Dark Force Rising, Chapter 5

will: And we’re back to week-of working, I see, no more being ahead of the curve. Oh well.

z: Well, maybe I can get to the next Chapter early in the weekend hahaha nevermind.

will: On the upside, the seething against Z can stop; on the downside, that’s because she’s flying back from the Mediterranean, so there’s that.

z: {sullen glowering, not at Will but at the world in general}

will: We’re here for Chapter 5 of Dark Force Rising, in which the title is explained, a bet is lost, and a cycle repeats.

will: Mara is complaining. Karrde’s new base is on Rishi, a planet where the only inhabitable areas are deep valleys, in the middle of a swamp. Karrde, however, is sanguine. As ever. He points out that places with a lot of crowding tend to have people with mental walls and lots of respect for privacy. As a New Yorker, I agree. Once you’ve been on a sardine subway car…

z: Karrde’s unflappability—or at least, not-easily-flappability—is one of my favorite bits about the character, even as I wonder, sometimes, how much of it is deeply seated, how much of it is a face, and how much is a face that became deeply seated just by bearing it for so long.

About the crowded-place-respecting-privacy thing, I just wanted to say that Will’s remark reminded me of Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, and the (what feels like) pages of dialogue between Elijah and Daneel discussing how societal mores had evolved in enclosed cities.  Well, I say “dialogue,” but it was actually more of the “As you don’t know, Bob…” variety with Elijah speaking.

And I’d found it fascinating.  As I found this brief look into how Rishi is settled and structured.  I get to say it this time: Big, lived-in galaxy yay.

will: Anyway, Mara is worried about the Empire, not casual snooping. remember them? But Karrde assures her that the Empire is clueless about where they might have run to. “Unless you know differently.”

Mara is a little disappointed that Karrde appears to be in the exploitation mode for Mara’s whatever-it-is, and growls that she can’t control it. Karrde tries to probe her about “a remnant of some previous Jedi training,” and Mara decides to pull out one of her backup distractions: the ships Karrde flinched over.

z: I didn’t read that as a backup distraction, honestly.  Karrde was heading right towards where she precisely did not want him to go, so she pulled out the biggest thing she had in store that he might not have wanted to talk about.  But he’d promised her he’d tell her later, so…

will: Yeah, that’s more accurate. Karrde gives her, and us, a history lesson. Ten years before the Clone Wars (which puts it at Episode I, a period where we are later told the Galactic Republic was virtually un-militarized, but never mind that; actually, it might be interesting to suggest that the Trade Federation blockade of Naboo was either right before, or right after, this. Both have possibilities), the Old Republic created a fleet of two hundred Dreadnaughts, slave-rigged them together (cutting the crew requirements by seven-eighths), redesigned them to be cool looking for PR purposes, and launched them to great fanfare proving the effectiveness of slave-rigging and the Future of Warfare.

The entire fleet was quickly infected with a “hive virus,” a particularly long-latency one that drove its victims insane. The ships were slaved together and jumped off to the great unknown, never to be seen again. Remember, Space Is Big.

It was officially the Katana Fleet (which I hope had more recognition than “Sturm und Drang,” though I don’t know if that was as true in 1993), but unofficially…the Dark Force.

Nice title drop.

z: “Rising,” you say, hmmmm.

will: Mara puts in that this is what shifted the balance from big, centralized computer systems to decentralization and droids, thus explaining some aspects of the 1970s-era computer technology of the universe… but I digress as usual.

z: Thus showing that someone put in a lot of thought into that kind of thing, while some years later, someone else apparently put no thought behind anything of the sort beyond “what’s going to look coolest with CGI?”…sorry, was that my out-loud voice?

will: At any rate, the Katana Fleet became a lost treasure, and Mara can tell the rest. It seems Karrde was a navigator for a small smuggler, plotted them a random jump, and saw two Dreadnaughts, seemingly active and powered, in their path. They jumped again, suffered a mishap that killed most of them, and barely made it back to civilization. Karrde checked the logs later, saw a lot more than two ships, realized what he had, and wiped the records. Only five others lived, but Karrde doesn’t think any of them knew what they’d seen.

It could have been the score of a lifetime, but it’s got the classic big-score problem as well: how do you move two hundred Dreadnaughts?

z: You can’t actually trickle them to the market one by one before everyone who can point a blaster the right way comes at you, some with Star Destroyers…

will: Plus, Karrde was “busy.” (One assumes this “independent” smuggler operation was either already a part of, or soon subsumed by, a different organization that we’ll talk about many years and books from now.) So they just stayed there.

Now, Mara points out, Karrde might have a way to move them. Sell them to the Empire for 120% of their value.

But what about the New Republic? It might be more profitable to have a strong in with them (they need ships too, and these ships need a fraction of the crew that normal Dreadnaughts do, even before droids are factored in; a Katana squadron or five would have changed the Battle of Sluis Van for sure), since they’ll probably win the war.

Mara is torn. She hates the New Republic for destroying her life, but the idea of giving a prize like this to the shattered husk of the Empire seems a waste. But on the other hand, there”s Thrawn. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a waste.

Karrde, though, figures this is another variant of the Luke Skywalker, Prisoner problem. The New Republic will probably win, but the Empire will probably kill him out of vengeance before they lose. Best option? Do nothing.

