: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 26 of Dark Force Rising, in which arrrrgh.
: Before we dive too deeply into the arrrrgh, a brief report: Z’s housewarming was lots of fun.
: We cold-open in the middle of an emergency meeting of the New Republic Council that has been called to hear Karrde out about the Katana Fleet. To be more precise, we cold-open in the middle of Fey’lya not-so-obliquely blaming Karrde of lying, Han of mistaking the ships he saw as those from the Dark Force, and Luke of being gullible arrrrrgh he’s a Jedi he can sense plain deceit you jackass!!!
We’re only one page in, and this isn’t going to get any better, you’ve been warned.
For some reason, Leia (whose point-of-view we have) notices, Fey’lya doesn’t quite meet Han’s eyes, though. Huh.
Luke says what I’m thinking, unsurprisingly, in politer terms:
“I don’t believe this. The Katana fleet’s been found, the Empire’s going after it, and we’re sitting here arguing about it?”
: Remember what I said last book about military SF and its preference for authoritarian chains of command? This might be the most frustrating part of it. This stops even being reasonable–it’s pure kneejerk reaction.
: …in answer to which Fey’lya says maybe he believes too easily, and maybe Karrde was right in thinking Captain Hoffner didn’t have the coordinates (as was his initial assumption, which he–Karrde–is perfectly fine about correcting given recent facts). Maybe Captain Solo was deceived by this “contact” of his into thinking there was someone on Coral Vanda who had the fleet’s coordinates, and the Empire sure acted as if that was true, because the contact was working with the Empire, hint hint nudge nudge?
…at this point I believe Fey’lya’s being a jackass of the “I didn’t think about it so it’s wrong” variety for no good reason, because he still won’t meet Han’s eyes, because Han’s seen his aide with the Bel Iblis group. Not that the name is going to come up there. But Leia senses Han go through some “swirl of emotion” before he flatly says nope, his contact isn’t working for the Empire.
: I’m not sure if Breil’lya even comes up anymore; I almost feel like Fey’lya doesn’t realize who Han’s contact is. (Though he does, as demonstrated below.) Han’s keeping the Bel Iblis information very close to the chest–almost frustratingly so, because if he blew that up maybe they could really topple Fey’lya’s house of cards.
Or throw the whole system into complete and total disaster. So I can see why he’d play it safe.
But still, it goes back to “this is being made more complicated than it needs to be for the sake of saying that politics are bad.”
: Fey’lya asks for proof of that. I ask for Chewie to crash the meeting and break the conference table into kindling on Fey’lya’s head. Karrde intervenes and asks if this is all an illusion, fine, what would the Grand Admiral get out of it?
Fey’lya shows irritation because, apparently, earlier on Leia and Karrde’s experiences together conclusively proved Thrawn a Grand Admiral (which he was also “doubtful” about, if you’ll recall). Hah. He says that if we pull enough personnel to reactivate and transport two hundred Dreadnoughts, we’ll be leaving many systems undefended, that’s a gain for Thrawn, right? Karrde points out, coldly, that two hundred Dreadnaughts themselves would be just a bit of a gain, too. Fey’lya says that he doesn’t believe the Dreadnaughts would be a loss for the New Republic because he doesn’t believe there are any Dreadnaughts, and apparently Han has the same thought I had earlier re: Chewie and the conference table, because Leia puts “a warning hand on Han’s arm.” She says that, uh, what about checking with a single ship and a few technicians first before committing to an all-out salvage effort? You know, intermediate stages? They exist?
Karrde seems to think that would still be moving too slowly, which, can you blame him, but he responds by saying that that would be reasonable enough, he supposes. I laugh. Irately. Leia asks Mon Mothma, who agrees and assigns Fey’lya to talk to Admiral Drayson, whoever he is, and tell him to send out an Escort Frigate and two X-Wing squadrons for that purpose. Which, seriously, why him and not, say, the first person in line in the coffee shop downstairs or something?
: Because Ackbar’s still under suspicion of treason, and Fey’lya has picked up the internal security duties. Chain of command issues.
: Oh, and make it a ship that’s already here, we don’t want word of this to leak beyond Coruscant.
