Months before the book started, Tash and Zak Arranda lost their families on Alderaan. Tash wanted to withdraw into her room and never speak again, but she knew her brother had become a reckless daredevil, no longer caring much about his own safety, and decided that she had to try to take care of him. Instead of closing off from the galaxy, she'll face it with him. Yes, she's acting to try to help him, but this also helps her.
Tash's Force-Sensitivity make her come off as something of a Creepy Child. People are always dismissing her when she has bad feelings about things. When she meets Luke Skywalker, he's not put off by this at all, but encourages her, takes her intuitions seriously, and seems to understand things she says that no one has ever understood before. Plus he's six years older than her and carries a lightsaber, just like the Jedi Knights she so idolizes. Is it any wonder that she seems to be crushing?
Tash's experiences with The Force. It reassures her when she's afraid, and when she calls on it it helps her.
She started to tremble as the feeling of dread began to overwhelm her. And yet, as it had in the laboratory, her fear sparked another feeling, a sense of peace and calm, powerful, like some kind of force.
Tash had searched for it. Hoped for it. Longed for it. But she never actually thought she had it. But she felt something. Didn't she?
"You've got nothing to lose," she told herself.
Tash closed her eyes. She tried to call on the Force. Taking a deep breath, she remembered what the Jedi had written about the Force. The Force surrounds us, she had read, it binds us together. It can draw objects to us, or push them away. It is the most powerful force in all the galaxy. The strength of armies, of starfleets, even the strength of planets, is nothing compared to the power of the Force.
Tash imagined the Force as a field of energy pushing the Enzeen back. At first she felt foolish. But slowly her embarrassment gave way to calm. She forgot about her fear. A warm tingle spread through her body. She imagined the energy field expanding, driving the shrieking creatures farther and farther away. As she did, the tingle in her body grew into a strong electric current, running from the top of her head down to her toes. For just an instant she felt a sense of connection with something larger than herself, larger even than the planet on which she stood.
The kids' begrudging guardians, Uncle Hoole and DV-9, really do care and will risk their lives for their charges... they're just not particularly demonstrative, or at all used to children.
City of the Dead
After ignoring and dismissing Tash's "bad feelings" in the previous book, Uncle Hoole is willing to hesitate when she has a bad feeling in this one. Okay, Zak dismisses it and charges ahead anyway, but the gesture still counts.
When they think Zak is dead, DV-9 awkwardly tries to comfort Tash.
Zak, wrestling with regret over how he Never Got to Say Goodbye to their parents, eventually comes to terms and accepts that saying goodbye wouldn't have taken away the hurt of their deaths, and that they stay in his memories. He remembers the goodbyes they did say before the siblings left on their two-week trip, first time away from home without their parents.
"Don't worry, Zak. You could be on the other side of the galaxy, but you're always right here in my heart, so you're never really far away. And as long as you keep me there, I'll be near to you, too."
DV-9 turning a little Tsundere and claiming he doesn't like the kids, he just has to try to help them when they're in trouble. "No matter what the droid said, he was fond of his two troublesome charges."
Hoole and DV-9 are usually very considerate of local customs, but when Tash feels the need to check on Zak's claim that Evazam came Back from the Dead, they instantly agree to help dig up the man's grave.
Zak falls ill with the flu and none of our heroes know what to do, beyond taking him to a medical facility, but all of them are so worried.
Wedge advises Tash despite not being sure of her, and his eyes "go soft" when she tells him she's from Alderaan. Knowing how she idolizes the Jedi, he talks about how part of what made them great was their lack of hatred for their enemies, which helps her later.
So far Zak has usually seemed less concerned for his sister than she is for him, but when he thinks she's in trouble he goes tearing after her, the way she has for him all along.
The Power of Love (well, and Positive Thinking in general) frees Tash up from the clutches of The Virus even if it doesn't cure her, letting her help her uncle.
"Tash!" Hoole said. For the first time since she'd known him, Tash saw the stern Shi'ido's face break into... well, almost a smile.
The Nightmare Machine
At the end of the previous book, a cured Tash said she wanted a vacation. Come the start of this one and Hoole admits he should have found somewhere safe for them rather than repeatedly dragging the two into danger, so he's going to have them stay at Hologram Fun World, which should be exciting while also being safe, while he goes on his next mysterious errand.
The stern Shi'ido's face had suddenly softened. He looked almost sad.
