That night they get their gyrocage and camera ready to inspect other Psychlo minesites. The rig brings back images of a vast hole and a leaning transshipment pole at the base on planet Loozite, while Mercogran in the "fifth universe" shows signs of an avalanche, and a towering metropolis on Brelloton has been toppled "like dominos." That last one was an inhabited world whose natives were ruled by a Psychlo "regency," but there's no sign of life in the city the Psychlos built their teleportation platform in. Neither Jonnie or Angus shows any interest in their fellow subjugated lifeforms.
So the humans have what is an admittedly clever idea, albeit a very implausible one. Light travels at "approximately 5,869,713,600,000 miles a year" (my attempts at math come out a 5,8745,891,520,000, while Answers.com gives 5,865,696,000,000 - but hey, it's not like this is rocket science). So if you park a camera rig that far away from Psychlo, and set the camera to six trillion times magnification (!), you can effectively look a year into the past. So Jonnie and Angus, two primitive screwheads who only became aware of physics and such a year or two ago, calculate where to teleport their camera to avoid interfering planets and what angle to aim it at and so forth.
After fifteen minutes in space the camera rig comes back, and Angus has to warn Jonnie to let it warm up before handling it, since space is cold. Then they hurry off to look at the pictures, and astonishingly there is no chapter break before they see the results.
There was the Imperial City of Psychlo. Circular train rails, streets down from its cliffs like conveyor belts. They even carried the idea of mining into their city design.
Why? Do they only situate cities next to excavation sites, instead of things like food or water? Or did these morons build mines before they built cities? Why is this civilization so obsessed with digging?
Huge, bustling Psychlo! The center of power of the universes. The hub of the great, cruel claw that raked the bones from planets and peoples everywhere. There was the three-hundred-two-thousand-year-old monster itself, spread out in its sadistic and ugly might!
Are the buildings tall? Angular? What color are they? Are there monuments? Parkland? Great open-air markets? What does the city look like besides "sadistic and ugly" and "inexplicably designed like a mine?"
Neither Jonnie or Angus had ever seen a live city of that size before. A hundred million population? A billion? Not the planet, just the city above the lower plain. Look at the trams. Rails that ran in circular spirals. Cars that looked for all the world like mine cars but full of people. Mobs in the streets. Mobs! Not riots. Just Psychlos. You ever see so many beings? Even in such a tiny size one could see mobs!
So the city's crowded and uses public transportation. Thanks for the vivid description, Hubbard.
Then it happens. There's a puff on the transshipment platform that makes the workers flinch and a forcefield come up. A minute later the coffins' "planet buster" nukes and dirty mines go off. The fiery explosions of the first, second, third, and forth bombs are held, but by that last one nearby trucks are being knocked around and the glass in the surrounding buildings shatters from an earthquake.
The fifth bomb went off!
And seen in slow motion, first narrowly, then more broadly, the entire scene went into a churning, boiling mass of atomic fire.
No, something more! Molten, flaming fire
No, something more! Molten, flaming fire was erupting in spots all over the plain.
They widened the angle quickly.
The whole Imperial City of Psychlo was sinking and all about it sprayed up rolling oceans of molten fire.
The circular trams, the mobs, the buildings, and even the towering cliffs were drowning in a tumult of liquid, yellow green fire.
They hastily widened the view.
And they saw the entire planet of Psychlo turn into a radioactive sun!
The recording ended. They sat limp.
"My God," said Angus.
I like how they're widening the view of a recording. As in, the camera zoomed in to show the mobs in the streets, then zoomed out to take in the whole planet. Fifteen minutes ago, when it was actually filming. Angus' controls go back in time.
Also, suns do not work that way. Suns are supermassive fusion-powered hydrogen furnaces. You can't just set off a nuke and suddenly make one out of an ordinary planet.
Jonnie is actually feeling sick from guilt for being personally responsible for the annihilation of a planet, to say nothing of xenocide. He had only intended to blow up the transshipment platform, not the whole planet (then why did you use ten planet-buster bombs?!). Despite uncharacteristic sympathy for other life forms, Jonnie explains what he and Angus just watched happen.
The first little puff on the platform was the tags to the bomb fuses that Jonnie dropped, which were irradiated enough to spark a little breathe-gas reaction and engage the emergency force fields. Those shields forced the bomb blasts down into the tunnels and mine shafts in Psychlo's crust, right into the planet core, so that fifth nuke stimulated a fusion reaction in Psychlo's core, turning the planet into a sun in a violation of physics.
Angus catches on, and posits that when all those other Psychlo bases linked to Psychlo during their annual transshipment firings, they got blasted by fusion fire. This pretty much confirms that the Psychlos have no communications network, since none of these other bases noticed that their capital planet blew up, or that their neighboring minesites suddenly blew up.
This also means that Terl tried to teleport himself into a sun, which makes Jonnie feel sorry for him.
That's what it took to yank Angus out of it. "Poor Terl! After all the rotten things the demon did? Jonnie, I sometimes wonder about you. You can be cool as ice and then all of a sudden you come out with something like 'poor Terl'!"
"It would be an awful way to die," said Jonnie.
Angus straightened up. "Well!" he said, just like he had popped up out of a dive in the lake. "Psychlo is gone! The empire is gone! And that's one thing we don't have to worry about anymore! Good riddance!"
So that's that. Billions and trillions of lives ended in a fiery cataclysm, creatures who were at best simple workers like Char or Zzt or the Chamco Bros. who worked during the day and played ring toss while getting hammered at night, or who were at worst driven to acts of violence by mind-controlling implants. A civilization destroyed because one company convinced its government to sanction an attack on Jonnie's planet a thousand years ago. Countless subjugated Psychlo females slain, untold innocent Psychlo infants annihilated, and who knows how many "client species" caught as collateral damage.
And after that brief "wow, did I do that?" moment and some unexpected remorse for his nemesis, Jonnie carries on with a clear conscience, happy to have this niggling detail cleared up.
Well, let's be fair - there's over a hundred pages left in the book. He might feel something later. We'll have to see.
Next time, The Gray Men return! Well, not really, since they haven't gone anywhere. But the rest of the book deals with them, and the exciting matter of planetary finance. So strap in for blastoff!
Back to Part Twenty-Seven, Chapter Ten