Heir to the Empire, Chapter 15

z: Hello, gentlefolk.  This week starts with me lucking out, since this is a tiny teeny chapter and I am under several writing deadlines already, including one design document and one conference paper.  Well, what’s new?

…actually, some things are.  Chewie not co-piloting the Millennium Falcon with Han, for instance.  He’s taken Lando’s ship, the Lady Luck, and is taking Leia to Kashyyyk.  Lando is in the Falcon with Han and the still-unhappy Threepio.

will: Who I can just imagine puttering around in the Falcon’s common area, muttering in his way…except in Leia’s voice.

Heh.

z: I guess this is a good time for me to come clean about how the most likely pronunciation for “Kashyyyk” is very much a homonym for the Turkish word for “spoon” (spoon as in “there is no spoon”), spoken a bit insistently.  So next time you see me smile at the mention of the name, you’ll know why.  And come to think of it, “spoon” is also a hilarious word as a word… OK, that’s it, I really should stop writing these things after midnight.

will: Spoooooon!

Don’t mind me, it’s one of those lifetimes.

z: Anyway.  Han is worried that they will be attacked on the way away from Nkllon, but they are not.  Lando wants to do a I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Leia broadcast to make certain to fool any listening Imperials (which will have some associated hilarity coming up) and then… Hmmm, Han wouldn’t object to doing some sightseeing around the galaxy now, right?  Han is peeved, thinking that Lando is only using him for his… ship, so that he can find some replacement mole miners.

will: And when Lando denies this, Han trots out the fringer’s favorite semi-pejorative adjective: “respectable.”

You know, at some point down the line, I’m going to want to examine that word close up, to see how the concept of “respectable” as the opposite of the fringe life plays into and out of the reputation economy of the underworld, honoring debts, and the fear/respect paradigm. I mean, on the one hand, a fringe type needs to be respected, in the criminal-underworld sense–if you don’t have the respect of your rivals they’ll go after you. But if you get out, you’ve “gone respectable,” presumably respectable by non-fringers. It’s an interesting thing, is all.

z: That is interesting.  Take me along when you dive there, will ya?

Lando points out that the safety solution they came up with is only a stopgap: Spoo… er, Kashyyyk is not an isolated backwater after all and sooner or later, probably sooner, Leia will be noticed there, then they are back to square one.  They’ve won a respite from the serial kidnapping attempts, so it’s a good idea to use the gained time to gather some intelligence.  Find if there’s someone who may know what species those gray-skinned kidnappers are, or might have heard about these rumors of a Grand Admiral running things on the Imperial side, right?

will: Not that they know it’s a Grand Admiral yet, of course. Which Karrde does (and would presumably sell that information at a cost)

z: Now, whom do we know who might have information of that sort, is rumored to be the big fish in the pond now that Jabba’s gone, and might also have skilled slicers they can use to create another line of informational defense, and might have lines on the cargo ships Han was running after before the whole kidnapping jig started, and, this is purely my addition, coincidentally might have heard about where mole miners and similar equipment may be found? The reader is basically invited along to sing “Karrde” along with Lando.  Lando knows how to contact people who can contact Karrde etc., so let’s form a new contact path.  Han is convinced.  They call Threepio in for his first broadcast playing Leia.

will: Though admittedly, Lando doesn’t bury the lede. He says “let’s go see Karrde,” and then defends his reasoning. I like this–it has more honesty than the patronizing/Socratic method of “we need this, who can give it to us?” and waiting for the other person to go down the reasoning chain. But Lando is, after all, a businessman: “This is what we need, this is how we can get it, this is why it’s a good idea.”

