Heir to the Empire, Chapter 24

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 24, wherein we have a plethora of viewpoints and detective action both Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe styles, and sorrow for lost ways of life.

will: Where before we were waiting for the axe to fall, now it has started falling and we watch as time contracts, giving us a close-up view of the descent…

z: We open with a Han viewpoint.  Having seen what they have sneakily seen, to wit, that the Empire has been and gone to Karrde’s while they had been hustled away from the dinner table, Han starts by pumping Karrde but switches to the “ask point blank” technique within a single question. Somewhat to his surprise, Karrde doesn’t try to spin.

will: “His” meaning Han’s, though I imagine it was just as surprising to Karrde himself. Man must be exhausted.

z: Good point.   If we read the rest of this scene (and the end of the chapter) with the thought “Karrde is exhausted,” it fits like a glove.

Karrde has a completely non-accusatory exchange with Ghent, who miserably tells him that their guests insisted on “coming out to see what was happening,” and gently chides Han for taking what actually was a large risk, but Han remarks that he is used to taking risks, which, well.

will: I laugh. And it’s good of Karrde to not blame Ghent; as we said, he was so out of his depth he needed a pressure suit.

z: Karrde then tells them about the Imperials’ purpose in coming here (getting ysalamiri), says in response to Han’s next question that while “information costs money here,” in this case they don’t have anything for sale because they don’t exactly know what the Imperials do with the ysalamiri (…mid-grade lie), and outright refuses to name the Imperial commander—Han asks for the price and Karrde says no, that isn’t for sale at the moment.

will: The ysalamiri lie is a weird one. Karrde really doesn’t know what the Empire wants with ysalamiri. He has theories, which are incorrect–not that he knows that–but even were they correct, that’s useless information to Han. If Luke comes back, he already knows. If not, what does it matter? On the other hand, not saying what they do is withholding information from Han. On the other hand, giving him that information would have likely gotten him squirreling down the wrong path.

z: Han and Lando are all, well, we’ll be going, then.  Karrde predictably does not like this one bit (what will the Star Destroyer in orbit think if the Millennium Falcon, of all the ships in the galaxy, bursts out of the forest next to Karrde’s base and blasts off?) but couches his objections in terms of worrying for Han and Lando’s safety (hello, ISD in orbit!). Han responds to that with bravado which must have been a reflex action, but thinks that it might not hurt to lay low, and since Karrde haven’t turned them in yet, he’s probably trustworthy.  For a bit.  Probably.  Hold that thought, it’s going to come up again.

will: And again, and again, and again…

z: Karrde graciously and politely (how else) invites them back to dinner.  Han accepts, but first he says, he wants to go back to the Millennium Falcon because he thinks he’s left the tap going in the galley.  Or the engine room lights on.  Or something.  Let alone Karrde, the ysalamiri and the more intelligent ones of the high-metal-content trees in the forest aren’t fooled.

will: I’m not honestly sure. Han’s wanting to go back to the ship does seem reasonable, and Karrde is more focused on not having the Falcon leave–and he doesn’t know how much Ghent has spilled–so he doesn’t seem to realize that Han could just be lying about where he wants to go.

z: But Karrde doesn’t comment, so Han and Lando turn back to the forest’s edge, and in response to Lando’s “OK, what are we up to then?” question Han says that he wants to check those sheds that were supposed to house a prisoner.

Welp.

Archie Goodwin on the job.

will: Z mentioned the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin novels by Rex Stout way back in our Chapter 1 post, but I’m not sure it fits. (I’m also not nearly as much of a fan of them as Z is–don’t I recall you telling me, Z, that those were some of the first English-language books you ever read?)

z: Nope, I actually read them after I met Michael Stackpole, because he recommended them to me.  What you recall is me telling you that of the relatively few number of English words for which I remember where I met them for the first time, several were in those books. Stout had a marvelous ear for language.

will: Oh, OK. And yeah, I know Mike is a big fan of them too. Those books could be described as “if the Sherlock Holmes novels were set in New York City between 1925-1965 depending, the detective was an extraordinarily fat Mycroft, and Watson was Sam Spade.” Though that’s doing them a disservice (I’m not as much of a fan primarily due to comparatively smaller exposure, not any sort of distaste). And yes, a leading fan theory is that Nero Wolfe is the illegitimate son of Sherlock Holmes by Irene Adler. But I digress.

The point is, while Archie is a detective, his primary goal appears to be the eyes-and-ears-and-fists half for Wolfe. And Han, here, is all pieces. He isn’t a remote viewer for anybody. But then I could be wrong, and I’ll let Z gently correct me.

