Heir to the Empire, Chapter 30

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 30 of Heir to the Empire, which I am starting to draft Tuesday night instead of the usual previous-Sunday program because… let’s see… since last Monday I have had either full or small ensemble rehearsals on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and again Monday nights, and Sunday afternoon. My orchestra (and small ensembles from my orchestra) are performing in five separate sets at SuperSmashCon, a video games tournament/convention, from this Friday to Sunday.  And I am doing something in all five sets.  Whee?

(Actually, unequivocally: Whee!)

will: Whee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee! (OK, that really doesn’t work in text. Here.)

I haven’t been quite as busy as Z has, but I’ve been having a lot of life and a fair bit of fun. And I will, I promise, try to have a post up during the week I’m at Sasquan, this year’s Worldcon in Spokane, WA. Thankfully it should be a week Z takes the lead, and it will be an aftermath chapter…plus I can write on the plane.

z: The chapter opens in tension and melancholy, so I seem to be the only one enthused here.  Karrde is examining Luke’s handiwork with Aves. He’s impressed beyond the telling of it, which the reader can deduce because he actually shows it.  “One man… and without the Force.”

will: Aves’s half-sarcastic “Well, we helped too” is a nice touch, as is his skepticism about whether Luke really didn’t have the Force. Karrde’s “unlikely” suggests that he is figuring some things out that become more explicit later, too, and finally Aves’s honesty about how he almost shot Lando. Karrde doesn’t show disappointment or anger over that, and Aves sounds sufficiently embarrassed, that like I said, I figure it’ll all get swept into “we all lived to fight another day.”

z: All in a day’s work, too.  Even Lando had found it justified at the time, after all, not knowing whether Luke would pull off his stunt.

Across the plaza, Luke and Han are helping Lando into an airspeeder.  Aves is sure that the Imperials on the ground here didn’t have time to get any reports through, but the other two Chariots that were around… Karrde, somewhat sorrowful for leaving Myrkr, sends Aves back to the base to start evacuating, and adds that he should take Mara along and keep her busy “away from the Millennium Falcon and Skywalker’s X-Wing.” Heh.  Aves is curious about that last order, but doesn’t question it.  Good man.

will: More than just somewhat sorrowful: Karrde thinks that he’d come to love the base, the forest, even the planet. Some of that may be the sentimentality of having to leave, but even that is out of character for Karrde.

z:  Out of the apparent character for Karrde.  Cool, suave, unrattled—those can be masks that become the man.

Now Luke and Han are about to board an airspeeder of their own.  Karrde goes out to meet them.  They discuss Han getting the Etherway ({twitch}) out of impoundment at Abregado—Karrde asks if Han is “still going to” do it and Han says “I said I would.”   Honor among thieves smugglers again.  Then Karrde has a hilariously offhand compliment/automatic modesty exchange with Luke which suddenly turns very impressive in and of itself:

“An interesting little trick,” [Karrde] commented, tilting his head back toward the mass of rubble. “Unorthodox, to say the least.”
Skywalker shrugged. “It worked,” he said simply.
“That it did,” Karrde agreed. “Likely saving several of my people’s lives in the bargain.”
Skywalker looked him straight back in the eye.  “Does that mean you’ve made your decision?”
Karrde gave him a slight smile.  “I don’t really see as I have much choice anymore.”

…soyeah, with his lightsaber on his belt, Han (with a blaster) standing next to him, and evidence of exactly what he is capable of pretty much around them up to their knees, Luke still asks Karrde if he’s made his decision which they had discussed in the Great Tree Hall so many chapters back.  Not that he’d be likely to accept it quietly if Karrde had made the bad decision (of turning him over to the Empire), and it’s obviously very, very off the table, especially since Karrde just acknowledged a debt by mentioning his people’s lives—but the point is that Luke still asks.

Someone brought that boy up right and polite, all I’ll say.

will: I don’t know, I didn’t read it as politeness. It was a few things: dark humor, a very weird form of threat, and a sort of acknowledgement of survival.

z: All of those too.  I guess I read Luke’s voicing the question at all as politeness.

