but it was a good example of Hubbard's writing style so I included it. In all honesty it's about as long and detailed as the stuff for the fight for the Colorado minesite. That's Battlefield Earth's action sequences: a bunch of short sentences that sound like notes on a movie script given to a stunt coordinator with the order "make something interesting out of this."

Jonnie plays no part in the skirmish, but surmises that the compound is truly abandoned since the racket doesn't provoke a Psychlo response. And that's it for the chapter.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Part 17, Chapter 4 - The Brigantes

So Jonnie leaves on his top secret expedition in a huge troop transport with a cargo bay full of soldiers and weapons and two fighters flying escort, because half the cast heard about this hush-hush raid and wanted in on it. There's Dunneldeen and five of his chosen Scots, Colonel Ivan and forty Cossacks, Dwight and Dr. MacKendrick. And Bittie MacLeod. And then Pattie, who rushes over to give Bittie a smooch because they're suddenly totally in love (and what, in their early teens?). And then Chrissie, who comes with Pattie but gets wrangled by an old lady who wants to take her to Scotland. And then Robert the Fox. And Glencannon is one of the escort pilots.

There will be a test later, so memorize this list.

This chapter's a conversation between Jonnie, Robert, and a coordinator named David Fawkes who has some experience from a mission to "what used to be called the rain forest." They call it Susan now.

Anyway, the tribe in the area is a weird one because they didn't welcome the Federation emissaries with open arms, so you know they're ultimately evil. Instead the coordinators were greeted with a crude blackpowder grenade hurled by a decrepit old man, who apologized after guessing they were from "the bank." The council ordered that these Brigantes be brought in, which may fit in with their tribal legends that some day the bank will fulfill its ancient promise to "pull them out."

The Brigantes, you see, are a group descended from a band of multiethnic mercenaries hired way back before the Psychlo invasion to topple an African state on behalf of an international bank, because the post-colonial government refused to pay its debts after the coup. You know, like banks do all the time. These mercs survived the apocalypse by their convenient proximity to an old salt mine, "picked up" women from the surviving native populations, and turned into a mongrel, militaristic tribe.

Oh, and they're slavers, too. They somehow forged an arrangement with the local Psychlos and exchanged prisoners for trinkets or fabrics, at least until they ran out of other populations to prey upon. The Brigantes' own numbers are kept around a thousand by their practice of leaving the elderly to die and their high mortality rate, especially in children, both tempered by the fact they don't believe in marriage but just "use" women. Also, they hunt elephants with grenades used at point-blank range.

Now, before you wonder if these guys are the dumbest humans on the planet, keep in mind that yes, the Brigantes are hunting huge, dangerous animals when smaller and easier to kill wildlife abounds, using suicidal tactics with unreliable weapons... but said weapons are made of clay and simple blackpowder. Meanwhile the Village of the Idiots has regressed to the paleolithic, and Jonnie once got bit by a window.

Oh yeah, this is rich: the Psychlos haven't hunted the Brigantes down because of the terrain. You see, the swamps make their "bodies too heavy to walk, ground too soggy for tanks, trees too tall to fly into." I call B.S. Buffalo, elephants, moose, and other large animals can stomp their way through swamps. I know Hubbard hasn't made it clear, but the Psychlos have vehicles that can at least hover. And can't they just blast the trees with their superior firepower, the stuff that knocks over buildings? Heck, given how "invincible" their armor is, they should just ram through obstacles.

This is on top of the fact that the Psychlos' status as terrifying raiders is largely an informed ability.

So yeah, the Brigantes, a bunch of degenerate Africans with a low opinion of women, idiotic hunting practices, and a cheerfully direct solution to overpopulation. Things could only be worse if they were cannibals, too. Oh wait, just a few chapter from now... But that's later.

Yes, Bittie and Pattie are now officially a couple. Yes, Hubbard spends a whole sentence on this development. No, the relationship is not explored in any previous chapters. Heck, can you recall the last time Pattie was even mentioned, much less given dialogue? It must be like Jonnie and Chrissie's relationship, something so sweeping and beautiful that it's just obvious, you don't even need to describe it.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Part 17, Chapter 3 - Oh Good, Jonnie's Back

The chapter opens with Jonnie announcing that "We are going to Africa." Jonnie needs Psychlos, living and dead, because he's wondering why Company protocols sent all dead aliens home. He wants to do some autopsies to try to figure out why the Chamcos committed suicide, which is proving difficult since the dead Psychlos from the battle got dumped down a mine shaft and the Chamcos were inexplicably incinerated by order of the council. He'd also like to talk with some engineers who haven't offed themselves yet, because Psychlo math is like way harder than our puny Earth math.

Why Africa of all places is simple - there's an untouched Psychlo outpost there, around a tungsten mine near Lake Victoria. The place is concealed by the jungle canopy so it wasn't hit during the Epic Battle of Earth, since the humans planned their attack based on recon drone scans. Jonnie only found out about it later because of a map.

Yes, Jonnie imagines these Psychlos have been "sitting there listening to the strange chatter on the pilot planetary, keeping their furry Psychlo heads down and waiting for a chance to break out" for the week(s?) since the human uprising, rather than doing something. Maybe they get basic cable down there and have no reason to leave, I dunno.

