Heir to the Empire, Chapter 21

will: And we’re back, and I’m settled back into my home from my Midwest journey, and this is Chapter 21 of Heir to the Empire.

Incidentally, remember two weeks ago when Z suggested I should come down to the DC area on the 6th of June? I will in fact be going, to the Washington Metro Gamer Symphony Orchestra concert. That’s tomorrow, if you’re reading this live.

Hope to see you there if you can make the trip!

z: …although I won’t see you until after because I’ll be singing with the choir :).

will: Mara answers a summons from Karrde, who has news: Torve reported in, and he’s bringing along Han and Lando, who want a meeting. Karrde catches Mara up on the details, and Mara suggests saying “thank you and scram.” Ah, but Karrde is a good host, and a fair dealer:

“Torve is one of my associates. His debts are the organization’s.”

Mara has a moment of semipanic where she realizes that maybe Karrde will give Luke back to the New Republic, as a way of clearing the debt. When Karrde probes a bit further into this, she realizes he’s also trying to understand why she hates Luke…

z: Still trying to understand that, more accurately.  Karrde: The original man who just Must Know.

And there are probably several reasons for his insistent curiosity in this case:  He wants to understand Mara better, and this is such big part of what makes her tick, for one thing.  But I can’t help but wonder how much of it comes from the simple itch he gets from something he just doesn’t know.

will: Oh, quite a lot, I’m sure. Mara throws up a verbal wall on that one, instead suggesting that Han and Lando set up the impoundment to find Karrde. Karrde says not likely, Mara snarks that of course there’s no way Han would ever stoop so low.

I’d point out that Han’s great strength isn’t exactly strategic planning. Yes, he’s capable of it, but he’s much more comfortable reacting, as opposed to acting.

z: You’re completely right about that, of course, but one wonders how similar those look from a great distance, especially when it’s a guy who has almost cat-level “I meant to do that”s.

Also, a point of curiosity: OK, Solo has a reputation.  That’s a fair cop. But in terms of personal connection, I’d think Karrde knows Solo slightly and Solo knows Karrde slightly better than Mara should know Solo, so why doesn’t her snark ring weird to Karrde? Maybe just that reputation is enough.

will: Yeah, probably, especially given that Han spent five years being respectable (there’s that word again). But anyway. Mara drags Karrde back to the topic of what to do with Luke, and Karrde says to move him into the same shed Artoo is in, in the other of the two rooms, and don’t go carrying Luke’s lightsaber around, would you? Meantime, once you’re there for the meet-and-greet, make yourself scarce.

z: “You’re excused from all social functions” is how Karrde puts it.  By this time maybe he doesn’t want to have even one-degree-from-Luke people in her face for too long.

will: Karrde does point out that if they can get through this, Han and Lando having been at the base will serve as perfect proof that they never had Luke in the first place. I’m not convinced, because, what, nobody in the Republic would say “what if he was kept in a cell?”

z: Lots of circumstantial negative evidence:  No one will act weird even by accident because other than Karrde and Mara they don’t know; no obvious X-Wing… None if that is enough, but it might win them a few days.

will: Anyway. Karrde says that everybody else who knows about Luke is offsite, prepping another of Karrde’s punny ships (the Starry Ice), and also, Mara, move Luke’s X-wing under the tree cover:

“Can you fly an X-wing?”

“I can fly anything.”

Mara heads out to do the job. Luke has changed clothes, or maybe not, but anyway, he’s wearing his Tatooine Jedi look, black on black with high boots, the same from Jabba’s palace.

“The day she’d stood silently by and watched…and let him destroy her life.”

And the newbie reader hopefully says, “ah-hah!” I mean, a genre-savvy reader would probably have already recognized that this new female character and the woman from Luke’s vision are connected somehow, but this puts a pin on it for sure. Details are still sketchy, since the vision didn’t happen after all (I wonder if it’s understood that it’s an alternate past, the way Luke’s fight with Luke Vader was an alternate future?), but…yeah.

z: As a newbie reader that’s how I understood the vision, if one data point helps.