But when Han gets a bit snippy, Karrde gets snippy right back and reminds him (without being so crass to say so) that he could have turned all three of them over to the Empire, not just Luke. Han backs down.  Then Karrde asks them if they have any cargo ships to spare, because emergency evacuation of main base and all; Han goes “are you kidding me did you forget what I came here to ask for in the first place.”  True, says Karrde, but we would be OK with borrowing a stripped-down Mon Calamari Star Cruiser, too.

will: I wonder whether this isn’t also a bit of Karrde flaunting his information-gathering: Ackbar’s plan to use stripped-down Star Cruisers as cargo vessels might or might not be public knowledge, after all.

z: Oooooh, very nice catch.  I totally missed that one.

At any rate, Talon Karrde, Nerve Master.  Han seems to agree, and leaves Karrde with an “I’ll see what I can do.”  In many, many other contexts that would be just what someone would say to politely end the conversation, but among these people, it means exactly that Han will go see what he can do.

will: Especially, as Karrde remembers, because Han’s sense of honor is stronger even than the average smuggler’s. Probably rubbed off from Chewie.

z: As the airspeeder heads off to the Millennium Falcon. Karrde briefly muses upon the exact same thing—Han will keep his word, so maybe we can steal that ship from the handlers and give that to Thrawn (who will be furious when he learns what happened there) as a gift to… appease him… a bit?  May…be?  Nope, of course not.

Karrde looks around, genuinely afraid.  That is our last glimpse of him before he also presumably rushes off to help with the evacuation.

will: Zahn footnotes that this, with a bit of the end of Chapter 32, had been how the book originally ended, but it needed something stronger… “hence, Sluis Van.”

z: The point of view shifts to Luke, settling the injured Lando comfortably in a bunk aboard the Falcon.  He leaves Artoo and Threepio to watch over him, which leads to the briefly humorous moment of Lando protesting that he doesn’t need to be watched over and has had enough of Threepio thankyouvermuch, and heads to the cockpit to join Han.  The X-Wing is being attached to the Millennium Falcon to be towed—

—add to the things-we-won’t-discuss-dammit list: how does towing work in 3-D space anyway, let alone hyperspace—

will: Probably pretty easily–attach a line and it’s just extra deadweight, because we’re talking about microgravity. (At least once they get out of the gravity well.)

z: —and Han reassures Luke, as they take off,  that the extra weight is not cumbersome.  Luke asks if Han is “expecting company,” and Han mentions that the Imperial troops that were unaccounted for may report back to the Grand Admiral.  Luke reacts to the title exactly as Han and Lando had, with trepidation, thus cementing the “this is a big deal” feeling in the reader.  But he doesn’t get too far into thinking about the implications, because… well, this is another one of Zahn’s beautiful and beautifully understated passages which stuck with me:

And abruptly, right in the middle of Han’s last word, Luke felt a surge of awareness and strength fill him.  As if he were waking up from a deep sleep, or stepping from a dark room into the light, or suddenly understanding the universe again.

The Force was again with him.

will: Yes, that’s very well done.

z: They’ve just cleared the twelve km line above the surface, and Luke thinks that Karrde was right about the ysalamiri’s areas-of-affect reinforcing each others’.  Han hasn’t noticed anything of course, but when Luke mutters (one imagines, somewhat shakily) about whether Han has a name for this Grand Admiral, Han asks him if he’s all right.  Luke uses the obvious metaphor (it is like being able to see again after having been blind) and then thanks Han for coming after him.

will: Note that Han sympathizes about the metaphor–more of the whole Jabba’s Palace thing. Thinking about it, Zahn used a lot of that in this.

z: Han waves the thanks away, very Han-like, and needles Luke about looking horrible.  Apparently the allergic reaction to whatever it was Mara used to camouflage Luke hasn’t gone away.  When Luke mentions Mara, Han switches to fishing from needling.  “You and she seemed to be hitting it off pretty well there.”

Heh.

Luke downplays it; they had a common enemy, that’s all.  Then he feels Han “casting around for a way to ask the next question,” whether through the Force or just through knowing his friend is uncertain, although my money is on the latter.  So to save Han the trouble he just tosses it out: “She wants to kill me.”

will: Luke doesn’t seem to pick up on any reaction from Han over that, which is interesting. (Compare to when Mara tells Leia the same thing two books from now.)

z: You’re right, that’s strange.  On the other hand… That Han wouldn’t like that can be read as given, and the man who has dragged prizes on his head like a shark drags remora fish won’t be noticeably surprised.  So Luke would probably have sensed his mislike, but since that’s exactly what he was expecting, it wouldn’t register, as it were.