The point of the point is, streetwise Han goes out for some information.

z: …which is exactly Archie’s form and function: He’s the streetwise one, he goes out for information because Wolfe won’t move out of his house.

Circling around in the forest, they come to the sheds and look for a locked or lockable door—and find a shed with two such doors, though the lock has been shot off on one.  They slip in, close the door and turn on the light, and find that the prisoner who used to be there has rooted behind some of the boxes piled around and revealed and disassembled a power outlet.  Lando notes that the lock has been fairly expertly shot off, really, and that the prisoner had been tampering with it.  Han wants to go check the other side, but they discover that they have locked themselves in.

will: I get why they closed the door behind them (they didn’t want to be spotted), but given that they were looking for a prisoner’s cell, you’d think they’d be more careful. Then again, it gets them to see the power supply…

z: Lando fiddles with things inside the lock himself and notes that a power supply has been “half spliced into the works,” and gets the door open.  Han heads to the other half, which isn’t locked, and has a droid restraint collar left open right in the middle, with skid marks from the droid’s struggles to get free still visible.  Han actually thinks to himself that this is very untidy and not something he’d expect from Karrde’s people.  I laugh.  Then I think of Luke politely, carefully closing the collar back up and putting it on a shelf to leave everything nice and tidy before he and Artoo hightailed it out of there and I laugh some more.  Then the door opens and Karrde appears, with the cliche-est of all cliche lines: “You seem to have gotten lost.”

It’s a cliche because it works, folks.

will: In the words of John Rogers, “you say trope, I say well-honed story tool.”

z: Han actually (although probably not sincerely) chides Karrde about his people leaving things untidy.  I laugh again.  Then he gets serious and asks if Karrde also had a droid prisoner.  Karrde sardonically says that Ghent must have been talking some more, and isn’t it amazing that so many “expert slicers know everything about computers and droids and yet don’t know when to keep their mouths shut.” This time I laugh for ten seconds straight, because that had to be a straight line by Zahn.

will: Oh yeah. Dude was going to SF conventions in the ‘90s, after all…

z: But Han isn’t entertained, and angrily asks if the Grand Admiral had Karrde doing formal slaving, or random kidnappings.  The temperature plunges down, and Karrde shows genuine anger as he did when Mara suggested turning Han and Lando in, dropping all courtesy and titles:

Karrde’s eyes flashed.  “I don’t deal in slaves, Solo.  Slaves or kidnapping.  Never.”

will: Which…is a bit disingenuous given they’re standing where a prisoner was kept, as Han is about to point out.

z: So what was this, Han wants to know, and Karrde’s answer reveals that he’s finally showing the strain of, well, everything: “I didn’t ask for him to come into my life… Nor did I especially want him there.”  I would have been very confused, but Han plays along with “What’d he do, drop in out of the sky on top of you?” Pretty much, yeah, says Karrde.

will: Or more accurately, we dropped out of the sky on him, thanks to the woman who hates him…but I digress.

z: So who was he?  Karrde gives what must be his reflexive answer: “That information is not for sale.”  But Lando appears at this moment and says that maybe they don’t need to buy it.  He’s gotten the power supply out of the lock, look, Han, do you recognize this?  Han thinks the logo is familiar but can’t place it; Lando names the company; Han recognizes it as one that makes bioelectronic power supplies.  Lando says yes, “Just like the kind that would have been put in, say, an artificial hand.”  Han points his blaster at Karrde and flatly says that the skid marks on the floor look awfully like those of an R2 unit…  “Feel free to join the conversation anytime, Karrde.”

will: The “Sibha Habadeet” sounds like another Tuckerization, but Zahn doesn’t footnote it.

z: Karrde earns my full admiration by one of the most memorable lines of dialogue in the book so far: “What do you want me to say?–that Luke Skywalker was a prisoner here? All right–consider it said.”

You know, they had no proof, Karrde.  It’s a whole galaxy, there must be thousands of people with the combination of artificial hands and R2-model droids… although honestly, now that I think about it, it is not the power supply but the R2 unit that clinches the conclusion here.  Because there may be millions of R2 units, but how many of those would you keep restrained along with your prisoner, instead of just wiping their memory and putting them with your own astromechs?  Those are interchangeable.  Except for… R2-D2, who blatantly knows things and is exceptionally valued by Luke Skywalker.

Sentience FTW, again.

will: And anthropomorphism. But it’s not just that. Who else is valuable enough to be imprisoned–even by a man who gets furious at being accused of kidnapping or slavery? And has an artificial hand? And an R2 unit? And managed to escape captivity anyway? And would have had Karrde the Unflappable running around like a man with his hair en flambe?

