Dark Force Rising, Chapter 19

z: Good day, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 19 of Dark Force Rising, where trust is misplaced and then not and plans go horribly awry.

will: In the meantime–should I retire this phrase? I feel like I overuse it–as I said last week, starting…well, it’s 9 AM on Friday when this goes up, which means that unless I slept through my alarm and everything, I’m currently on a train to Boston for Arisia. My “Star Wars: It’s Back!” panel will be Sunday at 5:30 in the Marina 2 room. Hope to see you there!

z: Karrde is watching Mara approach to their current base in the Etherway.  He’s a bit uneasy, because she’s three days late, and it took the controllers a long time to assign a landing pit to her, and he’s been wondering if she’s decided to go after Skywalker on her own instead of returning to his group… though she’s transmitted all the all-clear signals and no ships seem to be on her tail.  And, well, he doesn’t really believe she’d steal a ship from him if she ever decided to disappear as suddenly as she had one day appeared.

will: Something to be said for that. Karrde actually has Mara well pegged, and it’s probably like-knows-like. Honor in a very old-school way, your commitments, your debts, your choices. If she left, she wouldn’t take anything.

z: But he’s still uneasy.

will: HP/MP restored! (Fourth Generation of Gaming joke. Skip it.)

z: As the ship lands, Karrde checks his out-of-sight backup.  The ramp descends.  Mara appears, and immediately notices him in the shadow he’s hiding.  She walks towards him, saying that she has needed to take a little detour.  And then, abruptly, Karrde’s comlink squeals and goes silent under blanket jamming, there’s a sonic boom as TIE fighters appear overhead and slag parts of the landing pit, stormtroopers appear from everywhere… Karrde dives, yells “down” at Mara, and starts fighting, or trying to, when Mara disarms him.

will: Z skips one thing, which is that Mara gets a worried look (and sense) just before the attack starts.

Also, this may be the first time we’ve seen Karrde himself in an action-y scene. He has some decent reflexes, owing presumably to a lifetime of being on the run–he pulls his blaster as soon as the jamming kicks in, and he dives OK–but he also lands awkwardly on his arm, misses the stormtrooper he fires on, and so on. Not really an action hero as such. Makes sense, of course. He’s a spider in his web, not a front-liner, unlike Han, who’s the other sort of Guile Hero. Karrde is…well, like I said, a counterpoint to Thrawn. And how many times do you see Thrawn in an action environment?

z: Karrde can’t hear whatever it is she’s saying, his ears still ringing, but he thinks it’s plain what happened–and yet, he isn’t angry at her.  He believes that she has been concealing her Imperial past from him all this time, and has now returned to them, but he’s only sorry that he’s been fooled so completely, and also “strangely” sorry that he’s lost a skilled associate.

I want to work for Karrde.   I want to work for Karrde so much.

will: Don’t we all…

z: The stormtroopers drag him to a drop ship as he thinks that maybe this is why Mara wants so badly to kill Skywalker.

will: More: he sees it as consolation. “At least I know why!” As he is “betrayed and captured and probably facing death.”

Character.

z: The viewpoint shifts to Mara, facing Thrawn in the Chimaera’s shuttle bay, enraged.  She snarls that he had promised her eight days.

Oh, my sweet summer child.

will: It’s a bit incongruous to call Mara an “innocent,” and yet.

z: Thrawn says that hey, Karrde might have refused to tell you about the Katana fleet knowing the information was destined for the Empire, and this way we got what we wanted.  That’s what’s important.  Right?

Mara snaps, and goes to attack Thrawn, as in physically.

Oh, my sweet summer child.

will: And not a bit sour, too!

Note that Mara’s perspective calls Thrawn “the red-eyed freak.” I’m more and more coming around to the belief that at this time, long before the Chiss were ever heard of, Thrawn was meant to be some sort of mixed-species individual (doesn’t he get called “half-human” at some point?). Now, maybe that can be explained by having the Chiss be a divergent-evolutionary species or something, but anyway. The speciesism is somehow appropriate under the circumstances, see also Lando’s occasional bouts of same.

z: Rukh is almost immediately there, and gets her into a chokehold, although she tries to fight back reflexively.  But he doesn’t harm her, just holds her.  She relaxes so as not to lose consciousness, and Thrawn says that that was “very unprofessional, Emperor’s Hand.”