Fey’lya then asks if tomorrow morning would be soon enough; I am utterly astounded that Mon Mothma thinks that OK and no one asks what more pressing matter Fey’lya has to deal with right then. Such as, for instance, communicating with someone else, maybe? Mon Mothma instead asks Karrde for the coordinates, who apparently has noticed, because he says of course, I’ll give them to you–tomorrow morning. I laugh. Fey’lya tries to intimidate him. Karrde interrupts and point-blank says that either tomorrow morning or I leave Coruscant and sell them to the highest bidder, your choice. I laugh again. Fey’lya gives in, and Karrde takes his leave to “rest awhile” in his quarters before dinner. But he glances at Leia with a sudden change in his “face or sense,” which, nice touch, and rises with no expression after Leia acknowledges with a microscopic nod.
Meeting adjourned, Leia immediately tries to draw Han away from there, remarking that Karrde seems to want to talk. Han seems preoccupied, though, and tells her to go by herself. Following his quick glance over her shoulder, Leia sees Fey’lya leaving. Han says it’s all right, he’s just going to talk to Fey’lya, about “personal stuff,” “Trust me.” Leia’s heard that before, but Mon Mothma send to be preparing to detain her there for something or other and she’s in a rush, so she just tells him to be diplomatic, all right? I laugh. Han says “Trust me,” again, still looking after Fey’lya. I laugh again.
Scene shift, but not far–now we’re with Han, rushing out into the main corridor to the council chamber after Fey’lya. He calls out after the Bothan, calling him “Councilor” and everything. Fey’lya tries the old “sorry can’t hear you” dodge:
The only response was a brief flush of pale red across the nearest of the line of ch’hala trees.
Never mind us, we often describe the effect of characters’ actions on nearby flora. There was the poetic way Leia described the decon droids cutting furrows through the kholm grass, and how the leaves on Chewie’s sentient houseplant rattled when he was irritated in the cockpit…
: I am Choot!
: …what do you mean there wasn’t.
(Yes, I’m having fun with this.)
: It must be said, that’s a good way to keep the “these trees make pretty colors” thing going in the back of your mind.
: Han’s having none of tired old dodges though, and he simply catches up. What follows is half yay-Han half arrrrgh for me. Han starts by saying he wants to help Fey’lya out of the trouble he is in (dude why, let him sink –though I know why, of course).
: Yeah, if Fey’lya brings down the entire New Republic, well.
Also, amusingly, Fey’lya’s response to that is to say “I thought your female was the diplomat,” and Han gets to joke that they take turns.
Which actually isn’t quite a joke, when you think about it.
At any rate, now we get Han’s cutting the Bothan Knot of what Fey’lya is up to.
: Fey’lya’s stuck his neck out insisting Ackbar is guilty because he saw this as an opportunity, but there still is no proof and no other support and now he can’t back out. When Fey’lya tries to clutch pearls with a why-I-never maybe-I-believe-he’s-really-guilty, did that never occur to you Captain Solo, Han’s response is pretty epic for just three words: “Not really, no.” Heh.
: More to the point, reinforcing the xenopsych analysis from earlier, Fey’lya figured everybody else would react the same way to Ackbar. And when they didn’t, he was forced to double down, because, you know, he made public statements that Ackbar is a traitor, and now he can’t take those back, and if Ackbar isn’t a traitor, Fey’lya is wrong, and this has been so central to Fey’lya’s last few months that if it turns out he doesn’t have proof and he’s even wrong about the whole thing, everybody will ask why Fey’lya was basically all but ready to topple the government over a vague unproven suspicion.
Thus proving one way that GFFA politics are sensible: if you use a certain argument as the foundation of your politicking, you can’t suddenly say you didn’t ever say that, and if you are wrong about that, people will ask why that was foundational to your politicking and whether you can be trusted now.
Ahem. 2016 will be a long year, folks.
: Ain’t that the truth. Unfortunately.
Han also says, demonstrating that Fey’lya is trying to play a player, if you had proof you’d have shown it. Instead you send your aide out to try to make some big deal with Senator Bel Iblis to salvage your prestige. Fey’lya actually says “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” in as many words, and Han likewise actually responds “Right.”. But now Fey’lya’s sniffed the Katana fleet, which would bring in more prestige, so he’s ready to randomly accuse Bel Iblis of working with the Imperials.
: Right. Basically, at no time does Fey’lya look at this through any other lens apart from “what will bring me the most short-term prestige?” Toppling Ackbar would have worked, but nope. Bel Iblis would have worked, but the Katana fleet is even better.