Han’s internal reaction is pretty good too: “And we were right here this whole time?”

z: Han asks where Luke is now, and Karrde snarks “I thought Ghent would have told you.”  He explains about the Skipray theft, chase and crash, reassures them that Luke was fine after the crash—he and the person chasing him were both away when the stormtroopers went to investigate the crash site.  “I hope this means that they are working together to make their way out.”  Han notes that Karrde sounds unsure.  Karrde flatly says that the pursuer, Mara Jade, wants to kill Luke, like, a lot, and before they ask he doesn’t know why.  Well, that’s a real comfort.

will: At least Karrde didn’t charge for that bit of information.

z: She was also the one who found Luke stranded in the Platonic ideal of the middle of nowhere, and before they ask he doesn’t know how either.  Karrde points out that the only reason Luke could escape was that he was in this shed, and the only reason he was in the shed was that Karrde wanted to keep him out of the Imperials’ sights, and he only wanted to do that because he’d refused to join a search for Skywalker that the Imperials had called, so can you please point that blaster somewhere else?

will: That last part being implicit. Karrde doesn’t seem the type to actually ask the question, and doesn’t. You can’t show weakness, and all.

z: Han does, but he wants to see Luke’s X-Wing.  Sure, says Karrde, but tomorrow because there will be maneaters around it by this time of the evening, and he means that literally.  In the meantime–switch mode back to Gracious Host–back to dinner?

will: Zahn’s footnote that he’d originally had Han and Leia doing this job is significant, because he’s right: this way, all the characters, including Lando and Chewie, have a functional place in the story.

z: Switch–we’re aboard the Chimaera again, with Pellaeon visiting Thrawn.  They’ve been trying to penetrate the sensor-blocking trees to catch the crashed Skipray pilots, on Thrawn’s command, but no dice.  They did intercept a very brief transmission from somewhere in the forest, but they can’t decrypt it—no, they did try all the standard “Rebellion” encrypts.  But realistically, there is only one place the two pilots can come out of the forest, Hyllyard City.  Good, says Thrawn, station stormtroopers there before we leave.  Pellaeon is flabbergasted (and disapproving of wasting stormtroopers, which, apparently he didn’t get the idea about Wayland fully yet) and asks why.

will: Pellaeon knows about Wayland, I figure it’s more his reflexive habits from five years of dwindling resources, and not realizing how important this is–he classifies it as a “minor smuggler squabble” in his mind.

z: True.  I meant that he didn’t cotton on to the implications and their subsequent effects on his way of military thinking, potentially.

Thrawn does his Nero Wolfe act: putting together the radio silence Mara maintained while allegedly in pursuit of a thief, Karrde’s earlier refusal to join the search for Luke, and his gaffe of implying the search was over earlier in the day, and makes Pellaeon say it himself–it was Skywalker in that Skipray?!  Thrawn thinks this is unlikely speculation, but worth their while to station stormtroopers where the fugitives are most likely to come out.

will: This part I do agree with. Especially the part where Thrawn admits it’s a low-probability thing, but a couple of stormtrooper squadrons is worth the possibility. (Especially given Wayland…) And of course, I like the Wolfe comparison here much more than Han as Archie–we previously discussed it as a Holmes comparison, recall.

z: But they are not going to stick around and wait.  They are not delaying the “Sluis Van attack” for anything.  Then Thrawn repeats his greatest mistake so far.  Earlier, it was implicit that he was underestimating Luke when he did not take Luke’s resourcefulness into consideration at all as he analyzed what went wrong with the attempt to capture the X-Wing.  Here, he says it right out: “Three squads of stormtroopers should be adequate to handle Skywalker, if he is indeed here.”

Ow.  That foreshadowing anvil falling on my head hurt.  You can point out, if you want, that Thrawn might be banking on Luke not having access to the Force, but you’d think he’d at least mention it had that been the case.  But that’s not the only thing the stormtroopers are being left behind to do:

[Thrawn’s] eyes bored into Pellaeon’s face.  “And to handle Karrde,” he added softly, “if he turns out to be a traitor.”

Welp.

will: Well spotted, Z. Thrawn may not have the Empire’s casual disregard for life or its institutional hidebound nature, but he does have Imperial overconfidence.

You’ll note that Thrawn mentions a cloaking shield test–we’re finally finding out what that was all about–and even gives a good reason for the timing. Timing your surprise attacks to vulnerable days is a good skill if you can manage it…

z: Switch… and we’re in the forest, with Mara this time.