Angrier now, Mara attempts to force-choke Thrawn.

Oh, my…you know what, that doesn’t work any more.

will: Besides, by now she’s mostly bitter…

z: Here, have a Look: *Looks*

Neither does her attempt; her control is weak and Thrawn only feels some discomfort, and it takes him a while to understand what is causing it.  Then he tells her to stop it, or Rukh will have to hurt her.  They have a stand-off–Thrawn still feeling the weak pressure but not really being harmed, Mara waiting for him to signal Rukh or the stormtroopers to finish her off–and eventually, her own breathing difficult, Mara has to give up.

Thrawn, at least not sounding amused anymore, has intended this to be a lesson, and asks Mara if she’s learned the limits of her small powers, was this a trick the Emperor taught her?  Um.  Yeah.  About that.  Mara says he taught her a great many tricks, including how to deal with traitors.  Thrawn says that he rules the Empire now, and the only treason is disobeying him.

…well.  I mean, we knew that, from the title of the first book and all if nothing else, but I think this is the first time he’s put it that baldly, or anyone for that matter.

will: Not the last, though.

z: Also, it’s interesting to note that Mara meant treason, or rather betrayal, against her personally, not against the ruling system.  And that Thrawn completely misunderstood that because of his assumptions.

will: Eh. “Betrayal” could mean against her. She was calling him a traitor. She was claiming that what he did to her was betraying his loyalty to his government–basically, claiming she was the Emperor. I think he did correctly read her.

z: Well, his “I rule the Empire” statement came after her “traitor,” but that’s probably a valid reading too, especially in light of what her thoughts about the difference between the old Empire and the new one will be in a few pages.

Thrawn adds that he wouldn’t waste her, maybe make her first officer in one of the Katana ships, but any more outbursts like that and he’ll give her to Master C’baoth “as a little bonus gift.”  Mara, shivering, asks who C’baoth is.  A mad Jedi Master, Thrawn answers, in as many words.  Well, he’s not wrong.  “Your friend Skywalker” has already gone to him, he adds, and they hope to deliver Leia Organa Solo soon, too.

Mara gets a grip on herself, and says this won’t happen again, whereupon Thrawn tells Rukh to release her and reassures her, upon her question, that as per their agreement, the rest of Karrde’s people are free to go about their business unhassled.    What about Karrde?  Karrde will remain aboard until he tells Thrawn where the Katana fleet is.  If he does this quickly, they’ll even pay him the three million that was agreed on with Mara, but if he doesn’t, well, he might not have much use for money at that point.

Mara asks to talk to him, saying that she might convince him to cooperate.  Thrawn, amused again, remarks that she also wants to reassure him that she hadn’t betrayed him.  Mara asks what the harm would be, since he’ll still be locked up.  Thrawn points out that a sense of complete abandonment will help break Karrde “without harsher treatment.”  Mara gets angry again, but controls it, and Thrawn approves.  She explains that he took her in when she had nowhere else to go.  He says that he understands her feelings–

–He.  Understands.  Her feelings.–

will: You know the funny thing? I actually think he might. Usually I don’t like to go to any of the later materials that “explain” or “elaborate” on Thrawn, because they usually don’t actually do that, but even with a generic view, Thrawn probably feels not all that differently about the Empire. He understands, sure. Doesn’t care, though.

z: –but there is no place for mixed loyalties in the Imperial service.  Which, duh.

(Yeah, he probably does understand but doesn’t care, I was reacting to his actually saying it that way.  It’s a bit amusing.)

Mara says she won’t have missed loyalties either, and Thrawn points her to the deck officer’s location, saying that the officer will assign her a shuttle and pilot to take her back to the surface.  She heads that way, and feels him watch her for a moment longer, then leave himself.

