Dark Force Rising, Chapter 13

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 13 of Dark Force Rising, an extremely brief, extremely fast chapter in which we discover that Leia had not quite hit bottom in terms of her story arc in this book quite yet in the last chapter.

My own life is… uh, definitely at a weird point of my arc, too.  If everything goes well, more on that later as things settle.

will: Same here, if for a different set of reasons, and I might tell that story someday. Or not, we’ll see.

Incidentally, happy Thanksgiving to all American readers. I hope it was fun, and that you have fun the rest of this holiday weekend.

z: At the end of the previous chapter, Leia was frozen in the middle of the dukha thanks to the news that the Grand Admiral’s shuttle was returning to the village, and in fact the repulsorlifts of his shuttle are now audible.  She can’t quite believe that the Grand Admiral would return so soon—

—why not, though?  Maybe she doesn’t believe that the Grand Admiral is that involved or interested in the Noghri, and she’s halfway right—Thrawn cares about the Noghri only in terms of their tactical and strategic effectiveness.  But his way of solving real or perceived problems in that effectiveness is to be hands-on, and that, Leia seems not to have expected.

will: Which is actually something of, if not an oversight, a function of Leia’s lack of experience with the Noghri. They would respond better to the hands-on approach. It’s all honor debts and personalized connection; the Noghri would appreciate an in-person call from Thrawn a lot more than any other communication.

z: Too, the simpler explanation is that she thought the Imperials were truly fooled… which they would have been, but for Thrawn, and his erroneous conclusion about the length of Khabarakh’s absence that nonetheless has the equivalent result of repeated Imperial visits.  This also illustrates one thing—the New Republic, at the moment, has no good idea of Thrawn’s abilities.  They’ve seen what he can do in Sluis Van and in the aftermath, which suggest a formidable tactician, and there’s the bad-juju mystique surrounding the Grand Admiral title—but they haven’t been privy to one of his leaps of intuition, even though it’s the direct cause of Luke’s little “X-Wing broke down in the middle of nowhere” incident and Leia being followed to and attacked on Kashyyyk. Even though his leaps may be mistaken, as the most recent one is, Our Heroes haven’t deduced that Thrawn can deduce like that.

will: Information is power, once again, and especially information about your enemy’s capabilities. In the end, I think every downfall in this series is caused by that.

z: —anyway.  They can’t run out of the dukha and hide somewhere else; the shuttle is under the cloud cover and they’d be seen.  The dukha is a single large room.  Nowhere to hide, except… there’s this little booth facing the family’s geneaology chart on the wall. Maybe she can cut a hole in the wall with her lightsaber, where it would be hidden from the front door by the booth, and then they can sneak out right after the shuttle lands in front?  The maitrakh is understandably not happy about the geneaology chart being cut into, but doesn’t even pause—“If it must be done, then be it so.”

will: Practical people, they.

z: But before Leia can even get there, they hear another whine, the sound of Scimitar assault bombers.  There’ll be eyes in the sky even after the shuttle lands, and there’s no sneaking away anywhere.  Leia figures that they have to get in the booth.  She and Chewie can just fit, but Threepio…

Just as the maitrakh concludes that Leia’s presence has betrayed them all, because there is no way to hide Threepio, Leia notices the star-chart-chandelier-dish in the ceiling again.  At her mere suggestion, Chewie throws Threepio over his shoulder, climbs a nearby pillar, hand-over-hands to the dish, tosses a protesting Threepio inside, and reaches in to turn him off.  While this has just the right level of slapstick comedy to my mind, the whole turning the droid off summarily thing does bother me a bit, at this point.

will: Yeah, on the one hand you’d think Threepio would know enough to shut up. On the other, it’s Threepio. And Chewie in particular has reason to be skeptical of Threepio’s ability to shut up…

z: Then Chewie dives in the booth, Leia crams herself between his legs, and they close the door just as the entrance doors to the dukha, on an adjoining wall, slam open.

Leia runs through some Jedi sensory enhancement techniques, making her very aware of what all her senses are feeding her, and allowing her to hear clearly what is being said inside the dukha.

will: One imagines it’s similar to the memory-enhancement stuff, and I note that Zahn describes it as increasing her awareness of her sensory inputs. It’s not literally making her ears more sensitive, just affecting her ability to interpret. Nice.

z: I hadn’t quite noted the distinction that clearly, but you’re right, and it is nice.

