Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Part 21, Chapter 3 - Insomnia and Space Travel

Aaaaand we're back in Africa.

Sir Robert is in Scotland organizing air defense, Colonel Ivan is in Russia.... doing something, and Jonnie's in Africa having trouble sleeping, what with the hot and sticky weather, and all the planning he has to do, and the residual guilt over Bittie, etc.

When he isn't tossing and turning in bed, Jonnie's been studying the base. He concludes that since it isn't much of a mining outpost, it's primary purpose was to house and launch a counterattack in the event the Denver base was captured. Instead of, you know, launching a counterstrike to stop the Denver base from being captured. But I guess you'd have to respond to a distress signal to do that. It's not like suddenly losing contact with the planetary headquarters is reason for alarm, or that launching a swift and timely attack might catch your enemies flat-footed instead of giving them weeks to dig in and regroup.

Besides some military hardware, the African base has a few vessels designed to "mine out" some valuable material in orbit over Earth, something the Psychlos rarely encountered. That's right: satellites. The Psychlos were so desperate for metals that they cleaned up all our space junk.

The fact that this is "a circumstance unusual in Psychlo experience" is a little strange. The good interpretation is that most planets the Psychlos mine out are either uninhabited or home to pre-industrialized natives. The bad interpretation is that humanity is one of the few species in the universe(s) to use satellites to their advantage, which means that the rest of those aliens are all the more dumb. Or magical, if they've got technology that allows them to circumvent that aspect of space exploration.

Anyway, there's a small collection of formerly-orbiting objects, one of which bears the mysterious name of "NASA." The space miners that collected them were just left to rot in the intervening centuries. There's another lazy nod at reality when Jonnie notes that the door gaskets have deteriorated because "you can't expect a gasket to last for eleven hundred years and still be airtight," instead of expressing amazement that the door has lasted eleven hundred years. It actually makes me paranoid - is it me? Am I the one with the warped sense of longevity? Is metal supposed to last a millennium without the sort of meticulous preservation and care from a museum?

Stormalong's chilling out too, and has fixed up one of the Psychlo orbital-collector thingies into working condition, even adding guns and stuff. He proposes going up and visiting the four UFOs they've noticed in orbit for days now:

One was a big craft with a diamond-shaped bridge and a lot of blast-gun snouts. One was a cylinder with a control deck in the front, flat end. One was a thing which looked like a five-pointed star with a sort of gun on every star point. And the fourth was a sphere with a ring around it.

Jonnie strongly advises against going up for a "visit." Later, after a sleepless night, Jonnie gets a hankering for "some cool air and a look at stars." So he goes down to the "old relic" Stormalong refitted and takes it up two hundred miles to gawk at the alien ships. He arrives in time to see a fifth vessel show up and exchange fire with one of the other four starships. Jonnie zooms closer at hypersonic speed, intent on getting a good reading even though he can spot all five ships visually. When he realizes how big they're getting in his screens he notices he's just seventy-five miles distant, and hurriedly breaks off and runs for home.

From this we can conclude that either these are some ginormous spaceships, Jonnie's ship has a truly impressive zoom feature, or Hubbard, like many sci-fi authors, has no sense of scale.

And yes, our hero does realize he's just done what he warned Stormalong not to do, and chastises himself for it. Then Stormalong flies up in another ship and radios Jonnie "Don't shoot! I'll marry your daughter!", making Jonnie laugh. Then they go back to the minesite as I try to figure out what was funny about "Stormy"'s statement, whether it was a threat or a plea or what.

Back to Chapter Two

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