: Fey’lya says, paraphrased, “I know what you’re up to, you want to bring the Katana fleet in yourself and push me off and pull Ackbar back on”–or, paraphrased more succinctly, “no u.” No, really.
Han tries to explain, in baby words no less, that Leia and the others around them aren’t playing politics with Bothan rules or in fact with any rules; Ackbar’s punishment or reinstatement depends on whether he’s actually guilty or not and not on his transient strength or weakness, and also dude if the Imperials get the Fleet you’ll fall but that won’t matter because then it’s game over for the New Republic what is wrong with you.
: No, they’re definitely playing politics with rules. And Rule Number One is don’t stab your own side in the back when you’re lining up for a war.
Beyond that…there’s a rather famous Superman comic book story (“The Secret Revealed,” Superman Vol. 2 #2, February 1987) in which Lex Luthor (in his 80s-and-forward-businessman incarnation, not the mad scientist that came before) is told point blank that Superman is Clark Kent. His response is to 100% refuse to believe it, because:
“I know that no man with the power of Superman would ever pretend to be a mere human! Such power is to be constantly exploited. Such power is to be used!…I have no place in my organization for people who can’t see the obvious!”
This is Fey’lya’s trap: you literally cannot comprehend that people think differently than you can.
: And Fey’lya says he won’t fall because he’s got supporters among the New Republic military, and that would be the point where I’d have citizen-arrested him on a charge of conspiracy for a military coup right there because are you kidding me. Then he departs to talk to Admiral Drayson. I guess, if he won’t get the coordinates until the morning, there’s no point in waiting to make the arrangements, because he can’t for instance send anyone ahead of Drayson (or maybe he wouldn’t need to.)
Han walks away actually feeling dejected from a failure instead of fuming so much that he sets the ch’hala trees on fire. See, Leia, he was honestly trying to be diplomatic.
Scene shift, and major mood shift as well–now we’re with Mara, in her guest quarters, for whom the Imperial Palace is very, very far from being just a place:
After five years, she was back in the Imperial Palace… The place where her life has effectively begun.
The place where she’d been when it ended.
She remembers a deluge of Imperial faces, but above all the face of the Emperor, telling her again, looking at her with anger and disapproval: YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER.
Compulsion plant alert ahoy.
: I’m not sure we ever get quite a solid answer how much of “YOU WILL KILL” etc. is guilt, memory, literal Force compulsion (as we’ll find out early in The Last Command), or what. Not that it matters.
: She actually miserably thinks “I’m trying,” but even she’s doubting if she is, really, what with helping him out on Myrkr and actually seeking his help to get Karrde out. But now Karrde is safe and so is she and there’s no way Luke is useful to her or any of Karrde’s people, so she has, she notes, “no excuses left.”
I will pause here to point out that bit of thought again: She’d view Luke being useful to someone in Karrde’s organization a good enough excuse not to kill him yet. Partly, yup, casting about for excuses, but partly, and she doesn’t even realize this, her sense of loyalty has transferred almost completely to Karrde and his team.
Karrde comes back to his room, next to hers, and calls her through the door between the rooms. And she’s actually happy she can stop thinking about that for now. Do I ever know the feeling.
: Don’t we all.
: She sees Karrde is by the computer terminal and the look on his face means that something is seriously wrong. To her query, Karrde answers that “the Bothan on the Council” resisted their offer and delayed the retrieval mission for a fact-finding mission first, may be a double-cross though Karrde “can’t see the point of it” (Heh, talk to Han sometime), so it’s probably internal politics–
: So Karrde can see the point of the delay, it just isn’t a double-cross.
: –Ackbar, blah blah don’t care, here’s a data card with the Katana Fleet’s coordinates go get Aves and everything we have that can fire a laser bolt from some system and meet me at the fleet with a quickness please kthxbye.
Look, I’m having a collision in the remarks queue. Again.
- Karrde just handed Mara the coordinates of the Katana Fleet. Just like that. An entire Galaxy searched for sixty years and right now two governments would pay through their noses and he just gave it to her because he needs to and trusts her. That much. (This is, in fact, Mara’s own first stunned reaction.)
- Karrde knows about how Fey’lya’s been making a list push for Ackbar, and probably in detail although he doesn’t care why so doesn’t expound on it, because of course he does.
