Dark Force Rising, Chapter 17

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 17 of Dark Force Rising, in which we’re not left in suspense about what, exactly, was it that Thrawn found so interesting in that report from Abregado.

will: Happy New Year to all, and to all a good hi. Z and I, incidentally, are in the same city once again, rare as those occasions are. To add to the fun, that city is New Orleans.

z: New Orleans, where people go to the French Quarter to get drunk on the booze and I go there to get drunk on music.  I flat-out can’t believe I’ve never been here before.  But anyway–

z: The chapter opens with Mara in the Abregado-Rae spaceport, her thoughts about her reason to be there reminding the reader of why the name is familiar:  This is the same spaceport town that Han and Lando came to meet someone from Karrde’s organization–remember when all they were worried about was finding enough cargo ships to get trade going strong again? Good times, good times–and ended up saving the representative, in fact there to smuggle food to a group of government-refugees, from local security. They gave this guy a ride back to Karrde’s base, since his own ship, the Etherway, had been impounded.  They’d also promised to spring the ship from impoundment, and apparently they somehow managed to arrange that and get word to Karrde’s group, because that’s what Mara is there for: To pick up the ship.

will: Abregado: Planet of Infodumps.

z: Hey, that fits the “lawyer” connection… #grinduckrun

will: Mara also notes the logical extension of the repressive central government that was withholding food: the whole place has a veneer of civilization over a failing core, and that means everybody might be willing to snitch on everybody else–including her.

z: Mara walks into the hangar whose number she’d been given.  She’s on edge, and looking everywhere at once for a trap.  But there are no traps, just a single man sitting by the hatchway of the ship nonchalantly reading a newspaper datapad.  They exchange some preset recognition-code type dialogue, which Mara thinks is stupid, but also notes that the man is both enjoying it a lot (“getting a kick out of all this cloak-and-blade stuff” is how she puts it)–

will: Another “hit-and-fade” trick there…

z: –and is apparently hamming it quite a bit.  His bearing and attitude is such that Mara places him as a military man with no trouble. So we realize who this is even before he gives his name once inside the ship: It is, of course, Wedge, and this is the second time a fringe-side character has remarked that he is horrible at being inconspicuous.

will: One imagines that, just as last time, there might be someone like Page watching–but then, Mara didn’t see anybody. And while tipping the locals off to a random smuggling ship might be one thing, Wedge would basically feel like he’s got the fighter-pilot-ego version of diplomatic immunity: if he gets picked up by security, he’s New Republic, hands off…and if he gets rolled by anybody else, hands off even faster.

z: All this is by way of being a bit of comic relief, but it’s also a tad foreshadowy.

will: Wedge also explains how he bribed the spaceport administrator (there’s a line item on the expense report I’d love to see), and that he has droids making noise to block microphones, and that Han “had to leave Coruscant on some kind of special mission” and asked Wedge to spring the Etherway.

z: On his way out Wedge mentions a special message from Captain Solo: If your people is interested in selling information about “our friend with the eyes”, contact us.  Wedge doesn’t know what that refers to, which may be a misstep: I can’t imagine any scenario in which Han wouldn’t have told them all at Sluis Van. But, he says, it sounded important.  Mara just says she’ll pass on the message.

will: Well, Han didn’t want to say anything until he’d done research, which is why he was annoyed at himself for dropping the torpedo on the Council chamber, and even then, Wedge might not have heard the details.

z: After Wedge leaves (“Would you like an escort out of here?” “No thanks,” unsaid “I’m trying not to be noticed you’re offering me an escort with your shiny New Republic X-Wing in a loyalties-undecided system, seriously!?”) Mara runs a few checks around the ship, finds everything as OK, and takes off.

And very shortly thereafter her not-spider senses start tingling.

will: You know the tune!

Mara Jade
Mara Jade
If you cross her, be afraid…

z: Whereupon a Victory-class Star Destroyer, the Adamant, which had literally been hiding behind the planet, pounces on her before she’s even close to getting somewhere she can jump into hyperspace from.  They hail her, using the ship’s correct name (“Freighter Etherway…”)

Welp.

will: Mara hopes for a second that they might have been looking for “that Antilles character,” but “a single X-wing pilot could hardly be important enough to tie up a Star Destroyer for.” Which on the one hand is true for any individual pilot, but less true given Wedge’s status as a symbol/hero. But there’s an example of later canon changing things up. And besides, she’s still got a point.

z: The Imperials are maneuvering skillfully enough that Mara judges she has no chance of making it out of there.  In a few pages, it’s going to be a little significant that she considered escape first.

