: Good day, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 6 of Dark Force Rising, where we get to check in with our antagonists once more, this time bringing the reader up to date with where exactly they stand with respect to all the things that have been set up as confounding Our Heroes so far.
This raises a general point before we dive into the specific plot items. The New Republic people are confronted with the question of whether Ackbar was framed, and if so, by whom; also, the question of whether Fey’lya is just a power-grabby selfish irritant or a power-grabby selfish treasonous irritant. Both of those questions get answered explicitly in this Chapter. We even get an answer to a question we didn’t know enough to actually ask.
So this moves what could have been the classic whodunit into the realm of reader-knows-whodunit, but keeps reading to find out how the characters will find out. Which is also a perfectly respectable and fun genre/plot type. I just wanted to point out the distinction.
: Zahn does a lot of intrigue and the occasional whodunit mystery, though not generally in this universe. (As I’ve said before, his Quadrail books and the standalone The Icarus Hunt are both intrigue heavy and have elements of “I’ve given you the clues” to them.) I’m not sure this setting is equipped for it in that sense. It’s too grand-cinematic. Besides, we couldn’t well have Thrawn and Pellaeon as major characters in a whodunit where they’re the answer. Well, maybe if you’re Agatha Christie. (“Oh, Agatha…”)
: Besides, no worries, we’ll get another mystery introduced right away with the answer to that one question we didn’t know enough to ask.
: We open on board the Chimaera, witnessing another Imperial operation. This time they’re attacking a “Rebel” convoy under the protection of a Bulk Freighter and its associated A-Wing squadron. As the reader might by now expect, Thrawn is overseeing the operation and simultaneously checking in with Pellaeon about multiple other things that have been going on. What we learn in the ensuing conversation is easiest summed up in a list:
- Pellaeon, somewhere in his career, has picked up enough about what he’s facing to actively dislike X-Wing fighters; he thinks about them with the phrase “those cursed X-Wings.” Heh.
- Thrawn, likewise, knows the kind of detail about his enemy’s capabilities to set up a battle plan accordingly, but then what’s new.
: And Zahn continues to project a good sense of starfighter tactics. A-Wings are Fragile Speedster vessels, better equipped to hit-and-fade attacks and tactical strikes than escort duty. Forcing them to remain in range of what they’re trying to protect robs them of their greatest advantage (speed); as a result, the TIE Interceptors, which are similar Speedsters but are operating from a position of strength in that they can maneuver, are mopping the background radiation with the A-Wings.
- Thrawn also thinks Ackbar is a fine, formidable commander, which is why it’s a good thing that the money the Imperials planted led to Ackbar’s removal from the head honcho position in the New Republic military.
- (Yup, it was the Imperials who planted the money in Ackbar’s account and timed it just before the Sluis Van attack, for which they had the timing precisely, go figure.)
- (Also, note that Thrawn is leading a multi-pronged strategy: Try to get ships and shackle the New Republic with the Sluis Van attack, plan to use the likely fallout from that attack to his own advantage by getting Ackbar removed, and, as we’ll see in a minute, starting a campaign of harassment instead of formal battles.)
- (In other words, adopting guerrilla techniques to Imperial use for that last. Now, who used to operate that way in these parts? Let me think… Oh hai, Captain Irony.)
: Though Zahn doesn’t push the theme here, several other writers will–in great detail.
- Fey’lya is not under Imperial command or influence, or in the pay of the Empire, or in any kind of communication with them.
- He’s, however, acting exactly as Thrawn had hoped for while engineering the stimuli presented to Fey’lya by the Imperial effort. And by “hoped for, ” I mean “predicted precisely because he studied Bothan art and Fey’lya’s psychology.”
: To quote one of my favorite TV shows, Leverage:
Sterling: You know, your entire plan depended on me being a self-serving, utter bastard.
Nate: Hmm. Yeah, that’s a stretch.
Zahn leans a bit heavily on the “species psychology” theme here–and we’ll later see that there are such things as honorable Bothans who dislike the stereotype–but Fey’lya is dancing to the Empire’s tune even though he can’t hear it.
One other point made is that even if Fey’lya wins quickly, thus undermining the “sow confusion” plan, it will lead to problems when Fey’lya is revealed to be an massive screwup militarily. (Thrawn and Pellaeon agree that Fey’lya is smart and clever and political, but as a military commander, he sucks rocks. It’s just that he’s so smart, clever, and political that even a lot of the New Republic military doesn’t realize how many rocks he sucks.)
Thrawn isn’t even worried about “Ackbar’s staunchest allies” (read: Our Heroes) already having left Coruscant to look for proof that Ackbar is being framed, because they are therefore a) not on Coruscant reining in Fey’lya and b) wasting political effort, which he views as another advantage.
But Pellaeon hadn’t known anyone has left. Thrawn brings him up to date, with additional editorial commentary. Probably only Solo went to the Palanhi system, he thinks; Leia and the Wookiee are still trying to hide. And Skywalker is going to Jomark, to C’baoth.