: Everybody knows Fey’lya has been making a push for Ackbar’s position, the only question is whether they think it’s because he’s an honest politician or a Bothan-politicking sleazeball.
- Karrde’s going to try to grab the Fleet quickly, but presumably, lacking a Republic-size military, not try to hold on to it; since it’s known he won’t give it to the Empire, this is him casting even more solidly for the New Republic–he’s doing their work for them because the Bothan has shackled them. Well. So what’s going to happen to that “as long as Skywalker is useful to Karrde” situation?
Mara warns that Aves may not trust her, but Karrde says the Imperials would have reinstated the manhunt so Aves would know he escaped, and, um, those coordinates are very much sort of a strong vote of confidence. Oh, also, send Ghent over here instead of to the Fleet?
(Reminder: Ghent is the teenager wonder-hacker with a hero worship thing for Han.)
When Mara asks why, Karrde says that he’d like Ghent to take a look at that suspicious lump in Ackbar’s bank account and maybe trace where it really came from. Mara protests that she thought they were not going to get any more involved with the New Republic, but Karrde’s actually being pragmatic: “I don’t want to leave an ambitious Bothan at my back when we leave.”
: Which even Mara has to admit.
: Leia arrives (Mara initially calls her “Skywalker’s sister” in her thoughts, then shifts to “Organa Solo”) and verifies that Karrde wanted to see her, cf. that momentary glance in the Council chamber. Karrde introduces Mara and says she’s going on an errand for him, can she have a fast, long-range ship? Leia asks if a reconnaissance Y-wing would do and Mara accepts, and unless the West End Games source materials say that the recon model Y-wing is very different from the base bomber model, I’m going to pretend that’s a typo for A-wing because Y-wings handle like beached whales. (Nintendo 64. Rogue Squadron. I got decent.)
: “Fast” usually reads, I guess, as “hyperspace,” whereas an A-wing is “maneuverable” or “nimble.” He wants something Mara can use to get places fast, not dodge things when she gets there. And any reconnaissance craft would be that.
Though yes, that could have used some clarification.
: Karrde also requests Leia to get a tech team info space tonight ahead of Fey’lya’s team.
: When Leia reminds Karrde that an official team is going, he simply reiterates he wants one there first. Leia simply replies “how big?” Thus, proving she’s no fool and she knows exactly what is going on.
: Nothing elaborate, like just a freighter and “perhaps a starfighter squadron if you can find one that doesn’t mind risking official wrath.”
Almost… a rogue one, you may say? Heh. ISWYDT, Mr. Zahn.
Just so that the crew Fey’lya picks won’t be the only ones there, if you get my drift.
: Frankly I think that bit was entirely unnecessary.
: Mara notes that Karrde doesn’t say anything about his own team going, though.
(Which is tactically a massive misstep, I think, because the fighters Leia send will be in shoot first ask later mode for very good reason.)
: On the other hand, the Empire would show up with Star Destroyers, and Mara herself will be in the crew–I don’t think anybody Leia would send would actually be shoot first, just, you know, bracket the shot while you ask.
: Karrde gives Leia the coordinates as well (which weakens my first point but strengthens the third one up there) and then tells her that he wants her to understand why he’s doing this: He owes Luke his gratitude for his help in the rescue, and if the Fleet is gone the Imperials will have no reason to hunt me down and get off my back. Ummmm, so, about that… But anyway, Karrde says,
“As far as your war and your internal politics are concerned, my organization intends to remain completely neutral. Is that clear?”
Organa Solo nodded. “Very clear,” she said. “Though… I could swear I heard that one before somewhere…”
Okay so I made that last quote up. But nice callback nonetheless, although Karrde means it more strongly because he’s got an organization to think about.
: Yeah, Karrde as a mirror to Han (at some point, I think next book, Leia actually hears “I ain’t doing this for your revolution” behind something Karrde is saying) is a Thing.
: Scene shift. Wedge is woken up by a call signal from his comlink. It’s Luke, he needs a favor, do you mind getting your people into trouble maybe? Wedge banters, when are they ever not in trouble, but is completely awake and serious. Luke can’t say much over the comm: Meet me with your X-wings in Docking Pad 15 in an hour, we have a transport for you. Wedge doesn’t ask any more either. He’d like a change because it’s frustrating there right now, and for some reason missions Luke are involved in are always the most interesting ones (which, from one point of view, is a massive breach of the fourth wall), let’s go.
