- "Bottleneck . . . But it was soon to have another name: stormtrooper's lung."
- ―Thetis Quelton
When Grand Moff Tarkin is tasked by Emperor Palpatine to investigate a dispute slowing Imperial production on a backwater planet, he expects an easy mission. Instead, Tarkin must forge a tense alliance with Count Vidian, the Empire's newest rising star and a most capable rival. Matching wits and risking betrayal at every turn, the two powerful Imperials duel to gain the upper hand…and elude, at all costs, the price of failure.
Wilhuff Tarkin, Grand Moff and governor of the Outer Rim, is on the last stop of his tour of Tsevuka when the repulsorcraft carrying himself and a small garrison of stormtroopers is ambushed by feral Tsevukan riders. Atop the native, slick skinned Kivaroa, the riders nearly destroy the small craft until Tarkin himself regains control and drives the battered transport the last kilometer through the Tsevukan Swamp to the Imperial Outpost, which had been the intended destination. With the help of reinforcement stormtroopers on speeder bikes, Tarkin safely arrives back at the base where the panicked base commander informs him that the route he was ambushed on wasn't as well manned because of the lack of stormtrooper armor available to Outer Rim posts; the stormtroopers are forced to work in shifts for this very reason and cannot effectively patrol the untamed parts of newly acquisitioned systems such as Tsevuka.
Dissatisfied with the situation brought to his attention by the base commander on Tsevuka, Tarkin now aboard the Executrix informs Emperor Palpatine of the situation involving the lack of armor. Tracing the problem back to Gilvaanen, an Inner Rim system where the armor for Tarkin's forces is produced, it is understood that armor production is only up fifty percent for the given year - an inefficient amount of production. Gilvaanen, an annoyance to Tarkin as of late, was settled by Ithorians who work for the private corporations that produce for the Empire. Tarkin aspired to the idea that the endeavor of producing for the Empire should be brought under Imperial control leaving the private corporations to be dissolved. This solution is brought up by Tarkin, but ultimately fails to convince the Emperor as well as Imperial Administration up-and-comer Count Vidian. Count Vidian, a cutthroat financier from the last years of the Republic, was now serving as a corporate fixer; Vidian was operating as one of Palpatine's efficiency specialists. Count Vidian, sometime before, had suggested that corporations be left in control of Gilvaanen's production. He insisted that the illusion of competition would illicit better production in ways using force could not. Tarkin who was concerned with the growth of the empire, likened this philosophy to playing games. Suggesting that rivalry makes for high innovation, Count Vidian, who had Gilvaanen in his portfolio, offers to sort out the trouble. Instead, Palpatine directs both the Grand Moff and the Count to oversee the task of improving production.
Still aboard the Executrix, Tarkin studies his new adversary of sorts, the mostly cyborg Count Vidian. Requisitioning motivational holo's the Count had produced because of the tremendous afflictions he endured, Tarkin attempted to learn anything he could before executive officer Commander Rae Sloane interrupted him. She informs Tarkin that they had arrived at their destination of Gilvaanen and that she had also been promoted to Captain which followed that she would no longer be flying aboard the Executrix. Tarkin, who was not surprised by the news, inferred that she was offhandedly asking for a recommendation.
Arriving at the factory, Tarkin meets Thetis Quelton who upon his arrival was testing out blaster resistant armor confiscated from a species called the Pikaati. Unimpressed by the show, Tarkin observes that Quelton is a collector of eccentric, often historical items though mostly armor. Tarkin immediately begins a line of question pertaining to the lack of armor production, before Quelton has the chance to fully answer, Count Vidian makes himself known. The cyborg, who had been there since midnight had been making a tour of the facility and making recommendations as to places that could be better facilitated to increase productivity, noting that the break room should be converted into a warehouse though only after it had been sanitized as Vidian detected several different biological agents; agents Quelton admitted the Ithorians had brought in from the jungle terrain of the planet. On a tour of the facility Tarkin notes that although Quelton is brusque with the Ithorians, the changes Count Vidian suggested would be marginal and that Gilvaanen is underproducing by far more than could be fixed. Quelton, in defense, admits that Cladtech, who had the lucrative contract to do the final assembly of what came out of Quelton Fabrication's, was the reason for the lack of production. Quelton accused that Cladtech's Ithorian owner tolerated nonsense from the workers, allowing them to stage slowdowns which led to the armor plating piling up at her factory.
Now at Cladtech, Tarkin and Vidian notice that the factory was much more unkempt and shabby than than the firm run by Quelton. This same observation extended itself onto the employee's, many of which had staged a sick-out upon learning of the Empire's visit. The factory owner Mawdo Laarth treated his workers more gingerly than his competitor and when questioned about this, he insisted that the workers do good work when he leaves them alone and that if he voided their contracts they'd all walk. The Ithorian noted the heat inside the factory was due to the injection molds which ran hot and were only shut down when the workers went on strike resulting in work stoppages, he insisted that leaving them on during stoppages would ruin his business. Tarkin, who believed that more action was necessary, had preemptively notified the Imperial Security Bureau to investigate Cladtech ordering them to find the Truant workers and bring them in. The ISB, along with stormtroopers supplemented from the Executrix, forced the Ithorians who were present to go back to work. This plan of action Count Vidian openly disagreed with.