Time to reveal the revelation:

Yes, the Grand Admiral had made his point.  But it wasn’t exactly the one he had intended to make.  With that single casual act of betrayal, he had finally destroyed her last wistful hope that the new Empire might someday measure up to the one that Luke Skywalker had destroyed out from under her.

Hey, thousands of dead Rebel Alliance soldiers and pilots want a word with you, lady.

Fine, that last point is still her single-minded obsession showing up, but it’s interesting to note that her thinking, interpretations and decisions are still almost one-dimensional in other aspects as well.  Thrawn promised to give her eight days.  Thrawn didn’t, and secretly put a homing beacon on her ship.  Thrawn betrayed her, therefore he is not worthy of her… trust, admiration, service, take your pick.  And neither is the new Empire.  It wouldn’t measure up to the old one, and it’s safe to assume that Mara means its trustability, admirability, and glory which would make one proud to serve it.

OK, no, really, thousands of dead everyone want a word with you, lady.

But of course the real effect on the reader, or at least on this reader, is pity.  She really did not and does not know any better; in its own way how the Emperor manipulated and used her is one of the more horrible things he’s done, and the list is long.

will: Agreed. You left off the last part of Mara’s thought process: “the Empire she’d once been proud to serve was gone. Forever.”

I’ve said before that we’ll later (such as in the X-Wing books) see a lot more of the Lawful side of the Lawful Evil that was the Empire: the captains and officers who serve in defense of their homeworlds, stopping pirates and criminals. One of the things we will later see Mara do is investigate corrupt (for values of “corrupt” equal to anything from “building up to splinter away and declare a local fief” to “colluding with the Rebels,” one of which is less accurate) Imperial officers and politicians, after all. Even Thrawn himself is more Lawful compared to C’baoth.

Maybe Pellaeon is the better Lawful example, with Thrawn (especially here) at an even mix.

So, yeah, there could be honor in serving the Empire. It gets complicated when you see just how much that honor was being itself corrupted by the Emperor, of course. But Mara, who would have been exposed mostly to the Lawful side, and would have been yearning for it, finally gets the snap she needs.

z: Now it’s a mess; it could break everything she’s worked very hard to build over the course of the past year, and cost Karrde his life.  And the mess is her fault, she thinks, and it’s up to her to fix it.

will: I keep going back to the Heinlein line, “when the ship lifts, all bills are paid.” But this is the inverse of that–Mara knows she has a debt that isn’t paid off just because she left.

I know which side I’m going with.

z: She slips past the deck officer’s office and into the prep area.  There’s an accessible computer terminal there.  It would be secured of course ha ha ha just kidding of course  the Emperor had a personal secret backdoor built in, and of course he gave her the entry code for that.

It’s a testament to the tightness of the story structure woven here that this doesn’t strike me as just too pat, isn’t it convenient that she knows the code to access the central computer of every Star Destroyer, or anything like that.  We’ve been told that the Emperor personally controlled his officers during battle, and we know that he was a control freak in many other ways.  Of course he didn’t trust his armed forces completely.  Of course he had secret backdoors built into their autonomous computer systems, and probably had the coders killed afterwards.  Of course he gave the entry codes to his shadow agent, one of whose purposes is to go handle anyone who’s getting a bit too arrogant, as the Emperor defines it.

will: By contrast to the recognition code thing from before, this makes a lot of sense, as Z said. The only people who would have access to that would be the Emperor “and his top agents,” and yeah, he probably made sure no one else living knew the details and it was buried in the code (and the hardware), so it wasn’t something the Rebels could take advantage of. It also suggests that maybe the recognition code from Mara’s previous interaction was similarly hardcoded–the computer heard the four words and threw a message saying “This is an authentication code!”

