The chapter opens with Jonnie channeling Zzt by thinking "Damn Terl!" every few paragraphs or so. I miss Zzt. He was fun.
The new deadline hanging over everything is Day 92 (again), the day Terl's going to try his shenanigans with the teleporter rig. Jonnie is catching up on the surveillance footage of Terl working, in which Terl's running around outside measuring distances for something that is definitely not a teleportation platform. Jonnie deduces that Terl's trying to calculate how close something indicated on his blueprints by a squiggly line can be to the teleporter without interfering.
An explanation comes in a letter from Ker, full of "ha, ha, ha!"s and a sample of what he calls an "atmosphere-armor ionization cable," which causes "molecular cohesion" among "air molecules to make "an invisible curtain wall" that's impermeable to things such as bullets. In other words, the force field at the Africa platform from a few chapters ago. This is not to be confused with a "force screen" such as those used around Hawvin spaceships, of course, though no explanation is offered to how those work, the differences between it and "air armor," or how exactly an electrical charge turns a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen into something diamond-hard in the first place.
So Jonnie's big plan of letting Terl build his teleportation platform, then swooping in and stealing it, is shot to pieces because Terl was smart enough to include a defensive system around it (but not, of course, the main platform in Colorado). He can't ask any other Psychlos for help without them going into a coma or attacking him, those implants can't be removed without killing the aliens, and without teleportation Jonnie has no idea how he's going to defend the planet.
Damn that Terl! Forcing our hero to think and adapt his plans!
Jonnie goes to an old Basher tank intending to take apart its moronic teleportation-based engine to see if he can reverse-engineer some knowledge from it. But he's interrupted by a Tolnep captive, Double-Ensign Slitheter Pliss, and his guards. Pluss is apparently trying to curry favor with his captives by providing information about his spaceship and sonic weapon. He chats with a taciturn Jonnie, and remarks that in 302,000 years of capturing Psychlo books and equipment (including a complete teleportation rig) and interrogating Psychlo prisoners, nobody's cracked the secrets of teleportation. Pliss sarcastically wishes Jonnie good luck, then asks for a metal sample to snack on.
After he leaves, Jonnie discovers that the act of unscrewing the tank's control console to look inside has somehow killed it, even if he replaces everything. Frustrated, he goes and throws rocks at crocodiles until he feels guilty, then randomly asks a messenger if he'd like to shoot a Psychlo, and we can only hope he's joking.
Animal cruelty: bad. Executing prisoners out of spite: okay.
And with one more heartfelt assurance that Earth is doomed without the secret of teleportation, despite the pathetic track record of the alien invaders so far, the chapter ends.
Oh, and added to the captive alien menagerie are three Jambitchow captives, some "evil-looking brutes" dumb enough to charge at a mannequin dressed as a Chinese on top of a concealed net. And also dumb enough to only send three people in their scouting party, though that sadly seems to be a universal trait amongst xeno races. Figuring out the dietary requirements of all these profoundly stupid aliens is proving tricky.
This information is just kinda randomly dropped in the middle of the chapter, so I moved it to the end because the summary flows somewhat better this way.
Back to Part Twenty-Two, Chapter Five