The Last Command, Chapter 6

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 6 of The Last Command, wherein yup, they’re definitely in it just for the money, er, no, for their own safety, yeah, that’s the ticket. Absolutely not for any idealistic ideas or even political opinions, oh no perish the thought.

(And absopositilutevely not because anyone is an information junkie, I don’t know what you mean.)

will: Also, the top smugglers in the galaxy all know each other, we’re reminded that sometimes even when you mean to you can’t manage to retire (“just when I thought I was out…!”), and don’t bother second guessing the Grand Admiral. He’s already into the third or fourth iteration.

z: We join the Wild Karrde as it leaves hyperspace to enter the Chazwa system. Around the planet there are many freighters, bulk cruisers, and some Imperial warships.  We know we’re in for a fun time when the first line of dialogue is Aves wanting to go on record saying “this” is an insane idea.

will: Aves fits into that category of “voice of reasons” characters: not exactly like Wedge, but that element of “you realize this is insane, OK, good, now that we’re on record I’m going to make sure we survive.”

z: Whee. Karrde says that perhaps it is, but the Chazwa garrison should have records of the clone transport operation, and maybe even information on the origin point.

Wait what they’re going to try to pull an information raid on an Imperial garrison!?

…yes, yes they are, but that’s not what Aves thinks is insane. Over my stare, he explains that he doesn’t mind the raid as much as their getting involved in the first place.

will: I didn’t read that Aves doesn’t think pulling the raid is insane, it’s more that we know that’s a given; the part Aves wants to call out is the unusually insane part.

Aves strikes me as the sort who would be very receptive to Han’s pitch from back in Heir: give him shipping, repairs, and a solid paycheck, and he’s in favor. The adrenaline rush of smuggling is probably not as strong with him as it used to be.

z: Aves’s point is that it is the New Republic’s war, not theirs. Karrde’s hilarious reply is that he doesn’t trust the New Republic to do a good job of it.

will: If you want a job done right…

z: Sure.

Aves is also skeptical about how fast the clones seem to be growing according to the information they got from Luke, but they cannot discuss this further because a freighter is sidling up to them, its ID hidden by a “transponder overlay.”  But the Wild Karrde has some magic installed by Ghent–which reminds Karrde to contact him and Mara soon–and they can slice through.

It turns out to be one Kern’s Pride, “the slightly less-than-honorable Samuel Tomas Gillespee, proprietor.”

Targential: Although I have no leg to stand on here, what with “Luke” and all, “Samuel” still feels a little off to me.  But then we also have “Gilad” Pellaeon, which, not quite “Gilead,” but…

will: Contrary to a lot of other people’s feelings on the matter, I like the variety of names in Star Wars settings. Having everybody have names that Americans, for example, would recognize as “normal” is bad; having some, especially those with Biblical connections, mixed with many others is reasonable. Gillespee puts me in mind of an Old West prospector, in fact, so the name works, especially given that he’s somewhat older than the others…

z: Yes, Gillespee definitely has that air.   Aaanyway.  They hail Gillespee. He grumps a little that he wasn’t close to slicing the Wild Karrde’s overlay yet. I laugh. But wasn’t he supposed to have retired?

will: Hence the older part. Gillespee reminds me of, say, Reuben from Ocean’s Eleven. He was out of the game, for real, until he wasn’t.

z: Oh, he had retired, bought this nice quiet land, watching the grass grow… on this one planet called Ukio.  Which was the major food-producer planet the Empire took over at the beginning of the book, you’ll recall. Gillespee witnessed the bombardment very closely from his land, got to witness the occupation, had clone workers overtake his land and convert it to cropland, got majorly creeped out, resisted the occupation a bit (reading between the lines), and was spirited away by two confederates.   What does he mean by “creeped out?”. He’s pretty unambiguous: “I don’t happen to think people ought to come off an assembly line, thanks.”

…well.

Will, there’s an elephant a dewback in the room about clones, cloning, “souls” for lack of a better term, and civil and individual rights; but I’m really not up to addressing it now.  So you want to give a go, or should we postpone it until a later point?

will: Not yet. Wait until it’s a sandcrawler. There’s a lot of facets to it and we’ll be spinning this out for a long time. But Zahn’s keeping the concept front and center in our brains.

z: Works for me.