I do wonder, though, if, after the trilogy was over, Mara didn’t tell the New Republic about the backdoor. Seems like having a code that would let any agent shut down any Star Destroyer’s central computer would be a rather amazing advantage. On the other hand, once Thrawn learned of it, he probably immediately set Imperial IT to root it out. Might have been useful for other splinter groups, but the central, surviving Empire closed that loophole toot suite.

z: She digs in, and amusingly, briefly wishes she had an R2 droid “like Skywalker’s” to help sort it out.

will: One assumes she’s remembering Artoo and the Myrkr trek (which was very recent, as the characters reckon time).

z: Without being noticed, she manages to get a schematic for the detention block and the prisoner list.  Then she pulls a duty roster and notes shift changes; and finds out the Chimaera’s projected course over the next six days (“the softening-up period,” as Thrawn called it, before they start seriously interrogating Karrde).

She’s sweating now, and thinks to herself that this is the really painful part.  She can’t rescue Karrde alone, so she has to go get help.

will: And she knows Karrde’s group saw her role in his capture, so they’re out.

z: So who do you think she’d ask?

Well, one imagines that if one were to put up a “Wanted: Person Qualified to Break Valuable Prisoner out of the Flagship of the Grand Admiral and de facto Emperor” ad in a galaxy-wide job search site, one wouldn’t get many qualified applicants, and if one also adds “Required: Past Experience in the Same,” the list gets much shorter really quickly.  Add “Force Powers a Bonus,” as well, and we’re down to one.

will: Throw in “owes Talon Karrde and might be willing to hear her out instead of laughing her out of the star system,” don’t forget. Actually that’s the part Mara thinks of first. Ability to do the job is secondary, if at all (I guess she figures being master of the computers will make the job itself trivial), to willingness.

See again, updating a ‘70s understanding of technology to the ‘90s. Own the computer, own the ship.

z: She looks for the location of Joruus C’baoth.  She’s been told that Skywalker is there.

She keys off quickly, because she’s been without supervision for long enough already, and she isn’t even supposed to be able to access this terminal.  She has just turned away from the terminal when the deck officer shows up, with stormtroopers in tow.  She pretends that she got lost.  The deck officer checks the terminal and finds it locked, and starts to arrange transport for her down to the surface.

We rejoin her as the shuttle leaves her in the same slagged landing bay the Etherway is still in.  It looks like she is alone, but she knows she isn’t.  She calls for Aves.

He calls from somewhere behind her and orders a hands-up.

will: With cheese.

z: Wh–

Here, have another Look.  *Looks*

will: You know what they call a hands-up with cheese on Alderaan?

z: They don’t call it anything, there’s no Alderaan.

Mara says she’s here to ask for help, Aves snaps that maybe she should go ask her new friends “upstairs,” or maybe they were her old friends?  Mara reads this as trying to provoke her into a fight so that Aves can vent his own frustration, and says that she didn’t betray Karrde–she was picked up by the Imperials, thought she had got away clean and bought some time, but apparently she hadn’t.  It was a mistake, not a betrayal.

Which is technically completely true.

will: Well, she says she “blew them a smoke ring,” which isn’t quite true, but yeah, basically.

z: Mara hears Aves approach, and he frisks her for weapons.  When she turns around, his blaster is pointed at her stomach.  She points out that she wouldn’t have come back if she had betrayed Karrde; he says that maybe she wanted something from the Etherway or came to help pick the rest of them up?  Mara tosses the dice: If Aves really believes that, he might as well shoot her right then, because she can’t get Karrde out without help.

will: It’s a pretty classic moment: “either trust me, or just shoot me now.” Mara pretty much knows it, too, the way she braces herself.

z: Aves lowers his blaster, mumbling that the others won’t help; they either believe Mara has been manipulating Karrde all along or that she’s a habitual turncoat.  So apparently he did have his doubts.  Good for him.  Mara, interestingly, says that she was once a habitual turncoat, but not any more.

