Dark Force Rising, Chapter 18

will: Greetings and salutations, distinguished audience!

Before we dive in, I wanted to give a plug for Arisia, the science fiction convention in Boston next weekend, the 15th-18th. I’ll be there, and I’ll even be on a panel about “Star Wars: It’s Back!” Sunday afternoon. If you’re local, come check it out!

z: Oh, I really wish I could have attended that panel… but alas, I can’t travel that weekend, because if everything goes well I’ll kind of be closing on a house on Friday {devolves into making a continuous, very soft high-pitched “eeeeeeeeeeee”}

will: But now, down to business.

will: Leia’s headache finally forces a halt to the planning phase; she and Chewie have been spending all morning looking for a plan “that would be more than simply a complicated way of surrendering,” but no dice. She decides to take a walk, over Chewie’s fears of detection. So far, after all, there haven’t been any leaks.

z: I found it interesting that she phrases this as “no one’s reported to the authorities yet,” but I’m not quite clear what I find \found interesting about it.

will: They head outside, and Leia shudders in reflexive fear–but she knows she’s OK. The Chimaera has broken orbit, and she even watched the ship hyper out in macrobinoculars.

z: {suspicious squint} “Hyper out”?

will: Of course, this is the Grand Admiral; maybe it’s a trap, or a lie, or a double bluff…she cuts herself off firmly. Unlike Han, she doesn’t think even Grand Admirals could be limited to one mistake, and besides, even a Grand Admiral is one person. Maybe his attention was needed elsewhere, that’s all. The point is, this is the time to make a move–if they can figure out how.

z: I definitely noticed this contrast between Leia’s and Han’s thought patterns about the Grand Admiral’s supposed infallibility more in this readthrough. It’s very much in par with Leia’s temperament and training.

will: Chewie suggests a plan that Leia rejects, probably a bombing or big distraction. But Leia is ever mindful of the fact that they have to avoid antagonizing the Noghri any further; they need to get them to leave the Empire, and destroying part of Nystao won’t help.

She looks out and watches the decon droids work: they scoop up a quarter cubic meter of soil, “running it through some exotic catalytic magic in their interiors,” and poof, decontamination! (And poof, 90s’ era technology.) Leia also notes the PR aspects of the droids always being visible, always reminding the Noghri of their benefactors.

z: Though to be fair, most chemical purification still looks like that to me.

will: The maitrakh non-sneaks up on Leia, who gives the usual pleasantries, but gets noncommittal answers. She knows the maitrakh’s feelings, and figures it’s a matter of time before the maitrakh decides the best play of her bad hand is to snitch to the Empire and hope for mercy. Yikes.

z: Leia does not even blame the maitrakh for this; she sees her as protecting her family.  Which, wince, and more to come.

will: At any rate, the maitrakh asks how the planning is going, and as ruling everything out is sort of progress, Leia answers that way. They turn to other matters, like Threepio spending time with the second droids–he isn’t needed as a translator because the Noghri speak Basic well. The maitrakh chalks that up to the Grand Admiral, but Leia points out it was Vader first who educated the Noghri. The maitrakh…agrees slowly, which makes Leia worry that the betrayal moment is coming soon.

They look at the droids again, and the maitrakh says the timing suggests that area will be done soon and can be planted this season, which will help but not enough. Leia notes the careful stringing-along the Empire has set up, keeping the Noghri in servitude, and then asks Chewie for some analysis: how long since the droids have started, given their progress so far…turns out to have been eight years by Chewie’s analysis. Leia still knows that there’s deception going on, but she can’t prove it, so she decides the best thing to do is bug out.

z: After all, it’d be very very trivial for the Empire to scale the decontamination speed to the (once again) (slowly) increasing Noghri population, always keeping them just on this side of dependence.  But she can’t see a way to prove it, even though she gets the sense, from the maitrakh’s reaction, that the maitrakh also knows it but doesn’t see that anything can be done about it.

The Noghri, especially the thinking heads of families, are in as neat and terrible a bind as has ever been conceived.  PS Remember the bit where the Empire was evil, based on evil?  Yeah.  That.

