Dark Force Rising, Chapter 11

will: This is Force Visions, I’m Will, that’s Z, you’re…you, and this is Chapter 11 of Dark Force Rising, wherein we learn of one legend, meet another, and see a smart person make a logical decision up a blind alley.

z: I’m OK about the Will part, and I think I’m Z, but how can I be sure though

Also, how can you be sure that you’re you

…we offer literary criticism, sometimes strange digressions, and existential crises.  Force Visions: Accept no substitutes.

will: Force Visions, everybody. We don’t need mind-altering chemicals, we have sleep deprivation.

z: Signed, someone who’s written parts of her commentary here near midnight and the other parts when she woke up for no apparent reason at 5:30 am.

will: Indcidentally, if you’re going to be at Windycon this weekend, look for me around and about! I’ll be there.

z: That’s good, he can verify that you’re you!  Problem solved.

will: Lando wakes Han up–Han having trained himself to jump out of sleep at a moment’s notice thanks to a life of crime, which no doubt came in handy as a military officer–and they’ve arrived…wherever they are. They trade details on the time traveled (47 hours, and if that wasn’t a reference to a certain other space-travel-centric long-running franchise that was in one of its televisual heights, I’ll be shocked) and how far that means they are–Han thinks out a maximum radius based on a Dreadnaught’s velocity, but Lando suspects they may have been going slowly to mislead or prepare for this arrival–while they wait, their host Irenez having secretly gone to send a recognition code.

Remember, they’re still aboard the Lady Luck. Irenez apparently has the idea that Lando won’t be able to record every code she might send.

But whatever, maybe it made sense in 1993.

Turns out that Han and Lando had been stuck on the Lady Luck the whole time, because of a screwup when the ship linked up with the Dreadnaught. Lando and Han both looked, and they agree it probably wasn’t a screwup, though there are both innocent and suspicious reasons why that could be, and they still don’t know who the Commander is.

z:  Remember that this Commander really wanted to meet Han, “again,” which is why these people have brought Han and Lando along.

will: The comm comes to life and Sena tells them they’ll be flying in to land soon, finally naming the Dreadnaught as the Peregrine, which is a reference to an old Corellian legend of a ghostly wanderer. It’s like finding out you’ve just booked a cruise on the good ship Flying Dutchman.

z: Han’s description of the legend is downright poetic for him: “Used to make me feel real creepy.”

will: The Lady Luck follows Sena’s ship to what’s obviously a private army base, with Zahn doing another good job of making the world seem lived-in (and likely using more of the West End Games material) by rattling off a half-dozen capitalized manufacturer names of materiel.

z: I’d really feel easier knowing that he wasn’t the one who came up with the brand name “Speizoc,” to be honest.

Anyway, neither of them like this sense of private army they are getting; in their experience that leads to nothing but trouble.  But…

will: Too late to back out now, though, so they put their game faces on and out they go.

Sena and Irenez meet up with them, and amid some gentle probing (“we’re not in the business of starting wars,” Sena says at one point, and Lando’s comment on the similarity of this base layout to old Rebel Alliance bases gets nowhere), take Han in to what turns out to be a war room not unlike Yavin’s or Hoth’s. In fact, there’s even a similar planetary ion cannon as on Hoth, as well as a “crystal grav-field trap receptor” (we’ll come back to that later).

But then Han sees the man standing over the holomap and “recognition came with the sudden jolt of an overhead thunderclap.”

Senator Garm Bel Iblis. We as readers have nothing to connect that name, of course, but the fact that Han automatically calls him “sir” and reacts the way he does probably gives the reader what the reader needs to know: this is a living Corellian legend.

z: Han also notes in his thoughts that very few people in the Galaxy rate an automatic “sir” from him. Which is of course completely true.

Zahn has a very difficult job to do here. Within the space of one page or less, he has to make the reader believe that this completely new, original person is a very significant living legend. And that “automatic ‘sir'” statement sells me on that right away.

will: Except, as Han points out, this living legend is believed dead, “killed on Anchoron” as he puts it. Bel Iblis explains that the Emperor’s assassination attempt missed (that’ll be a story in a Tales collection, Tales from the Empire if I recall correctly), but killed his family and “forced him to become a rebel.” (Based on future discussion and timelines, one imagines that Bel Iblis means it forced him to stop being a public figure and to truly go underground.)

At any rate, Han makes reference to Bel Iblis’s forces and how much help they could have been during the war with the Empire, but the Senator darkens and brushes that off.

z: He also remarks that it took them time to build up what Han saw on his way in.

will: Then they deal with the “previous meeting” thing: turns out Han had actually gotten in Bel Iblis’s face when he was eleven and in primary school. (Ballsy!) He basically did the student agitator thing about anti-alien bias and government corruption, and it impressed Bel Iblis enough that he kept an eye on Han.

Of course, this caused a bit of trouble for Ann Crispin later when she wrote Han’s backstory as an Oliver Twist-like figure, but she worked it out. We’ll get there.

Bel Iblis makes some reference to not staying in one place too long–you’ll get caught if you do that–and they walk out to Lando. Han introduces the two men, Lando not showing any sign of recognition, not that signs would be expected.  They do the rest of the introductions. Sena gets a full name, and Irenez is absent–she’s with Breil’lya.

Oh, right, Breil’lya. Han finally asks: what’s the connection between them?