: Well, you know. Ta’veren.
: That’s exactly what I was thinking.
There is, you’ll notice, no question if any of Wedge’s people would, like, object to going on a clandestine quiet mission on the side authorized by someone not actually in the chain of command in the middle of the local night, or something. Because of course they won’t. At most they’ll grumble about being woken up.
: Though it didn’t get written until later, by this point the Rogues have a specific history of resigning from the New Republic to get a job done, and clear personal loyalty to Admiral Ackbar.
: Last scene shift, to the morning and back to Leia’s point-of-view; has to be the last scene because Fey’lya’s chewing the scenery up in rage. Leia gave the authorization to sneak Rogue Squadron out with their transport, but of course word got back to Fey’lya. And he’s calling it “beyond internal political infighting” (o rly?) and “illegal, maybe treason.” (Srsly?)
: One wonders if Fey’lya is even capable of irony.
: Mon Mothma wouldn’t go that far, but she’s troubled and asks Leia why she did it, and Leia flips the council table with the Force. OK, I made that last bit up too. But I would have. Karrde says “because I asked her to,” (which, Karrde, wouldn’t be helpful had there been anything that needed helping,) and the Fleet is not in your jurisdiction so what “illegal?” Fey’lya sneers that they’ll explain proper legal procedure to Karrde (“smuggler”) later, which, heh, but now arrest Skywalker and Solo because they know where the fleet is and they are not cleared for that information.
So… they know… classified information… which doesn’t exist because what fleet, weren’t we dubious about a fleet yesterday?
: Throw it against the wall and see what sticks, I suppose? Fey’lya in full-on desperation territory.
: To my utter astonishment (again) no one points this out, but they don’t have much time to because Fey’lya declares that he has “best take personal charge of this mission.” Leia is alarmed, and so is Karrde by the thought of Fey’lya-the-Fleet-Bringer–
: Homeric much?
: –but he knows how to deal with that: Sure, welcome along, the Councilor Organa Solo and I would appreciate your company.
“What are you talking about?” Fey’lya demanded. “No one’s authorized either of you to come along.”
“I’m authorizing it, Councilor,” Karrde said coldly. “The Katana fleet is still mine, and will remain so until the New Republic takes possession of it. Until then, I make the rules.”
I’m… I’m sorry, I just need a moment here. It’s just so beautiful.
Fey’lya issues Standard Ineffective Threat #4: I Won’t Forget This Your Time Will Come; Karrde counters with Standard Sardonic Response #7: Perhaps, Now Shall We?… and scene.
I was wrong. It did get better.
: As one of my (many) favorite characters from the Expanse series, Chrisjen Avasarala, says, when you start issuing threats, it’s because you’re losing.
(If you haven’t read the Expanse, check it out–first book is Leviathan Wakes. It’s mostly much harder SF than Star Wars ever is, but it’s very good stuff.)
: Nothing much else to add here, except to point out a thread that’s been running in the background all along and coming to the front gloriously at the end: Never at any point does any one on the New Republic side, even Fey’lya, act even for a moment like they doubt Karrde’s rights on the Fleet and the question of coercing Karrde doesn’t even arise; compare and contrast to the Imperials who open negotiations with solitary confinement and sleep deprivation. Karrde’s checkmate at the end is a checkmate because of that.
: And apparently the New Republic hasn’t invented the modern creative interpretation of eminent domain…but I digress a lot, and oversimplify for the sake of a joke.
I think there’s an interesting contrast between the elaborate chess-piece-setting that went on in the climax to Heir, and this, which is very much supposed to feel like what it is–a mad scramble and a race against time. (The Last Command manages to be both: it’s a mad scramble on the heroes’ part, a game of chess on the villains’, and an even bigger chess game on Zahn’s himself with his puzzlebox.)
Fey’lya is at his most annoying here, as Z has pointed out (I wonder if her new home has any new dents in the walls?), so it’s going to be quite a relief to see him hang himself soon.
And that’s about it. Join us next time for a furry comeuppance (at last), the Force guiding a slightly different sort of blade, and a giant crack in the Imperial monolith.
Until then, may the Force be with you.