Heir to the Empire, Chapter 22

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 22, wherein at least some lines start showing signs of crossing.

will: And façades show signs of breaking, and Things show signs of Happening.

z: We open with Han making “his presentation” again, and I can’t help but think that Zahn of actually approaching that unavoidable transformation in the prototype local lovable rogue with a measure of glee.

will: Does that make Karrde the production model? There’s also an amusing tension in that Han makes the pitch as the New Republic’s representative, Lando vouches for Han’s trustworthiness, and Karrde gets to plink Han for his checkered history…

z: This time it’s being presented to Karrde just before they head out to an early dinner in one of the outer rooms of the main building. Karrde is intrigued by the offer, he informs Solo, but he cannot acquiesce to Solo’s request because “it would look to certain parties as if we were taking sides.”  Han tries to convince Karrde that they can keep operational security, and Karrde bluntly replies that the Imperial intelligence is really strong nowadays. Han can’t even protest out of loyalty, given the very next thing he has to ask for—um, does Karrde happen to have a slicer who can get into New Republic diplomatic codes?

will: The irony is strong in this one, indeed. Han tries to cover by saying it’s a personal matter, but Karrde…isn’t dumb.

z: Karrde does have a slicer, and seats him–a youth named Ghent who hero-worships Han–next to Han at dinner.  Through the kid’s awed babbling we learn a few more things about Han, such as how he managed to con his way onto a slaver ship once, in what would have been a good example of high-seas… er… deep-space piracy under any other circumstances, and gave the ship and its “highly traceable” cargo to the slaves he freed.

will: And you see Ghent completely nerding out, which is always fun. I’m a Ghent fan, and no mistake. Like Zahn says, he’s a GFFA royal nerd. And I liked that his career path (spoilers!) ends with him basically in charge of the New Republic’s NSA. Or, well, the New Republic’s NSA that does its actual job and not–sorry, not going there. The point is, he becomes the chief of New Republic SIGINT.

z: There is a definite pause in action here, and I don’t think the point would be only to highlight that Han has a golden heart, or is an “old softie” as Lando puts it.  I read it as partly showing the Solo mythos from the point-of-view of civilian galactic inhabitants, partly illustrating, by way of the very practical selfish reasons Han lists for the deed, that he’s still a bit of a grey-and-gray morality character, and partly to slip in one line about how much Chewie hates slavers.

will: Han! The man they call…Han!

z: Heh.

By the way, one of the others at the small table is this woman, Mara Jade, who’s apparently not even being subtle about glaring at Han and Lando. Han does note this, but remarkably, does not wonder why, at least not explicitly in the narration. One wonders how used he is to being glared at.

will: He had three years of being glared at by an Alderaanian Princess, so I’d say he’s used to it.

z: Then Karrde gets a call. He seems to grow tense, excuses himself graciously still, collects Mara with a glance and leaves the table.  Han and Lando, possessing possibly one of the best pairs of trouble-detectors in the galaxy, are instantly on alarm, but don’t show it, continuing to enjoy the food… But Lando mutters that  he’s seen Mara somewhere before, just can’t figure out where, and Han—who was, remember, blind for the entirety of his conscious time at Jabba’s—tells his friend to figure it out quickly, because they may be “wearing out their welcome.”

Which is an interesting thing to say, for one thing, because of Karrde’s attitude towards guest-right which we are about to see in a moment, and for another, for showing how really finely tuned Han’s trouble detector might be—there’s no indication that whatever alarmed Karrde wasn’t a purely internal matter, after all.

will: Guest-right is one thing, survival another.

z: We shift to Karrde, who’s hurried to the comm center with Mara and is being briefed by another associate named Aves.  It turns out that the Chimaera just happened to appear in orbit. And Captain Pellaeon asked for Karrde specially.  While they happen to have the galaxy’s most infamous YT-1300 freighters chilling on one of their landing pads.  Upon learning that the Millennium Falcon is on a pad under tree cover, Karrde still tells Aves to cover it with a camo-net to hide it further from sensors. When the man leaves, he attempts to delicately probe Mara: “Interesting timing, this visit.” But Mara isn’t in the mood for subtlety. She snaps that no, she didn’t call the Imperials, although she “should have thought of it days ago,” and shouldn’t Karrde answer Pellaeon’s call?

will: My read is actually that Mara doesn’t snap. She seems calm and unafraid–as well she should, she didn’t do anything–when she says she didn’t call them, but she does admit that doing so could have solved a lot of problems. Foreshadowing her decision in Dark Force Rising, perhaps?

z: That’s right–but I meant in the “cuts to the chase” sense of snap, not irritated sense. Karrde answers the call, only to find himself face-to-face on the comm with Thrawn.

An impressive bout of tap-dancing on hot coals ensues.

will: Though the narration says that Karrde “takes it in stride.” But this is Karrde’s POV–he’s as capable of self-delusion as any man.

