Heir to the Empire, Chapter 16

will: There are thirty-two chapters in Heir to the Empire, which means that as of now we’ve covered half of the book. Welcome to Chapter Sixteen, which features a scant two perspectives and a critical encounter, a proper respect for the size of space (it’s big), and the difference between an error and a mistake.

will: Luke snaps out of his hibernation trance to Artoo’s terrified gurgling–not squealing? I feel like Artoo’s sounds tend to be emotion-cued: beeps when happy, bloops when sad, squeals when afraid.

z: Definitely emotion-cued, and after a while you can “tell” what he’s saying. That said, I can sort of imagine the terrified gurgle.  Think a very choked squeal.

will: But we digress–Luke snaps out knowing that he hasn’t been traveling as long as he should have…which is confirmed when he sees what’s before him: a light freighter, mostly destroyed, and the Imperial Star Destroyer that did the, ahem, destroying.

Luke tries to pull a Snagglepuss (“Exit, stage right!”), but no dice, he’s spotted, and he sees that he just had some bad luck: the Imperials were after the freighter, and he just happened to be crossing the Interdictor’s artificial gravity boundary. (Zahn also footnotes that he didn’t invent the Interdictor. West End Games did, in their tabletop RPG. Which I had the core book for, a few lifetimes back.) Of course, Luke is wrong about that, but that doesn’t matter. He tries to get a sense of the freighter’s affiliation (but it’s deserted), but more importantly…

Pop quiz, hotshot. You’re in your snubfighter, stuck in a dragship’s mass shadow, and you’ve been spotted by an Impstar-deuce. No backup, no support. What do you do?

Excuse me, I appear to have mashed up Speed with Top Gun, with Star Wars. Which Mike Stackpole already did, come to think…

z: It literally just now occurred to me that this scene is Zahn showing-not-telling that Luke is actually a damn good pilot, too, creative and adaptable, beyond what advantages being Force-sensitive confers him.  In fact, we also get to find out that he uses the Force as another tool to be adaptive with.

…and it also just occurred to me, having written the above, of what kind of a compare-contrast in terms of adaptability is coming up later in the chapter.  Well-played, Mr. Zahn.

Anyway, going back to Will’s point, what do you do?

will: You get the hell out of Dodge, of course. Luke has Artoo find the nearest edge of the gravity field, keeping the freighter between him and the Chimaera (which does identify itself, interestingly; maybe that’s part of what helps him figure out this was a setup, two books from now?), and hits full power, not even deflectors up.

z: The Chimaera identifying itself as such may have a few interpretations: They didn’t think it would matter because they were certain they were thing to capture Luke (the arrogant villain option), they didn’t think it would matter because it wouldn’t mean anything in particular to anyone from the “Rebellion,” (another arrogant villain option), or they weren’t given instructions to the contrary so just used standard Imperial protocol because why not (the even Thrawn can’t think of everything, seriously are you guys totally helpless by yourselves (don’t answer that) option).

will: Luke still needs a distraction, though, so he has Artoo ballistic-fire a proton torpedo behind him–to prevent jamming, it flies with absolutely no guidance, not counting Force nudging–and blow up the freighter. It was empty anyway, and the debris field might keep the Star Destroyer’s tractor beams off him.

z: Creative chicanery number 1, made possible by the Force.

will: It works, but the bad news is the Interdictor is now lining up to focus the gravity field on him, instead of the now-destroyed freighter. So Luke swings ninety degrees, counting on his superior maneuverability to get him away from the capital ships.

z: Piloting skill demo check, as Artoo’s reaction shows the reader that this isn’t a common maneuver. Also, at this point the Interdictor’s commander tries to turn the ship to compensate but can’t keep up, because inertia Is A Thing, and if we’re going to have a ship that projects a mass shadow strong enough to yank things out of hyperspace, then it’s going to damn well move like it’s actually carrying that mass. About as well as a beached whale, in other words.

will: The Star Destroyer starts firing, and now Luke figures that he can afford to reduce speed a little by turning on the shields…right before the Destroyer grabs him with a tractor.

Things are not looking good for Our Hero!