This hunting expedition will be off-the-record; ostensibly Jonnie and Company are going to greet the local tribes. This is because Jonnie's not happy with the planetary council - not only is he no longer invited to the meetings, but they're passing lots of laws. Like many Americans, Jonnie is instinctively suspicious of any government that attempts to actually govern. Laws are for foreigners.

Oh, and wouldn't you know it but Jonnie's on the road to recovery. Dr. MacKendrick was startled when, after using a dull needle to stitch Jonnie's cheek, the guy reached up with his nonresponsive right hand. There's no physical damage, Jonnie just needs to relearn how to use his right side, which of course won't take him long. The doctor, of course, "liked this young man. He liked him very much."

They should just take Jonnie around to every group on the planet and ask if they like him or not. Anyone who says no is obviously a villain and should be immediately executed.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Part 17, Chapter 2 - The Cripple, the Nazi, and the Alien

Terl's gaining ground in his machinations, too. He's been waiting for someone to express an interest in teleportation, and when Jonnie started asking around, Terl heard the expected gunshots from the Chamco Bros. Lars the Neo-Nazi brings word that the duo managed to hang themselves with their own chains after being taken into custody, and Terl feigns surprise. The cadet also mentions how the incompetent guards got court-martials and are being deported to Scotland, which at least shows that the humans can recognize incompetence after a blunder, and then says he has someone who wants to meet Terl, all off-the-record.

So, over mine radios, Terl and Brown Limper have a chat. Terl assures the human that the Psychlos are a peaceful mercantile race who only moved to Earth after a natural disaster depopulated the planet a thousand years ago. They even made an effort to give humanitarian aid, but alas the company lacked the resources to do enough. And then this punk named Tyler shows up, betrays Terl's friendship and trust, and provokes a crisis to take over. Those poor, trustworthy, peaceloving, friendly Psychlos.

Once the two leave, Terl "hugged himself enough to crush his rib bones" trying to contain his glee. Everything's going as planned, or even better than planned thanks to this idiot councilman. Not only will Terl get to go home, but he's going to blow up Earth and take a prisoner with him.

Yes, planet Psychlo has chambers containing the precise mix of elements that makes up Earth's atmosphere. If Star Trek has taught us anything, it's that an astonishing number of planets' atmospheres are identical to Earth's.

It's too much for Terl to take, so he laughs maniacally in his cell, which is a bit off-putting for the guard. "He had an odd feeling of foreboding. Had the summer night turned cold? Or was it just that insane laughter from the cage?"

Oddly enough, the next place we're going tends towards the hot and arid or hot and miserably muggy.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, June 21, 2010

Part 17, Chapter 1 - Brown Limper's Very Own Chapter

And now for a refreshing change of viewpoint, as we get to see Brown Limper Staffor rise from a pathetic bit character to a pathetic villain. We join him leaving the "horrible, vulgar spectacle!" at the mining compound, seething with envy (which he labels "righteousness") at all the adoration going Jonnie's way, and vowing to do whatever it takes to show people the truth about Goodboy Tyler.

Staffor has always been compared to Jonnie and found wanting, you see, and sometimes lies awake obsessing over his rival to the point of coming down with fevers. When Brown Limper was little, his mother always told him how Jonnie's dad was in favor of having the club-footed little mutant killed, so the guy grew up knowing the Tylers were out to kill him. When Jimson (I'm assuming he's the old mayor, a quick glance through the early chapters doesn't bring him up) started expressing his support for Jonnie's idea to start a new village elsewhere, Brown Limper encouraged the man to take up locoweed until he was content to just lie down in a stupor.

It was quite simple logic. There was Tyler, prancing around on his horse, ogling the girls, the young men following his lead and getting into trouble, the council soft-headedly overlooking his criminal pursuits. And there was Brown Limper---wise, tolerant, understanding and brilliant---overlooked and even scorned and cast aside...

...So it was only sensible he should be upset and take measures to protect not only himself, but the whole village as well. It would be utterly irresponsible not to.

Jonnie's brush with death gave Limper hope, but here he is up and about and getting his fanny smooched by everyone and trying to steal the villagers' property by convincing them to relocate. He must be stopped! So Limper's been working on that.

As the mayor of the Village of the Idiots (the other council members were very interested in Staffor, since he came from the same place as the Jonnie), Brown Limper gets one parliamentary vote, like all chiefs. So he's been getting friendly with the other North American representatives. There aren't many - two populations in British Columbia, four groups in the Sierra Nevadas, and a few Indian tribes in the southern mountains somewhere - but Limper organized the rescue and subsequent admission of the former two areas' peoples into the world government, giving him three council votes beholden to him. He's working on the Indians, and has been taking care to bring up every bad rumor or misdeed that Jonnie the Window-Bitten Savage had ever done: graverobbing, fleeing from punishment, skipping church, etc. He even insinuates that there's a "village secret" that prevents him and Chrissie from getting married, though that isn't stopping Jonnie.

It isn't quite working though, because all good people everywhere love Jonnie even if they haven't met him yet, and a Siberian tribesman in particular argued with Staffor in Jonnie's favor. But then Brown Limper remembered that Jonnie had spent a lot of time with a Psychlo named Terl. He notices that cadet Lars Thorenson has also been hanging around Terl's cage, and...

