Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina: “The Tale of the ‘Tonnika Sisters,'” Part 1

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to the first part our next tale from the Mos Eisley Cantina, the tale of the two brunette women with long braided hair hanging out near the bar watching the action.

will: And the tale of who they aren’t, which isn’t the tale that we previously had. Tim Zahn does it again, with the West End Games material.

z: In personal news, I am very discombobulated and somewhat miffed because we had to postpone the concert scheduled for last Saturday. The AC of the church that was our venue died. In the middle of a five-day heat wave. …so yeah.

We’re working on rescheduling, and in the meantime, the August 5th concert, which is in an actual performing arts center, is hopefully going to proceed as planned.

will: That’s the one that I will be attending, which is good. I’m looking forward to it.

z: So am I; that’s a nice venue and it’s a very exciting program that I am kind of bummed I didn’t get to perform yet :D.

z: We’re not certain which planet we’re on when the story opens, with our point of view character, Shada D’ukal, and her companion-actually-commander Manda D’ulin are sitting in a tapcafe, talking to one Dr. Kellering. Who wants the ladies, whom we learn are part of a group called “The Mistryl,” to provide security for… it’s complicated, we’ll get there in a minute.

Shada is not a happy person, in general. Her thoughts tell the reader that this Mistryl group she’s with, back home on their unnamed home planet, have a mystique of being the freedom fighters, guardians of justice, those who fight to keep the Empire from being too unjust and oppressive, so on so forth read any handbook ever; once she had gone through the years of exacting training and testing and joined them, however, after her first year and seven missions it became clear to her that the Mystril now, whatever it might have been years ago, is basically a glorified mercenary group. She’s bitter about this.

will: So, I guess we should pull the curtain back on this point, because Zahn certainly knew this at the time: “Shada” is the name of Mazzic’s not-actually-arm-candy, whom Karrde saved at the Whistler’s Whirlpool; she was named as such during the sequence that outed Ferrier. So by the time Tim was writing this story, he knew where Shada would be a few years later. I doubt he knew where Shada would be ten years after that, when we’re going to spend a lot more time in her head; but it’s harder and harder to believe that he had no idea what sorts of seeds he was scattering.

z: The job they are being offered is very eyebrow-raising, however. This Dr. Kellering is a researcher in some big, Imperial-funded project; the Thingamajig is finished and needs to be transported somewhere but Dr. Kellering and Dr. Evoy are worried that the Imperial security isn’t enough and this Captain Dromo person (who’s the Imperial attached to the project) is not going to be providing enough security… or something… so they are secretly going outside and hiring extra bodyguards but want it to be secret from the Imperials that are also going to be escorting and okay maybe they’ll talk to Captain Dromo about bringing the Mistryl in as “extra guards” and okay look this couldn’t be a more obvious TRAAAAP if he was speaking entirely in sentences where the first letter of every word spelled TRAAAAP. But that’s my thought.

will: Yeah; the fact that Shada isn’t herself thinking in those terms suggests that she’s underestimating Kellering. Also, her mental decription of him as “useless and insipid” and snark about his accent suggests that too.

z: What seems to be Manda’s thought, at least by what she haughtily tells Dr. Kellering, is the Mistryl don’t work with the Imperial forces, “ever.” Shada basically thinks “…yeah right” at that, though; it’s just a ploy to raise the price. There’s a current of anger towards the Empire in the Mistryl, since they are suspected of being complicit in some unspecified war that devastated their home planet (I guess this is from the West End material? Will?) but ultimately, they need the money, and that’ll be that.

will: I’m pretty sure this whole thing is Zahn’s creation, actually. We’ll get to where the West End Games material factored in later.

z: But Kellering seems to believe the bluff, and if I believed this was a negotiation in earnest, I would have called him a worse bargainer than Chewbacca is a piccolo flute player.

will: Orchestra brain, folks. Dangerous thing.

z: {Cue “Helpless” from Hamilton}

So Manda finally suggests a plan that confuses me even more (“bypass your Captain Dromo entirely and create a forward screen to flush out any ambush the Rebel Alliance is likely to set out these days,” meaning unless they go really, really ahead, said Captain Dromo could be entirely excused to take them as an ambush and shoot them right out of the sky) and names 30,000 credits as their price. Kellering staggers, but accepts it. Dr. Eloy will cut them a credit line, when they meet him this afternoon. Oh yes, of course Kellering wants them to meet him, he’s in charge of the project after all. No, not here, at the base.

