Friday, August 20, 2010

Part 21, Chapter 5 - Terl Builds a Bomb

Back to Africa, where Jonnie and friends are studying tens' worth of recordings of Terl at work. The surveillance system is working as planned - Terl found all the false bugs but not the shuttered ones, so there's extensive footage and stills of him going through thousands of pages of a massive 2' x 3', seven-inch thick book he got out of a false bottom to one of his drawers. It's all data about systems and planets, with forty columns covering their motion, "weight," atmosphere, demographics, mineral content and value, minesites, etc.

All speeds and directions of travel were based on the zero center of the universe and three-dimensional compass coordinates, using the inevitable Psychlo numeral eleven, and parts of eleven and powers of eleven.

Yeah, about that "center of the universe" thing...

Now the humans have data and coordinates for "thousands and thousands and thousands" of worlds across sixteen universes, all from a cumbersome seven-inch thick book. If only there was some way to store information electronically, and easily peruse it with some sort of machine. An engine designed for computation, if you will.

But that's not all that's on the tapes. They see Terl crunching some numbers and getting quite upset when planning his teleportation home. You can't teleport two different shipments to the same destination at the same time, you know, nor can you have two teleporters going on the same world without interference. As a result Psychlo has its teleportation schedule quite rigidly planned out, and has stuck to this table for "decades." All this means that the next window Terl has for going home is on Day 92. In other words, the regularly scheduled firing from Earth.

Terl almost breaks his pen after realizing this. Why was he surprised? He's been on Earth for a while and knows that's when there's an opening.

Anyway, after that Terl opens up a false back to a cabinet, retrieves a pair of tongs "big enough to lift a huge boulder," and uses it to haul out a pea-sized something that dents the floor when he fumbles it. Jonnie does some mental math and estimates that the tiny little orb must weigh seventy-five pounds to burden the mighty Terl so. This is where I'm tempted to brag about what I'm lifting during my daily gym visits.

The humans pull up a mineral analyzer and take scans from the surveillance footage, which I spend a minute or two boggling at. But the tests are inconclusive, nor is this weird super-dense, super-heavy pea in any Psychlo periodic tables. After taking half a page to explain atomic theory to Dunneldeen (to little effect: "I fell in the mine shaft about two hours ago and haven't been heard of since!"), Jonnie concludes that this mystery element is being purposefully kept secret, but most certainly isn't part of a transhipment rig.

They watch more footage as Terl assembles a pretty, hexagonal box with an array of rods inside of it made out of minerals common in Earth's crust and core. He laughs several times while assembling it, so we know a bomb. It takes Jonnie a bit to realize that that mysterious pea must do something to "stimulate" atoms into a reaction of some sort.

"Now I know who made Satan," said Dunneldeen. "His name was Terl."

God created the heavens and earth, God created the heavenly host, Lucifer is a fallen member of that heavenly host, so by Dunneldeen's logic, Terl is God.

Come on, L. Ron, you can't expect us to believe Terl is some sort of devilish supervillain just because the characters keep saying he is. His actions have to make him a menace, not his undeserved reputation. And remember Terl's shrieking fits, or how he made incriminating statements to corpses, or spent chapter after chapter worrying about a red herring, or when he almost killed the animal his plan hinged upon through negligence, or...

Random fact: Jonnie remembers that planet Psychlo is "only" about twenty-five thousand miles in diameter. In comparison, Earth is about eight thousand miles wide, while Jupiter is over eighty-eight thousand miles wide. But back in Part 20, Chapter 2 we learned that Psychlo's molten planetary core was just over eighty-three miles beneath its surface. If I've done the numbers right, this means that planet Psychlo is over 99% superheated, molten core.

Wow. Either I suck at math or that is one messed-up planet.

Back to Chapter Four

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