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

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