Friday, October 15, 2010

Part 26, Chapter 5 - Jonnie Takes a Bath, Learns Some Manners

Jonnie goes to his room, feeling dizzy as the heroic willpower that has been keeping him going for so long starts to falter from worry about Chrissie. This is exacerbated when he runs into Mr. Tsung and his family along the way, forcing Jonnie to bow in greeting to each one before they get back to work on a mysterious Something.

Jonnie's room now has viewscreens showing feeds of the headquarters, empty conference room, and the teleportation platform, where he watches a Tolnep arrive.

He was in shimmering green; even his cap was green. But he had on dirty blue boots.

Would you be surprised to learn that the boots are a plot point?

Huge glasses hid his eyes. He carried a sort of scepter with a large knob at the top and a green hamper on green wheels for his food and supplies. A reptilian creature although he walked upright and had a face and arms and legs.

I like how "reptilian" apparently precludes having arms and legs. Also, weren't Jonnie and the other humans mistaken for Tolneps by some of the Psychlos? Despite being, y'know, hairy mammals?

A genetic line from dinosaurs that had become miniature and sentient?

1. How the flaming frak does Jonnie know about dinosaurs? Were they part of his tribal legends, or did the Psychlo educational machine include data on long-extinct species from a backwater mining world?
2. How the flaming frak is an extraterrestrial race supposed to be descended from a terrestrial species that went extinct sixty-five million years ago?
3. How the flaming frak would a species of reptiles evolve into a venomous, super-dense lifeform with vaguely-defined "time freezing" powers?

He made his speech much like the Hockner, accepted the reply with an evil smile, folded his shimmering green cloak about his steel-hard body, and was led away to a private apartment. He looked like trouble.

Yeah, since we've kinda killed off all our named antagonists by this point, it's time to come up with a new villain: Evil Tolnep Diplomat.

Suddenly Mr. Tsung barges in, notices how filthy Jonnie is, and demands that our hero take a bath. Jonnie caves, and not only enjoys a hot soak, but gets scrubbed down by his Chinese manservant, then put in a comfy robe and fed some soup. Then Dr. Allen and "Psychlos are Viruses" MacKendrick show up with "that false joviality doctors assume just before they take you by surprise and do something gruesome" and inject Jonnie with some "B complex." I'm left wondering if there's any profession Hubbard has a favorable opinion of.

Feeling better, Jonnie orders Tsung to bring him his buckskins, but the Chinese man refuses, because "They lords!" A translator is brought in to help figure out what Tsung is agitated about. Turns out the Tsung family served the Ch'ing dynasty as chamberlains up until the time of Mao, and even after the communist revolution and through the thousand years since the collapse of civilization they've scrupulously kept records and retained the lessons of protocol befitting a mandarin. All because they were patiently waiting for a dynasty to emerge for them to serve.

Yep.  Over the past ten centuries at no point did a young member of the Tsung bloodline say "shouldn't we be worried about getting enough food to survive the winter, instead of how a feudal ruler should behave in the presence of a foreign power?" None of the Tsungs even thought to apply what they'd learned about pomp and authority to their own bid for power - after all, if you know how an emperor is supposed to behave, what's to keep you from passing yourself off as one? But no, they've just slavishly maintained the old traditions, content in their role as servants to greater people.

I'm depressed now.

So, through the translator, Tsung gives "Lord Jonnie" a crash course in how to act regally and what to expect at the conference table, all with lots of ellipses:

"'Do not,'" the Scot obediently translated, "'agree or seem to agree to anything. . . . Your words can be tricked into seeming to agree . . . so avoid the word yes. . . . They will make preposterous demands they know they cannot attain . . . just to gain bargaining points . . . so you in

You get the picture.

Then there's a lesson on deportment, that is to say the proper stance and motions of a commanding leader. How to hold or waggle a scepter, how to walk, etc. But before Jonnie's ready, there's one mysterious other matter left to attend to... next chapter.

Back to Chapter Four

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