: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to the third part of our commentary on “The Tale of the ‘Tonnika Sisters,'” wherein we meet friends and influence people.
In personal news: Last Saturday we finally did get to present our summer Small Ensemble Showcase program. And Will was here, along with some other mutual friends of ours, watching. From where I was standing (or sitting), it went joyfully well. From where he was sitting, I… guess it must have been enjoyable?
: I said that last week. Granted that I wrote that before actually seeing and hearing it, but I was right.
: We aim not to disappoint. And by dint of much effort, I guess we may be succeeding :).
: We open with the “sisters” in a prison cell. They aren’t decided on whether the Imperials are or are not aware that they have the Mistryl; they either don’t (and are still searching) or this is a mind game and they are bringing in interrogation equipment.
: Or, and this is the truth, Shada and Karoly are in over their heads. They haven’t been shipped out because the Imperials are “finishing up their search,” which they take as irony, because the Empire already has the Mistryl thieves they’re obviously searching for. But that’s not what the Empire is turning Tatooine upside down over.
: There will be a few more examples of that coming: I really have enjoyed how Zahn used the simultaneity effect he had to deal with in this story to have some actually-quite-significant stuff happen without once raising the question “how would the Empire miss this?!” Because the Empire couldn’t have missed what else was happening on Tatooine.
Shada does the trained-operative thing and mentally surveys their options and resources. There isn’t much. She finds a recessed reading lamp and wants to access the power cables behind using her belt buckle. She starts making conversation with Karoly, who catches on to what’s obviously code immediately: Shada says she’s hungry, Karoly offers to bang on the bars (i.e. make noise) to attract someone, Shada tells her to try what is obviously a one-way mirror instead; Karoly puts her face right up against the mirror and starts making a din. Before Shada can get all the fasteners off, though, a somewhat disheveled guard shows up and does the usual “shut it or I’ll have you muzzled, grub’s in two hours, blah blah–” tough guy schtick.
In the middle of which, he is interrupted by a younger man in civilian clothes, curious about who the prisoners are, who’s called “Riij” and who calls the guard “Happer.” Their conversation reveals that this isn’t an Imperial prison, per se; they are prevailing upon the local constabulary to hold their prisoners for them (which explains the lack of Imperial guards and the shoddiness in cell design and in prisoner discipline–well-ran jails usually don’t let prisoners keep belts or belt buckles). The Imperials also dumped the ID check duties on Happer, which he isn’t none too happy with either, and their computer system is unhappy about the load.
: Zahn would later write about how the New Republic left a lot of day to day control to the member systems; the Empire was theoretically more top-down and monolithic, but still, you can easily see how the locals, who wouldn’t have Imperial rank, pay, or loyalty, would still be needed for things like equivalent-of-drunk-tank duty, and pressed into service on a marginal world like Tatooine.
: Of course Happer isn’t the Big Mean Nasty Guard–he asks Riij to go get the girls a couple of ration bars so he himself can go back to coaxing the ID sifter into working. After he leaves, Riij asks which one is Brea and which one is Senni. Shada replies that she’s Brea, starting to feel uneasy about this guy. Riij gives his last name as well–Winward–and drops a bombshell: “I could have sworn I heard you two had gotten on a transport heading out toward Jabba the Hutt’s three hours ago.”
The actual Tonnika Sisters are on Tatooine, it seems. Ooops.
: It’s a big galaxy, but not that big.
: Shada tries the obvious “we came back” line, but Riij isn’t interested in that either. He’s heard something more interesting. There’s a “big Imperial droid search” going on in Mos Eisley–
–all together now: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”–
–and the Empire’s also put out a search-and-detain order for a stolen Strike Cruiser.
Planet farthest from the bright center of everything, my broken clarinet.
Shada, predictably and justifiably, snarks that she’s sure people steal Strike Cruisers all the time, but–a pal of Riij’s in a control tower saw something about the size of a Strike Cruiser sneaking down toward the Dune Sea about an hour before “that Star Destroyer” showed up. Read: The Star Destroyer chasing Tantive IV.
: I think that’s officially the Devastator.
: I forgot, and was too lazy to check Wookieepedia, sorry.
Shada wants to know if the Imperials liked learning about this, trying not to show how scared she is–remember, their friend Cai is still on the Strike Cruiser. But once again, we’re talking about a local controller, not Imperial, and this happened just before a shift change and the Imperials are distracted blah blah they haven’t been told yet. Especially since they took over the tower by force and then Riij’s pal became “even less inclined to remember stuff like that.”