(We can now probably deduce that the report Thrawn was reading from Abregado was local spies relating the sabacc table incident through which Han and Lando helped Fynn slip away. He noted the timing, found out which ship had been left behind, figured someone from Karrde’s group would come to pick it up, and sent the [Destroyer] with instructions to lie in wait.  They weren’t there for Mara in particular, they just wanted someone to question about Karrde’s whereabouts.)

will: Makes sense.

z: Mara makes a decision.

The presumably-communications officer has started rattling the standard prepare-to-be-boarded speech. Mara responds with “Oh yay, I was worried that I would have to go through five systems looking for you guys.”  Perplexity on the part of the officer ensues, which Mara eases along by pushing farther away from the script: “Get a tractor beam going, I don’t want to try to land this monster in your hangar bay myself.  Oh, and I’ll want to talk to your captain to arrange a meeting with Grand Admiral Thrawn.  Actually, get me your captain, stat.”

will: The term “poleaxed” comes inevitably to mind. Poor guy.

z: By this time the officer is confused enough (and maybe having thoughts along the lines of things being above his paygrade) that he does, in fact, pass the line to his manager captain. Upon which Mara demands to be taken to the Grand Admiral Thrawn, coming all haughty. The captain is initially sarcastic, pointing out that he doesn’t need her to volunteer to give him any information for Thrawn when he can get it out of her “by a standard interrogation.”  This serves as a nice reminder that the Imperials are not Nice People at all, as Mara shudders at the thought, also partially because she wants more than anything to avoid a complete mind-sifting.

Given what she’ll end up telling before the end of the chapter, what she’s worried about keeping secret here is not her past, but Karrde’s present location.  Which is also significant.

will: And remember Karrde’s rule: never give away, never negotiate from a position of weakness. And so on.

z: So Mara drops what is, from the captain’s stunned reaction, a seriously, not-kidding-here, you’re-not-cleared-to-know-that-clearance-level-exists-high-level recognition code.  This changes the captain’s tune to “Welcome aboard, and of course we’ll take you to the Grand Admiral, meals and board complimentary, Miss–uh, who’d you say you were?” as he, also, makes the above-my-paygrade deduction.

Mara replies: “Tell him that he knew me as the Emperor’s Hand.”

Wellp.

will: Need a few more l’s there.

I like the recognition code. It’s four words that don’t exist in (our) English, but all could–they sound right. Might be planets or something in the Galaxy Far Far Away, I suppose.

The essential problem with this, of course, is how this is set up. Given how many Imperial officers will have defected by this point, how can they trust it? How would Mara know a current code? And so on. Maybe it triggered a computer recognition?

Eh. It works dramatically.

z: She is taken on board and placed under, uh, guess it’s a room arrest situation.  Definitely not a cell though; officer’s quarters. No one talks to her, let alone interrogates her; meals are brought by droid.  She keeps track of hours and plays a guessing game of “where can we be going at this speed in this time,” but of course there’s no way she can actually know without knowing the direction.

will: This does give us one of those rare ideas of speed and distance in the Star Wars universe: at a speed of Point Five (which is to say, “point five past lightspeed”), a ship can do 127 light-years per hour. At Point Four, according to Han and Lando, 47 hours translates into 150 light-years max–that is, about three and change light-years per hour.

Zahn did say it was a logarithmic scale…

z: Which means that it’s a very unpleasant surprise to find herself in orbit around Endor when they transfer her to the Chimaera.

