Heir to the Empire, Chapter 12

will: And we’re back. Last week was a squeaker–for those who are curious about the inside baseball of the whole thing, Z and I usually write between Sunday and Tuesday of a given week, then I format the post for WordPress on Wednesday, or Thursday morning. Last week, it was Thursday night after midnight when the post was done. I was tired.

z: So was I, but for different reasons and very much less so.  I’m glad we could get it done.

will: But anyway, we’re back to the Galaxy Far Far Away, where history repeats itself, as do characters, while schemes collide with fate and sheer dumb luck.

z: We open with the Millennium Falcon arriving at the Athega system, where this planet Nkllon that hosts Lando’s mining operation is.  There seems to be tight border controls, for very space-y and 3D values of “border”.  But there’s a good physical reason for that, as we will find out shortly. For once in the multiverse, if they had signs that said “For your own safety and comfort [insert arduous thing here]”, those would have been completely truthful.

will: “I’m trying to reach Lando Calrissian,” Han grouses, all over again, while Leia quietly laughs louder than she’d admit. Though as Han reminds us, Cloud City wasn’t what you’d call fun…at any rate, another Han-special private code (that an old friend of Lando’s is looking to play sabacc for any ship choice) is an attempt to disguise who they are.

Though it’s not like the Millennium Falcon isn’t one of the more recognizable ships in the Galaxy, especially if YT-1300s are rare. Then again, ship IDs are usually a combination of transponder (presumably deactivated, here) and energy signature, not physical silhouette…

We also get an expansion on Han’s “you lost her to me, fair and square” line from Lando’s introduction way back in The Empire Strikes Back–we’ll actually see how it plays out in the Han Solo Trilogy by the late, great A.C. Crispin–and the appearance of the shieldship, the giant parasol that flies like a starship and that provides the only safe approach to Nkllon, which makes our own planet Mercury say “dude, back off.”

z: This is as good a place as any to start mentioning the fact that this is one of my favourite chapters in this book in terms of pushing all my SF-reader, SensaWunda-seeker buttons.  I marveled (and still marvel) at the shieldship description.  I marveled at the whole superlarge, superhot star and description of life on a planet in orbit around it.  I marveled at… well, it’s coming up a few pages later. But then, I also read all the system and where available, planet descriptions when I was playing Mass Effect.  Even for the second time.  Go figure.

will: Another good example of Zahn creating a somewhat throwaway world, but making it real, or at least interesting. As we get told in no uncertain terms that the Millennium Falcon will not be slave-rigged to anything, even though slave-rigging would make the journey into the system far faster (a nice bit of subtle foreshadowing to a certain lost fleet), the shieldship is delayed because another ship is coming in, stealthily…a New Republic-marked X-Wing. But then, Han and Leia almost got taken in by a fake YT-1300 a few hours back, so they’re suspicious. As is Luke, who is flying the X-Wing of course, but who’s also smart enough to not use names on an open channel.

z: There is a bit of tension where Han asks Leia whether she can sense if it really is Luke, and she isn’t certain with the inter-ship distance.  But I am fairly certain Luke could ID her positively at that distance, just would not say so because, well, open channel.  And he didn’t think about Leia’s eventual solution, which is—

will: Droids, on the other hand…five seconds into the boke-and-tsukkomi duo of Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio, they’re sure, and Han gets to appreciate just how smart his wife is. (Good man.)

z: Who to the what now—

will: OK, now I’m showing off. “Boke and tsukkomi” is a term for a Japanese style of slapstick comedy roughly equivalent to an Abbott-and-Costello “straight man and wise guy” bit. Given that Artoo and Threepio are based on the main characters of Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, it seemed appropriate.

z: Oh. I’m actually not familiar with the archetype, but I am fairly certain Artoo is the wise guy in this case.

will: Naturally.

z: And I just noticed something else, to wit, that it isn’t only Luke who hasn’t told anyone about Dagobah or Yoda.  For all that Artoo is bicker-married to Threepio (and will later sort of imply to Luke he misses/worries about Threepio, if memory serves), he has never divulged Luke’s secret either, not now, not in the past five years (because do you really think Threepio would have kept that from anyone within earshot?).  As a matter of fact, if the X-Wing’s computer keeps trip records, Artoo probably doctored them—possibly the first time on Luke’s request, but later by himself.  The maintenance crew back on Coruscant already complains that they cannot get into that computer without Artoo acting as an interface.

will: Good point. But then, Artoo has, it seems, been keeping a lot of secrets over the decades. He, after all, didn’t get a memory wipe.

Ten hours of close-quarters piloting later, an arduous if routine (to the point that Luke went in for a catnap) effort, they’re on the dark side of Nkllon, blocked from Athega’s primary and watching the solar corona flicker and the mole miners work (which may be where the reader says “oh, that’s where I read the name ‘Athega’ before the end of last chapter…oh, crap”), as Nomad City appears, a giant city perched on forty AT-ATs like a technological howdah.