And he’s talking to his old friend, who he knows the other way won’t work on. See, Han’s “Remember disaster #47-stroke-Q? When you said ‘it’ll be fine’?”

z: Scene shift.  Pellaeon enters the Grand Admiral’s command room, which is now full of projections of sculptures with wildly varying styles, to bring him a data card from a probe left in the Athega system in position to watch and record.  The recording shows Luke’s X-Wing, the Falcon and Lady Luck being escorted to the outskirts with an umbrella shieldship, the Falcon and Lady Luck linking for a little while, then everyone going their own way.  Pellaeon adds what he thinks is supporting information about Lando having left Nkllon on a purchasing trip, this intelligence gathered from a transmission.  While he’s explaining these Thrawn watches the recording, notes the time the two ships stay linked, then recites to Pellaeon basically everything that happened: Everyone left Nkllon on the ships they belong on; Leia and Chewie swapped with Lando on the outskirts.  He does some combinational logic and uses what he knows of the psychology of “the type” of Solo and Calrissian: They wouldn’t leave their ships on computer control or under droid control.  Pellaeon objects that they at least know that Leia must have stayed on the Falcon because they intercepted a (the I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Leia) transmission.  Thrawn takes this as the last confirmation for the final crew makeups being as he said, because Threepio must have stayed on the Falcon, and was voice-doctored to sound like Leia.  If Leia wasn’t one of the switches, the whole maneuver makes no sense.

This would be the associated hilarity I mentioned above.  Oh, we were so clever, making Threepio sound like Leia.  Of course, it’s not even implied but outright shown that without Thrawn, the Imperials would have fallen for it hook, line and sinker—even Pellaeon has never paused to consider what base assumption he was making there.

will: This is where, with Thrawn’s “consider the possibilities,” we get the footnoted comparison to Sherlock Holmes (with Pellaeon as Watson). And this is both the strength and weakness, because as many have pointed out, Holmes’s ability to deduce–even once he explains it–always hovers on the plausibility line: yes, he can explain why he got there, but it still always does feel like he knew because the author told him so.

Yes, the rest of the intelligence apparatus failed to consider alternate explanations for the message (a case of tunnel vision if ever there was one), but…really. Especially the semicircular reasoning of “The protocol droid is one of the only droids Solo likes, and we know that it stayed on the Falcon because of the message that I say is from the droid instead of Leia.” Bit of card-palming going on.

Which means that Pellaeon, like Watson, is one of those poor unfortunates who has to look like an idiot, but only by comparison: when presented with a normal problem, like “Leia Organa Solo and Chewbacca are on the Lady Luck, where are they going?” he can follow it to its answer, but presented with the scenario, he’s limited to normal concepts, not this twisted self-supporting guesswork. (“The Grand Admiral’s logic tracked clean,” my afterburners.)

z: Thrawn knows even more: If it’s Chewie with Leia—and Han wouldn’t have gone with Leia, because they should have stayed aboard the faster, better-defended Falcon if they were going to stay together—there’s only one place they can be going.  Welp, I guess the respite Lando and Chewie’s ideas bought were… oh, a couple of hours, give or take.  Whoops.

will: Note also that Pellaeon gets to discuss the dangers of Kashyyyk. Why does he know? He was on a slave-capturing mission once. I appreciate the reminders of inherent Imperial cruelty, though admittedly I do like Pellaeon (he’s the epitome of the Empire as Lawful Evil, and over time he gets to upgrade to Lawful Neutral; everything Thrawn doesn’t actually do but gets credited for) and it’s less than thrilling to be reminded that yeah, he went on slave raids. But then, if he started as LN, he’d have nowhere to go.

z: Luke, on the other hand, seems to have set course for Jomark. It’d take him four days in hyperdrive—wait, how can he stand four days in a snubfighter, is there even enough oxygen? Thrawn knows that Jedi use a hibernation state for such trips, and we’re invited to deduce that Luke knows how.  Apart from the hibernation state, Thrawn’s commands introduce us to another new concept: An Interdiction Cruiser, a ship which, we’ll learn, can create a directed gravitational field to emulate the effect of a large mass on hyperspace (mutterspacetimebendingmutter go away I told you I’m really even less comfortable with relativity than I am with quantum physics)—and essentially yank any traveling ships passing through the corresponding position in hyperspace (no, really, no multidimensional geometry either) back into normal space.

will: This is one of those concept that fundamentally works even if we don’t want to discuss the physics of it. Look at some of the things that Stackpole and Allston do with this, not to mention Zahn himself later. Give it a Clarke’s Third Law pass and keep going.

z: Oh, I am willing to give it a lifetime pass.