She hears Thrawn coolly greeting the maitrakh and remarking that “her thirdson,” Khabarakh, is here with her, how convenient.  His tone and demeanor reminds her of Governor Tarkin, except even more authoritative.  She has no trouble deducing that the voice belongs to the Grand Admiral. The maitrakh claims to be honored at the Grand Admiral’s presence, the Grand Admiral makes it clear that he is not impressed but thank you anyway and you, Khabarakh, are you also happy that I am here?

will: We’ll reexamine this later, but I do wonder how much is Chiss vocalisms and styles, how much is Thrawn himself, and how much is Thrawn by training for Imperial authority.

z: Leia moves her head a little to see through the mesh sides of the booth.  when Thrawn comes into her field of view, she shivers.  How he looks convinces her that Han hadn’t been mistaken about Thrawn being a Grand Admiral.  There is, however, no more explanation of why she gets that sense, although the reader can extrapolate from her thoughts about his voice.

will: See above.

z: Khabarakh is young and inexperienced—again, and answers that of course he is pleased, why should he not be?  I wince along with Leia while Rukh chides Khabarakh for being disrespectful to his lord.  Khabarakh protests he didn’t mean disrespect, and Thrawn asks what did he mean, then.  It’s a complete and plain bullying session, and it’s hard for me to read through.

will: It’s basically an interrogation, yeah. Not the “drugs and rubber hoses” kind, but then, that comes next.

z: Khabarakh tries to play the “I’m overawed” card, which flies about as well as a starship without repulsorlifts, and Thrawn pounces—You didn’t expect to see me back so soon, did you?  Tell me, maithrakh, is the penalty for lying to the lord of your overclan (that’d be me) still death?  The maitrakh stiffens her backbone, which is already pretty strong, and actually tells the Grand Admiral that he has no right to bring such dishonorable accusations against someone of her clan Kihm’bar.  I am impressed.

will: One of the limits of this sort of honor debt structure is that honor has to flow both ways. Given that we’ll see that the Chiss have similar structures in their society, maybe this shows us how Thrawn didn’t fit in?

z: Thrawn isn’t impressed, and demands Khabarakh to tell him of his “imprisonment on Kashyyyk.”

Leia, on the verge of panic, doesn’t even realize that Thrawn is not speaking of Khabarakh’s real (one-night long) imprisonment, and fears that the young Noghri is going to tell everything.

will: Standard interrogation trick, let the suspect fill in blanks. But if he won’t…

z: Instead, Khabarakh “does not understand,” so Thrawn refreshes his memory, or rather, fills in what his theory is for Leia and Khabarakh: The Noghri was captured and interrogated by the Wookiees for the entire month he was absent without leave.  We found Wookiee hairs in your ship, see?

will: …then impress the suspect with how much you already know. Except when you don’t.

z: (…and didn’t think to check if they all belonged to one Wookiee, for one thing.)

will: Probably didn’t have enough time, and/or didn’t care or think to, why bother when they’re “just Wookiees.” (The humanocentric Empire rears its head.)

z: Leia is shocked to realize that the Grand Admiral had “taken that fact and run in exactly the wrong direction with it.”  And this makes it very nice, given what I was talking about above:  The first time someone from the New Republic almost-witnesses one of Thrawn’s intuitive leaps, it’s an example where he’s wrong because he’s moving from incorrect assumptions.  One has to wonder how this did help Our Heroes’ psychology in the long run; they do not have to begin with the assumption that their opponent is infallible.

will: A very good point, and it reinforces when I said: the only people in-universe who think of Thrawn as completely unbeatable are people who haven’t encountered him directly. Our Heroes think he’s good and clever and all that, but not unstoppable.

z: The maitrakh tries to say that Khabarakh wouldn’t lie in such a thing, that he understands duty and honor, and Thrawn brushes that aside.  Khabarakh denies that any interrogation occurred and repeats that he escaped and meditated for a month.  Thrawn commands Rukh to arrest Khabarakh and take him to the Chimaera for interrogation.  The maitrakh objects, and then badassitude happens:

“You will be silent, maitrakh,” the Grand Admiral cut her off. “Or you will share in his imprisonment.”

