Dark Force Rising, Chapter 22

z: Welcome, gentlebeings, to Chapter 22 of Dark Force Rising, in which a rescue gets underway.

By the way, I feel like I should point something out: I’m writing this sitting on the couch that i usually sit on when I’m doing computer work at home, but the couch isn’t in the 9 ft by 9 ft second bedroom/office/music room of my old apartment.  It’s in the 10×20 extension, which was originally intended as a sun room, remade into a family room, and now is being repurposed into a music room/art studio/office for and by yours truly.  Hey, I can do whatever I want to it, it’s my house 😁.

will: All congratulations to Z, homeowner.

z: (Moved in last Saturday, which was the reason why I was missing brain cells all over the place in last week’s review. Also I feel like I should point out that whenever one of the amazing people helping me on Saturday said something to the effect of what Will called me up there, I broke into uncontrollable laughter–my nerves were a bit frayed, go figure –and so here I should insert another 😄.)

will: Nothing special here for me, though if you’re going to be at Capricon next weekend, well, so am I.

z: We rejoin Luke and Mara in a supply shuttle instead of the Skipray we’d last seen them in, just landing into the Chimaera‘s aft hangar bay.  Speaking as a bored cargo pilot, Mara learns from traffic control that the unloading, during which shuttle crew are quarantined in inside their ships, will take several hours.  Which is good for them.

will: A bored newbie shuttle pilot, no less, to excuse a newbie question.

z: Mara isn’t worried that they might have transferred Karrde off the ship, but is worried that they may have started the full interrogation.  As they have that discussion, they head into the storage area of the ship, and Luke says starts cutting a hole in the ship’s floor, just like that.  Well, apparently they are not going to be relying on the same shuttle as the getaway vehicle.  Reaching through the Force and making sure that there is no one in the corridor below them, Luke cuts through the hangar floor as well.  They use a winch to pull the ground pieces up, and Luke triggers it with the Force as they slip into the corridor below to replace the plug in the ceiling.

The first order of business is to look like they belong.  Mara leads the way to some pilot ready rooms for that purpose. On the way, Luke requests that they not dress up as stormtroopers, as “Those helmets are hard to see through.” I laugh.

will: He’d know, too. Mara snarks about Jedi not needing eyes, which is true-ish, but seems like much more of a drain on Luke than just, you know, seeing.

z: The mood turns sober, however, when they get to the ready rooms and find out that all are multiply occupied, going by the sounds of conversation.  Mara is bracing herself for a shootout, which Luke objects to practically (even in the room occupied by the fewest people, she can’t take all of them out quietly) and philosophically (don’t want to kill people just because they happen to be there).  Instead, after thinking about it and deciding that this is nowhere near as Dark-Side-ish as messing with TIE Fighter pilots’ perceptions during an active fight, he walks into a room with only three people inside, suppresses their curiosity about him so they pay him almost no attention, grabs three pilot suits and walks out, not easing his mental hold until they forget about him. He agrees with Mara that the trick worked – “this time, anyway.”

will: Of course, as many, many social engineers have proven, you can probably get just as far with a brisk walk and a “don’t bother me” face. But the ability to project “nothing to see here, nope” probably helps.

z: *handwave* This isn’t the sneaking Jedi you’re looking for.

They get into a turbolift, which Mara keys to go nonstop, and Luke changes into the flight suit.  Mara’s still uncertain about whatever it is Luke wants to do, but Luke tells her that the frontal approach didn’t work well for Han and himself back when.

will: Mara also suggests using the computer and faking a transfer order, but Luke points out that this would leave behind witnesses and a trail, which they would really rather not have.

z: Zahn places the detention center at a precise location in the ISD, which I like, because ever since I’ve been a wee lass the precise layout of the Death Star, or rather lack thereof, had bothered me.  Far aft section, few decks below command and systems control, just above Engineering and the huge sublight drive control nozzles.  I guess this could be another West End Games touch, but it wasn’t brought up here just as spaceship geekery: The turbolift takes a very up down right left route, which makes Luke wonder if Mara hadn’t programmed an extra-complicated route as a starter for a double-cross.  But he doesn’t sense treachery from her.  Maybe she’s just trying to throw security systems off the scent.