I just realized that I can just see the camera swooping up from Karrde’s base, up to the Star Destroyer, back down to the surface of the planet to burrow between trees.  Zahn does do cinematic well.

will: Yup.

z: Mara’s setting up camp.  She’s hurt her right ankle in the Skipray crash, and it’s been bothering her, but she’s basically gritting her teeth and bearing it in the time-honored way of “I’m rough and tough” people everywhere.

She’s also committed to not showing weakness to the enemy, of course. Said enemy has already stretched out, getting ready to sleep: “…his head pillowed on his tunic, his loyal droid standing at his side.”

You called it, Will: A boy and his droid, indeed.

will: Another aspect of this is that Mara may have loyalty to Karrde, but at least for now, I think it’s a professional loyalty, a fealty. She’d be used to that, after all. But she doesn’t have the kind of loyalty that Luke and Artoo share…that basic trust borne not from professional rules, but simple friendship.

z: Luke sleepily makes conversation.  Or tries to make Mara drop her guard, take your pick.  They discuss predators, why it’s a bad idea to travel at night, and Luke points out that Mara seems to know a lot about Myrkr.  Mara takes this as a compliment and of course snaps back, because we can’t have Luke complimenting her,  but she thinks to herself that yes, she does know a lot about the planet because know your territory as a principle had been drilled into her… somewhere… and she’s put it to detailed application here as everywhere she’d ever been before.

will: Luke also makes the first observation that has Mara impressed: Sturm and Drang were pretty active for “nocturnal” creatures. The idea of moving at night is dismissed because they might be spotted from space…which…

Is that realistic, or do we assume super-sensors? I have a hard time imagining someone standing on the ground of Earth with a flashlight and the ISS picking up on it. But then, they’re in a dark forest…but still, there are empty spaces on Earth.

I’m calling it for super-sensors.

z: No arguments here.

From there Mara wonders why she’s trying so hard to get back to Karrde’s camp, since she can survive well outside?  A darkly amusing denial period of “I don’t owe him anything, he’s done nothing for me” type thoughts follow.   But her denials die out at the point where she realizes that even though she can abandon Karrde (…right), Karrde will not abandon her, even if it “overstayed Thrawn’s patience.”

will: I can’t decide if this negates what I just said about fealty versus loyalty, but I think I’m going with no, it doesn’t.

z: Which, in her mind’s eye, leads to lurid, painful images of Karrde in an Imperial interrogation.  She knows Thrawn and what he’ll do (or actually, has done): Set someone to watch and check on Karrde’s story.

will: Which is odd–how does she know so much about Thrawn, again? Yeah…about that…

z: So if she and Luke stay in the forest, at some point the report of the watcher will end up with Karrde in that interrogation chamber, Luke’s identity being revealed, and Karrde’s execution.  And she can’t even begin to lie to herself about how she doesn’t care about that.

At that point a wild vornskr appears!

will: Gotta catch ‘em all!

z: Literally.  Artoo detects it and his gurgling wakes up Luke, but Mara has already noticed it—sneaking towards Luke and ignoring her.   She lets it get a bit closer to Luke and kills it with a single headshot.

This time when Luke thanks her, we have progress: “‘Forget it,’ she grunted.”

Luke’s noticed that this vornskr had a tail, while Karrde’s ones didn’t.  Mara is surprised that he noticed that detail while in such danger, but answers his question: Karrde had their tails removed because they use those as whips, and apparently removing them tames down a bit of their aggression too.  There’s some more progress where Luke gets her to answer a neutral question about the vornskrs without snapping, and then he lies down again to sleep.

will: And again, Luke impresses Mara with what he noticed even while under stress. But also, Mara notices that Karrde’s vornskrs weren’t friendly to Luke, and the wild ones seem to be zeroing in on him here. File that one away, it’ll come up again in two books…

z: Mara won’t sleep, even with R2 as guard; she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to sleep that close to an enemy.  I could write a treatise on how, at that point, Luke would be as likely to remove his own bionic hand altogether as leave her and try to sneak out on his own, but this is long enough already.  At any rate, she reaches for some stimpills (“a steady of the things could ruin one’s health in short order, but going to sleep five meters away from an enemy would ruin it a lot faster,”) then realizes that that (going to sleep five meters etc.) is exactly what Luke is doing, and how unusual that is: Without the Force and everything from the wildlife to the Imperials to she herself in line to kill him, he’s still, like, sleeping.     Maybe he’s faking it to get her to lower her guard, she thinks, or maybe—

[M]aybe there was more to him than met the eye. More than just a family name, a political position, and a bag of Jedi tricks.

You don’t say.