will: One assumes this refers to the five years she spent just surviving, especially when the Force power cycle returned…

z: Aves reasonably asks how she can prove that, and she gives the obvious answer: She’ll try to get Karrde out.    Aves, muttering about scribing his own death mark, asks what she wants.  Not much, it turns out: A small, fast ship, such as a Skipray blastboat, and one of those ysalamiri on a portable nutrient frame that they had aboard the Wild Karrde.  Aves is puzzled about why a ysalamir, which means that he hasn’t mentally written the job description me and Will came up with above.  Mara explains that she’s going to talk to a Jedi and needs to guarantee that he’ll listen.  Aves stares for a moment, then says he doesn’t want to know.  I laugh.

will: Aves keeps popping up as an “average” senior member of Karrde’s operation, in this and other books–much like Tschel, I suppose, he’s an example of someone who knows what his role is and runs with it and does it well.

z: When she says she doesn’t need anything else he’s startled, but doesn’t argue.  They make arrangements to meet at a swamp outside the city and exchange the Etherway for the Skipray she asked for.

Finally, Mara warns him that the Etherway is probably bugged, and it’s likely that Thrawn has someone tailing her, too.  Aves simply says that since they are going to be disappearing anyway, he might as well help her get rid of the tail before she goes offplanet.  Practical and to the point, that one.

will: Like I said.

z: Also sentimental, in just the right way:

Aves hesitated. “I still don’t know whose side you’re on, Mara.  If you’re on ours… good luck.”

She nodded, feeling a hard lump settle into her throat. “Thanks.”

will: This may have been the first time in a long time anyone has said things like this to Mara. The first time in a long time she’s had a side at all.

z: Two hours and one section break later, during the wordless span of which presumably ships were exchanged, a ysalamir was received, and one tail gotten rid of, Mara blasts away in a Skipray in pursuit of Luke Skywalker.  Which gives her the same déjà vu sense it should be giving the reader.

Only this time, she wasn’t trying to kill or capture him. This time, she was going to plead for his help.

Not ask, mind. Plead.  She still carries around the Skywalker as the Monster under the Bed image, to some degree.  It might be argued that Luke owes Karrde; it might be argued that it’s so very much not in the New Republic’s interests that Karrde undergoes an Imperial interrogation given what he knows about the Katana fleet; one might reasonably assume either of those would make Luke at least consider helping her even without knowing Luke Skywalker at all.   Mara does not assume this.  She assumes she’ll be begging him.

Either that, or in her mind bending just far enough to ask for his help counts as pleading.  Which isn’t really a healthier place for her to be, considering.

Mara Jade: Currently playing hostess to an entire plague of troubles.

Will?

will: Dam, tsfardeah…wait, nevermind. (Do shout out if you get this one, huh?)

z: Unfortunately, no, even after I tried to sound it out.  Emphasis on “tried.”

will: You, I’ll tell separately–commenters?

There’s a lot to be said for Mara’s twisted images here. I admire her resolve–she runs the logic a dozen times, but they all point to the same horrible (for her) place, so she isn’t hesitating now. But yeah, her idea of what it’s going to take to get a capital-H Hero to be, you know, Heroic, points out how little she understands Luke. And besides, Luke doesn’t Refuse the Call anymore.

(Force, Hero’s Journey, what’s the difference, really?)

z: “May the Hero’s Journey be with you” doesn’t have the same ring?

will: Point taken.

Anyway. Leia’s emotional heart was last chapter, this is Mara’s: when she finally, for good and all, picks a side, stands with someone or something for more than temporary expediency or until a better offer comes along. One imagines that, though she doesn’t say it, she remembers that Karrde was almost the only person who always played fair with her since the Emperor died.

If you’re going to pick someone or something to be loyal to, being loyal to the ones who care that you are, and appreciate it, seems a good way to go about it.

And so maybe it’s appropriate that she’s going to find one of the very few other people who always played fair with her, helped her when there was no reason to, and for that matter saved her life multiple times.

But that’s about all from me. If you’re in the Boston area, hope to see you at Arisia, and in the meantime, may the Her Force be with you.

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3 thoughts on “Dark Force Rising, Chapter 19

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