Turns out Lando is good with kids, at least with Zak. His theatrical bent and showy nature help. The series is full of Not Now, Kid moments, but Lando doesn't brush Zak off, he goes to talk to the one in charge of Hologram Fun World. It doesn't do anyone much good, but it's a nice gesture.
When the kids have been Swallowed Whole by a holographic, but they don't know that whale, Tash seems to be despairing, and Zak appeals to her desperately.
"C'mon, Tash! You're all I have left. And I'm all you have left. We've always helped one another. You can't quit now!"
Later he admits
"My worst fear isn't being attacked by technology, or eaten by a rancor, or even losing Uncle Hoole. Tash, my worst fear is losing you! My sister!"
Which helps them figure out that to escape the simulation they need to face that fear. Tash starts to say that she loves Zak, and he interrupts - happy to finish her sentence for once - to say he does too.
Hoole's not the sort to threaten strangers, but if need be...
"We are on the very edge of civilization. I have two young humans under my protection, and I intend to protect them by any means necessary."
When Hoole and Zak appear to be dead thanks to the curse, Deevee doesn't know what to do, and says he can't leave Tash.
Tash realizing she's not afraid of death.
She took a deep breath. Amazed, she felt her fear melt away. She felt at peace. Tash didn't know what came after death, but she knew if there was anything, Zak would be waiting there for her. And her parents.
All along, the ghost was just trying to help. He's a Jedi killed by Darth Vader and feels like he failed. Tash tries to reassure him, and gets his help, and helps him to move on.
Finally learning for sure that she has the Force.
"Yes, Tash Arranda. The Force is with you."
Tash had longed to hear those words since the day she heard of the Jedi. Now they rushed into her body like a bolt of energy. All her doubts were swept aside. She knew it. She had always known it. Sometimes, she realized, she just needed someone else to say it. She felt a warm electric tingle spread through her. It was familiar, and Tash recalled the other time she had experienced it. She had felt that same electricity on that day on D'vouran when she had met Luke Skywalker. Instinctively, she knew it was an awareness of the Force. The feeling took her breath away, and for a moment she could not speak.
"I knew there was more to you than meets the eye." He winked at Tash, and she felt the Force flow between them, just as she had during their first meeting. It was a warm, electric tingle, as though she were on one end of a wire with Luke at the other. Together, they made a connection.
The Arrandas and Luke bond over all being orphans when they find a random baby, Eppon, and take turns holding him. The Arrandas also decide they are going to adopt the baby.
Tash still stammers adorably when talking to Luke, who is still kind to her.
Some of the Rebels wish to leave Eppon behind, but they soften seeing the affection he and the Arrandas clearly have for each other.
Hoole's connection with Kiva is altogether kind of terrible, but his efforts as The Atoner are good.
Keep in mind, Tash's greatest fear is the people she loves being killed, leaving her alone. So it's nice of The Force to take this tack.
The Brain Spiders
DV-9 has been Put on a Bus because he was tired of all the danger... and the heroes let him go. They don't need him anymore - Hoole and the Arrandas are much closer to each other, and they have more trust.
Zak decides to free a random prisoner just on good faith.
Hoole decides to trust Zak's instincts, if only for a bit. And he's noticed that the siblings are usually inseparable.
Zak wants to ask Hoole about why Tash has been less chummy with him, and Hoole actually sits down with him and has a serious talk about growing up, which helps Zak to realize that his uncle really does care, and not just on a responsibility level.
Hoole's face softened more than Zak had ever seen. The hard lines vanished. Although they'd been together for almost a year now, Zak and Hoole had never had a serious talk.
The siblings make up after all their squabbling, and both of them manage to be fairly mature about it.
"Look, Tash. I want to apologize for getting on your nerves. I know you want to do other things, without me. It's just hard. You've always been my best friend-even if you are my sister. Anyway, it's kind of hard for me to sit back and watch you go off somewhere else. But if it's what you want, I can get used to it, I guess."
When Zak kills a flying creature that was attacking him, his first thought is about getting caught, but he regrets killing it rather than just scaring it off, too. When he hears that this may have upset the delicate ecological balance of the garden, he repeatedly tries tell people despite how it might go badly for him - though he gets interrupted each and every time.
Captain Thrawn is cold and sinister - well, he would be, he's Thrawn. But he's not put off by the hatred Tash immediately feels for him for being Imperial, and he gets his companions, who are, to stand down. Unlike most people in this series he recognizes that they are children and not threatening to his pride or operations, so he doesn't take offense to them being rude.