…oh my heavens I just made a connection between that cave on Dagobah and a certain ter’angreal in one the basement rooms of the White Tower and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t ask.

There’s still a bit of misdirection left, however: Still no positive indication that the life Luke “destroyed” was anything except that of an employee with Jabba.

Also, not unexpected, but:  Remember we were speculating how no one seemed to know who really caused the mayhem at Jabba’s?  Well, one person who obviously knows has equally obviously not said anything about it.

will: Anyway. Mara has Luke move, with a snark about not having formalwear in his size (black-on-black might as well be formalwear for Luke, it was appropriate for an Imperial audience, after all), and shoves him into the storage shed. She does a quick scan for escape-attempt fodder (that box of explosives is actually a box of clothing, sort of thing), shoots out the inside lock, and shuts the door.

Luke takes a moment to assess, reflecting that at least there isn’t a Rancor, then wondering why that occurred to him.

Yet again, Zahn gives us Force use that isn’t big and flashy. (I haven’t mentioned it yet, but Zahn’s explanation of the balance between using the power of the Force, and listening to its guidance, in Visions of the Future was pitch-perfect. I imagine I am going to spend a lot of that book in awe, really…)

z: Just chiming in to say “yep” and chiming out again.

will: But anyway, Luke isn’t yet experienced enough to recognize the subtle push, so he turns to matters at hand. This was clearly a last-second change, so Karrde and co. were in a rush…which means they might have made a mistake Luke can exploit.

First things first. Han gave Luke a primer in hot-wiring once–

–which I assume, by the way, happened some time between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, because there were three years of universe, lots of downtime in hyperspace, and it makes more sense to be teaching a hotshot kid pilot that sort of thing instead of a Jedi Master–

–so maybe he can work on the lock? No dice. The wires to central power are gone.

Which means he just needs to power it up! Maybe there’s something inside a box.

Is this starting to seem like a first-person shooter video game to anyone else? All Luke needs is a crowbar and he’s basically Gordon Skywalker.

z: Well, this sequence is more like one of those point-and-click adventure games really.  But then I never played Half-Life.  It’s on The List.

(The List has capital letters.  Doesn’t everyone’s?)

will: (Nota bene: I’ve only played a few minutes of the actual Star Wars FPSes, the Kyle Katarn games, years ago, and–he admitted shamefacedly–exactly zero minutes of the Bioware Knights of the Old Republic games.)

z: See what I mean about “The List?”

will: Yuuuup. Lacking a crowbar, however, Luke can’t get into most of the crates, and the ones he can get into have nothing useful. So instead, he tries to look for a way into the other side of the shed, and almost immediately, he finds a power outlet. (Zahn footnotes that this sort of thing is basically symbolic chess, move and countermove, and that cleverness, and exploiting fair mistakes, is better than handing one side an idiot ball. Which is very much the theme of this trilogy, especially for Thrawn.)

z: (Which is fortunate, because making characters carry an idiot ball around is the best way bar none to make me throw a book across the room.  Figuratively speaking.  Nowadays, remove the file from the reader device storage actually.  But remove it with great prejudice.)

will: As he tries to open up the power outlet, using a broken piece of metal as a screwdriver, though, he gets his real stroke of luck: a familiar beep. “Artoo, is that you?”

“[A]bruptly, the wall erupted with a minor explosion of electronic jabbering. Artoo, without a doubt.”

Anthropomorphism FTW!

z: Honestly, can’t you hear in your mind’s ear exactly how that sounded?