Bel Iblis gives him a look, and Han forces himself to insist. Test: passed. Bel Iblis agrees, and they head to the headquarters lounge for a drink and a conversation.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch dead planet…

Pellaeon enters the antechamber to Thrawn’s command center, trades acerb with Rukh, and finds Thrawn in the middle of candles. Thrawn correctly recognizes Pellaeon’s anxiety over the similarity to the Wayland candles, but turns out these are lighted sculptures: “Corelian flame miniatures.” They’re “nothing but shaped transoptical fibers, pseudoluminescent plant material, and a pair of Goorlish light sources,” but they are beautiful works of art.

z: I can almost visualize them, too.

But why, she asks with pretend innocence, would Thrawn be studying Corellian art now?

will: Thrawn calls up the New Cov tangle, and Pellaeon recognizes the Dreadnaughts as “our old friends.” Thrawn also reveals that the Lady Luck with Lando and Han was on board, admitting that he’d miscalculated. Instead of them going to Palanhi, something bigger must have come up…

z: …something that made them drop the search for something to clear Ackbar from suspicion…

will: …and Thrawn and Pellaeon conclude that this was an attempt to recruit this “old friends” group, whom the Empire knows but not personally, into the Republic. Thrawn is sure the commander of the group is a Corellian, and is pretty sure who the Corellian is, and figures that commander is sounding out Han, a fellow Corellian, before committing.

This is another example of Zahn showing us the limitations and strengths of Thrawn’s methods. For example, Thrawn makes mistakes. The only people who think Thrawn is infallible are people who’ve never met him… and writers ditto. (Zing!)

Thrawn also isn’t really equipped for Han’s form of sideways thinking. He expected Our Heroes to say “the hack was from Switzer Palanhi? Off to Palanhi!” Instead the thought process went “this isn’t about proof, it’s a game of counter-information. Let’s get dirt on Fey’lya.” That backed them up into Bel Iblis’s group, and while it’s certainly true that Han will want them to join with the New Republic, that’s not his purpose.

z: Besides,  Irenez’ group would have taken them to Peregrine’s Nest eventually, but the rush nature of the departure is due to the Imperials themselves.  Han and Lando didn’t get to talk about whether following this side trail was what they wanted to do, after all, though once they left the planet, Luke split off easily enough.

(Well, not like they could have held on to a Jedi, not having Karrde around there.)

will: On the other hand, the part about Bel Iblis sounding out a fellow Corellian, as we’ll learn, is spot on. And because Thrawn didn’t know of the connection between Fey’lya and Bel Iblis, he couldn’t predict for it. Remember: deductive reasoning starts with premises and makes conclusions, but they’re only as good as the starting premises. (See also, the end of the chapter.)

Anyway, Thrawn gets to the next order of business, and pulls a Boxed Crook on Niles Ferrier.

z: Ferrier was smuggling a load of New Cov biomolecules and got busted, and is now a prisoner on the Relentless, the Imperial Star Destroyer at New Cov.  Thrawn and Pellaeon open up a communication line to the Destroyer, apparently still hanging out around there.

Thrawn does the standard “you shameless lawbreaker, you know I can take your ship for smuggling, right?” speech, which is… did we notice that the threat wasn’t killing or even imprisoning Ferrier?

Also we learn that Ferrier has successfully (from his point of view) responded to the Empire’s earlier call for warships with three meager (from the Empire’s point of view) Sienar patrol ships, for which he was paid outrageous (from the Empire’s point of view) sums of money.

will: Probably stole those from the Cavrilhu Pirates. Anyway, Thrawn has a simple offer: he wants the Dreadnaughts that fought them and escaped at New Cov, and Ferrier has three months to find them. Oh, and he’ll be given a ship with a “doomsday mechanism,” and his own ship will be confiscated.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop Ferrier from parking the ship somewhere and walking away, but on the other hand, he’d end up Imperial persona non liva, so there’s that.

z: I… I should look that up.  <suspicious squint>

will: That’s the sleep dep talking again.

It’s really fun to see Ferrier taken down as many pegs as he can be, and Thrawn is clearly setting this up to defang Bel Iblis’s army as well. (And it’ll be funny how this converges with Karrde’s story soon. Imagine if the ships weren’t related?)

A final matter for Thrawn’s attention: the tech team has gone over Khabarakh’s ship, and they’ve found Wookiee hair. Thrawn and Pellaeon agree this can only mean one thing (see what I mean?): he was captured, on Kashyyyk, interrogated, and released.

As I was saying, deduction is only as good as your premises. The only reason for there to be Wookiee hairs on Khabarakh’s ship can’t be that he let a Wookiee on board along with Leia Organa Solo, daughter of Darth Vader, after all. Thrawn doesn’t know enough to know that. So.

Anyway, Thrawn decides it’s time for a show of force, with a demonstration to remind (and, for the moment, “only” remind) the Noghri who’s in charge.

And on that morbid note, we’re out. We got revelations and layers of truth, chess pieces being lined up, and following logic down blind alleys (and one shortcut). A nice chapter, if you ask me. Lots of “oh, shit, this is going to go somewhere” moments.

Z?

z:  Well, well, well, if it isn’t a dead legend.

This is Zahn once again using the same successful technique for worldbuilding and backstory creation:  Bring up entirely new important concept or prominent character (a Grand Admiral, Senator Bel Iblis), and through the known characters’ reactions (awed “that is big trouble,”  awed “I thought you were dead”), establish their importance and prominence as a known thing.  I like that approach.

I also like how we had a swipe-cut to Han and Lando, has upcoming events set up there, then pulled back on Honoghr by something that ties into their plotline and sets up another path in it, then segued back into the Leia/Noghri plotline.  Things are moving fast on Honoghr and we’re reluctant to leave this subplot hanging.  So next week, we’ll be rejoining Leia.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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