Later he goes as far as to explain himself. A little. Well, as much as Thrawn ever explains himself to anyone. He doesn't like the kids, but nor does he bear them malice.
Tash hates Imperials, but when she finds one prone and covered in beetles her first instinct is to try and help.
Both Tash and Zak hug their uncle when he comes back after the shreev thing.
Hoole's aware that the plan is dangerous and alarming to the kids, and says he won't make them do it. Of course, they do it.
Tash thinks that there's one person who could really relate to her and understand what she's going through, and could talk to her about the Force, but she has no way to contact Luke. Awww!
She's lonely, so she and Zak bicker without malice in a very normal way.
Although the Actual Pacifist nature of the Ithorians can get annoying to our heroes, they do their best to respect it. In return the Ithorians are much more lax about broken restrictions than most people.
Zak remembers the previous book, and swore he'd never keep a secret like that again.
Tash repeatedly tries to connect with the Bafforr trees through the Force. Her success is hit or miss, but when it works it's a little touching.
Another reminder that Hoole has come to care for his charges and doesn't like them walking into danger. Two, actually. He even encourages Tash when it comes time to fly into the Asteroid Thicket after her brother.
Despite her Ithorian pacifism, Fandomar is determined not to let The Virus get free, so she does some very un-Ithorian things but doing them tears her up enough to cry Tears of Remorse.
The Bafforrs help Tash a lot during a very harrowing several chapters. "The answer came to Tash so quickly and easily that she almost laughed. She didn't know if she'd figured it out for herself, or if it was the Force, or if it was yet another message from the Bafforr trees. All three seemed to be getting mixed together."
Tash confronts virus-controlled Zak and Hoole and tries to reach them with the Force.
The Force connection wasn't broken (it could never be broken, she realized), but she didn't know how to use it. She didn't have the skill. [...]
At the last second, Tash imagined the Force rising up around her like a wall. She didn't know if it was the best thing to do. She didn't even know if it was the right thing to do. All she knew was that she loved her brother and her uncle, and to save them she had to defend herself.
The Doomsday Ship
Tash is unfazed when Zak accuses her of being Distracted by the Luxury aboard Star of Empire. She wants him to get out of their cabin and see more of the ship, but she can see he's not going to join her, so she arranges for him to get a look at its main computers.
The ship's captain is enough of a Reasonable Authority Figure to believe Zak isn't to blame for the blackout, and talks to him about computers.
Hoole tries to maintain order during the near-riot after the alarm, which results in just about everyone getting off the ship.
He's suspected for the troubles aboard the ship, but this suspicion dies down after he riskily solves a Continuous Decompression issue.
Zak expected Dash to brag, but instead, the pilot stood up unsteadily on his feet. He looked like a man who had stepped a little too close to the edge of a cliff.
"Luck," he said, a little shakily. "Pure luck. But I hope now you know I'm not the one trying to kill us."
Hajj nodded. Zak didn't say anything, but he couldn't help seeing Dash in a new light.
The nomadic Dantari welcomed our heroes and let them travel with them, and the kids have managed to make friends.
During the rockslide, Hoole turns into a dewback to shield the Arrandas and some Dantari, and is bruised despite the strength of this shape. Tash saves a Crying Little Kid.
When Tash thinks it was Maga who started the rockslide, she tells Hoole, who first tells he she needs to be tolerant of Maga, not hating him for his dislike of her, then says that if he did start the rockslide she should tell the elders. It's a little demonstration of how he trusts her judgment a lot more now than at the series' start.
Tash admitting she misjudged Maga, and what's more, really feeling it.
Hoole wants Tash's opinion on the characters they meet across the river. Then there's more trust.
That conversation with Maga, where he has to be convinced that it's not Tash's fault, and Tash confronts her prejudices.
For the second time, Tash saw past the anger that had built up between them. This time she saw why he had been chosen as garoo. She could see his mind at work, judging her words, judging her expression, reaching an intelligent decision. He wasn't using the Force or any other power, but he was probing her just the same, using only his wits. She realized that she had to stop thinking of him as less intelligent just because his people wore skins and hunted with primitive weapons.
Tash pulled at the chain around her neck until the pendant slid free of her jumpsuit. Vader could clone her body. He could even scan her mind. But he couldn't copy everything. Not Tash's love for her parents. No clone could feel that way.
In a split second, Tash recalled her earlier wish to talk with her parents, to ask them how she would know her true self. Now she knew what they would have told her. Emotions like love and kindness and caring-the same feelings that allowed her to use the light side of the Force-would help her see herself clearly.