By this point, about the only thing Riij hasn’t done is to openly put on a pin in the shape of a stylized bird with upswept wings. But there’s something nice about all of this too–Happer isn’t likely to be a Rebel sympathizer, but he obviously isn’t all that interested in pulling wool and scratching gravel and meticulously imprisoning Imperial prisoners; Riij’s nameless control officer pal might or might not be a member of the Alliance, but his sense of duty about reporting what is potentially stolen Imperial property is a resounding “meh,” in particular because he doesn’t like his tower being taken over and, probably, his people being pushed around. Tatooine is hardly a hotbed of Rebellion, and yet, one gets the sense that Luke was more sheltered than he realized.
: This ties into what I said. The Empire was a layer of force on top of marginal Tatooine existence; it’s not surprising that even non-Rebel-sympathizing Tatooine locals would not see any point in singing the Imperial Anthem. (“Darth Vader’s Mother Wears Army Boots.”)
: Dar– wh–
*edges away before continuing*
: It scans to the Imperial March, see.
*stays away anyway and continues*
Biggs is supposed to have fallen in with the Rebellion once he joined the Imperial Academy, but I couldn’t have sworn he hasn’t met sympathizers before. As for the rest of the “baseline” population of Tatooine, they have the kind of life where even being neutral towards the Empire will naturally translate to hindering their operations.
: Exactly. Unless (like the informant who rats Han out, or arguably Happer) there’s money in it, they won’t care. After all, “you don’t have to see the Imperial flags flying if you don’t look up.”
: Not that bad a place to set up Rebellion contacts, it seems.
: Every world is like that, really, short of Coruscant (and even there, among the underclasses).
: At any rate, Shada tries to play cool by saying she doesn’t really care about thefts from the Imperials when she has bigger problems. Riij agrees–for one thing, they need to figure out how to get out of there before Happer figures out they aren’t the Tonnika sisters.
To her extremely unconvincing denial, Riij responds that the microphones in the cell haven’t worked for months anyway, and just in case he’s taken out the circuit fuse. Heh. Thankfully, that’s the end of playing coy. Shada flat-out asks what Riij wants.
: Shada had also figured Riij knew they weren’t the real deal, but was in self-admitted denial.
: Right, the old “I had hoped I was wrong” thing. If I had a nickel for every time that worked, I would… actually not have any nickels.
That idiom-adaptation may need some work.
: If you had a nickel for every time that didn’t work, though, you’d be Scrooge McDuck.
: I may also still be exhausted.
: At any rate, Riij isn’t entirely certain what he intends is the right thing to do either, yet, from the way he braces himself before popping up with the proposal: I let you out, you give me a bit of what’s in the Strike Cruiser.
Note that he knows there’s something in the Strike Cruiser, as opposed to the Strike Cruiser being, well, a Strike Cruiser, and not a modified cargo ship. I missed that the first time I read this.
: Nice catch. He’s clued in enough to know this isn’t just a search for a stolen ship, it’s a stolen something else.
: Shada asks if he wants this for a little smuggling on the side, and Riij says that he’s more in the information business, I giggle, and giggle harder when Shada asks, information for whom, and outright laugh when Riij replies with “On Tatooine, one doesn’t normally ask that question” and Shada snaps back with “we’re new here.”
Shada is still somewhat suspicious that this might be a very deep-subterfuge method of Imperial questioning, which may be why she isn’t jumping to the obvious conclusion. But she decides against that simply because people who have ready access to interrogation drugs and droids and absolutely no laws governing or overseeing the use of either don’t need to go for this kind of subterfuge.
Our regularly scheduled service will resume after this shudder: *shudder*
: Yeah. Remembering the droid in A New Hope…
But the other factor is, remember that pre-Yavin, the Rebellion was…not a joke exactly, but a little rinky-dink operation in Imperial propaganda and a lot of people’s minds. I don’t think someone like Shada, a self-loathing mercenary, would think of it.
: Shada agrees, but says she would require Riij to get them a freighter that can handle a “three meter by five meter” load. Riij says he can, although they’ll have to work fast because there’s another sandstorm coming. Right about then is when Happer calls out and asks another favor: Can the fox take care of the henhouse, I mean, can Riij keep an eye on the prison? He’s got to go, something’s happening in Bay 94 that the Imperials are calling everyone over for.
: Huh. My copy says 97–typo in the Kindle edition? But yes. That.
: …okay, I knew what I knew so I read it as 94 although the paperback also does say 97. I am very very very certain that’s a typo or error, though.
: Yup. Unless they were, like, gathering in 97 to storm 94…eh. Fanwank.
: Riij says sure; Happer departs to, one imagine, ineffectually stare at the Millennium Falcon as it takes off along with half of the population of Mos Eisley; and there we are.