At any rate, Leia starts by saying that they will have to steal a spaceship from Nystao, and the maitrakh remarks that this should be easy for Lord Vader’s daughter…

will: The maitrakh’s faith in the Lady Vader’s abilities is comforting but ignorant, unfortunately: It gets worse because they need to take Khabarakh with them.

The maitrakh is somewhere between furious and terrified, and talks about how this would be suicide, wouldn’t be honorable, the clan and the Noghri won’t honor or remember it, and so on. Leia says she’s tired of people dying for her, and can’t leave the Noghri to suffer for her.

z: If Khabarakh is left behind, Thrawn will eventually return, interrogate him, learn what happened, and kill him at a minimum as retaliation, and very likely his entire family or the full clan Kihm’bar too…

will: The maitrakh says that wouldn’t happen.  Leia begs to differ:

“The Empire once destroyed an entire world because of me. I don’t ever want that to happen again.”

Leia is caught up; she’s risked her life before, but for a noble cause, and is this the same thing?

z: Especially considering that she is bearing three lives at the moment… She’s right that leaving without Khabarakh is a death sentence for a multiplicity of Noghri, but the maitrakh is also right that trying to save him magnifies the risk manyfold.

will: Chewie will go along with it, that’s what a life debt is. Han would understand, too, though he would be devastated…

The maitrakh, however, is moved by Leia’s choice, especially her willingness to do this not for glory or a legacy but because it’s right, and she decides to help. Leia puts on a brave face about their chances, but deep down she knows.

“The maitrakh and Khabarakh might die, and probably Chewbacca beside them. But not her. The Lady Vader they would take alive, and save as a gift for their lord the Grand Admiral.
Who would smile, and speak politely, and take her children away from her.
She looked out at the fields, wishing Han were here. And wondered if he would ever know what had happened to her.”

Ow, the strings, stop pulling, my heart can’t take this.

z: {just goes quietly to find super glue for her own shattered bits of heart}

will: The Site that Eats Afternoons, TV Tropes, has a page on Adult Fear. It’s about when your idea of what’s scary goes from monsters and the unreal to very real things: like losing your children, like losing your parents to old age, like paying the bills. Somewhere else on the site, it used to point out the difference between this, and what happened later in the EU in the parts we don’t go (look, Simba)–like zombie stormtroopers. That’s… not really progress.

z: Like zombie wha—you know nevermind I don’t want to know.

will: You don’t. Anyway. Leia, Chewie, and the maitrakh go back to the planning, as we shift our perspective.

Han and Lando are on an encrypted subspace call to Winter, who gives them an update on the status of things, especially the politics of the Council. She hasn’t heard from Leia either, but she has heard from Luke, or from someone claiming to be Luke, on a printed message sent in the clear: meet at “the money-changing center” on New Cov. Lando recognizes this as a reference to the tapcafe where Luke had to give judgment about that whole payment-in-which-currency situation, which they want to take as proof of authenticity–Zahn loves his codes–but Han points out that it was more than just Luke and Lando present there. Might be a trap.

Lando admits that they should go. If it’s Luke, they have to go, and if not, well, they can handle it. Lando’s been tweaking the ship’s ID, so the Tamar’s Folly (“What? Lady Luck? Never heard of her, sir”) lands without issue in Ilic. But they don’t even get off the ship before they see a familiar but unpleasant face: Niles Ferrier.

z: I smell a pear-flavored rat. So does Lando.

Parenthetically, do you think the ship’s nom de guerre (no, Google Keyboard, not “mom of war”) is another Tuckerization?

will: Maybe. Or a pun, as usual. Lando fills Han in, because it’s clear that Ferrier sent the message under Luke’s name, and then they get down to business: Ferrier wants to cut a deal with the New Republic, because he has a line on some warships.

“What kind of ships?”
“Big ones. Dreadnaught class. The Katana fleet.”

Han keeps his poker sabacc face on and acts as dubious as he’s supposed to, but Ferrier is insistent–he knows a guy. Han thinks he sees something in Ferrier’s face, though, and whirls to look for someone sneaking up on them. Nope, just “the usual mix of shadows from the spaceport lights.” Hmm. How clever are you, reader?

z: Heh.  For what it’s worth, I’d giggled when I’d first read that.

will: Anyway, Han and Lando are wondering whether Ferrier knows Bel Iblis’s supplier, so they try to angle for proof. Ferrier, though, says he won’t give anything for free–but here’s the deal: he knows who but not where, and they’re in a race with the Empire after all.