Maybe more.

I note that Karrde has never seen Thrawn’s face before, judging by the narration. He knows the name, but I wonder how much else Karrde actually knew at the time?

z: Thrawn says that they came, first, because they need more ysalamiri. Karrde, amazingly enough, attempts to sound Thrawn out about why they need more, are they having trouble keeping them alive maybe? I laugh. Thrawn just coldly says that no, they need more, and it’s none of Karrde’s beeswax, except he isn’t explicit about that part. Oh, and they also need warships, does Karrde know where to find some?

Karrde internally jumps about half a meter, blandly asks “Warships?” while thinking “he can’t possibly know, can he, it must be a coincidental question, right!?” Which was really confusing, as it was meant to be, to a young first-time reader, and instantly intriguing to someone who’s a bit better-read in the genre.

will: I don’t remember this at all from the first read, not that I remember too much of that. But yes, it’s a pretty substantive hook, looked at with the eye of experience. And the footnote.

z: Thrawn merely says Karrde should have some contacts who have some to sell, and Karrde returns that he doesn’t think so.  Thrawn is all, but you will try, won’t you? Especially since you aren’t helping us in the search for Skywalker… speaking of, why aren’t you helping us?  Karrde, rattled, slips up by speaking of the search in the past tense and then covers it up, when Thrawn instantly latches on to that, by saying that he thought Skywalker’s X-Wing life support would have given out by now.

will: Karrde knows he slipped, too. And yeah, if it hadn’t been for the warship distraction, Karrde probably wouldn’t have made that error.

Interesting, this. Thrawn says something he actually thinks is an innocent hook, Karrde takes it for a possible and possibly-dangerous probe; as a result, Karrde makes a slip, Thrawn catches it, and…Karrde actually does cover it over perfectly–Thrawn has no suspicion of anything yet.

But it’s not just what Thrawn knows that’s dangerous, it’s what he might know. It’s a theme throughout this whole series, and the later followups: overestimating your opponent, assuming that he’s always a step ahead of you, is as bad as underestimating. You end up giving away more by assuming he already has it.

z: Thrawn informs Karrde of Jedi hibernation, and promises to give more information when they are talking face-to-face on Myrkr.  Wha—? Oh. Thrawn’s speaking from aboard a landing shuttle. Of which three of them are in a descent now, along with a TIE escort.  Uh-oh.  Karrde doesn’t quite jump up and run out of the room while shouting over his shoulder at Thrawn that he has to go “prepare to receive you,” and Thrawn, no doubt much amused, doesn’t quite yell that it’s not necessary to be ceremonious to Karrde’s retreating back, but it’s a near thing.

will: Still, though, Karrde’s reaction is perfectly valid even if he isn’t harboring secrets, prisoners, and high-ranking members of the opposite side’s government (de facto if not de jure). Thrawn doesn’t actually suspect anything he wasn’t suspecting ten minutes prior. Not yet, anyway.

z: Karrde has a disaster scenario overload for a moment, then stats rapid-firing orders at Mara.  Tell Chin to prepare for Imperial guests. Go tell Aves out on the pad with the Falcon to move it further back under cover. No calling it on comlink, the Imperials may overhear.  Mara, to my mind amazingly, brings up turning Lando and Han over to the Imperials. Karrde first says that he wouldn’t do it with no bounty set, but Mara doesn’t care for that (and I don’t buy it) and Karrde gets truly angry—they’ve taken bread and salt, he won’t tromp all over the guest-right.

will: Though he doesn’t actually say bread and salt, I checked. But the idea is sound.

z: Yes, I was using another universe’s term.  But the idea is the same.

will: Smugglers operate on trust and loyalty, not unlike feudal lords in that way (the descriptions of how lieutenants will carve up territories is the rise and fall of empires)…and part of that is, yes, prisoners are one thing, but when someone is in your base, under good faith auspices–not actually checking the blaster at the door but at least promising to be civil, they’re on your side if someone comes after them–or you.

Honor among thieves. (And, once again, respect.)

z: Exactly.  It’s the only way such a society can function as a society.

Mara mocks that that doesn’t apply to Skywalker too, right? No, says Karrde, but now is a very bad time and place to turn him over, too.  Mara gets angry and says she doesn’t understand why not.  Karrde is almost at the point of telling her that “she doesn’t need to understand,  only obey,” which would have been a Death-Star size error in judgment. But being the good personnel manager we’ve already seen him being, he instead explains that stormtroopers strolling through your base is not a good bargaining position, ask Lando some time.  He’ll hide Han and Lando himself.  Luke should be hidden all right in that shed. Just go hide Luke’s lightsaber a bit better too?

will: Mara, to her credit, says she doesn’t agree, but she’s not in charge, and she’ll accept Karrde’s decision. Capable of taking orders as well as giving them, indeed. And yeah, there is logic to what Karrde is saying. You can’t negotiate with someone who’s holding a gun to your head, not unless you’re holding a gun to his.