It gets stupid.

So, using his influence, Brown Limper found in Academy records that Lars Thorenson had been a member of a Swedish tribe that emigrated, way back, to Scotland; that he had orginally been chosen as a coordinator trainee because he spoke Swedish and English and had a gift for tongues; that his father was a fascist minister and had urged the boy to use the Federation to spread the call of fascism, in view of the fact that it had been the state religion of Sweden, and had had some important military figure named Hitler as its head and was needed by the world...

I'm going to be charitable and assume that it's Lars' dad being stupid about history instead of Hubbard. But even so, man. I don't know what's a bigger stretch, that somehow a single fascist neo-Nazi has survived over a thousand years after the fall of the Third Reich, or that nobody else apparently remembers who Hitler was. You'd think the Russians at least would have him built into tribal mythology as a devil analogue, or something.

Almost done, almost done... Lars is in trouble after being injured in a crash landing during his training (way to go, Terl), and is being considered for deportation back to Scotland due to being not "all right in the head." If only someone, say, a council member, could convince these charges to be dropped and have a few words with the boy who is apparently so close to Terl...

Isn't it interesting? Jonnie the hero is flat as cardboard and inhuman. Terl is a cartoon villain. But Brown Limper, the petty, bitterly-jealous, manipulative little wretch, is probably the best-written character in the story. How does the saying go; "write who you know?"

Back to Part Sixteen, Chapter Five

Friday, June 18, 2010

Part 16, Chapter 5 - Psychlos Acting Stranger Than Usual

So Jonnie leaves Terl's cage and continues on his way to the dome-like domicile of the Super Chamco Bros., passing through the crowd of slack-jawed onlookers still spooked by their hero walking into the lair of a wild animal.

There were people there who would be telling their great-grandchildren that they personally had been present when the Jonnie had gone into that cage, and who would gain no small importance and notoriety because of it.

No. Wrong. You don't become famous and important because you saw some famous guy talk to another famous guy. What you do get is a story you break out at parties and family reunions in a sad attempt to earn second-hand attention, gaining only the scorn and annoyance of others.

Robrob the Rob is annoyed that Jonnie put himself at risk, and reminds Jonnie that he's "a symbol now." Jonnie insists that he's just Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, then laughs good-naturedly and adds "MacTyler."

Any concern Robert the Fox had felt melted. What could you do with this laddie? He was glad the day seemed a happy one again to Jonnie.

Make of that what you will.

Jonnie arrives at the Chamcos' dome and sees them working at their upholstered (?) desks through the transparent sides. There's a repeat of the "the guards want to protect Jonnie but Jonnie is fearless" thing from earlier. Oh, and the frickin' crowd has followed him and the Cossacks and the Scots and Bittie the Squire over. Nobody has anything better to do today than bask in the glory of Jonnie the demigod.

He enters and asks how the Chamcos' progress in rebuilding the "trans-shipment rig" is coming. Their replies are unusually clipped, and Jonnie notices strange looks in their eyes. He puts it down to "a Psychlo being a Psychlo" until he picks up a textbook and Chamco the Younger leaps at him with a roar! Action scene!

He saw an enormous paw blurring the air, coming at him.

He knelt and did a left-hand draw.

Talons raked the side of his face.

Jonnie fired.

The recoil threw him back against the door and

Well, you get the picture. Jonnie brings down one of them with his pistol set for stun, but then the big Chamco draws a gun of his own and aims it at his own head. Jonnie, of course, is able to blow the weapon out of the alien's paw, left-handed. The guards finally burst in once both Psychlos are down and out, because they, the people stationed outside the dome containing an alien atmosphere, couldn't find their gas masks.

I give humanity two, maybe three years, tops.

More murmurs from the amazed crowd, "why did they attack him," Colonel Ivan taking charge, blah blah blah... Jonnie asks for "picto-recorders" of his conversation to try to figure out what he said that set them off, he gets fifteen... Ivan mentions that Jonnie lives dangerously, Jonnie replies that "perhaps at heart, [he's] just a Cossack!" Retch.

Three days later Jonnie gets a message from the council, who by a slim majority have decided that "in the interest of his personal safety and to curtail any embarrassment, realizing his value to the state, it is decreed that Jonnie Goodboy Tyler not again visit the compound located until this place until such prohibition is formally rescinded by constituted authority."

Later he would look back on it as a turning point and criticize himself for not realizing how ominous it was.

Yep. Not only does Jonnie face his old foe Terl, older not-quite-a-foe-but-slightly-more-than-an-annoyance Brown Limper, and the distant but deadly threat of intergalactic bankers, now Jonnie must ready himself to do battle with that most lethal of enemies, the gub'ment.

The good news is that this chapter and section ends on page 500, which means we're tantalizingly close to the book's halfway point.

Back to Part Sixteen, Chapter Four

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Part 16, Chapter 4 - Back in the Cage

Forging a world government and rebuilding civilization after a thousand years of barbarism are both important work, but sometimes you just have to go watch one of the aliens that have been oppressing your race (but you've never seen before) act like a gorilla in a cage. There's a "throng" of gawkers around the Terl habitat, including most of the Academy cadets, a sizable percentage of New Denver's population, and even a few members of the planetary council - including Brown Limper Staffor, "chief of this continent."