Luke can’t break the beam, so he decides to do something wild. And desperate. And foolish.

z: Creative chicanery no. 2 coming up shortly–and this is what I mean by “adaptable,” as this all moves very fast, and Luke jumps from plan to plan without a pause.

will: We never really learned in the movies how tractor beams worked, but my read on what happens tells me that the beams have to be kept trained on a target, following it as it moves along its path–which does make sense. So what Luke does is simple enough: he hits the emergency brake (“reverse-triggers the acceleration compensator”; in other words, apply a powerful backwards acceleration to his ship) while firing a pair of proton torpedoes forward, along the path that the tractor beam will continue to sweep.

Result: Luke manages to slip out of the beam, and deposits a pair of proton torpedoes in instead. The tractor operator doesn’t have time to realize he picked up the wrong target before the torpedoes, with their substantially smaller mass and therefore higher velocity, get pulled straight into the tractor bay (kaboom); and Luke has just enough freedom of movement to hit max acceleration and head for the edge of the gravity shadow. He uses the Force to help him slip through the resultant laser fire, reaches the edge, and he’s gone.

z: This last is the only place in all the confrontation that he uses the Force to directly guide his flying, and possibly succeeds in the impossible there, in dodging every bit of artillery on an ISD MII that happened to have pointing the vaguely correct way.

will: Meanwhile, back at the Star Destroyer…

z: …if you heard a “dun dun dunnnn” as you read that last, that is really fitting…

will: (Don’t we have any other colo–wait, I made that one already.) Pellaeon watches as Thrawn stares at Luke’s last location insystem, while keeping half an ear on the cleanup crew fixing Tractor Four. Finally Thrawn has Pellaeon follow him to the crew pit and the control station for the starboard tractors, and confronts the “young man” at the console. (An enlisted man, not an officer. Bet his rank is something like Technician, First Class.)

Thrawn gets the man’s name (Cris Pieterson, which Zahn later reveals is a Tuckerization, where he’d auctioned, for charity, a chance to appear in his next book), and says “you were in charge, yes?” Pieterson, typically for people who’ve screwed up the world over and for that matter in the finest tradition of Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, says “that wasn’t my fault.”

z: um.

will: Thrawn asks him to explain, cuts Pieterson off when he tries to recount what happened–”I’m aware of the facts; why wasn’t this your fault?”–and finally Pieterson says, with an impressive touch of defiance, “how should I have known? One second a lock’s lost, the next it’s back, how could I tell it wasn’t the same thing?”

z: erm.

(Although he might have a point with this one if the physics works that way and the sensors detect only momentum, not mass and velocity, and Artoo was clever enough to figure out what Luke wanted and toss the torpedoes out at just the right speed, and…)

will: Thrawn turns to the officer in charge of Pieterson, Ensign Colclazure, and asks: did you train him? (Yes.) Did he ever study something like this? (I dunno, but there is a training package for loss of lock and confirmation that it’s back.) Did you recruit Pieterson? (No, he’s a conscript.) Does that matter to you? (No, he’s still an Imperial enlisted man.)

z: I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why that would have mattered to Thrawn, the first time I read this.  Now I get it, see below—

will: Finally Thrawn gets philosophical, asking what the difference is between an error and a mistake. An error is when someone does something wrong, it seems, while a mistake is failure to correct an error. Rukh, he orders with a lazy gesture, correct an error.

Pellaeon never even saw Rukh move. Pieterson certainly never had time to scream.

z: The last question about “did you train him worse than others because he was a conscript, not enlisted” was Thrawn’s way of being fair, to make sure he corrected the correct error.

…so yeah.  More from me on this below.

will: Zahn mentions that in the same auction where Chris Peterson won the appearance, Brian Colclazure won the decision whether Peterson’s character lived or died. He chose death, so Zahn wrote Colclazure into the book as the guy who effectively killed him. Anyway.

The error corrected, Thrawn tells Ensign Colclazure to train a replacement and asks Pellaeon for some data. By the way, full points to the lieutenant who immediately had the data, and was brave enough to only be “a bit” hesitant to hand it to Thrawn.

z: Yup.  You’re in command now, Admiral Piett, indeed.