Mara reminds Karrde that the Empire is already ready to kill him, and this could be an apology, but Karrde just says “Thrawn isn’t omniscient and he has more important things to do.” Mara just hopes he’s right, because the way she remembers it, the Emperor never seemed to be too busy for revenge…

They’re interrupted by a flunky who says they need more supplies, and Mara heads out to get them from “Four twelve Wozwashi Street,” pinging my Tuckerization detector. Karrde makes sure she looks appropriate (though Mara has mastered that thanks to the Emperor’s training), and off she goes. Mara looks around and we get a description of the planet; cities in deep valleys for humans and other species, and avian natives who don’t understand why anybody would live in those valleys. Of course, the non-natives don’t have wings and probably need more air density.

z: There are a lot of grid cities, true, but the route descriptions (so many blocks north, so many west) and the long-but-narrow description of the place reminded me of, well, not a deep valley, but an island… As the privacy questions reminded Will, earlier.

will: Mara is about to enter the stream of traffic when she notices a very visible man (blue scarf, green tunic?), not moving, and staring at her. So her countersurveillance training kicks in–she acts like she wasn’t seen, gets out of the line of sight, and doubles back.

He’s gone.

Mara doesn’t feel anything from the Force on this one, just habit. She looks down and sees what are clearly obvious footprints beckoning her, and a ways away, the guy. So she follows him. Not directly, mind. She knows where he’s luring her, and follows a parallel path. Eventually she tracks him to a crouched corner, clearly waiting for her to walk into his firing line–

“That’s far enough.”

Welp. The guy she was tracking isn’t waiting, he’s dead and posed to look like he’s waiting. The guy behind her, on the other hand, has his blaster out and Mara in his sights. Mara asks who he is, and he just tells her that her hair is distinctive. Mara asks what he wants…

Okay, look, in 1993 (or so), I definitely wouldn’t have been old enough to sense this, but here in 2015, I wonder whether the mention of the hair is supposed to remind us that Mara is a woman, being held at gunpoint by a man. The dynamic might be slightly different than any number of times Luke or Han was in this same position.

Sexual violence is not generally a part of the GFFA–there are certain exceptions that I’m refusing to acknowledge because they’re in the Discontinuity Zone–but…should I be getting that sense?

z: I didn’t exactly get that sense, and I still don’t, not  much. It’s the red that’s distinctive, and the nickname ‘Red’ is definitely both diminishing and derogatory. But I think mention of the hair is meant to remind us that, well, Mara’s hair is brilliantly red and apparently she didn’t think of dyeing it because. Uh. Reasons.

will: Anyway. Mara asks what he wants, and the answer is money. He’s a bounty hunter, and Mara’s wanted, is the conclusion. Mara offers a deal, and the bounty hunter is at least willing to hear her out. So Mara starts talking, while hoping that if her Force senses are back, that’s not all. She does have her holdout blaster, after all, she just needs an opening.

Mara offers double, and also, they can “throw in something extra.” (Again, I wonder if I’m supposed to read that far between the lines.)

z: Here, I definitely didn’t, because Mara using her feminine wiles in the hack-narrative manner?  The picture really fails to form.  Instead I think that was literal—we’ll pay you even a bit more than twice the offer.

will: The bounty hunter says he’s a bird-in-the-hand guy, staying with a sure thing, and besides, “I don’t ‘spect you can outbid the Empire.”

Mara has confirmation now, and she’s not happy, but she’s focusing on a length of tubing with her meager Force skills. The next distraction is asking about the decoy, giving her enough time to push over the tubing with a clank. The bounty hunter whirls to open fire, but within a second he realizes he’s been faked out and starts to spin back… “His desperate blaster spray was still tracking toward her when she shot him neatly in the head.”

She gets her bearings, finds a forged ID naming him as Dengar Roth (interestingly, “Dengar” was one of the bounty hunters on the Executor in The Empire Strikes Back, but apparently the official line is that this guy was an imitator), a data card, and some money and weapons. She grabs the data (not the money), and heads out, knowing that if the power and the senses are back, “the dreams wouldn’t be far behind.”

She gets back to the safe house, where Karrde and Dankin, another of the crew, are waiting. Dankin is downright twitchy, but Mara brushes him off to tell Karrde the news: the Empire’s offering 20,000 for his capture. And probably the rest of the crew.

Karrde is flattered at the price, and Mara is clearly put off by his nonchalance. He gives as close as he comes to an apology (admitting she was right and he was wrong), but Mara is more focused on what now?

Karrde is a “know when to fold ‘em” kind of guy, and he calls the retreat: he wants to be off Rishi by local midnight.

Mara asks what happens when they run out of backup bases, and Karrde takes her meaning, saying they won’t give up the Katana fleet, not under duress, not to anyone. Mara says, we might have to.

“We may choose to. We will never have to. Is that clear?”

Talon Karrde, ladies and gentlemen. Life, valued at 20,000. Pride, beyond calculation.

z: See also, you don’t bargain from a position of weakness, ever.

will: That too. Anyway. Mara doesn’t think that the crew can be ready to lift off as fast as Karrde wants, but she’s proven wrong. They bribe their way offplanet, and they’re gone.

“And later that night, as the Wild Karrde drove through the mottled sky of hyperspace, the dreams started again.”

And we’re done. This one is mostly the infodump about the Katana fleet, and like most infodumps, it lives or dies by what else it tells us. Bits of worldbuilding (hive viruses, Karrde’s smuggler past, Mara’s Force powers), and just how Karrde and Mara talk and interact–for a recently-minted second in command, she’s gotten an impressive crash course and clearly is Karrde’s junior partner now—–still a subordinate, but with a fair amount of authority and the right to question a decision or choice.

That’s about all for me. Z?

z: I want to visit Rishi.

…what?

Nothing much else to add beyond Will’s remarks, honestly. I think it may be interesting to mention that I’m writing these lines at 38458 ft and pretty much directly over the middle of the Atlantic, which may explain my distraction… something about being able to see the curvature of the Earth.

But it is an infodump, plus or sets up the central driving force behind about one-third of the pilot of this book.  So here we are.

Next week, with my head hopefully a little less literally in the clouds, we’ll check in with our antagonists.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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