(And as I said, a book from now, she’ll find out how right Karrde is.)

z: Mara says OK, by the way, why did you jump half a meter when Thrawn asked you about capital warships?

I laugh. Of course she noticed.

Karrde puts her off with “not a good time,” but knows that she will bring it up again. But first there’s going to be an interesting rest of the afternoon to get through.

will: Which is another point in their favor–Mara noticed (and tells him that his reaction wasn’t obvious, she’s just very good at this), but agrees now isn’t the time. And when the time comes, Karrde will not lie to her.

z: We shift to Luke, who’s successfully managed to get out one of the power supplies from his hand and jerry-rigged the door open, although his hand feels tingly and weak now.

will: With an interesting side note about how he was so used to the bionic hand that he’d almost forgotten it was a machine, but here it is, clearly one now.

z: He gets out, releases Artoo from the restraining collar, and decides to circle around the compound under tree cover to get to the ships. It looks deserted and they start out, but while Luke may be well-hidden, Artoo’s white and blue are probably as visible as a very visible thing.  Then three men run out of the central building, draw blasters and run into the forest, luckily in another direction.

will: Aves and the camo crew, the blasters intended as vornskr repellant.

z: While Luke’s still hidden, frozen, Mara comes out of that building as well.

Even under those conditions, at that distance, and without the Force, it’s now telling how attentive and perceptive Luke is about her mood: First she just stands there “looking distractedly at the sky,” then abruptly she gets a determined expression and turns toward the barracks, still “her attention and thoughts… turned inward. As if she’d suddenly made a hard decision…”

will: Note that anywhere else, Luke would have been a blazing beacon for a Force-sensitive like Mara. The double-edged sword of the ysalamiri…

z: Luke and Artoo get further under cover and reach where he’d seen the X-Wing before, only to find it gone, and Luke, worried now, just asks Artoo to pick another ship. Artoo picks what looks like another starfighter, though larger than the X-Wing. Luke gets in, manages to strap Artoo down somehow, and asks him to do a systems check while he himself straps in.

will: Luke also points out that the X-Wing hyperdrive is nonfunctional anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

z: We shift to Mara, who’s running through her list of tasks having a true “I hate the universe” moment.

will: In as many words, even!

z: She found Skywalker, she should decide what happens to him.  She should have left Skywalker there, to die all alone in the cold of space–

Only this time through do I recognize the significance of her thinking in exactly those terms: Not just leave him to die, but to die alone in the cold, and my heart twists with pity.   She’s drawing from how she herself feels…

Well, but then she wouldn’t get to kill him herself. And right then she has his lightsaber, can go to the shed to “check on him and claim he had tried to jump her,” it would be “easy, clean and very fast… ”

…which is shocking, because since when would she care about giving Luke an easy, clean, fast death?  Just “easy and fast” might have referred to her part in it, but I just can’t read “clean” that way.  And more telling, she doesn’t recognize the incongruity.

will: “Clean” in the sense, I think, of no drawn out last words or shootouts. Clean like a clean break, different than a clean death. It’ll just be over, for her.

z: And she doesn’t owe Karrde anything… right?

will: Here even she knows she’s lying.

z: She’s still trying to fool herself — trying to convince herself — undecided when she hears the whine of a starship repulsorlift, and turns around to see one of their Skipray blastboats, as she identifies the ship, take off.

She runs to the shed. Luke’s gone.

Swearing “viciously,” which is amusing now as an adult knowing what I would say in that situation but of course could not have been spelled out in a Star Wars book, she runs off. She can’t call for help, the Imperials are listening. She just takes the second Skipray (“I can fly anything,” remember?) and blasts off in pursuit.

Buckle down, folks, because except for one upcoming interlude, calm times are over for this book. Will?

will: Indeed.

Not much to add here, though I like that after so many chapters of moving, Zahn trips the floodgates and everybody spirals together. He likes doing this, setting up elaborate Rube Golberg-esque collapses of character and situation.

And relying on the characters to do what they would do–again, no Idiot Balls here.

Next week, the domino Zahn tipped over hits the next one. And the next…and the next.

May the Force be with you until then.

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2 thoughts on “Heir to the Empire, Chapter 22

  1. I like the guest-right parallel between here and Cloud City. Lando *did* have a gun to his head, Han and Leia *did* have bounties on theirs, and even still, all three smuggler types were offended / apologetic about the way things turned out.

    I like it both for the consistency and especially for how Zahn did such a good job of covering all the things that went wrong and forced Lando into that situation without ever directly referencing the fact that his was a dark mirror of Karrde’s. (Well, at least he did not apparently directly reference it, but I’m not reading along with y’all to know for sure.)

    Like

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