Ben Burtt, I salute you.  Again.

will: Artoo can’t get his side of the outlet open, so Luke goes back to working. He asks if Artoo’s door is locked–nope, but Artoo sounds like he’s spinning his wheels. Restraint collar–Artoo is literally trapped in place. But hey, if Luke can get out, he can get Artoo out too…

Anyway. Luke uncoils the low-voltage line, which should be enough to get the door open if it can reach. There isn’t enough slack in the line, but if he cuts off some of the other ones, he should have all the wire he needs…as long as he doesn’t electrocute himself along the way. Those are the high-voltage wires, after all…

I imagine electrical engineer Z has a lot to say about the “if it’s stupid but it works, it ain’t stupid” nature of cutting superconductive wire with a piece of metal, with your only insulation being your shirt.

z:  Depends in how high the high voltage is.  Because you see [sits on hands to stop typing]

will: Nerd sniping strikes again. The process goes along fine, right up until Luke’s hand slips, he touches the wire and jerks back…and realizes he didn’t get shocked.

He checks again, and yeah, the outlet is dead. Well, that was a colossal waste of time and effort.

z: He doesn’t assume it’s just dead, but probably correctly deduces that they must have cut the power.

will: Right. Dead in the “has been killed” sense. Anyway, maybe it’s not a waste. Luke now has some wire. All he needs is a power supply, and maybe he can find one in the boxes. Can he use the wire to open them, slicing through the sealant like a garotte?

z: Or, dare I say it, a cheese-cutter?

Ah.  It doesn’t even have to be a point-and-click adventure game…

> look
You see some wire on the ground.  There are some boxes.
> open box
The box is tightly sealed.
> get wire
You have some wire.
> look wire
It is very thin but strong.  You could cut cheese with it!
> eat cheese
You don’t have any cheese.
> use wire on box
I don’t know how to do that.
> look box
Box has a layer of sealant around the lid.
> use wire on sealant
You saw through the sealant using the thin wire.
> open box
You open the box.
> look box
The box has cheese inside!
> take cheese
You have some cheese.
> eat cheese
You eat some cheese. Cheese is great!
(34/100 points)

(…I might have diverged a little from how the end of the scene really goes, there.)

will: It is dark, you are likely to be eaten by a vornskr. Back to Luke’s reality (as Z presumably gets some cheese, here in ours)…as Luke wraps the wire around his hand, he stops.

His artificial right hand. His artificial, dual-power-supply right hand…“Artoo, you know anything about cybernetic limb replacements?”

In other works that might as well be the end of the chapter, but Zahn goes a bit further. Artoo is very concerned, but Luke reassures him that all he wants to do is get a power supply from his wrist port. Somehow, the bleeping droid can walk the human through it (I imagine a lot of “OK, I’m seeing three wires, red, blue, and green. Disconnect red? blart Blue? happy beep Blue it is”), and they go to work.

And that’s the chapter, with a perfect example of the chess match. Door access, needs power supply, outlet disabled, but Karrde and Mara didn’t know or forgot or didn’t think of the fact that Luke has a power supply in his arm.

Before anyone objects, if you were a droid, and your adopted human (yes, I’m continuing the pet analogy) had a cybernetic limb, you’d have the owner’s manual and the service manual in your memory banks for sure. Who knows when you might need to do some field cybersurgery?

As I was saying, this chapter is very smooth–some references to the wider picture (namely Mara’s secrets) and a great example of how to write smart characters at odds with each other, as well as further characterizing Karrde, Mara, Luke, and Artoo.

More from you, Z?

z: Not much, since this is my panic week: Project delivery; concert Saturday so extra rehearsals etc.  I can say that I’d enjoyed the chess match very much, though, because coming into the reread I remembered the Luke-in-shed sequence almost verbatim.

This is the longest we’ve stayed in Mara’s head so far, and another Zahn-good-writer indication is that the way her thoughts never touch what we (and Karrde) most wasn’t too know doesn’t feel unnatural or forced.  That couldn’t have been easy to write.

Until next week then, gentlebeings, may the Force be with you.

(And a bit of it with us, Saturday evening.)

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