…Yes, of course there was more here. Whatever had happened at the end—at that terrible, confused, life-destroying end—it hadn’t been his Jedi tricks that had saved him.  It had been something else.  Something she would make sure to find out from him before his own end came.

Welcome to the club, cloakroom’s to the left.

…also, we’re really not talking about what happened at Jabba’s now, are we.

…also-also, is it just me, or did Mara just rationalize to herself yet another reason not to kill Luke for at least one extra conversation?

will: Ooh, ooh, ooh! I never caught this one before, I guess, or I forgot. But yes, Mara will find out what that something more was that saved him on “that day.” And when she does…let’s just say I already remember which scene that is, and how Mara reacts, and how awesome it is.

And, in Zahn classic mode, all of that has nothing to do with why Luke can sleep so close to Mara. Because that is part of the bag of Jedi tricks–as it were. He’s been through so much worse than this. He’s not dead yet. Mara hasn’t followed through on her shooting threat, so she’s not liable to suddenly do it now…and if she does, he can’t really stop her anyway. Also, he’s had something of a long day. So, he sleeps.

Calm, peaceful serenity, accepting what the universe brings. The Jedi Way.

z: And with that, the last shift of the chapter—we swoop out of the forest to Karrde’s camp.  He’s sitting outside for a before-bed drink, feeling that within the last day his life has been turned over.

will: I wonder what’s in the cup? The smart money would be on a high-booze spirit (whiskey, brandy, whatever); I wouldn’t put it past Karrde to want a version of tea, though. He may be one of those “alcohol disrupts the mind, I work with my mind, no thanks” types.

z: Aves (one of Karrde’s people) comes by, reports that Han and Lando are bedded down in the Falcon and they’ll pull Luke’s computer log from the X-Wing tomorrow.  Karrde now wishes he’d listened to Mara and sent the Falcon away to start with, but now Han and Lando are their guests, so the guest right of not being turned in to the Imperials applies.  In the meantime, Karrde wants Aves to organize a search party.  The Imperials sneaked down a stripped-down assault shuttle an hour ago; Karrde figures it was carrying troops to Hyllyard City to wait for Luke there.  (Karrde thinks that Thrawn knows.)

will: Better to assume he does than be caught flatfooted, no?

z: So what’s going to happen, Aves asks, if our search party doesn’t find them first?  Karrde’s response is to run up the rebellion, or Rebellion as the case may be, banner:

“We’ll just have to take them away from the stormtroopers, I suppose.  Think you can put a team together for the purpose?”

…welp.

will: They also discuss Mara’s message, which they don’t have a clue about either but they know it was her. We’ll see what happens, they decide.

z: Aves points out the difficulty of attacking the stormtroopers, but reveals that a lot of Karrde’s people actually think of Luke as a hero. (And seem to know he put paid to Jabba and consider it a debt since they were indebted to Jabba themselves. That confuses me, because who knows what, again?  But it’s tangential.)

will: Recall that the previous confusion was related to Torve’s knowledge of Han and Lando working together. I imagine the official line is that Han was a captive of Jabba, Luke went in, and next thing you know, no more Hutt. Lando’s participation would be the secret part…he was undercover.

z: Good catch.

Here’s another problem, because Karrde says that they can’t let the Imperials have Luke alive, if they can’t bring him out.  At this point, worrying that Luke will tell on them to the Imperials is a bit of a hilarious worry, and Aves points out that it wouldn’t matter for Thrawn’s suspicions anyway.

Aves leaves.  Karrde listens to the forest sounds, hears a wild vornskr’s call, and makes the “wild-untamed before I found my vornskrs-untamed before I found her” free association to Mara.  But he doesn’t consider her tamed (wise guy, good for him) and still wonders if she’ll solve the whole thing by taking Luke down herself in the forest (yeah, about that, we have complications).  He concludes his nocturnal pondering with the thought that the Grand Admiral is not going to be happy about any of this any way it plays out (and a feeling “that felt disturbingly like fear,” did he also train under Yoda?) , that it’s time to leave Myrkr and this part of his life behind.

On that melancholy note… cut.  Will?

will: Karrde is probably the type who considers himself immune to fear as a rule…

For all that we talked about the dominos falling and plotlines being braided last chapter or two, this is a nice suspenseful moment of waiting. Stuff has happened, stuff will continue to happen. But right now, stuff isn’t actually happening. Everybody is getting an uneasy rest after the first incident, there are no more incidents right now…but the next are now inevitable.

And…that’s about it. Hope the weather agrees with you, it’s been pretty brutally hot here in New York this week. We’ll see you next week for a complete change of pace, and the last arc-spanning story getting its kickoff. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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