Dark Force Rising, Chapter 10

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 10 of Dark Force Rising, wherein debts of honor and loyalty are tested and not found wanting.

will: In the meantime, how is it November already? This year is just flying by…

z: We’re back with Leia and Khabarakh.  He brings them to his village, on the outskirts of the “Clean Land” as they call it, after full dark.  They land in a structure built for spaceships, and questioning him, Leia learns that it’s not very common that ships do come and land here.  So it’s going to attract attention.  This isn’t good.  But Khabarakh assures her and Chewie that the villagers all belong to “clan Kihm’bar,” his own clan, and so his promise of protection will be taken up by them as well.

Khabarakh informs them that by law, he must go to the clan “dukha” alone and announce the out-of-clan visitors to the head of the family.  Leia doesn’t like this, but she doesn’t think there is anything she can do about it. Threepio comments that this culture reminds him of many “socially primitive” pre-spaceflight cultures, and—

OK, let’s hold it there.

I’m not going to ascribe this to the character or the author, but I want to note that I don’t like this concept of “socially primitive” at all.  It’s not that I find it demeaning even; I actually think that it refers to a concept with no basis in reality.  Technologically primitive, sure, but if it’s a society, especially one with language and established customs, it’s not going to be “socially primitive.”

In fact, I can argue that the, let’s say, shadowy part of the US culture, the part that values individualism above all ever and always no exceptions and is suspicious of concepts like the common good and social safety nets, is a throwback to the more primitive forms of human culture.  (If you’re not listening, does it matter that you share a language?).

I’ve also got to point out the distinction that some cultures can be very backwards while not being primitive at all.  It’s hard to get more backwards than a culture which has spawned the concept of ack-ptui “””honor-“””killings, please insert a few million more quote marks there, and yet that’s quite a complex concept emergent from a rather large system, and that precludes “primitive.”

Maybe I’m looking too deep into the semantics here, but occasional digressions are A Thing here, are they not?  Anyway, digression over.

will: I didn’t want to interrupt Z on this, but I agree entirely. This is the sort of thing where we have a much greater awareness now, so we can look at something like this as a mistake of its time. The book is over twenty years old, and it’s been an interesting twenty years at that.

z: Threepio remarks that rituals like this are fairly common among such cultures, and that he thinks the Noghri have attained spaceflight only relatively re—Chewie pushes past him and disappears back into the ship.  Leia, who was already tense because the ship’s door is closed, she doesn’t know what Khabarakh is saying to whom, and won’t be able to see him approach back (or anyone else either), gets even tenser, because now if the Noghri returns, the Wookie will be nowhere to be found.  And right on cue, Khabarakh comes back to get them—no Chewie, and he declares there’s no time to find the Wookie in the ship, and rushes Leia to the dukha along with Threepio.

Which turns out to be a large wooden building with the strangely charming architectural feature of lighted labels installed on the outside faces of the walls, giving the impression of well-lit windows, while it’s actually much darker inside and is lit by only a pair of floating-wick lamps.  Recently pre-spaceflight indeed, Leia thinks, and then finds herself face to face with five Noghri standing in the middle of the room.

will: This does point out the scenario: the Noghri weren’t “uplifted” in the sense of accelerating their society through progressively more advanced levels like a game of Civilization on fast forward, and of course there’s no Prime Directive. The Noghri were pre-technological as far as we can tell, and then they were given modern tech.

z: Leia’s diplomatic instincts and possibly another kind of instinct makes her give the first word to them.  Khabarakh makes an obeisance to the one in the center of the line of five, the same obeisance he had used with Leia back on Kashyyyk, and announces Leia in his own language, or so it seems, with Zahn deftly giving the readers the sense of being able to catch a few words in a language they don’t speak: “Mir’lae karah siv Mal’ary’ush vir’ae Vader’ush.”

will: Steven Brust has a sequence like that in…Iorich, I think.

z: Threepio starts to identify the dialect to Leia, the center-Noghri barks what’s obviously a command to shut up, and Leia’s instincts now lead her the other way.