Scene shift: They’re in a transport flown by Riij. The wind’s already coming in as they land at the mouth of the tunnel they had dug out after the previous sandstorm. They are going to be in a rush; in half an hour everything will be buried.
This may be a good point to mention that I would play the Kessel out of a Jakku-style-scavenging game. So, you know, Disney…
: Ooh, could they make it a Roguelike?
(…besides, I want something that would look like Shadow of the Colossus and involve climbing puzzles etc.. Enemies are optional.)
Right inside, still attached to loadlifters, is a segment of the Hammertong that they had already removed. Farther in the cargo bay, the astromech droid Deefour is still finishing up getting technical readouts from the rest of the thing. Cai’s not visible, but shows herself once Shada calls in the battle language and presumably gives an all-clear. She and Karoly start loading the Hammertong; Shada goes to the cockpit and checks the orbit through the sensors–the Star Destroyer is gone. I guess they didn’t hang around after the Falcon left, even if they couldn’t follow her directly.
: Yeah, they probably went back on patrol in general.
: When she goes back to the cargo bay, Riij is examining the Hammertong closely, and has turned white.
“Look here,” he said, pointing to a plate. “See? D.S. Mark Two. Module Seven, Prototype B. Eloy/Lemelisk.”
“I see it,” Shada said. “What does it mean?”
…”It means that this is part of the prototype superlaser for the Death Star.”
Shada stared at him, a shiver running up her back. “What is a Death Star?”
: Aside: Lemelisk. Technically he hasn’t been seen yet (he first appeared in Darksaber, which came out about two months after this book), but he was invented and described in some early-90s RPG supplement materials and was mentioned in two earlier novels, one by the same Kevin J. Anderson who was the editor for this project. (That one was the first Jedi Academy novel; the other was the first Callista Ming novel. Both of those fall into the The Fuck Were They Thinking? Subgrouping for someday.)
: Riij tells him that it’s “the Emperor’s latest grab for power, like nothing you’ve ever seen,” which is probably true. Also that this is a piece of the main weapon.
Shada is flabbergasted. Five-hundred meters of laser, “a piece?” Yes, a piece.
: Remember, Zahn does have a sense of scale.
: Riij has a new sense of urgency. He says that he has to take that piece the Mistryl have cut off. Shada objects, saying that if it is a weapon her people can find a better use for it. I… oh, you sweet summer child.
: Yeah, I run up against this too. How exactly could this help the Mistryl? Too hot to fence, not useful in and of itself–stripping it for parts seems inefficient, whatever you may think of the technology inside.
: Riij offers to pay anything, Shada refuses and starts to move past him to help, which is a sign for him to grab her arm and display a blaster (and be very lucky, given what we later see her to be capable of, not to be fed that blaster). But he isn’t threatening, he’s begging: His people need to know everything they can about the Death Star, because they are likely to be the first target.
No lies detected, as the kids say nowadays.
: Though Shada does wonder for a second why in the world the Empire would attack Tatooine.
(Maybe it’s the sand.)
: Then Shada gets it: Riij is with the Rebel Alliance. He acknowledges this. And, when Shada asks point-blank, also acknowledges that he still wouldn’t kill her in cold blood for the thing.
: This was still the days of The Rebellion Will Not Be Vilified, after all. Cassian Andor would have killed–well, tried to kill them.
: So Shada says something in the Mistryl battle language and Cai, who had (of course) been sneaking behind Riij, reveals herself again and relieves him of the blaster. Shada says to let him go–after all, they are sort of on the same side.
: Another thing that Zahn did so well–the difference between “opposed to the same thing” and “on the same side.” Sure, Bel Iblis they ain’t, but.
: Riij seems to have brought an airspeeder in the transport he’s brought for the Mistryl team (that they have loaded the Hammertong segment on to, remember) and Shada checks that he can safely beat the storm in that–if he starts out in the next few minutes, he should be okay. They need to split quickly now. Shada is feeling guilty because the guy risked quite a bit letting them go, and now is going to end up empty-handed; she tells him that once the storm clears, he can come get the rest of the Hammertong? He counter-offers: Join us.
The exchange, one imagines, is textbook for that period of galactic history (and for any period of similar unrest in any period anywhere in the multiverse):
“Join us. You’ve already said we’re on the same side.”
Shada shook her head. “We’re barely making it ourselves. We don’t have the time or the resources to take on the galaxy’s problems. Not now.”
“If you wait too long, there may not be anyone left to fight with you,” he warned.
“I understand,” she said. “I guess it’s a chance we’ll have to take. Good-bye. And good luck.”
: It’s always the debate–how much do you fight someone else’s war, when you have to fight your own? And if they’re both facets of the same one…?
: We’ll have more to say in another upcoming sub-series about what it might have taken (or cost) different people to join the Rebellion. It’s not a simple thing, even when it’s not The Call (™).