will: Makes sense, though it would be better if they had in fact stopped to pick up passengers and gotten lost in the shuffle.

z: They finally step off, and Mara sends Luke to an access door, saying he’s got three minutes for… something.  Luke goes into a–wait for it–garbage compactor.  Almost as soon as he gets in, inwardly complaining about the smell, the walls start moving in; from his thought that he must have cut it close, we deduce that this was what Mara gave him three minutes for, to get in before she started the compression cycle.

will: As he walks, he reflects on how he’s doing exactly the same thing he did when he was a wide-eyed kid, and does that make him more or less reckless now that he’s theoretically wiser?

z: It’s awkward, holding his balance among the crushing, tangling refuse.  Apparently he’s come up with this idea and had to work really hard to convince Mara, but now he can’t help but think that all Mara has to do is to be a little late in stopping the walls, “giving in just a few seconds to her hatred of him.”

will: Or be interrupted or not have sufficiently tight control, mind.

z: We don’t get to see this from Mara’s point-of-view, but I bet those thoughts crossed her mind, too.

But the walls stop, just under a meter apart.  With a stunt that would have looked amazing on screen, Luke jumps right up for half of the way, manages to wedge himself between the walls without falling back down, and rock-chimneys all the way up to the maintenance chute, and from the e up to the detention level, to a grate.

will: First time I read this I didn’t know that “rock chimney” is actually a term for a fissure in a cliff; I envisioned Luke Claus. Zahn must have done some rock climbing at some point.

z: OK, “Luke Claus” accounted for another bout of uncontrollable laughter.

From the sounds it’s clear that Mara has read duty rosters and calculated correctly, and almost right now is when there’s a shift change and all the guards are in the control room.  Lightsaber/cut through grating/read cell numbers, and here he is again, keying a detection cell door open.

He doesn’t have to say that he’s Luke Skywalker, there to rescue Karrde, though, because although the first thing Karrde gives him is also a sardonic smile, he next moment he recognizes Luke and says he doesn’t believe it.  To be frank neither can Luke.  They waste no time in chitchat, though, but head back the way Luke came.

will: Specifically, Karrde says they’ve been in the softening-him-up phase, lack of food and sleep and all that.

You know, this part has a very different sensibility in these post-Guantanamo Bay days, doesn’t it?

Anyway, Karrde also expresses dismay at the exit route, but better the garbage than the guards. Karrde claims not to be afraid of heights, but of falling; but whatever he’s afraid of, it’s giving him a white-knuckled grip of terror. Still, better this than the Empire’s tender mercies.

z: Karrde doesn’t like rock-chimneying but manages; and when they’re down and waiting for the compactor to open back up they talk a bit.  Luke tells Karrde that he’s there with Mara.  Karrde doesn’t seem or feel angry with Mara.  Luke tells Karrde that Mara wasn’t in on Karrde’s capture, and finds out that Karrde didn’t need telling–his captors have been trying too hard to convince him otherwise.  Karrde asks if she told Luke why the Imperials took him in the first place.  Luke says not, wasn’t it for revenge, since Karrde let Luke go?  …nope.

will: Also, he asks why Luke’s helping, which Luke says was a “balancing the scales from Myrkr” thing.

“Let’s just say that if we make it away from here the New Republic stands to gain a great deal.”

z: Well, someone is getting some nice shiny ships for being good. See, kids?  If you stay on the Light Side, eat your vegetables and climb up garbage compactors to rescue friends of friends, you can also get your very own Dreadnought!

Karrde also notes that from all the control Mara seems to have of the ship systems here, she must have been highly placed in her position with the Empire… Luke says that yes, she was, but doesn’t elaborate.  Mara’s secrets, her choice.

will: Luke then explains that they just wait for Mara to open a door, because she has an access code, and Karrde muses that he didn’t realize how important Mara had been in the Empire. Luke, knowing better than to reveal someone else’s secrets, just drops it.

