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Onum Barr is just sitting there being an old man when some stranger walks into his house without an invitation. And if you're wondering the who, what, where, and how we got here from Korell, don't worry; it'll all work out in the end.
The stranger has an odd accent, weird clothes, and a fancy-shmancy weapon that Barr can't identify. Yep, the stranger is Hober Mallow.
Mallow needs directions to Siwenna's capital, but his maps are pretty old-school. Barr informs him the new capital is on Orsha II.
Barr sees the old maps and reminisces about how the last one hundred fifty years has not been kind to Siwenna. Mallow, hoping to get a feel for the local situation, convinces Barr to give him the gossipy details on Siwenna's current situation.
As you can imagine, it doesn't take much to get an old hermit to talk past politics. Here's the deal:
As the Galactic Empire degenerated, Imperial Viceroys attempted take absolute control of their provinces. In Siwenna, Viceroy Wiscard tried to do just that and rebelled against the Empire.
The Emperor sent an admiral and a fleet to take care of the rebellion, but the people of Siwenna decided they didn't want anything to do with that noise. They rebelled against their rebel viceroy.
So, problem solved, right? Nope. See, that admiral wanted his war glory, so he just bombed and looted the planet anyway. Since the people rebelled against their own viceroy who was still legally the viceroy to the Empire, the admiral was well within his rights to attack.
Barr lost almost all of his family in the chaos. Five of his six sons died, and he has no idea what happened to his daughter. His sixth son had to join the very same admiral's fleet to keep from dying.
One of them Fun Facts: That sixth son Barr is talking about is Ducem Barr. He'll appear in the next book Foundation and Empire and plays a vital role in the Foundation's war with the Empire. But let's keep out of spoiler territory right now. If you want to find out what happens to him, you'll have to pick up the book.
Okay, back to this novel. Mallow wonders why Barr is being so candid. Couldn't this information be harmful to his son or even his own life?
Nah. Barr bets Mallow isn't with the Empire or anybody in these parts, because the force-shield Mallow had on him is way too advanced.
In fact, Barr believes that by helping Mallow he's introducing a new enemy to the viceroy and the Empire. And that is peachy-keen for him, especially if Mallow is one of those magicians he's heard tell of.
And with that, he offers his new friend some words of warning:
First, that force-shield is way too conspicuous. Best leave it turned off.
Second, Siwenna's viceroy isn't stupid enough to attack the Empire directly, but he has set his sights on the barbarian periphery with an aim for conquest. He's even married his daughter off to one of the local rulers (that's the Commdora he's referring to there, folks).
Mallow listens intently but has one final question. Does Siwenna have nuclear power?
Sure does. Siwenna runs on super old nuclear reactors, but a group of people known as tech-men are the only ones who know how to run them. And nobody but a tech-man may enter a nuclear reactor.
To help Mallow along, Barr gives him his forged passport. To thank the old man, Mallow secretly leaves a box of provisions, which Barr finds in his garden the next day.