Set a stage, Thrawn commands, put a junk freighter or something there along with the Interdictor so it looks like they were after weapon smugglers, and Luke happened to pass through there, oops, bad luck, plausible deniability… for C’baoth and, entertainingly, Luke himself:   Thrawn is considering the eventuality that they may decide to “turn [Skywalker] over to C’baoth,” and once that happens, Skywalker may cast his lot with C’baoth, so in that case, Skywalker would be giving a neutral (or innocent) report of Thrawn to C’baoth instead of ratting out that the Thrawn had tried to keep C’baoth’s toy away from him.

Thrawn never had a chance to study Luke’s drawings hanging on the farm fridge on Tatooine, one assumes.  He’s really crediting Luke with too little agency, or powers of observation—which, hey, Jedi, intuitive—or, as we shall see, ingenuity.

will: Which is not entirely surprising. Remember, Thrawn’s knowledge of Jedi are limited to what he could study (most of which the Emperor destroyed) and his observations of them, mostly of the rather single-minded Palpatine and Vader. Even if you grant Thrawn’s observations of the Old Republic Jedi and Outbound Flight, the word “hidebound” doesn’t do them sufficient justice. Luke represents the counterbalance to that: he’s completely outside of Thrawn’s experience and understanding.

And the downside of the Holmes type is that a failure to understand, or more accurately a misunderstanding, is rather severely dangerous. (His Noghri failure springs to mind.)

z: The meeting done, Pellaeon turns to go, and finds out that all except one of the sculpture projections have been turned off.  Zahn describes Pellaeon’s perception of the remaining one as disturbingly alien, weird, hypnotic and inscrutable.  Wait… that’s not a projection, that’s real.

Thrawn says wistfully that he couldn’t get any insight into that species’ psyche from their art, that that was his one failure, out in the Fringes.  Now he might be starting to understand them after further study, but that won’t really be useful since he “wound up destroying their world,” oh well.

will: Speaking of which–Tim? If you’re listening? Don’t write that story you mention in footnote. (Not that you’ll get a chance given the state of the licenses, I imagine.) The impulse to fill out every bit of backstory, dot every i and square every circle, has done more harm than good to the Star Wars universe over the years.

I don’t doubt you would tell a good story. But right now there are a thousand stories in potentia. Leave it be, huh? Just a thought.

z: I agree with the esteemed representative from up there.

Pellaeon performs the standard Imperial military maneuver known as “Straight-Backed Walk to the Door after Formal Leave-Taking from Commanding Officer (Actually Edging Away Quickly)” which, one presumes, everyone who served under Vader and had a functioning larynx after any amount of time must have mastered really fast.

At the risk of expectation-spoiling, I have to say that the Imperial scene of this chapter is exciting for me because I know what it’s leading up to—a crowning moment of awesome for one side, serious character-revealing moment for the other.  As for the Han/Lando conversation, they basically state for the reader what their own plans are.  One notices that Thrawn is paying no attention to them whatsoever after the ships go their separate ways, which makes complete sense: He doesn’t care a whit about Han, Threepio or the Falcon, and Lando who?

will: Right. This is one of Thrawn’s strengths: understanding what’s important and what’s just shiny. Han, Lando, and the Falcon? Distractions. No real value, just perceived.

z: Whereas, given the history, it may not be too far-fetched to think that a conventional Imperial force not under Thrawn would have given at least some chase to the Falcon, because it’s the Millennium Falcon, it should basically be a reflexive action for any Imperial ship captain to start chasing it as soon as they see it.  Squirrel!

I think I may be oversnarking.  If so, my apologies; once again, I should stop writing these things after midnight.  Let’s turn this over to Will before I do any more damage, then—

—wait.  I’m relying on Will to balance for oversnarking.

\begin{threepio}We’re doomed. \end{threepio}

will: Spooooooon!

See you next week, and may the Force be with you.

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One thought on “Heir to the Empire, Chapter 15

  1. A thing I have noticed in this series is how many, many times characters come up with cunning plans that completely fail on execution. The heroes’ cunning plans fail because they underestimate Thrawn. Thrawn’s cunning plans fail because he overestimates Thrawn.

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