Dark Force Rising, Chapter 15

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 15 of Dark Force Rising, in which we find out that even someone whose job and vocation is to know things can actually be mistaken.

I’m writing this in one day before a proposal deadline midway between two concerts, so apologies for any incoherency.  Also, Will, I trust you to—

Wait. Nevermind.  I take that back.

will: She’s learning, folks…

Though of course I am going to be correcting any typos (many of which are probably caused by autocorrect, a la that je ne sais quoi incident back in April).

z: We join Han and Lando in what seems like a lounge/bar, by the descriptions, listening to war stories Bel Iblis is telling while they have drinks.  Well… Han and Bel Iblis, and Sena, are having drinks.  Lando, Han notices a little way into the conversation, keeps nursing the same glass. And keeping very silent, except for occasionally asking pointy questions of Bel Iblis; for instance, when the general talks of a raid that they pulled at one of the Empire’s “Ubiqtorate” bases at Tangrene–

will: The “Ubiqtorate” is one of the many really impressive things that Zahn introduced to the Star Wars universe. It manages to convey the right panopticon feel by evoking the word “ubiquitous” if you’re eagle-eyed enough to spot it, but it also feels just right as a branch of the Empire even if you don’t make the connection.

z: –which we can deduce from Han’s impressed reaction is a difficult and risky thing to do, and says that they managed to get all five of their ships out, Lando chimes in with “I thought you said you had six Dreadnaughts.”  Apparently he’s caught the Not Subtle bug from Fey’lya’s aide.  Bel Iblis just says that they have six now, where they had five at the time of that raid.

The general says that they had to become very mobile after that raid, which he also characterizes as the turning point that showed the Empire that “[they] were a group to be taken seriously.”  As a first time reader, I hadn’t caught this one, but a really obvious question pops up right there, and becomes louder after Sena says that this is their fourteenth bases in seven years… seven, which tells us that they have been operating for at least two years before the second Death Star got the big badaboom.

will: Also, Bel Iblis calls Tangree the crown after three years of raiding; the point is that the timeline here is, likely deliberately, vague.

z: Some more amusing stories about mishaps with their bi-state memory plastic buildings follow.  Then Bel Iblis brings up Fey’lya, saying that they met the Bothan about a month after the Tangrene raid. This presumably puts that before the part where many Bothans died to etc.  Han feels guilty, because he’s been listening to the war stories with the sense of wonder of a child and had forgotten what they had been after in the first place.  Lando, apparently, hadn’t — hence the “crushed ice” he’s been glaring in Han’s direction.

Han asks what the Bel Iblis group’s deal with Fey’lya is, and gets “less of a deal than he’d like” as an almost non-answer.  Bel Iblis mentions some favors Fey’lya did, for which the Bothan seems to expect more gratitude than he’s been getting.  Lando doesn’t seem to find this reassuring and asks what sort of favors.  Bel Iblis characterizes them as small—setting up some supply line at New Cov and making some military aid happen when needed and diverting some funds which got the Bel Iblis group equipment, sort of thing.

will: Thus giving us the absolute answer to the original question. We (and presumably Han and Lando) already figured the New Cov skirmish that sent Our Heroes this way was Fey’lya protecting his Bel Iblis connection, but this is confirmation.

z: Lando pushes to know exactly how grateful Bel Iblis and co. is, skirting rudeness, but Bel Iblis doesn’t seem to mind.  But he doesn’t answer either; he wants to know something first.  “A little about New Republic hierarchy,” he says, what Mon Mothma is doing in the government, what’s Fey’lya’s relationship to her, “What is Mon Mothma really up to?”

My reaction is “Huh?”

will: More specifically, Bel Iblis is looking to get the “real” version as distinct from the official story.

z: Han’s reaction is to jump into the conclusion that Breil’lya has been feeding Bel Iblis some tall tales about Mon Mothma being up to something.  But Bel Iblis says this has nothing to do with the Bothans; “it’s about Mon Mothma.  Period.”