As they get out, they do have to play the “act like you belong and no one will notice” card, with two maintenance workers who notice them but don’t look worried. Luke pulls out a datapad and pretends to be writing a report, while Karrde “spouts a stream of helpful jargon.”

z: They get back to the turbolift.  Mara gives Karrde the remaining flight suit.  Luke reassures her that Karrde knows it wasn’t her betrayal.

will: And Mara tries to act like she doesn’t care, but Luke can tell she’s relieved.

z: They get into the lift to find it with two maintenance men inside, but they’re fine with that; they head back, Luke believing that they’ve done it.

Shift to the Chimaera‘s bridge and Pellaeon, who’s overseeing some maintenance.  A report comes that the cargo unloading is eight minutes ahead of schedule.  Happy about that, Pellaeon files it, but as he goes back to the maintenance thing, Thrawn appears.  Apparently it’s ship’s nighttime, because Pellaeon thought Thrawn had gone to bed, but apparently not.  He’s been in the command center presumably studying art, and wanted to check the ship status before going to bed.  Pellaeon says maintenance is going well and, oh, they are ahead of unloading schedule too.   The patrol left behind on Endor caught some smuggler who seemed to be there to grab things from the old Imperial base.  Thrawn isn’t fully convinced, but commands that the Millennium Falcon be moved into deep storage,”until they can find some use for it.”

will: Chekhov’s ship.

Not to be confused with Chekov’s ship, which is the Enterprise, NCC-1701, no bloody A, B, C, or D.

z: .  .  .  …

…moving on. Oh, and one more thing, Pellaeon says.  A Skipray blastboat crashed on the boundary of the supply depot on the planet. No bodies, so occupant(s) probably walked away.  One weird thing:  There was a ysalamiri on board, on a nutrient frame not of Imperial design.

Seriously, Pellaeon? You didn’t think of mentioning this until now?

will: Agreed. I’d almost have preferred it be “oh, and a report just came in, I haven’t read it yet–huh, this is weird” than “I read it, and I didn’t think it mattered.”

z: Thrawn looks at the accident pictures, and orders an intruder alarm sounded (as I uneasily begin to wonder what did happen to the original crew of the supply shuttle Luke and Mara used). He also orders Karrde to be moved from his cell, and then, he tells Pellaeon, shut down the Chimaera’s main computer.

will: As time marches on, the sheer bizarre nature of that order gets better and better. Even with the distributed nature of the Star Wars universe regarding technology, it’s shocking, but now–imagine giving that order on, say, a modern aircraft carrier.

z: Pellaeon is staggered, as that last is only done when the ship is in deep maintenance in dock, but Thrawn explains that it’ll be worse for Mara Jade, their intruder, than it will be for them. Pellaeon can’t believe that Mara’s access codes would still be current, but Thrawn corrects him: Of course there’d be back doors for the Emperor and his agents.

will: Which, yeah. Pretty much.

z: The prisoner block reports via comlink that Karrde has vamoosed.

will: Via a nearby stormtrooper’s comlink, that is. As comlinks are more like walkie-talkies (though within the giant Faraday cage that is a Star Destroyer, I imagine they have ways better than simple EM waves) than anything else, this makes sense. The central intercom system would be offline, after all.

z: Well, Thrawn says.  Find him, but I want him alive.  Not necessarily undamaged, but alive.  “As to his would-be rescuers, I want them also alive if possible. If not–I’ll understand.”

Someone touched a nerve, huh?

will: Well, Karrde is valuable. Mara, he’d kill out of hand if he could, for the betrayal. (And he doesn’t know who else is there, not yet anyway.) And really, that’s more reasonable than “I want everybody alive, stun only!” as you usually get.

z: One thing about this last section bothers me, and it’s how Pellaeon is playing a dunce to make Thrawn into Sherlock once more.  I wouldn’t think that was necessary.

Will?

will: Agreed–it’s the Watson problem all over again. Beyond that, I liked the many callbacks to the Death Star rescue mission, especially in terms of Luke’s older, and allegedly wiser, status. And we continue to see how Luke and Mara make a good team; she has more direct experience of being sneaky, but has a tendency to take direct routes that leave trails, he can moderate her impulses and has different approaches. We’ll see that dynamic a lot in their interactions; in many ways Mara is the point person while Luke is support, which I like.

That’s all from us this week–it was a short chapter, and less of an emotional ride than last time. Next up, the rest of the rescue, and Luke gets a few system shocks.

Until then, may the Force be with you.

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