Remember him? Club foot, stupid name, irredeemably evil because he didn't like Jonnie? No?

Jonnie's conflicted. "How many months had he been inside looking out, and how many nights had he stood outside looking in. A lot of nightmare was mixed up in that." I feel obliged to acknowledge those two sentences for not sucking.

He wants to talk to Terl, but not by shouting through the electrified bars. He orders the compound commander to cut the electricity and open the gate, and there's a tense moment because that particular Scot is an Argyll and not a Clanfearghus, and Jonnie remembers that it was only his arrival that interrupted the last clan war. This somehow prevents the guy from conceding to Jonnie's request. But Colonel Ivan's skill at shoving sees Jonnie through.

Terl's still doing his "grrr I am a feral monster" act, so Jonnie's first words to him are "Quit clowning, Terl." Terl grins (evilly) and says hello to the "animal," which prompts the parson in the crowd outside to shout "He is not an animal!" I'm not sure why I mentioned this, because it isn't really important.

The crafty old Psychlo is snidely insulting, speculating that Jonnie got injured doing something stupid and bemoaning the fact that he could never teach the "rat brain" to overcome his Chinko accent. Jonnie's unfazed, and demands to know why Terl's out in the cage. Terl assures Jonnie that "I'm --------," the row of dashes this time representing a Psychlo word Jonnie doesn't know, rather than a Psychlo expletive.

Rather than getting confused and perhaps wondering why Terl was describing himself as something indecent, Jonnie quietly scans the cage for anything Terl may have hidden. He finds the dictionary and discovers that Terl said he's "Repenting," and laughs. Jonnie says he ought to put Terl back in his room. Terl's not worried.

"Animal," said Terl, "in spite of past difference, I think I should tell you one more thing. You will be coming to me for help soon. And as I am ------ and ------," two more words Jonnie wouldn't bother to look up, "I probably will be stupid enough to help you. So just remember, animal. When it gets too difficult, come to see Terl. After all, weren't we always shaftmates?"

Despite the partially ominous, partially pathetic speech, Jonnie laughs and leaves, and Terl goes back to making an ass of himself. Instead of ordering Terl moved back to a secure location and foiling whatever plans he was furthering by placing himself in that cage, Jonnie continues on with his day, so that Plot can happen.

On the way to the horse, he meets Brown Limper, with "naked, malevolent hatred" on his face. Limper says "I see there are two cripples now!" before departing. I guess at this point Hubbard realized that Terl wasn't much of an obstacle any more, so here's an evil cripple to drag this thing out further.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Part 16, Chapter 3 - Aerial Stunts and Parades

Jonnie makes it to the heliport and is grumpy when there's a plane waiting for him with its passenger door open. He wants to fly, even if he can only do it with his left hand (and left foot), the safety of his passengers be damned!

With his multicultural crew of Russian and Scottish guards and a Swedish copilot, Jonnie takes off. He admires the mountains, spots a bear "on some important errand no doubt," notices a South American llanero riding below herding cattle, and rolls down the plane's window to wave.

While flying. One-handed.

On their final approach to the minesite the descending plane is mobbed by people, but Jonnie ignores them and whistles for Windsplitter. He checks his horse's healing leg, mounts up, and with an escort of horsed Russians and Robert the Fox tries to push past the throng of worshipers. But they're stopped by Bittie MacLeod. Dunneldeen apparently assured the boy that he could be Jonnie's page. Suddenly I admire 'deen's cunning.

Bittie's sad puppy face is too powerful for Jonnie to say no to. By now a llanero has joined the commotion and thirty Tibetans on a "pilgrimage" disembark from a plane to join in. Jonnie ends up entering the compound at the head of a procession of three hundred, all screaming his name, pushing their hands his way, giving him gifts of flowers for Chrissie, going absolutely nuts when he waves for them...

Jonnie, of course, is humble and uncomfortable with the attention.

And then he notices a caged and collared Terl "capering and leaping about." Jonnie finally has a reaction to his old foe, "vague unease."

To be fair, he is recovering from a serious head injury that can only have compounded his preexisting mental and emotional shortcomings. Also note that this chapter is four pages long and nothing really happens in it.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Part 16, Chapter 2 - Math is Hard!

The chapter opens with Jonnie hurling his book in disgust and provoking Colonel Ivan to rush in, ready for trouble. But Jonnie's just having unprecedented difficulty with a subject of study. "It makes no sense, it just makes no sense!"

Flashback time.

Weeks ago, Aunt Ellen made the trip from the Village of the Idiots to check on Jonnie, and "had stood around suffused with delight" (no mention of Jonnie's reaction to her safe return, if any) until she saw the sad state of the cafeteria's food. So now she's been sending home-cooked meals personally or via courier to the missile base several miles away, where the food is reheated for Jonnie to eat. She waits until he's done, retrieves the utensils, and rides all the way home.

Now before you say anything, like maybe suggest that she stay at the base to cook Jonnie's meals, just remember where she hails from. She's doing good to handle kitchen utensils without decapitating herself.