I would like to double down on that “Huh?”

Han admits to himself that there are things about Mon Mothma he doesn’t like, how much responsibility she heaps on Leia for starters, but speaks in the big picture, saying that the only thing she’s trying to do is to put together a new government.

“With herself at its head?” Bel Iblis asks.

Oh.

Han is confused too, I think, because he can only answer “Shouldn’t she be?”  The answer is still more confusing: “I suppose it was inevitable.” By this point, I can barely see over the glare of the neon sign that glows with THERE’S HISTORY HERE.

will: Another aspect of an uprising like the Rebellion that we get to see fleshed out: there are going to be “who said you get to tell me how to rise up?” conversations, and splinter groups. That’s what this starts to feel like, a counter-Rebellion, not against the Galactic Empire, but against any perceived “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” problems.

z: Apparently Fey’lya thinks Mon Mothma has too much power, which, what a surprise.  But then that’s because he thinks he should have more, everyone agrees.  But Lando says that at least the Bothans can claim to have been valuable allies of the winning side, unlike others.

Sena is bothered; Bel Iblis is not.  Correctly deducing that Lando wants to know why his group waged their own private war against the Empire instead of joining the Rebel Alliance, he gives security as a reason.  Information leaks and such.  One is even still going on: Bel Iblis knows about Delta Source through their analysis of Imperial messages,  supposedly a leak straight out of the Imperial Palace, and warns Han that it seems to be reporting directly to the Grand Admiral.

will: Continuing the theme, Han’s internal monologue when talking about the leak is that he feels “like a kid who’s been called on the carpet for not doing his homework.” Bel Iblis exudes a fatherly air in all directions, probably especially for Corellians.

z: Lando isn’t distracted, and outright demands some more reasons, this time not even quite skirting rudeness.  Han starts telling him off, but Bel Iblis interrupts with a gesture–another nice touch, because how many people do you know who could silence Han Solo with a mere gesture?–and says that he’d be happy to have that discussion when the time is right, but gosh darn look at the time I’ve got stuff to do now we’ve assigned you a vacant officers’ efficiency suite bye now.

will: Which Lando and Han both admit is convenient.

z: On their way to the suite, Han picks up the telling-off where he left it off, at Lando’s invitation even; but Lando says that Bel Iblis has been less than entirely truthful about things, and that he, Lando, can’t figure out why Bel Iblis brought them to this camp and is now lying about things.  For instance, fourteen bases in seven years or not, the look and weathering of materials says that this is no recent, extremely portable camp any more.  The lounge was too nicely decorated, too, even had an “antique ship’s chrono.” So why aren’t these people on edge or ready to move at three minutes’ notice any more?

Han theorizes that they are in a period of lying low and conserving people and ships, instead of continuing to harass the Empire.  Sure, Lando says, fine–just what are they saving their forces for, then?

Han latches on to the worrying possibility that Bel Iblis has made a deal with Fey’lya, possibly to support the Bothan militarily if Fey’lya makes an overt push for Mon Mothma’s position.  Which doesn’t even imply civil war, it is an outright civil war, so grrargh. And an ineffective one at that, because Han doesn’t think that six Dreadnaughts would be anywhere near enough to mount an effective coup.

will: Though it must be said, between a core of six Dreadnaughts and the imprimatur of Garm Bel Iblis and Borsk Fey’lya, it could be enough to launch a counter-revolution. If, or when, as Bel Iblis clearly believed and Fey’lya…who knows, Mon Mothma becomes “same as the old boss.”

z: Seeing as how it’s pretty obvious on which side Rogue Squadron would be, I’m just going to agree.

But, hey, wait.  If this is the center of plot against Mon Mothma, why in the Galaxy would they have brought Han and Lando here?