…actually, Piett and Pellaeon share more than just a last name initial, I think. I’ll have to think about this one some more.

will: Thrawn heads back to the bridge, explaining that Luke is within a lightyear of where he was–reversing an acceleration compensator like that will fry a hyperdrive within that distance, probably less.

z: And it’s a sign of how much I’d bought into the Thrawn Myth by this point that I didn’t even wonder exactly how Thrawn knows so much about X-Wing mechanics.  But then, or may be that those two components are together on every hyperspace-capable vessel.

will: Probably have to be. An acceleration compensator (inertial damper, basically) is required on everything, I’m sure, and while we never get an explanation how hyperdrives work (at least, not that I recall, and no, I don’t want one), I wouldn’t be surprised if the same tech that allows FTL also lets one dump excess kinetic energy. Perhaps into hyperspace itself.

I’m also amused at Pellaeon thinking he’s doing the Empire-standard “we are always one step away from victory” thing in the face of a failure, only to have Thrawn say “no, I mean that literally.”

Of course, even knowing Luke’s vector, a lightyear’s distance is a lot to cover, especially when the Chimaera is busy preparing for the Assault on Sluis Van. So Thrawn subcontracts the job out to all the smuggling groups that work in the area, including Karrde and two others we’ll meet in a couple of books.

Note that a light-year’s range is big enough that three different smuggling groups are being told about the bounty on Luke Skywalker. Zahn Has a Sense of Scale.

Space is big. Really big. you just can’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think–sorry, must have gotten distracted.

(Don’t panic.)

Anyway. Pellaeon’s confused: why such a terminal error-correction routine?

“The Empire is at war, Captain. We cannot afford the luxury of men whose minds are so limited that they cannot adapt to unexpected situations.”

Part of me wanted to call bullshit, until I stopped.

Let’s examine this: what was the error, and what was the mistake? Was the error Pieterson’s, in losing the lock and not confirming proper reacquisition, or Colclazure’s, in assigning Pieterson in the first place?

Apparently the error can be corrected by Pieterson’s death, so that suggests the error was Colclazure’s. I could be wrong, though, because I started to ask, “if the error was assigning Pieterson, why not just reassign him?” That suggests the error was Pieterson’s, and letting him live would have been a mistake, leaving the error uncorrected.

And then I thought, “why kill him either way?” Sure, Pieterson isn’t much of a tractor operator. But can the Empire afford to waste personnel?

of course they can. This is another hint about Wayland. After all, conscription is soon to be a nonissue in Thrawn’s Empire.

I still think that the later, “likeable” Thrawn would have just reassigned him, though. Just as well, given my thoughts on the matter of that Thrawn.

Z, anything else?

z: Oh yes there is.

One: I’m not sure Thrawn “corrected” the full error there, because I’ve had the teacher who thought his responsibility ended by making sure the textbook covers something, which is both not fun and wrong in all the bad ways.

Two: I didn’t even think of the Wayland angle until I read what you wrote here. And I still think that’s not the main thing, although it may be a factor. Thrawn may be implying that, but he’s outright saying what he means: Pieterson was not adaptable, he would be a liability wherever he was assigned, this is how we, um, let people go.

Which is… one of several things, actually. One, adaptability is only partly a learned trait, I think. So certain people in that bridge should have put in their transfer request to the janitorial position in another ship right there. Two, Thrawn is giving a message here, but it’s very murky. In fact, this scene will not make complete sense until its counterpart scene later.

will: That’s true. Perhaps the entire point of this scene is the one two books from now…

z: Three, for someone who prizes adaptability so highly, Thrawn still doesn’t comment on the creativity his target demonstrated, except to point out where the last maneuver would have led to a failure. This may be because he didn’t want to praise a Rebel’s creativity in the middle of the rank and file, but if it’s a blind point instead, well, that will cause further trouble down the line…

Either way, the thing about this chapter is: I’d remember it immediately whenever Heir came up. And I’ve never thought about Thrawn without remembering it, either. It made an impression.

will: Another good point. We’re halfway through the book, and we’ve already had Thrawn’s Establishing Scene (the Elomin task force), but this one sticks out.

z: I’ve no smooth transition this week, so unless Will has a last bit—May the Force be with you.

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