After that no doubt heartwarming reunion, Jonnie's gotten to work cracking the mathematics of teleportation, but it's going poorly. For one thing, the Psychlo use base eleven due to having "six talons on their right paws and five on their left." Which is interesting. Life on our planet likes symmetry, and while it's entirely possible that alien lifeforms have evolved differently, in all respects beside the number of digits the Psychlos are straightforward, symmetrical, familiar-looking creatures. I guess it could be a form of polydactyly, though this would mean that the entire Psychlo race is prone to birth defects and mutation. Which might explain a lot.

So, that's what Jonnie's cranky about. Elementary Principles of Integral Teleportation Equations is kicking his intellectual buttocks, so much so that he can't even enjoy Aunt Whossname's venison stew. While Chrissie considers eating the food for him so that Auntie isn't offended, Jonnie declares that he's going for a walk.

What follows is a full paragraph about Jonnie's cane. It's a "knobkerrie" gifted from an African chief. It is apparently black and quite stylish, and that's all the time I'm gonna spend on it.

Then he selects a buckskin shirt and a blastgun and holster and is interrupted by an uproar! It's a bunch of soldiers, and Ker! The poor lil' alien is all stinky and disheveled, and is secured by four chains held by a quartet of guards.

Jonnie, "amusement mingling with pity," gets the soldiers to scram and let Ker in. The Psychlo explains that he lied about Jonnie sending for him because he needed to see him, his only "shaftmate." Suddenly reaching into his vest - in a move that does not spook Jonnie, because Jonnie knows and trusts Ker - the alien retrieves a note.

It was about six inches wide and a foot long. The paper felt a bit rough but it seemed to glow. One side of it was printed in blue and the other side in orange. It had a nebula pattern and bright starburst on it. But the remarkable thing was that it was worded in what must be thirty languages: thirty numerical systems, thirty different types of lettering---ah, one of them was Psychlo.

He read: "The Galactic Bank" and "One Hundred Galactic Credits" and "Guaranteed Legal Tender for All Transactions" and "Counterfeiters Will Be Vaporized" and "Certified Exchangeable at the Galactic Bank on Presentation."

It had a picture of somebody or something on the blue side. It looked like a humanoid, or maybe a Tolnep somebody had mistaken Dunneldeen for, or maybe... who knew? The face was very dignified, the very portrait of integrity. On the reverse it had a similar-sized picture of an imposing building with innumerable arches.

Did you feel it? A chill running down your spine, the prickle of sweat in your hair? The icy clutch of dread seizing your heart, a smothering blanket of fear stealing your breath? Forget the Psychlos, an intergalactic empire with invincible armor and weapons that scythe all life from planets. Here we're introduced to the book's real threat, for now a distant menace like a hurricane on the horizon, but something rolling steadily nearer to lay all to ruination.


Jonnie's not impressed, but Ker isn't done. He points out a brand on his chest, "the three bars of denial" that mark him as a criminal and gave Terl leverage over him. Ker was an exile since a return to Psychlo would reveal his false papers and earn him a prompt vaporization. He doesn't want to add to his troubles, so he's handing off the two billion credits Numph embezzled and Ker found in the old administrator's bed. This will allow Jonnie to pay the turncoat Psychlos in cash, and all Ker wants in return is to be out of jail and useful. He offers to help train at the machine school in the Academy, and Jonnie accepts after laughing at how pathetic and sincere Ker acts.

Note that Jonnie does not reflect on his old business relationship/quasi-friendship with Ker. He doesn't ruminate on Ker's good behavior having earned him some trust. And he certainly doesn't have second thoughts about his efforts to blow up the Psychlo homeworld, annihilating who knows how many other "redeemable" Psychlos in a fiery holocaust.

He just laughs at the humbled and earnest Ker.

Before he leaves Ker warns that Terl is in a cage now, and up to something. Jonnie has no reaction. Instead he laughs that "Job bribery comes high these days!" to Robert the Fox and orders Ker's money turned over to the council. Then he pushes on to talk to the Chamco Brothers.

And so this chapter ends on a cliffhanger - will Jonnie make it to the compound? Will he give his old nemesis a second thought? Will Aunt Ellen have any impact on the plot or characters?

Back to Chapter One

Monday, June 14, 2010

Part 16, Chapter 1 - Atonement

Terl's in solitary confinement, of sorts: a janitor's closet with a cot, a port to push food through, an intercom, and some breathe-gas. If he'd been put with the other Psychlos he'd have been torn apart by now, what with almost singlehandedly dooming his race to extinction and toppling an interuniversal empire through greed and incompetence. Naturally, he blames the females, both Chirk and the human hostages. "His hindsight was a bit faulty, but not his conviction that it was correct. Always a master of self-delusion, Terl was at his best these days."

Cheer up Terl, you were up against a demigod! No shame in losing with odds like that.

He's still fixated on those ten golden coffin lids that he's convinced are waiting for him on Psychlo, and is incensed at the betrayal of those ingrate man-things. But Terl is determined to free himself and attain wealth and prestige, through the power of cleverness and leverage. He knows that there's explosives still buried under Jonnie's old cage, and that there is a third detonator remote hidden outside the cage door. He also tallies two more trump guards that not even the narrator will tell us about yet.

Terl's objective is obvious - he must be in that cage!