will: One interesting note is that Threepio identifies this as a dialect of an ancient trade language–which suggests that there was trade, or communication. The Galaxy Far Far Away is very old, and there are hints of galaxy-spanning empires long before the modern one, so I guess the idea is that the Noghri were influenced by those even though they have lost all the technology and regressed to pre-spaceflight, not unlike the Dark Ages’ use of Latin (on a bigger scale). So, that may complicate what I said above…

z: She comes the full Alderaanian Princess, and demands to know if that’s how they address their Mal’ary’ush. She tries to read the sense of the six in the room with the Force, but can’t (or thinks she can’t).  The center Noghri steps forward and Leia identifies her as female, and deduces this must be the maitrakh, “a female leader of a local family or subclan structure” as Threepio nervously defines the word.  The maitrakh demands proof that Leia is the Mal’ary’ush, so Leia offers her hand. As Khabarakh did back in the bedroom on Kashyyyk, the maitrakh identifies her positively by sniffing her hand.  But she is not happy:  “I greet you, Lady Vader. But I do not welcome you. ”

(She addresses Khabarakh as “thirdson” around here, which can be read two ways.)

will: Stick a pin in that one…though I wonder if one noticed that because it’s clearly important now, or if it was a standout at a first read. The former for me. It slipped right by me.

z: Leia asks why no greeting, and the Noghri leader gives a very responsible and actually reasonable response:  You may be the heir of Lord Vader, but you didn’t serve the Emperor, you don’t serve our current Lord, the Grand Admiral, you bring discord and we don’t need more of that in Honoghr.

will: Thus putting the probem front and center for Leia: she is a disruption. A positive one, sure, but how can she show the Noghri the big picture in a way that they actually accept and agree with?

z: In the back of her head Leia has been sensing Chewie approaching, agitated, and in fact he bursts into the room at this point.  The Noghri are startled, but before they can react, Chewie growls a warning:  A pair of Lambda-class shuttles are approaching, one from the orbit and another from the city of Nystao where, in the last Chapter, we had left Thrawn and Pellaeon.  Imperials.  Khabarakh asks the maitrakh that his pledge of protection be honored.  The maitrakh hesitates, but assents: She’s agreed to hide them from the Grand Admiral, “at least for now. ”  Now in a real hurry, Khabarakh rushes them all out, saying that he’ll hide Threepio and Leia’s analysis equipment among the decon droids which are stored on a nearby shed—

—which is another example of a word coined so naturally that the eye just slides past it among all the other, familiar words—

—but Leia and the Wookie are going to light up every life-form sensor with identification capabilities like Coruscant at night by how not-Noghri they are. Leia quickly reviews all she knows about such sensors’ capabilities and announces that they need a heat source.  Khabarakh points them to the bake house.

will: Leia runs down that while the sensors can use breath and “molecule-chain EM polarization effects,” wherein Zahn shows off, we are reminded of the familiar-to-us infrared detection system from every modern military or even police anything.

z: At this point we shift back to the Imperial point of view, which means Pellaeon. They get off the shuttle from Nystao City.  Thrawn looks around and evaluates the atmosphere, and orders Pellaeon to wait for  the techs, implied to be in the other shuttle coming down from orbit, and make them check the reported-malfunctioning components of Khabarakh’s ship.  Then he goes forward to initiate the welcoming ceremonies here, his bodyguard Rukh by his side (and thus occupying a position of prominence instead of Irk’haim, who is the dynast of the Kihm’bar clan, while they are visiting the Kihm’bar clan village, which the reader is invited to notice).  Pellaeon gets the techs started and enters the dukha only a few minutes behind Thrawn, and is surprised to find that the maitrakh (or the “old girl” as he thinks of her, which, one, heh, two, that there is quite a bit of relationship insight to be crammed into a single word so well done, Mr. Zahn) has managed to gather together a sizeable crowd for the welcome. Just as Pellaeon enters, it’s Khabarakh’s turn to welcome the Grand Admiral.  Thrawn verifies his identity, then wants a report on what happened to his team on Kashyyyk.  Khabarakh apparently gives enough of not-quite-a-twitch that Pellaeon sort of notices, then talks about the report he’d filed after leaving Kashyyyk.  Thrawn is unimpressed: He says he’s read the report carefully and noted all the questions it left unanswered.  Such as why Khabarakh was the sole survivor, how he managed to escape at all, and why he stayed away from Honoghr for so long after “your failure.”.