But Han asks the obvious question: Why?  Luke almost starts telling him… then doesn’t.  He feels very reluctant to do so, and this may be something from the Force, but I think it’s the Force amplifying his natural decency, given the answer he does provide: “It’s something personal.”  Han greets this as the extreme weirdness it is, but Luke digs in, and Han drops it.

will: Han also looks at this strictly through the smuggler’s lens at first, wondering how a death mark can be personal, until Luke says that isn’t it.

z: He informs Luke that the planet is called Myrkr just as they clear the gravity well, and Han kicks the hyperdrive in, informing Luke that they are not going directly back to Coruscant but will stop by at Sluis Van to, uh, fix Lando and Luke’s X-Wing andmaybealsotofindashipforKarrde.  He’s worried about what may be happening on Coruscant though, which Luke picks up on through the Force as well, and suggests maybe they should skip Sluis Van.  But of course not—they need to get to where the plot calls them, and besides, we can’t miss this opportunity for irony from Han: You need some downtime too, he tells Luke, so enjoy Sluis Van because “it’ll probably be the last peace and quiet you’ll get for a while.”

Ow, Mr. Zahn, that anvil hurt.

will: Yeah, not a subtle one either–since we have known for several chapters what’s about to happen, at least in general. Han also suggests that something big is absolutely going to happen on Coruscant, and he isn’t wrong.

z: Scene shift to the Chimaera, where Thrawn and Pellaeon are monitoring an assembling task force somewhere in the neighborhood of Sluis Van— “three-thousandths of a light year,” which Zahn helpfully expounds in a margin note as “about 4.3 times the distance from our sun to Pluto.  A nice, quiet neighborhood, perfect for this kind of gathering.”

Say it with me, kids: Space Is Big.

will: And Zahn knows it.

z: Pellaeon looks through the viewports.  It’s an impressive gathering, starting from five Imperial Star Destroyers and going on down from there to the thirty squadrons of TIE fighters nestled in various capital ships’ hangars.  And right in the middle, a “battered old A-class bulk freighter,” like “someone’s twisted idea of a joke.”  Which, Pellaeon identifies as the key to the whole operation.

The reader is obviously expected to say “O…kay, then,” so here: O…kay, then.

will: Pellaeon also thinks of the task force as “worthy of the old days,” which is going to make for one hell of a surprise to Sluis Van.

z: Thrawn asks for a status report, to which Pellaeon replies that everything is ready, including the cloaking shield on the freighter.  Instead of giving the obvious order, Thrawn jumps tracks and asks about Myrkr.  Pellaeon is discombobulated—preparing for a major operation will do that to you I guess—and has to ask for a status report himself from a communications officer, who informs them that they got a routine report fourteen hours ago.

will: Good call on the part of the comm lieutenant, who knew what to do as soon as Pellaeon didn’t have an answer. As much as there is clear menace in Thrawn, the comm officer is in no danger. Ignorance on the bridge is fair game, if you really don’t know. Ignorance when you should know, or blame shifting…not so fair game.

z: Thrawn switches the menace to “full-on”: He’s left orders for reports every twelve hours, so what’s holding them up?  The communications officer, no doubt remembering the results of the previous display of ignorance on that bridge, helplessly confirms that that order is logged but… uh… they… vornskr ate their homework?  Pellaeon comes to the rescue and suggests transmitter trouble.  Thrawn isn’t having it. “They’ve been taken.  Skywalker was indeed there.”

will: Zahn is also showing his conception of stormtroopers here. We’re used to thinking of them as mooks, who can’t hit anything, but as you see throughout this series, Zahn doesn’t see them that way. They’re highly trained; they don’t forget orders, they can’t be bribed or diverted, they have instinctive reactions…

The real danger of the Empire: millions of bodies with  a single thought, their own wills sublimated to the Imperial ideal.