So the big dope starts chatting with the (single) guard outside his improvised cell, asking about the half-wing on his uniform. The guard, a Swede named Lars Thorenson, explains that he's still in training. Terl expresses his confidence that young Lars will earn his full wings soon, and compliments him on his Psychlo, offering to help him practice by conversing with a real alien. Once Terl explains that he's also a pilot, the two become buddies.

Over the next few days Lars and Terl talk while the former takes his turns standing guard in between classes. Lars practices his Psychlo, and Terl passes on piloting tips that if actually used would probably get Lars killed, because he's compulsively evil like that, forcing him to risk losing an asset to a training accident. Then one day Terl explains that to go any further in Lars' language training, he ought to have access to a dictionary. He's loaned one.

There were a lot of words in the composite language called "Psychlo" that were never actually used by Psychlos. They had leaked into the language from Chinko and other tongues. Psychlos never used them because they could not really grasp their conceptual meaning.

So Terl looked up words and phrases like "atone for wrongs," "guilt," "restitution," "personal fault," "pity," "cruelty," "just," and "amends." He knew they existed as words and that alien races used them. It was a very, very hard job, and later he would look on this as the toughest part of his whole project. It was all so foreign, so utterly alien!

Wonder what they put on Psychlo legal documents after a trial then, if they don't use "guilt." "Worthy of being punished?" "Hapless?" Also interesting that despite never being used, these words made it into a dictionary, kinda like if Webster's included an entry for "fixlesnogt."

Anyway, one morning Terl confesses to Lars that he's very, very sorry for all the exploding collar nonsense and attempted genocide, and the only way for him to to feel better about putting Jonnie in a cage is to suffer in the same cage as penance. Lars takes his recording of the conversation (he studies them later as part of his language learning) to his commander. In one of those lucky coincidences, the commander is being troubled with people flying in from all over the world, wanting to see a Psychlo...

So yes, despite most people not even seeing these aliens, the Psychlos were still preventing them from moving freely and kept mankind on the verge of extinction.

Well, Lars' superior is all for putting Terl in the electrified cage, if only to give the tourists something to gawk at, so he floats the idea at the next council meeting, and the busy and distracted bunch of administrators approves the prisoner transfer.

Mission success! Terl's outside in his gas mask, jumping and roaring and beating his chest like a gorilla (he's heard of them from somewhere) to the delight and terror of onlooking children, who throw things at him. Lars even comes up with the idea of giving Terl a collar and chain, which he accepts.

Terl's mouthbones wore a private smile as he capered and postured. He rumbled and roared.

His plans were working out perfectly.

Gotta admire his optimism. Yes, I'm in a cage acting like an animal, but I've got them right where I want them!

Just goes to show, when your main baddie had a villain ball implanted in his skull as a child, the protagonists need to take up the hero ball for someone like Terl to make a comeback. It's the only way you only have one guard watching over an "evil genius" like Terl, and a rookie guard who ought to be given non-essential responsibilities like patrolling the kitchen, at that. And why you'd consider moving a high-priority prisoner from a secure interior holding area to a metal cage on your base's periphery. And why the council of Earth paid so little attention to said high-priority prisoner's relocation. And why the holding cell in question wasn't painstakingly searched for anything that could give said prisoner a reason to request a move. And why there are a bunch of tourists allowed near prisoners. And why nobody's told Jonnie that his nemesis has vowed atonement in complete contrast with everything known about such an evil species.

Still, despite all the (normal levels of) stupidity... I'm surprised by just how happy I am to be back with Terl again. He's a contemptible cretin and a failure as a villain, but unlike Jonnie, the entire universe isn't bending over backwards to smooch his fanny. Hubbard insists that Terl is dangerous and devious, but he doesn't make people worship him, which makes him more likable than the book's hero. Damning with faint praise, I know...

Back to Part Fifteen, Chapter Four

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Part 15, Chapter 4 - A Heartfelt Appeal for Unity

Just four chapters in and I already want another two week vacation. I had forgotten just how bad this got. I had forgotten about Jonnie's deification. My first readthrough was rushed, not from any time constraints, but because I was eager to finish the stupid book. So I missed stuff. And here I am, going through it one chapter at a time, allowing me to savor the pain.

Jonnie, prince of Scotland by blood transfusion and the living member of forty pantheons, is mopey because he isn't certain that Psychlo got bombed successfully; and even if it did, there's still a bunch of other aliens out there that could be hostile towards humanity.

It haunted him at every awakening; it plagued his sleep. People now looked so happy and industrious, so revived. What cruelty if it were just a brief interlude. How crushed they would be!

Was he this depressed about Chrissie being captured? I don't think so, but don't care to check.

So even while in physical therapy to relearn how to move his arm and walk, Jonnie's obsessing over the possibility of failure. But he notices a big, burly Russian (is there any other kind?) standing at attention "with slightly slanted eyes" and a "bristling black mustache standing straight out on both sides of his big nose. His name was, inevitably, Ivan."

Of course it was.