Han asks how he knows the Empire’s involved.

“With Grand Admiral Thrawn in charge over there? He’s involved in everything.”
“Thrawn, huh? Thanks, Ferrier.”
“…no charge.”

So, turns out Ferrier will give information away for free if he’s allowed to keep talking, and he’s loose with names. Keep those things in mind.

z: I didn’t giggle, I outright laughed when I first read that.

will: Anyway, Lando goes back to, what’s the New Republic’s share? Ferrier offers half of the ships outright and a good price on the other half.

Lando, however, isn’t interested, saying “give us the name, and if it checks out, we’ll pay you a good rate, otherwise, shove off.”  That last part’s a direct quotation.

Ferrier says fine, whatever, I’m gone, good luck but if we beat you to it say goodbye to your discount, and leaves. Lando and Han go back onboard, and Lando preps for lift. Han wonders why Lando just walked away from the deal so easily, but Lando says he doesn’t trust Ferrier–the thief gave up too quickly. Han concedes the point, and it looks like a bit of smuggler etiquette, or at least shipowner etiquette: Lando’s ship, Lando’s decisions.

As they take off, Han muses that he figures landing control is sick of him by now, and Lando ribs him about when he’s cared about that. Meantime, though, Lando’s done his airflow analysis again, and found a homing beacon. So that’s what Ferrier was up to! they don’t actually exclaim. But they figure they know the game, and decide to stop on the way to Pantolomin and the Coral Vanda and drop the damn thing off. Han considers putting it on another ship on New Cov, to obscure their vector, but Lando points out that he might get killed in the process “and I’d have to go back and explain it to Leia.” Han’s heart aches, but he agrees, and off they go, while Lando misinterprets Han’s mood completely.

Final perspective shift of the chapter: Ferrier watching the Lady Luck leave, asking “are you sure they won’t find the second beacon?” Oh.

The wraith shimmers into semi-view, rewarding the good-memoried reader. The wraith assures Ferrier there’s no worries, and Ferrier castigates… him? It? We don’t get a gender, and Ferrier (and Lando) saying “it” isn’t helpful. Anyway. Ferrier says that Han almost saw the wraith, but the wraith points out that humans react to movement in shadow, not stillness, but whatever. They prepare to lift, and we’re out.

z: Un-hilariously, Ferrier accuses the wraith of having made a noise that caused Han to turn around, but the readers (and, probably, the wraith) know that it was Ferrier not managing to control his face which tipped Han off.  Ferrier is such an ideal boss, y’all, I  can’t even. {overdoses on sarcasm}

will: This is probably the emotional core of the book, at least as far as Leia and Han missing each other. (The core of Leia’s plotline is in her next chapter, but that Adult Fear I quoted above is the heart.) I like that Zahn gave us Han missing Leia too, at the same time, but Han’s part is mostly just setup. Leia’s is where the meat is.

Z?

z:  I keep circling around to Leia’s reference to Alderaan.  On the one hand, it’s not strictly true that the Empire destroyed Alderaan because of her.  Tarkin was being evil pour décourager les autres; and she can’t have forgotten that he gave the order after she had given up the Rebel base, for all he knew–and he did believe her, after all,  and told her so:  “Dantooine is too remote for an effective demonstration.”

On the other hand, she has lived with terrible, terrible survivor’s guilt since that day.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she has to remind herself, often, of what I wrote in the previous paragraph, and that, just as often, the thought which she stated to the maitrakh resurfaces and takes over.

There are many things which make Our Heroes larger-than-life characters, but that has to be high in the list for Leia, that she’s lived with that.

Well, that went somewhere dark (no, Google Keyboard, I didn’t want “dark”  capitalized), but with  luck next week we’ll  come  across something more light-hearted… like, uh, it seems like betrayals… and plans going horribly wrong… and desperate last-minute chances to look for help… OK you know what nevermind.  But we’ll face the plot as it comes.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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