TRAAAAAAP.

will: As to the plan, what I imagine is that they will be not unlike the Noghri on Wayland–far in front to engage with any attackers before Kellering and co. even get in range.

z: Captain Dromo will not even know that they are there, Dr. Kellering can get them in, and they need to… see… how this Hammertong thing is loaded on the ship to… be able to set an advance screen?

TRAAAAAAAAAP.

will: Yeah, that doesn’t quite fit at all. There’s definitely a lot of inconsistencies here, so mostly I find myself not impressed by the Mistryl.

z: Manda tells Shada to go off-planet and assemble the team, thus proving that they aren’t completely lost to sense, because the team is actually scattered all over the same tapcafe, and they have two fighter craft hidden around town as well. But this gives Shada an excuse to disappear and then become the invisible backup as Manda goes to the base.

Scene shift, although the point-of-view is still with Shada, as it will stay for the rest of the story. She’s at a lookout point, carrying a sniper rifle and two comlinks, and is hearing a report from one Pav D’armon through one of them: “They” are approaching the gate, which is the gate of the base, with two guards visible and Pav detecting some more movement in the gatehouse. Shada isn’t happy that Pav speaks in complete sentences, since this close to a major base the Imperials would be able to detect transmission locations from lengthy transmissions even if they couldn’t break into the Mistryl encryption per se.

(Snide side remark: Certain authors may wish to note that this is, in fact, how this works.)

Shada can’t see the gate from where she is, though she can see some part of the security fence, the “rolling fields” on the inside and the road that goes through said fields. This is, in the grand old tradition of all military research bases in the multiverse, a base masquerading as an agricultural research station. Also, she’s not outside looking in through the fence–she’s inside, somehow. It’s hilly terrain, and as befits a good sniper, she’s high up, in a position overlooking the road.

will: Shada also spends some time thinking about the larger strategic question about transfer–Star Destroyers and overwhelming force to scare off an attack, or freighters and stealth? Since this “Hammertong” thing, which, yes, that’s the name of the device, has already been loaded, Shada figures that if she gets a view of it she can figure that out.

z: Pav reports that Manda and presumably Dr. Kellering are through, headed towards Shada, and her voice is tense. “Something’s wrong,” she says, and I read that as nothing to do with Jedi senses and everything to do with someone who’s been a mercenary for long-enough.

will: Yes, this is a la Wedge’s instincts at Sluis Van.

z: Shada asks for clarification, and Pav says that they gate check seemed to be a little too quick.

And then the shriek of jamming static.

Welp.

Shada hurls that comlink away as far from her as she can, and thinks “so much for Kellering’s naive assurances of safety.”

…okay, I’m starting to get really confused.

Over the hills, a dozen stormtroopers appear on speeder bikes. She readies her gun and flicks on the backup comlink. And oh look:

“–trap–repeat, a trap,” Pav was saying, her voice tight. “They’ve got Manda–she’s down. Probably. And they’re coming for me.”

Shada offers to head that way to help, while shooting down a trooper, but Pav tells her no, the troopers are already too close to help. “You and Karoly had better get back to the ships and get out of here.” And then she’s cut off mid-good-luck-wish. Moment of silence for Pav; we hardly knew ye.

will: I like that her final words aren’t even keyed-up or tight. They’re resigned. It’s a classic image for a reason.

z: Yes, that was very well-done; so understated that I didn’t even notice how understated they were. This is good stuff.