“I will not be silent,” the maitrakh snarled.  “A Noghri accused of treason to the overclan must be given over to the clan dynasts for the ancient rules of discovery and judgment.  It is the law.”

…whoa.

will: Like I said, that’s the deal…it’s like feudalism. You own your loyalty to the king, but he owes you protection and the law. (Hardly a perfect system of course.)

z: The Grand Admiral is still unimpressed with that, however, and with the assertion that the clan dynasts will demand this also.  Instead, he asks the maitrakh if she wants a reminder of what it means to defy the Empire.  And she says no, sounding defeated… and Thrawn declares he’ll give her one anyway.

He doesn’t even speak a command into his comlink, but just touches a button.  Which, of course, indicates that he’s intended to do this all along, defiance or not.

will: Well, more that he wanted it ready. He could easily have said stand-down. But then, he probably wouldn’t.

z: The orbiting Star Destroyer Chimaera fires on the surrounding village, repeatedly.  But since Leia has had no time to reverse her sensory enhancement, just the first turbolaser blast is blinding for her (even though it did not hit the dukha itself), and the shockwave “slam[s] like the slap of an angry Wookiee into the side of her head.”  Dazed and shocked, she is helpless and nearly senseless for the rest of the bombardment of the village.  When it’s done, the Grand Admiral declares that he’s the law on Honoghr now, and if he chooses to follow the ancient laws fine, if not, too bad.

will: One wonders if and when the Noghri would have been fed up. Even without the Lady Vader and the truth, might the Noghri have eventually rebelled? That might be an interesting story to think about…

z: The maitrakh sounds scared out of her wits to Leia when she says she understands.  Thrawn magnanimously says that he will allow the first stage of the ancient laws of discovery anyway—so nice of him—so Rukh is to take him to Nystao City first, present him to the clan dynasts and arrange three days of public shaming.  The idea is to remind all the Noghri that they are “still at war.”

will: Propaganda is a form of information and intelligence…

z: Rukh takes Khabarakh and leaves.  Leia is certain that she’s succeeded in destroying him.  Thrawn, still there, remarks that the maitrakh is very quiet; the maitrakh seems to have found it within herself to… well, not snark, but respond passive-aggressively again: “My lord ordered me to be silent.”  OK, I’m still impressed.  Thrawn might be a little, too, against his will; he says that it’s a fine thing, her loyalty to family, but loyalty to a traitor is foolish.  The maitrakh responds that she has “not heard evidence that my thirdson is a traitor.”

I’m really, really impressed.

will: Yeah. And you can see how that badassitude, that belief in both sides of the duty and honor binding, is what would lead Khabarakh to care about the Mal’ary’ush in the first place. Family.

z: The Grand Admiral promises that she will, and leaves, with her along.

Leia and Chewie are left alone in the dukha, and as she assesses their situation, also alone in enemy territory, without a starship, with their only ally about to undergo an interrogation.  Leia demonstrates that some things may be contagious in a marriage with a very Han-esque understatement: “I think, Chewie, we’re in trouble.”

And scene.

Very short, very tense chapter, even more effective when I realized that at no point was I worried about a direct discovery—someone looking into the booth, someone noticing the star dish sagging—and Zahn does not even hint at that curve ball, to his credit.  It all revolves around Thrawn, the maitrakh, and Khabarakh, plays through very quickly and is done.  And now things are a bit scarier still.

Will?

will: Agreed. Basically, one imagines that if he could have, Zahn would have had Leia out of the picture altogether just so that he could have the debate (such as it was) happen. He couldn’t and he made it work, and for that matter Leia’s perspective is interesting to get all this filtered through, but she’s mostly ancillary.

I’d love to see this filmed somehow, the tension in the air bouncing off everybody.

It’s also interesting to see Thrawn’s limitations as a leader. We have the whole “good leader, respects failure in a way Vader didn’t” thing, but he only does that for people he can motivate that way–because he can use honor binding (he thinks) and fear to keep the Noghri in line, he will. I like that this preserves his villainy…but that’s a story for later.

And that’s this chapter. We’ll be back next week for a shift back to the characters we haven’t heard from for a while, namely the Jedi contingent, and Luke making most of his mistakes.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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