z: Pellaeon performs the standard routine Imperial procedure of “Underestimate Luke,” subclass “with no access to the Force,” and… Thrawn agrees, actually, so Luke must have had help.  Id est, Karrde has got approximately five Imperial Star Destroyers’ worth of trouble coming.  Right after they take care of Sluis Van.  (Thrawn is obviously extremely angry, and for a moment even considers Pellaeon’s offer of diverting a single Strike Cruiser from the task force, but then controls himself and resets priorities.)

will: A theme of this series is that over or underestimating your enemies is dangerous, and information is the way to correctly peg your enemy’s capabilities. Also note the parallel between “one man”/”he had help,” and “no way it was one man”/”he had help.”

z: Again, nice catch.  I missed that one, too.

will: And for all the “keep your priorities in line” talk, imagine what would have happened if the Strike Cruiser had been diverted, catching Karrde before he was ready…

z: So let’s go. Thrawn orders the cloaking shield on the old freighter to be activated.  The freighter remains extremely visible, and on a further order, jumps into the Sluis Van system.  Thrawn and Pellaeon have an exchange that I have always liked:

“Is my flagship ready, Captain?” [Thrawn] asked the formal question.
“The Chimaera is fully at your command, Admiral,” Pellaeon gave the formal answer.

I had not read much military fiction before this, unless you count stories about (mostly) footsoldiers in World War I, which as you may imagine is an entirely different genre and tone and everything else.   I had not read any other space opera, either.  So I guess the rhythm and, well, romanticism of this exchange caught my fancy.  It still makes me smile.

will: It is nicely romantic, and I also like that it isn’t overdone. The overdone type has its place (see, for instance, the beginning of the first Honor Harrington book), but here is a bit more practical: a simple confirmation and routine.

z: The freighter’s jump time has been marked; the rest of the task force is commanded to follow in “exactly six hours twenty minutes.”  Thrawn wants it emphasized that no special heroics or risks should be taken, since they are there to gain ships, not to lose them.  Dramatic one-liner: “…our final victory over the Rebellion begins here.” Aaaand scene.

After the previous Chapter’s action, this is yet another “drag the last pieces into place” bit, but there are no more pieces to be dragged.  Space battle, here we come.

And I still don’t get what they plan with the damn freighter with the cloaking shield (she said, in her first-time-reader persona).  Will?

will: I didn’t either, though in retrospect it’s pretty brilliant. I like that this is the last three-perspectives chapter of the book, because Karrde and Mara’s story is for now over; I like the way that nobody acts out of character to be in the right place, and nobody stretches too far because the plot demands it. Everybody prioritizes; Karrde is feeling sad but he needs to evac, Han is worried about politics but Luke and Lando need repair and recovery, Thrawn is angry at Karrde but has a mission.

And we see a bit more of the fringer/Republic connection; they still are wary, but as much as the fringers might not trust the Republic, they do generally consider them the lesser of the two evils.

That’s about it for me. Next week, Rogues and cloaks and cleverness abound. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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One thought on “Heir to the Empire, Chapter 30

  1. how does towing work in 3-D space anyway

    Answer: by turning really, reeeeealy slowly. (Without ground friction, the crack-the-whip-and-snap-the-cable effect is even worse than it is in ground-car towing.) But apart from that, pretty much as usual, only with your maneuverability shot all to hell.

    Although the question that occurs to me is how the heck do you take off while towing without dragging the X-wing along the ground making messy crunching noises…

    (Side note: this has actually been studied quite a lot: after all, in space, every gram counts, and for a given amount of structural strength, a tension member generally has much less mass than a compression member. Sticking the engine at the top/front of your spacecraft can chop your structural mass by an order of magnitude. Ruins your maneuverability, so not good for the sorts of things we do from planet surfaces today, but great for in-space operations.

    And an extra bonus is that if you’re using the sort of high-powered nuclear engines that we’re going to need for actual starships, the inverse-square law makes distance substitute nicely for massive lead shielding, too. The real-world Valkyrie antimatter starship proposal dangles 10 km behind its engine for exactly this reason.

    …this has been your lengthy hard SF digression for the day.)

    Also, shared love on Zahn’s appreciation for the actual size of space.

    Like

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