Mara notes the Noghri bodyguard when they bring her to the Grand Admiral, who receives her in her quarters, I think?  Mara’s first act is to confront him about why he brought her to Endor to meet her, assuming that was intentional.  It’s a bad joke, she says, or is it a test?  Thrawn says neither, we’re here thanks to circumstances–but can you really sense the Emperor’s presence here? Yes, Mara bites out, I can feel the evidence of his death and it’s unpleasant so can we get on with things?

will: More like “we’re here thanks to circumstances, unless we aren’t.” Thrawn does admit there might be a connection. (But he doesn’t know it.)

z: OK, Thrawn says, prove who you are.  The recognition code by itself doesn’t count.  Mara describes when she met him before; as it happens, on the day he was raised to Grand Admiral.

will: Which was a private ceremony after a public Event–recall, Grand Admirals were secret.

z: Thrawn asks her to describe what decoration was on her dress then.  A shoulder sculpture, Mara remembers after a moment, “a Xyquine design.” In other words, a work of art. Thrawn brings up a collection of them and asks her to identify which one.  She manages, although it’s an uphill battle because how the sense of the place bothers her.

will: It isn’t specifically said that she used the Force–she just had an excellent memory enhanced by training. I wonder. Thrawn clearly remembered, but Thrawn having a photographic memory is entirely in character. (Holmes had a very selective memory, but it amounts to the same thing.)

z: It’s only then Thrawn acknowledges her as Emperor’s Hand. And immediately points out that she has stayed away a long time.  She says that no one except a Grand Admiral would have accepted her.  Thrawn presses for a further reason.  Mara says she doesn’t wish to discuss it now.  Then–

[Thrawn’s] face hardened.  “As, I presume, you don’t wish to discuss why you helped Skywalker escape from Talon Karrde?”

YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER.

Mara jerked, unsure for a frozen heartbeat whether the voice had been real or just in her mind.  The strange buzzing intensified, and for a moment she could almost see the Emperor’s wizened face glaring at her.

She brings herself under control and shoots back: It wasn’t my decision, and no, I couldn’t influence the decision either because, hello, planet full of ysalamiri? Thrawn says that just because of that, Skywalker must have had help, and all he needs from her is to tell him who gave the order–Karrde, or a subgroup within the organization?  Mara interprets that as him wanting to know whom to take vengeance on.  She’s got something quite else in mind: She says she’s there to offer a deal. Lay off Karrde and his group, cancel the bounties, and give him three million credits.  Thrawn mocks her: What’ll you offer in return, Coruscant? No, she says, the Katana fleet.

will: Second time in one chapter and Mara gets to flabbergast someone. This time, a Grand Admiral. I’m reminded of the times in Issola by Steven Brust when Vlad manages to render first Sethra Lavode, and then a god, speechless…

z: This could be a good place to stop and evaluate loyalties and attitudes. Mara a) actually cares about the health of Karrde and Karrde’s people, b) cares absolutely not a whit about the New Republic, or of anyone on that side.  Also, c) is still a bit naïve.

That one came as a surprise to me as a young reader.  From here and now, though, it makes a lot of sense.  Mara’s early history is not very well-known, but presumably the Emperor had her in training from a very young age.  He’d have taught her a lot about how the Galaxy works in some aspects… and almost none of it in others.

will: Good point. One imagines that Mara would have a belief that the Emperor played fair because, after all, he always did with her, and indulged her when she did. (We’ll see that in Allegiance, as I recall.) She was, after all, insulated from a lot. (See also, why she never fell to the Dark Side.)

z: At any rate, Thrawn’s about to demonstrate that to her.  He presses her, but she doesn’t know where the fleet is, Karrde does. When he asks how, she tells him about the botched escape Karrde described to her, and that is also a rather naïve thing to do.  No, she won’t tell him where Karrde is, doesn’t want him to be interrogated, see? Let her go back to him and she’ll bring back the location to trade.  Thrawn is angry that she presumes to dictate terms to him.  She says she was the Emperor’s Hand, and had authority.

will: And she attempts to be as firm and authoritarian as he was, and fails miserably.

z: He mocks her again, saying that she only did his will, whether she heard his commands better than “the rest of his Hands” or not.

Which shakes her to the core. Thrawn starts ignoring her and calls Pellaeon to ask for a report on the “boarding party.”  Mara pays no attention.  She’s in turmoil: The Emperor gave the title to me himself.  He brought me to Coruscant and trained me himself, to serve him.  He wouldn’t have lied to me.