Pellaeon and I share the question: How does Thrawn know about all these things? Imperial Intelligence didn’t have anything like that in their reports to Pellaeon… Thrawn says his information comes from Delta Source. Apparently this is something Thrawn has personally activated, but Imp Intel doesn’t know anything about it, the hourly sweeps the New Republic Intel conducts has turned up nothing; it’s all personal to Thrawn. Which irritates Pellaeon, and again according to him, the Intel service too.
: There’s another couple of clues here… Thrawn is dead wrong in two out of three. Luke is going to Jomark, but Han isn’t going to Palanhi, and Leia and Chewie aren’t going into hiding. Thrawn talks about all three of them simultaneously, though he does only attribute the Luke information to Delta Source, which is good–and it points out the limitations of both Thrawn’s intelligence apparatus, and also Thrawn’s imagination and ability to predict Our Heroes.
: At any rate, Thrawn thinks the news will make C’baoth happy, but Pellaeon is rather unhappy about C’baoth at the moment—apparently, in a recent operation where they had used C’baoth to control the crew, he’d gone off the rails and actually disobeyed the captain of his ship to destroy a rebel ship, which wasn’t in the battle plan. Thrawn is unimpressed. If it ever comes to a confrontation with C’baoth, he says, first the ysalamiri will stop him, then I will.
Huh, interesting remark.
: Braggadocio, I suspect, though you never know. Thrawn does follow up about the difference between “a warrior” and “a flailing fighter.” (Again, I feel like “soldier” is better than “warrior” here, the way he talks about concentration and focus and long-term thinking.)
I also like when Pellaeon says C’baoth committed mutiny, and Thrawn asks, “should I demote him or throw him out of the Imperial Service?”
: Heh. I can just hear the dry voice, too.
About Leia, Thrawn has decided to give the Noghri “one last chance” to capture her… and he’ll personally deliver this message to Honoghr once this operation is over, to remind the entire Noghri populace of “who it is that they serve.”
Then Thrawn gives the order to stop the attack, because they’ve harassed this convoy enough and stripped away its defenses, so the next Rebel convoy will clamor for even more protection, and the rebels are thinly stretched as it is…
: Like Thrawn said: concentration, focus, and long-term thinking. Pellaeon also gets freaked out by the idea of being in a convocate of the Noghri. Which may be an example of the subtle bigotry of an Imperial human officer, though admittedly standing in a room with a lot of lethal commandos would make anyone nervous.
: Finally, Thrawn checks about their capital warship hunt. No important gains so far. He asks about Karrde. Pellaeon informs him that after that one blip at Rishi—apparently the bounty hunter did check in—nothing. Thrawn’s response reveals that he isn’t after Karrde for revenge or punishment, but because he’s certain that if anyone knows anything about any ships, that’d be Karrde.
Eyes on the prize, indeed.
: Eh, there may be some revenge anyway. But at least there’s more than just revenge.
: Probably to emphasize the contrast, we then get a second C’baoth point of view.
: Whoops, guess the previous wasn’t the only one.
: His thoughts haven’t changed much, however. He’s disgruntled that his mastery over the people of Jomark isn’t yet full, he’s aware that the Imperial rank-and-file hate him and Thrawn is actually contemptuous–
–actually that last is interesting, both because apparently Thrawn doesn’t bother to hide it and/or C’baoth is still perceptive enough about sapient interactions to pick up on it.
: It probably helps that the rest of the Empire picks cues up from Thrawn, and if he’s dismissive, they’ll feel it, and C’baoth can learn it from them.
: Anyway, C’baoth also remembers the incident with disobeying the captain, and reveals that it was a very disturbing incident actually. He took complete control of the minds of an entire gunnery crew to destroy that Rebel ship. As in overrode their will completely, if I understand correctly.
All the shudders.
: There’s a lot to be said about the nature of power in C’baoth’s mind. He talks about the Waylanders obeying him without question, but later, he’ll move to the point where even that isn’t strong enough–where people are literally an extension of his mind and willpower and nothing else. For all that Thrawn compared Jedi Master support to being “borg-implanted” in a computer, C’baoth’s idea of power really is like the Borg.
: Then he thinks about how he wants to bend another Jedi to his will, without the Jedi realizing what is happening, once Luke gets there, and I revise my opinion about how perceptive he might be about sapient interactions. Also, apparently he’s caught the Be Dismissive of Luke Skywalker virus from Thrawn.
: In the same way that the last chapter is plot-heavy and sets up Our Heroes, this is mostly a matter of setting up the other half. We see where the Imperial pieces are and where they’re going, which lets us predict where there will be interactions and where there will be missed connections. We get reminded of Thrawn’s strengths as well as his blind side (the Noghri), we see the C’baoth/Thrawn alliance tested again, and we hear the words “Delta Source.”
At the same time, it is mostly a brief chapter, as demonstrated by Z summarizing in bullet points. And with both Z and I swamped with real life responsibilities, I’ll wrap up here. May the Force be with you all, and we’ll see you next week.