We jump ahead a little to Shada joining the others in the transport’s cockpit, having checked the Hammertong’s constraints. The wind is shaking the hull; they have to get out. Karoly asks if Riij got off all right in the speeder; he did. Karoly is dubious that letting him go was a good idea, but Shada points out the obvious: They are on the same side and they can’t just indiscriminately kill. (Duh, Karoly. He let you out if nothing else. Gah.) Cai is elsewhere in the transport, and contacts them through the comm: She’s ready, too.
Shada asks if Deefour is strapped in.
Cai is nonplussed–Deefour? Didn’t Karoly take him?
Karoly thought Cai took him.
Reader, I laughed.
: It’s a classic.
: Shada dives for the commlink, and calls Riij. And gets a response, though a very staticky one–he was obviously expecting the call. He thanks them for “the loan of your droid.” He’ll leave D4 with “the Bothan shipping company on Piroket,” which in hindsight is a line that should provoke a wince–
: Eh, Bothans canonically didn’t jump in that far until after Yavin, but yeah, maybe it’s supposed to tell us that the Rebels had sympathizers there.
: –and the Mistryl can have him back when they return the freighter. Which, to be fair, is also on loan, right?
Shada is about as amused as I am, and also relieved. She thinks it’s fair, and she believes Riij that his people are going to need those technical readouts. She thinks back to that “Mark 2” designation, and wonders what could a second-generation version of this thing Riij is so afraid of could be, and if it wouldn’t be the right thing for the Mistryl to join with the Rebel Alliance, after all.
: Which is the other interesting note: proof positive (FSVO “proof”) that the Empire was working on the Second Death Star simultaneously with the first. The sense I get is that while yes, building the second one would be a substantially less bonkers challenge in both design and engineering terms, it was still logistically huge. This is the sort of thing where the first one was almost obsolete immediately, given advancements in the interim, so the Second was in progress simultaneously, a few years behind but eventually to be the standard. (Hence the whole “can target capital ships with superlaser” thing.) And if you don’t think that sort of thing happens, welcome to the exciting world of military contracting.
Note that some sources, up to and including Anderson, say “the Second Death Star was designed after the first one went kaboom, to fix design flaws.” To that I say, four years is not enough time, I like Zahn’s version better, so there, too. Thbbbbt.
: Yeah, no, it is not. And. Well. Anderson. World-building. And plot-arch building.
And if not all the Mistryl ends up joining, Shada thinks, maybe just she herself–that could be something that she could believe in.
They head home. And scene. And tale.
Will, I invite your commentary here, as I have to confess I don’t recall what the Mistryl (or Shada) did end up doing.
: Not joining the Alliance, I’m afraid. They stayed as a mercenary force, which is how Shada ended up planted within Mazzic’s organization nine years later; ten years after that the Mistryl (Karoly, in fact) told her they were pulling her out because Mazzic wasn’t important enough, so she needed to leave–now, please, Karoly has a related assignment.
That ended with Shada becoming Mara’s replacement, and Karrde’s strictly professional, honest, no fooling (Han and Leia laugh at him), second in command.
: …that last bit, I do remember. And still grin about.
My overall sense about this Tale is one of contentment. Good writer writes good story, news at eleven. The cantina segment is given just enough prominence to emphasize the tie, but everything else is more interesting, as maybe it should be; there aren’t any “…it doesn’t work like that”s; there’s a good bit of Universe Expansion and seeds sown for later harvest if need be. The balance of what else could be going on right at the same time as things that have The Main Saga prominence is well-struck, too.
So content, I sign off. Will?
: I mean, yeah, that. Zahn continues doing more with offhand minor stuff that he eventually comes back to than anybody short of… I dunno, J. Michael Straczynski? But JMS was doing it consciously and Zahn claims not.
For all that this looks to have started life as a fixer-upper for a point of minor continuity glitching, it’s a good example of what these anthologies are supposed to be: taking minor characters and giving them life beyond the frame. (The Modal Nodes story did that, too. In retrospect the fact that Greedo’s tale didn’t is a failing of the writing, and the fact that it probably couldn’t, not really, is a failure of the idea.)
That’s all for this one. Next week, we start in on another story that–hang on.
Oh, for crying out–
OK, we’re starting in on a story by a talented writer (the late Ann Crispin, a Grandmaster of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers), and interesting characters, but the first time I read this I hadn’t seen Casablanca, and–
Next week, we start in on “Play It Again, Figrin D’an: The Tale of Muftak and Kabe,” and I swear if there’s a dueling-anthems scene I’m gonna…
OK, OK. See you next week, and until then, may the Force be with you.