Through a Scottish translator who is apparently fluent in Russian after mere weeks of book learning, and over the protests of Chrissie who is trying to clean Jonnie's room and let him rest, the man introduces himself as Colonel Ivan Smolensk... good grief. That's about as imaginative as Captain John Milwaukee. Anyway, Ivan's from the Hindu Kush and descended from a Red Army unit who intermarried with the Afghan natives, but identify themselves as Cossacks. After the elimination of isolated Psychlo mining bases suddenly allowed humans to move freely about, these Afghan-Cossacks rode clear to the Ural Mountains and discovered a bunker complex filled with "atom bombs and hardware and dead men."

Jonnie suggests the Russians refit it and move in. This sets the ethnically-confused Russian off, and he makes a stirring speech through the translator as he voices his refusal.

"He says that's what ruined the whole human race. He says the valiant-Red-Army, trying to fight the capitalist-imperialist-warmongers (these are just names to him, Jonnie sir, he doesn't have a political axe to grind) had their attention on each other and didn't cooperate when an invader landed; and he says while tribal wars will and do happen, international wars among whole peoples are against the good welfare of the people. He says he is for the people of Earth and people didn't stick together, but fought, and this must not happen again. He's very emphatic, Jonnie sir, and he says all the other Russian tribes are also."

Stirs the soul, no? If only more people had listened to L. Ron when he was alive, we could have achieved world peace by now.

But the Russian has a plan, complete with documents to sign - ship the South Americans and Alaskans (because most of the North Americans are dead) to man the Russian base and send Russians to man the one in the Rockies. That way nobody will push those big red buttons and send the missiles crashing down on their homelands. Jonnie approves and signs the ordersl.

In return, Ivan the Unimaginatively-Named gives Jonnie a gift, a Red Army marshal's cap recovered from the bunker in the Urals. Now he is "in charge of both bases." And yes, these actions completely bypass the planetary council.

Robert the Fox remarks that "If this had happened a thousand or so years ago, maybe things would have been different." And then after Chrissie shoos everyone out Doctor MacKendrick comes in to exercise Jonnie's arm and legs and remarks that he's showing improvement, but Jonnie bitterly complains "Not improved enough! I may not have been so smart after all." And then the chapter and Part just ends.

Next time, Terl's back.

Back to Part Fifteen, Chapter Three

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Part 15, Chapter 3 - Losing My Religion

Time's passing, days into weeks, and people are still worried about Jonnie; yes, he's out of his coma and in no danger, but he's still brooding. Foxrob the Ert and the chiefs of Clanfearghus and Clanargyll - why have they condensed those into single words? - are trying to figure out what's wrong with their friend, whether he's worried about a Psychlo reprisal or if the fact that he can't walk and has lost some functionality in his right arm has something to do with it. They resolve to find him some good news to cheer him up.

So we get an update on the state of the planet. "Jonnie Isn't Dead Day" is apparently over and everyone's back to work. Some Swedes and Russians are rebuilding the Air Force Academy to meet the insatiable demand for pilots, and the Council has moved in until the capitol in Denver can be refurbished, because building new structures is more difficult than reconstructing thousand-year-old ruins.

Oh, and Chrissie's hanging around Jonnie's room, trying to keep his disturbances to a minimum while he recovers. I've now spent two sentences discussing Chrissie, which is more than what Hubbard did.

The World Federation for the Unification of the Human Race, a.k.a. "the Scots Jonnie didn't pick for his mission," have raided Oxford and Cambridge for books about languages and foreign cultures, acting as "coordinators" for the task of making contact with all those scattered tribes of men... which the last chapter implied already happened. Hmm.

Anyway, some thirty-five thousand humans are estimated to remain on Earth, "mostly survivors who had withdrawn to mountainous places, natural fortresses their forebears had mined, as in the case of the Rockies. But some were in the frozen north in which the Psychlos had no interest, and some were simply overlooked strays."

The one incredible fact that after over a thousand years there was freedom from Psychlos, even if possibly temporary, united them in a wave of hope. They had once gazed from their mountains on the ruins of cities they dared not visit; they had looked upon fertile plains and great herds they dared not benefit from; they had seen no hope whatsoever for their dying race.

"Freedom," huh? But all we saw the Psychlos doing was mining. The Scots complained that you can't go too close to the mining bases or else you'll get killed, but the Psychlos didn't even think men were sentient, and they aren't getting paid for hunting trips. The Psychlos were more like a terrain feature than an oppressor.

So how did the humans manage to keep dying so much?

And then suddenly men from the sky, speaking their language, telling them of the remarkable feats that led to possible freedom, had brought them soaring hope and reburgeoning pride in their race.

Right, so assuming the Psychlos are strafing tribal huts somewhere, the other humans just stood and watched an alien craft land nearby, without running for it or throwing a spear at the first thing to disembark? And when a complete stranger hopped out and started spinning a tale about coffin-bombs and nuclear bazookas, they accepted it without question? And felt proud about it?

The council's existence they accepted. They joined it and, with radios parked on rocks and in huts, communicated with it.

Just like that. "Oh, you - Scots, was it? - claim to have defeated a bunch of aliens? Okay, yeah, you're our new overlords. How may I serve?"

They all had one question. Was the Jonnie MacTyler of whom the coordinators spoke a part of this council? Yes, he was. Good, no more questions.

The problem is that I can't smash my face against my keyboard after reading this, because my glasses are already crooked and I don't want to make things worse.

