It's the aftermath of the Tolnep raid, and Jonnie asks for a flight recording to explain to everyone what happened. But first it's time to talk to one of the alien prisoners.
The Tolnep is blind without his faceplate, since his species sees in a different "light band" than humans. Jonnie helpfully gives the alien his space glasses and gets snapped at for his trouble by those nasty Tolnep poison fangs.
Jonnie hunkered down and said, "We will now begin your narrative, the long sad story of your youth, how circumstances drove you to crime, and how that fateful trail led you to this pitiful ending."
Smartass. But the Tolnep's reaction of "You're mocking me!" proves that it understands Psychlo, so the interrogation continues. Jonnie's threat to drop the Tolenp off a mountain is sneered at ("Wouldn't even dent me!"), so instead Jonnie offers to return the captive to his ship. The Tolnep freaks out and rants about Psychlo sadism, since obviously he'd be sprinkled with "virus powder" to infect his crew, who would know this and blast him out of space to burn up in the atmosphere.
So offering to send the prisoner home gets him to spill his guts. Double-Ensign Slitheter Pliss explains his commander's plan to sell some slaves, points the way towards Tolnep, and agrees to bite a rag to drain his venom, which takes six days or so to refill. Jonnie sends the sample off to MacKendrick the not-a-real-doctor to make some antivenom with.
That done, Jonnie's off to talk to the crowd of Himalayan dignitaries and well-wishers, who as one kowtow to Jonnie out of shame for their disrupted welcome. Even Jonnie is disgusted by the display and orders them to get up. Then it's time for another round of bit characters, Norgay the chief of the Sherpas, Chief Monk Ananda of the Tibetan Buddhists... wait. Despite the near-extinction of humanity, an order that takes vows of chastity has attracted enough new members to survive for a thousand years? Oh, and there's Chief Chong-won representing all four hundred and fifty remaining Chinese.
All of these people were starving because of how hard it is to grow food up in the cold highlands. This implies that a) they have forgotten the agricultural techniques that let their ancestors survive in the region since antiquity and b) some Psychlos have evidently taken time from stripping the Earth of resources to go all the way up to a plateau at the top of the world just to keep some peasants from planting a garden.
There's a demonstration when a bunch of saffron-robed monks start chanting in Chinko-accented Psychlo. Nobody else in the world spoke Pali, so someone found one of those magical teaching machines and introduced the monks to Psychlo. Apparently the peaceful teachings of the Buddha are fully expressible in the amoral Psychlo language.
Jonnie orders some pilots from Dunneldeen ("You didn't know I had fifteen daughters. It's quite urgent they wed."), and at a reception with food and speeches Jonnie makes a shocking offer to assist in the war against the Psychlos and other aliens. His audience is spellbound.
These beaten people, these ragged, starved remnants of one-great nations had not really dreamed they could be of value. That they could assist. That they might have a role to play besides to hide and starve. It was a mind-shattering thought. To help.
Again, it's not clear why everyone's starving beyond some vague mention of Psychlo oppression. If we were ever told how many Psychlos there were on Earth and where they were located, it'd be interesting to calculate how far they'd have to roam to keep all these scattered tribes from successfully hunting deer or picking berries. While still taking time to work in the mines and backstab each other in office politics.
Anyway, Jonnie offers the Tibetans a safe home in the Russian bunker base in return for their service as communications officers. Instead of making up awkward code phrases on the fly, radio transmissions will be done in Pali. Meanwhile the Sherpas will help the Russians stock their base with food, while Jonnie offers to send the Chinese someplace warm with lots of big game - Africa. They don't care about the details, so long as they're going someplace hot. I guess they still haven't acclimated even after a millennium in the Himalayas. And that's about it.
Next chapter, Jonnie plans a coup.
Back to Chapter Three