Oh, sweetie.

will: We’ll revisit this later. I do note how thoroughly Thrawn has the upper hand in the conversation: he points out that Mara didn’t make decisions, she was nothing but a courier and conduit for Palpatine’s. And when she flips out over the “other Hands” issue, denying it, he simply shrugs, and doesn’t challenge her–thus leaving her off balance and him in control. He doesn’t care what she believes, but he reminds her that she’s not in charge. She was Palpatine’s agent and enforcer, not his heir.

z: Thrawn breaks into her thoughts to ask if she’d know what Leia Organa Solo would come to Endor.  Mara has no idea.  Thrawn orders that the Millennium Falcon be brought aboard. And people impugn Niles Ferrier as a ship thief.

will: That’s less theft and more common sense, though I do note that it will pay off. Well done.

z: Then, with almost an audible shrug, Thrawn tells Mara that they have a deal; how long would it take for her to get to Karrde and back? Two and a half days one way if I push it, Mara says.  Thrawn says fine, push it, because you’ve got eight days.

Mara heads out immediately, but not before Thrawn also promises to have a long chat with her later about why she has been late about returning to the Imperial service.

So, any evaluations on who has the upper hand here?

will: I didn’t see this before I wrote the above, folks. But to underscore a point, Mara certainly did break one of Karrde’s rules, and gave things away under duress.

z: And I hadn’t seen that, but that’s completely true.

The point of view shifts to Pellaeon, who’s had a near heart attack by the sound of it when Thrawn told him the name of the Katana fleet.  He even goes into a bit of nostalgia and says once he dreamed about finding the ships himself.  Then he realizes that the pieces of artwork Thrawn is displaying seem familiar:  Apparently they were the pieces displayed in the offices of the company which made the ships and of the Fleet planning department as they worked on those ships.  For once, apparently, Thrawn is also indulging in nostalgia.

will: Rendili Star Drive, the company, is definitely an example of West End Games material. As to Pellaeon’s recognition, I have to assume that what he’s seeing is whatever influence the art had on the design of the ships–sort of the way that a John Williams fan listening to Gustav Holst or Antonin Dvorak for the first time will go “hey, wait…” a lot.

(No, seriously. A lot.)

z: Then Pellaeon expresses skepticism about Mara’s claim, but Thrawn says he believes her: He brings up a holo of the altercation at New Cov, and points out the Dreadnaughts.  Now Pellaeon is incredulous that “Karrde would be supplying this renegade Corellian worth ships.”  Thrawn agrees; obviously someone else in that group Karrde was with back then also recognized the fleet.  And they have enough of a lead, from Mara’s description of the incident, to put Intelligence on looking through old incident reports.

Never give out information you don’t have to give.

will: Yuuuup.

z: Then, Thrawn says, contact Niles Ferrier, and re-aim him to Solo and Calrissian, because that way may now lie the Corellian’s connection to the ships. There’s a ping from the intercom.  The voice on the other end says that “the target” has made the jump to lightspeed and the signal from the beacon is strong.

I have felt a great disturbance on the Force, as if a million readers suddenly facepalmed.  I certainly did.

will: Again, Mara expected fair dealings.

z: It’s Pellaeon’s turn to be naïve and surprised:  Weren’t they going to give Mara time to get the location of the fleet?  Thrawn, with some restraint I’m sure, doesn’t say “Really, Captain? Seriously?” but gives his opinion that she’s no longer part of the Empire, and isn’t coming back to it whatever even she believes herself, but she’ll lead them to the Katana fleet nonetheless.

And scene.

This is a chapter with a very nice arc, starting with a very paranoid Mara and ending with a rattled, and therefore hoodwinked, Mara.  For what it’s worth, I believe that Thrawn was lying to her about other Emperor’s Hands; he would have known that was the best way to shake her into dropping her guard.

will: I’m torn. On the one hand, I can absolutely believe that Palpatine would have had other Hands. On the other, we never meet any–that seem convincing anyway. And later we’ll hear that Palpatine considered her very important after all. So maybe he’d had others before her, or for a while and then found them unsatisfactory? She clearly became the single Hand eventually.

And that’s the end of the chapter and the end of 2015. We’ve now been doing this blog for a year. Wow.

Well, more to come in 2016, then. In the meantime, hope you had a happy New Year, and will have a good weekend. We’ll see you next week, and until then, may the Force be with you.

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