Lando, as Leia comments, never does anything easy–then again, mining rare minerals on easy worlds was probably played out millennia ago. But after the Tibanna gas mines of Bespin, he’s built a giant walking city, which circles the planet, staying in its shadow as the mole miners venture out, load up, and return.

z: Once again, I take a bit of time to metaphorically stare at the thing in wonder.  Other authors I’ve read have explored the “planet-and-orbit like that, you’ve got to keep moving/stay on the dark side” concept on Mercury (Robinson in 2312, and Asimov in… um… one of his robot stories in either I, Robot or The Rest of the Robots) but this was the first time I met it outside of the Solar system, as it were.  I remember spending some time imagining life on that thing when I first read this book.  Star Wars is so much not hard-SF (I am still not discussing simultaneous communication through the Force, although I now think our commenter Pam K. is right and that is obviously a quantum entanglement effect and relativity doesn’t come into it [no, please don’t ask me to describe the state space for the Force either], sorry), but it carries the strange-lands and strange-lives loads quite well.

will: I can only imagine what went into building that. Lando probably called in a lot of favors, and made a lot of promises–with projections of just how profitable it would be. Clearly, Lando’s taste for gambling has just moved up to bigger and better things…

z: Another thing my much younger self never noticed, and my current self recognizes almost instantaneously: Lando is a serial entrepreneur, the “thrives on risk” kind.  And I am jealous about his investors.

will: The Trio make contact with Lando briefly and exchange the usual complisults, but as they go in for a landing, they get jammed…just long enough for an Imperial Star Destroyer to appear overhead.

“They’ve found us.”

Scene. (A footnote points out how powerful cliffhangers are.)

z: I couldn’t really cut into the tension there, but do not think that I haven’t noticed that horrible portmanteau of a word.  (OK, OK, this one didn’t bug me that much.)

will: This is mostly a bit of banter and fun-n-games–Luke and Leia and Han, and Artoo and Threepio, and some scenes that would have been whiz-bang tech on screen. Imagine seeing Nomad City on screen–it would be like the original reveal of the Star Destroyer (the iconic opening of Star Wars: you see the Tantive IV fly across screen and it looks like hammered awesome, and behind it, the massive, indomitable Star Destroyer…), in city form.

z: Oh my stars yes.  I would have loved to have seen it. As aforementioned, I truly loved reading about it.

will: Also, Zahn manages to scatter a few hints: the concept of slave-rigging ships will matter, as will reminding us that Luke has a lot on his mind and that Han’s paranoia is running full speed.  But generally, this is a breather between the intensity of Luke’s confrontation on Dagobah and the arrival of the Star Destroyer, and everything that goes with it, for Thrawn and C’baoth both. So that’s about it for this chapter. Funny, laid back, sensawunda (™ Leigh Butler) inducing, and out.

Z?

z: Once she is certain who he is, apparently Leia can also sense Luke’s mind well enough to discern that he is not sleeping well when he’s napping during transit; that’s where the reminder that Luke has a lot on his mind comes in.  Or maybe they are just flying closer to each other after the identification—it would not be a problem for either Artoo or Chewie to avoid collisions. Between being amazed at the shieldship description and staring slack-jawed at the Nomad City description, I also remembered liking the mole miners:

“They’ve got a set of plasma-jet drills pointing down around the underside hatch—you just land where you want to drill, fire the jets for a minute or two to chop up the ground, then go on down through the hatch and pick up the pieces.”

(I assume there’s a “wait until the pieces cool down enough first” step in there, too.)

will: One hopes.

z: On any planet with an ecology, this would have been a terrible horrible no good very bad method of extracting metallurgical resources.  On Nkllon, why not.  I distinctly remember thinking that a computer game based on these things would be fun.  I was also naive enough that even with this description tennis-serving foreshadowing balls my way, I did not realize what Thrawn could want with those things the first readthrough—even when Leia and Han continue their discussion by mentioning that these originally used to be asteroid miners.  The only takeaway I got from that line was to think that a game about asteroid mining would be even more fun.

will: Escape Velocity, especially Nova, comes to mind. And maybe Elite: Dangerous, which I haven’t played. And foreshadowing or not, I think the use that Thrawn/Zahn came up with for the mole miners is really clever and creative.

z: It’s kind of fun to remember those olden days and simpler-me times now, when I was not so genre-savvy (and indeed, didn’t even know about ‘genre-savvy’ as a concept).  It’s a different kind of fun to be a reader as I am now, though.  It’s not so far from the way I learned to like the taste of wine, I think.

Another thing I didn’t think about until this very moment of typing, though—I wonder what I will be like as a reader fifteen years from now, heavens willing and the creek don’t rise.

I’ll leave you with that thought; may the Force be with you.

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