Approximately a week later, back at Quelton Fabrication's, Vidian confronts Tarkin, questioning him as to why he had been looking into his background citing evidence from his aide Everi Chalis on Calcoraan. Tarkin, who admits to do doing so, remains indifferent to the accusations brought on by Count Vidian and justifies himself with being interested in all things to do with the Empire. As Vidian leaves, Tarkin is told by Quelton that there were whispers of treason on the factory floor and that he should be the one to follow up.
In Galvaanen's Capitol city the Imperial Security Bureau infiltrated an abandoned factory where more than a dozen Ithorians were caught in an illegal meeting and were now captured; the arrests brought about by the accurate information given by Quelton earlier. Among the accused, all were supervisors of the Cladtech assembly line. Apparent now to the ISB, the accused Ithorians had been planning another strike. Tarkin, who believed that resistance could not be tolerated, ordered the immediate execution of those captured. Before the order could be followed however, Count Vidian himself appeared in defense of the Ithorians who had been arrested. Saving the captured Ithorians from execution, Vidian uncovered the hiding Cladtech owner Mawdo Laarth who had been in league with his own striking workers. Vidian had discovered that Laarth had preemptively powered down his factory equipment before the shifts even started because he had organized the work stoppages to which Laarth admitted it was the only way to give his workers a break. In response, Count Vidian killed him and allowed the captured workers to go free with the ultimatum that should they not produce according to the production targets, everyone under their individual supervision would die.
Agreeing on a freemarket solution, Vidian along with Tarkin's grudging approval, merged Cladtech with Quelton Fabrication giving the final assembly contract to Thetis Quelton. Quelton, who seemed ready to take on the challenge of supervising the production of both factories, was approached by Tarkin who insisted they celebrate the recent development at Quelton's estate. Quelton, who was very eager to show Tarkin more of her collection, accepted. Vidian who had been asked by Tarkin to wait outside, was then directed by Tarkin to look into something in his stead while he celebrated with the new owner of Cladtech.
At the mansion, Quelton had greeted Tarkin in the full Pikaati armor display that she partially had on when he first met her. Quelton immediately began to take him on the tour of her massive parlor which was likened by Tarkin to a large museum of history. Tarkin, who had been biding his time, received a message to which he then told Quelton that Count Vidian would be joining them. It was then that Tarkin revealed his true intention of visiting the estate. Tarkin had surmised the information that Quelton had supplied him with had been sabotage, and that she had indeed known that the deposing of the late cladtech owner Mawdo Laarth would have resulted in her receiving control of his contract. Tarkin, who had suspected her sometime before had directed the ISB to monitor her communications, from which it was uncovered that she had spoken with several radicals off world. Vidian, in his findings, discovered that Quelton had been manufacturing compromised parts for stormtrooper helmets that helped form a seal in the helmets. He had made the discovery in the break room where he had first detected the harmful agents. The part itself would give the helmet wearer a debilitating disease of the windpipe, native to the planet Galvaanen, called Bottleneck. With the parlor of her mansion now surrounded by stormtroopers and her ploy found out, Quelton admitted to the treachery and explained that she had hoped to slow the Empire's conquest of the Outer Rim. Quelton, exposed for her crimes, then put on the Pikaati warrior helmet and immediately seized and fell limp. Count Vidian who tried to help her was stopped by Tarkin, who informed Vidian that she was already dead - that the Pikaati species breathe Hydrogen Cyanide, and that loosing the helmet would put everyone in the room at risk.
In Quelton's former office, Moff Tarkin and Count Vidian met with Emperor Palpatine to inform him of their findings and what their decisions had been in the wake of the deaths of the factory owners. Count Vidian had subsided and now agreed that the Gilvaanen should be Imperialized, bringing all the armor production under direct control of the Imperial Department of Military Research. Vidian suggested that he would better serve working to improve the construction efficiency of Star Destroyers to which Tarkin agreed. Tarkin even offered to give Vidian a Star Destroyer of his own from his fleet.
As Emperor Palpatine had surmised, Grand Moff Tarkin and Count Vidian had bargained an agreement. The count would facilitate faster completion of star destroyers, a job that Tarkin would hand over in exchange for Vidians oversight over Gilvaanen. Vidian, in need of a captain for his new ship the Ultimatum, received Rae Sloane upon Tarkin's assignment. All of this was agreed upon in order to avoid the overlap of each others zone of influence. Tarkin realized that it would be easier to avoid Vidian rather than to work against, and so he abetted these amenities in his favor assuming in the long run it would make easier the task of conquering the Outer Rim.
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Notes and references
- "Bottleneck" ends with Rae Sloane's promotion to captain, and A New Dawn refers to her as "the new captain," which means that "Bottleneck" is set shortly before A New Dawn. Star Wars Rebels: The Visual Guide places A New Dawn six years prior to Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion, which Star Wars: Galactic Atlas dates to 5 BBY. Therefore A New Dawn, as well as "Bottleneck", both take place in 11 BBY.