The stormtroopers start dodging, but Shada manages to shoot one more while trying to reach this Karoly. When she does, this fourth Mistryl’s voice is “almost unrecognizable,” probably due to emotion. Shada tells her to snap out of it, which, I can’t blame her for being abrupt under the circumstances; and shoots a grenade towards the approaching stormies. She tells Karoly to go to her speeder; they are not going to retreat. Oh, things are getting interesting. Shada crouch-runs towards her own speeder, hidden in the bushes nearby, and the stormtroopers, finally seeing her, start opening fire. Which is when the grenade goes boom ten meters ahead of them. The effect is corrosive and thick green smoke, handily combining a smokescreen with stuff that melts the speeders’ power connectors if they pass through it. Which many of them do, and Zahn’s description puts me in mind of the effect of a bug spray on a swarm of flies.

Shada says she’s clear, which I guess she is at that, and instructs Karoly to call “Cai and Sileen,” who should get the ships and come be backup. Karoly, again understandably, is confused this time and asks where they are going. “We’re going to teach the Imperials a lesson,” Shada says, and heads inward to the main base area.

This isn’t an ideal stopping point, but it’s a fine cliffhanger, and I feel like stopping here if Will concurs and remarking a bit about the story. So far, it’s been a land of contrasts for me. The whole plan to hire Mistryl for escorting an Imperial military project with assigned Imperial protection made so much no sense that I was sure from the start it was a trap and Kellering a trapper, but his fate isn’t made clear and there’s no actual hint in his conversation that he isn’t what he seems to be–that is to say, a terminally confused scientist, the adjective choice there being very intentional. The way Manda bought it hook, line and sinker made no sense either. We are told–several times–that the economic situation with the Mistryl homeworld is dire and that they need the money, but not this much, surely? Those two things seem almost a bit too tell-not-showy for Zahn, although given that this is a short story not a novel, maybe I should make allowances.

will: Yes; a lot of this is setup, after all, and Zahn had a lot fewer pages to work through. Also, I think he at least did a good job of saying that the Mistryl are all pretty demoralized, and it’s affecting their performance…

z: On the other hand, Shada’s reaction to the trap once it’s sprung has been telegraphed very clearly and nicely from the beginning. I skipped over some of it in the recap, but her thoughts repeatedly reveal that she is Not Happy about finding out about the current sordid state of affairs, Not Happy with the uneasy stay-out-of-the-way policy towards the Empire, and Not Happy about, well, not being a romantic freedom fighter, an actual “fighter for a forgotten cause” as Manda describes the group early on in the story. And then somehow she finds herself a) in charge, b) armed, c) with backup, d) somehow in the middle of an Imperial installation which e) is known to her to hold something of value to the Imperials, while f) two of her immediate superiors and people she has been working very closely with for the past year, her friends we’re invited to infer, are figuratively cut down before her very eyes.

So of course she’s going to go break things.

will: …demoralized to the point of, maybe, death-seeking.

z: Forcespeed, lady.

Will?

will: The other thing I’ll note is, remember that this is called “The Tale of the ‘Tonnika Sisters,'” and features two characters from the cantina, the twins (credited as “Space Girls’). I have to imagine some new readers picking this up and being very confused.

Especially because–I said we’d discuss this–the Tonnika Sisters were not invented by Zahn. They appeared in earlier work; specifically, the West End Games sourcebook that expanded on the events and characters of the original Star Wars. So, some devoted Star Wars fan who had read the WEG material would see that the Tonnikas, with whom they are at least vaguely familiar, are getting a story… and then meet two entirely new characters, nowhere familiar at all.

Zahn uses canon like an Olympic vault.

z: {incredulous stare}

You… you actually didn’t take the pun opportunity. I think I’m going to cry.

will: And there’s so much to choose from. It’s a vault of riches.

z: …I had hoped. Oh, how I had hoped.

But yes, and frankly, when Zahn does that I don’t mind at all. He always takes us to places that make sense and add to the richness of the tapestry, after all.

will: That’s all for me for now. More next week, when we see how far we can get–I think this may be three sections at least. In the meantime, may the Force be with you.

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