Pellaeon sees something (“This time there was definitely a twitch,”) and misinterprets it very entertainingly (“Possibly a reaction to the word failure.”)  Khabarakh says that the Wookiees left him unconscious, implying that they must have thought him dead, because when he woke up he was alone and sneaked to the ship and figured out what happened to the rest of the team from official information sources and you know what, now that I’m typing all of this out myself, I wouldn’t believe it either.  He concludes that he wanted some time alone after transmitting his report, “to think and to meditate,” hence his long absence.  Wouldn’t Honoghr be a better place for such meditation?  Khabarakh had “much to think about. My Lord.”

You know, until this read-through, I’d never realized how many “Khabarakh is young, inexperienced, and obviously rattled” signs Zahn had sprinkled all through this interview.

will: Which is starkly by comparison to how put together he seems when he fights.

z: Then, Thrawn continues, when you finally made it back to the planet, why did you come here and not to the Nystao port facilities?  That one seems to have an easy answer: Khabarakh says that he wanted to discuss his meditations with and beg forgiveness for “my . . . failure,” punctuation as in the original, from the maitrakh.  Who verifies that they have started doing so.

At which point a tech enters, and is immediately summoned center-stage by Thrawn to give his report.  The tech is visibly uneasy.  He describes a malfunction they did indeed find in Khabarakh’s ship, which could have led to the chain of failures Khabarakh reported as having (communication equipment malfunction, anti-scanner measures deployed by accident), and when Thrawn presses, says that the root cause of all of the malfunctions seem to be one “compensator computer,” which have a low reputation for reliability.

At which point I  would like to pause and point something out to my readers, to wit, exactly how accomplished a mechanic Chewie is.

will: Well spotted! I’m sure I missed that the first time out.

z: And at which point, Thrawn concludes the ceremony: Tech, take ship back to Nystao for repairs; Khabarakh, take the ship to $SOMEBASE in $SOMESECTOR to report to a new team once it’s been repaired; maitrakh, you should be proud of your family’s service to the clan Kihm’bar and to the Empire, bye now.

Once out and back in the shuttle, Thrawn confides in Pellaeon: He felt something not quite right with Khabarakh.  Rukh, he asks, what did you think?  Rukh says that he thought Khabarakh was unsettled, possibly due to his failure, which Irk’haim takes as an insult (which it was), and they stare daggers at each other until Thrawn calms them down by saying that a lot of the clans failed in this whole “catch Leia” mission.  Oh, and Rukh, maybe the Dynast would enjoy the view from the front windows?

Once the two Noghri leave, Thrawn continues his confidences: He’s certain Khabarakh was hiding something.  Pellaeon suggests a tighter sensor scan on the village, Thrawn brushes that aside, and says that he wants continuous surveillance on Khabarakh instead.  Since there are really no good options for slipping in a spy in such a small, tightly-knit society, Thrawn commands that a “decon droid” be refitted with spy droid innards and mixed up with the decon droids already there.  Pellaeon makes special note to make sure that this modified droid looks exactly like all the other droids on the outside, because if they look different, some of the Noghri might “start pulling decon droids apart for a look inside.”  Which, it’s implied, would be a problem.  Interesting.

will: Which also means no transmitting antenna. As discussed, those things are not exactly small.

z: Then Thrawn announces his intention of staying there for as long as it takes for his presence to inspire some Noghri team to finally capture Leia, so that they can secure C’baoth’s extensive help.  The plot tension set, we leave the chapter.

Will?

will: Life is kicking my ass, so I’ll keep it short…the tension here is extremely high, with a sense that Zahn has moved his chess pieces into place for the cat-and-mouse game that will unfold. No out-of-character actions here, just a lot of the lines and divides in this society and the debts of honor and duty and responsibility–all that good stuff.

More when we return next week and life might stop using me as a moving target, but until then, may the Force be with you.

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