Anyway, the council has decided to maintain the barbarous tribal governments and is simply spreading the Scots' clan system by appointing local "clanchiefs." There's a lot of changes happening across the world, and quite a few new faces in Colorado. South Americans in "baggy pants and flat leather hats, swinging wide lariats and riding almost as well as Jonnie once had" arrive with their womenfolk to wrangle some bison. Two Italians join the kitchen staff. Five Swiss-Germans open a factory to repair tools. Three Basques start making shoes. Some "serious-eyed Chinese from a mountain fastness" help the historian with the task of managing tribal legends and building a history.

Notice a pattern? So what's missing, some Arabs to open a hookah bar? Jewish bankers? Kenyan soccer players? Indian... tech support?

I suspect that Hubbard simply doesn't understand people. He thinks they'd all just rally around his obnoxious main character, and can only conceptualize foreigners as stereotypes.

Psychlo becomes the technical lingua franca, which causes some consternation over using the language of the baddies until the historian (somehow) discovers that Psychlo is itself a bastardization of several different tongues and concepts (none of which had a word for "cruelty," apparently). People still prefer calling it "Techno" all the same. For "arts, humanities and government" English is used, and in other affairs everyone's old tribal tongues are spoken.

The parson is faced with the fact that there are now oodles of different religions in close proximity to each other, which share similar apocalypse myths from a thousand years ago but little else. But he doesn't evangelize, seeking peace instead of converts, and everyone else agrees to hold off on the holy wars for now.

The parson had neatly handled the whole thing for the moment. He would disturb no beliefs at all. Every one of these tribes was demanding to know what was the religion of Jonnie MacTyler? Well, he wasn't really of any religion, the parson told them. He was Jonnie MacTyler. Instantly and without exception, Jonnie MacTyler became part of their religions. And that was that.

Yep. Jonnie gets "woven into the pantheon of about forty religions."

God dammit, Hubbard.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Part 15, Chapter 2 - In Which I Lose All Faith in Humanity

The chapter opens with the information that Jonnie's been in a coma for three days, then we spend a page going over what happened three days ago. I wonder if this counts as a motif on Hubbard's part.

Jonnie's in the new and improved, salt-filtered missile base under the Rockies, where he and the other wounded Scots are recuperating in a thousand-year-old infirmary under the care of Doctors Allen and MacKendrick. Mac was the guy from the underground hospital introduced last chapter, but I've already forgotten who Allen is.

Oh, Chrissie's hanging around too.

Jonnie records a missive to Robert the Fox, and passes on the advice that if another gas drone shows up, they should land thirty recon drones on it using those magnetic grappels and run their engines on "reverse coordinates" to burn out the gas drone's engines, which is one of those ideas I'm flabbergasted that none of the myriad of other alien races opposing the Psychlos have come up with. Then Jonnie passes out.

MacKendrick and Angus argue over treating Jonnie. Mac wants to use the old radiological machines, but Angus is leery over anything with "radiation" in its name. "No, man, not on Jonnie! Radiation is for killing Psychlos. You're daft!" Hmm, this brings up the issue of Psychlo medical treatment. How do you get a good look at a patient's insides without an X-Ray? What advances in technology were necessary to get around their explosive weakness to radiation? Did this inability to care for their sick and wounded contribute to the Psychlos' callous and brutal society? That would be an interesting angle.

Angus argues that even though the X-Ray equipment is intact (somehow), the gas tubes running them are long expired. So he goes to the section of the base home to the sixty or so "unreconstructed" (man does that sound like a Soviet euphemism) Psychlos are kept in rooms filled with breathe-gas (from where?). He finds the ever-helpful Ker and asks about devices allowing you to see through solid objects. When Ker learns it's to help Jonnie, the Psychlo goes all quiet, turning a gold ring over and over in his paws. Then he abruptly lunges into action and demands a breathe-mask and escort.

Kinda a big moment for Ker. Sad thing is, it all happens in one paragraph, narrated, no dialogue at all. My summary of it is about as long and in-depth as how it appears in the book.

So Ker goes to the Psychlo workshops and finds a device used on mineral samples, utilizing "sub-proton field emanation" wavelengths to make a three-dimensional image of objects' innards. After some tests on cats and volunteer Scots, the doctors use it on Jonnie and discover that there's a sliver of metal in his head. But Angus won't let them operate. Instead he goes to the Chamco Brothers for advice, who identify the metal shard as "ferrous daminite," which is commonly found in landing gear struts and incidentally magnetic. So at the end of the day, the doctors use an electro-coil to extract the metal from Jonnie's head.

Yay. His fever breaks, his color returns, and his breathing gets back to normal. And they get on the radios and spread the news, and there is much rejoicing, with bagpipes and drums and bonfires and an annual holiday is declared (I'm dead serious) and there are jubilant throngs of people all over the world and it's a good thing I don't have a knife or anything sharp within hand's reach right now.

I repeat, every person on the planet's happiness is tied directly to Jonnie. Scot pilots have been flying around the world to those pockets of humanity, sending representatives for their World Federation and checking in once a week. Mankind is advancing towards a world government, but all they want to do with it is make a pilgrimage to Jonnie's side.

Mankind was better off extinct.

Back to Chapter One