Friday, September 10, 2010

Part 23, Chapter 4 - War Economics

...I mean, were the limpet mines Psychlo leftovers? I guess if you're teleporting to and from a planet rather than using traditional space flight to reach it having a permanent orbital minefield would work as a defensive option, unless you considered the staggering number of mines needed to envelop the planet. But then the mines would already been in orbit, wouldn't they? So why was there a stockpile in a warehouse somewhere? Were they planning to put them up if they saw an enemy ship coming, and praying that the invaders would blunder into the tiny patch of space seeded with explosives?

What's sad is that the whole mines thing is just a throwaway line in one paragraph to explain why the aliens haven't blown up the humans' spaceship, and will, if memory serves, have absolutely no effect on the plot as a whole. But it's so staggeringly moronic that I keep lingering on it.

The spaceship the Gray Man was watching was carrying Stormalong, who returns to Jonnie and reports that he's collected another fifty-five tons of salvaged material from orbit. So apparently it's a big little dingy. The cargo is dumped in a Psychlo metal pulverizer that "break[s] down its molecular cohesion and then let it go through armored rollers that really tore it apart and smashed it." The result is a fine powder that's taken to the "meteorite powder washing area" where four Psychlo females mix it with mercury.

The reason for all this is simple: what they're collecting from orbit isn't satellites but meteorites. Well, they're called meteorites, but since they haven't survived impact with the Earth's surface they're more properly meteoroids, but given the level of scientific accuracy encountered so far this isn't even worth complaining about. Anyway, these space rocks originate from outside the solar system and contain traces of an unknown element. What the lady Psychlos are doing is equivalent to panning for gold, sloshing the powder around until this mystery element settles to the bottom of the pan.

You see, Angus has been at work reproducing Terl's efforts towards his Mystery Fun Box, and has put what Stormalong's been collecting to good use. They now have six doomsday devices that they don't know the capabilities of, and with the latest haul will be able to make two more.

So Jonnie's got the capability to destroy Psychlo (again), but no delivery system. He's still in a good mood, which is reinforced by a letter from Colonel Ivan telling Jonnie that his former neighbors are doing well in Russia, and accompanied by some AK-47 ammo filled with thermite powder for use against Tolneps. He even goes to chat with one of the Hockner prisoners, who tells Jonnie that the Psychlo vehicles are imported from other races - or rather the hulls and machinery are foreign-made, while only the raw materials and technical equipment such as engines or control consoles are provided by the Psychlos.

This is mind-boggling.

So the Psychlos have multiple universes in their furry grasp. Countless alien races have warred with them only to suffer defeat after defeat (allegedly) at the hands of their (allegedly) invincible war machines. They use their hegemony to strip worlds of their resources... but not to fuel their mighty war factories, no. They export their mineral wealth. To their enemies. Who then help build the vehicles the Psychlos use against them. And, of course, these vehicles are all "useless" without the Psychlo-made control console, so all the other aliens can do is sell them to their oppressors and await the day their handiwork kills them.

Why? Why why why? Why are you selling your resources only to buy them back as finished product from a foreign factory? This is how third-world countries stay third-world countries! And why would you build war machines for your enemy?! It's like the Soviets outsourcing Kalashnikov production to the United States!

This confirms it. Every other species in existence is too dumb to live.

Jonnie asks about Psychlo mathematics, and the Hockner just gives a neighing laugh and says that in 302,000 years "every wizard brain in the universe" has been trying and failing to figure out why Psychlo equations don't balance, thus ensuring that in the next couple of months Jonnie will crack the mystery.

At least I'm not obsessing over the mines now.

Back to Chapter Three

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