Ularti, the owner of the tramp freighter Vanner, keeps Jetay and Khed in indentured servitude, and is one of the main antagonists in Shadow Captain. Jetay’s story arc, as previously told is that of the drifter Drafted Into a Good Cause, and frequently in that arc, there’s a character who the drifter used to work with, who represents the pull away from the Good Cause. I didn’t have a good sense of what that might be in this case, until I hit on the “Hansel and Gretel” framing for Jetay’s situation.
I had a vague idea of a crass, bossy, in-your-face woman, somewhat inspired by Lena Gogan in the original Pete’s Dragon, and the villainess from the Goonies. I’d had fun writing similarly nasty characters, both men and women, in the Jaiya novels, but Ularti was harder, because she needed to be menacing when necessary, but also not get in the way of the Partisan characters go where they needed to, when they needed to. The indenture chips, combined with her Stone School psychic abilities, and her poisoned claw-knives, added the menace, and her addiction to narcotics took her out of the picture when I needed the other characters to make up their minds without her.
Essem proved to be even harder to pin down. I’d made a couple of previous attempts (including Slaying a Tyrant) at writing from the POV of someone affiliated with the villains who wasn’t all that bad himself, but also wasn’t the one making the decisions. Essem started out as something along the lines of General Veers or Captain Piett in Empire Strikes Back, but I had no clear idea how he’d ended up working for this Red Knight he didn’t seem to care for. He was originally a bland Star Navy figure, so I gave him an annoying ex-girlfriend/executive officer to liven his scenes up, and he became this kind of sad figure, caught between a demanding boss (the Red Knight) and a subordinate determined to make him look bad and take his place. Then I decided the Star Master sequels would need something a little bit like Grand Admiral Thrawn, except with a different story arc. Looking for ways to foreshadow this character, Admiral Khopesh, by referencing him in Shadow Captain, I suddenly realized that Essem was Khopesh’s son, a privateer living in the shadow of his father’s success. Essem’s story arc will conclude in the sequel to Shadow Captain, hopefully coming soon.