The worst-case scenario, Lando replies: “Bel Iblis” here is a phony, and this is an Imperial scam.  Maybe even one that started for Fey’lya’s benefit, so that he, believing himself supported, would take even bolder steps and cause more chaos in the baby government,  to the Empire’s benefit. But it could also have been a good opportunity to bring Han and Lando here once those two had appeared on New Cov, because now they can return to Coruscant and raise an alarm, diverting resources and stirring the pot and causing distractions etc. etc. This is convoluted, but hey, it’s a Grand Admiral we’re dealing with here.

will: On the one hand, this does seem remarkably far-fetched. On the other, like they said, Grand Admiral. We know it isn’t because we know that Bel Iblis is basically telling the truth (see Pellaeon and Thrawn’s conversation about this little army), but from the inside, it’s a lot harder to see.

z: The questions of who knows what and who can know what and what are the consequences of incomplete information on all sides are questions that are very delicately handled throughout this trilogy.

Han and Lando reach their assigned quarters without reaching a conclusion. It’s “cozy,” by which Lando means that its stark, tiny, and completely functional.  Han snarks that hey, see, this could be shipped off-planet within three minutes.  Lando counters that this is the way the lounge should have felt. He also remarks that they probably pulled the furniture like the chairs out of the Dreadnaughts and repurposed them too, just reupholstered the top–he pries up the chair seat, and freezes.

Han wants to know what  the problem is.

Slowly, Lando turned to look up at him. “This chair,” he whispered.  “It’s not gray underneath. It’s blue-gold.”

“Okay,” Han said, frowning. “So?”

“You don’t understand.  The Fleet doesn’t do the interiors of military ships in blue-gold.  They’ve never done them in blue-gold.  Not under the Empire, not under the New Republic, not under the Old Republic.  Except one time.”

“Which was?'” Han prompted.

Lando took a deep breath. “The Katana fleet.”

…Han gazed at the age-dulled blue-gold cloth, a sense of unreality creeping over him. The Katana fleet.  The Dark Force.  Lost for half a century . . . and now suddenly found.

Gentlebeings, we’ve got title drop.  Repeat, we’ve got the title.

will: We already met the Dark Force ten chapters ago, with Karrde and Mara. I wonder whether we were expected to think Bel Iblis and Karrde were in cahoots? One imagines Bel Iblis would have said something, but then…

z: We did, but here’s the “Rising” part, presumably.

Also, where I immediately jumped to was that Karrde was mistaken about no one else knowing, because one would have thought he’d have mentioned it to Mara that he’d sold six Dreadnaughts to some counterrevolutionary group.

Han, shaken, says that they need more proof.  Lando says that if he can look behind that antique ship’s repeater-panel in the lounge, he’d be able to tell; he apparently spent some months researching the Dark Force, once.  (Him and every other treasure hunter in in the Galaxy, probably.)

will: For reasons we’ll see later that are entirely in character. They point out that this also explains all the secrecy; they knew Han and Lando would recognize the eighth-of-expected crew capacity.

z: Han says they’ll get him that look, then, and they leave their lodgings to go back to the lounge.

And scene.

I wouldn’t normally quote such a long stretch, but it’s so beautifully done.  For the vast majority of the chapter you’re worrying about internal conflicts in the New Republic and potential Imperial plots and whatnot; then with less than two pages to go, that gets sprung on you.  Well-played, Mr. Zahn.

Will?

will: Exactly right. This changes the conversation; it isn’t about who Bel Iblis is working for or with or what he’s doing, it’s about the game-changing nature of two hundred Dreadnaughts. Well, and therefore who Bel Iblis is working for or with and what he’s doing, but now that’s a function of “given the Katana fleet.”

z: Yay Bayesian deduction—

—what?

will: This chapter, this plotline for that matter, is about fissures in allies, so I like that Lando and Han have such a disagreement about the whole thing. The difference is, Han and Lando both have a strong underlying bond of friendship, and additionally, are willing to put their disagreements aside for a more immediate problem. Nice contrast with Bel Iblis, one imagines…

That’s all from us this week. Next week, a history lesson–several history lessons, in fact. And there might be some talk of a certain movie. Maybe. I really don’t know.

Until then, may the Force be with you all.

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