Karrde focuses on Gillespee having hard data from the bombardment stored in his macrobinoculars’ data card.  He offers to find a buyer for it; we know he means the New Republic because he’s going to set up payment from a credit line he has with them.

will: Proving that Luke’s willingness to deal is paying off.

z: Then, Karrde says, he might have another proposal for Gillespee–and they are interrupted.  Two Lancer-class frigates are heading towards them.  Maybe Gillespee didn’t get out of Ukio as cleanly as he thought? Karrde thinks it’s more likely he’s the target, though; they got found out.  They’re going to run, so he quickly tells Gillespee to meet him in “the Trogan system” in eight days’ time, and they cut contact.

will: And also, “you know the place.” It’s as if he’d said “meet me on Tatooine”–they’d be at the Mos Eisley cantina. That’s just how this works.

z: Karrde executes a maneuver that is the space-equivalent of nonchalantly sidling towards the door, while Aves asks whether they should “alert the others” (“Not yet”), but it turns out that the Lancers are aiming for the Kern’s Pride after all.

will: Which rolls into “a mutated sort of drop-kick Koiogran maneuver”–remember that a Koiogran is the Immelmann of the GFFA, a rolling half-turn to a new vector. The “mutated” part makes sense, because this is a freighter we’re talking about, not a starfighter. Granted that the Pride probably has the same “minivan with a Lamborghini engine” customization that we’ve seen from smuggler ships before now, it would still be like seeing that minivan try to do a Fast and Furious style (or Mario Kart style, if you prefer) hairpin turn. It’s just not built for it.

z: Some soul-searching follows.  Karrde thinks that the group he’s brought there would only be an even match to two Lancers, and while the Imperials are distracted with Gillespee he can continue on, hit the garrison’s records and get out: “certainly preferable as far as the New Republic was concerned.”

But Gillespee is an old acquaintance, and thus ranks higher in Karrde’s estimation than “any interstellar government he didn’t belong to.”  So there are limits to how far into the New Republic Karrde feels himself to be.

will: There’s a difference between affiliation and does favors for, even.

z: He gives the order to warm up the turbolasers, to attract the Lancers’ attention, and manages to draw one to himself right away.  Aves now gets his permission to call in the others in the system, while Karrde contacts Gillespee again.  The other smuggler reacts in the Prescribed Response of the Gruff Spacer to Unasked-For Aid, Subclass 21: “What do you think you’re doing?”  Karrde gives Prescribed Underplaying Obvious Response, Subclass 15: “Giving you a hand.” They further have the standard “You can’t win this, it’s too dangerous”/”Surprise: I’m not actually alone here, now get going because it’s too dangerous for you“/”Surprise: I’m not alone here either” exchange, and Gillespee’s confederates also appear and converge in on the second Lancer the same way Karrde’s had done for the first, moments ago.

will: In the words of Neal Stephenson, “after that, it’s just another chase scene.” We don’t really even see the fight–once both sides have called in their backups, we know how things go down. So it’s more interesting to focus on other parts, like:

z: While the groups are doing their clean-up, Gillespee acknowledges Karrde’s invitation to meet in eight days.  Score.  Karrde is happy for about half a minute until he looks at the Lancer frigates again, remembers that they need 850 crew each, and apparently they are running easily at full complement because clones.  This prompts him to call back to Gillespee and make it an open invitation: If Gillespee meets “any of our colleagues,” he should invite them along.

will: Which, Karrde knows, will become more of a command (again, we get the sense of Gillespee as one of the Great Old Men of the smuggler trade; actually, come to think of it, in some ways he fits a similar role to Booster Terrik), so he’ll basically have the Smugglers’ Quorum present.

(The smuggler trade–well, all the fringer trades–has always had elements of the Golden Age of Piracy to it. If you like that sort of thing, I also recommend Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, which likewise.)

z: Let  me second, third, fourth, and fifth that recommendation.  And actually, the entire Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch.

will: Also he has something coming out soon, a sort of Pacific Rim meets Dr. Strangelove story for Uncanny Magazine I think. He read part of it last month at a reading I was at and I almost fell out of my chair laughing. (It was the line about the Duchy of Grand Fenwick that got me.)

z: OK, when my friends post very nice-looking food pictures on G+, I sometimes comment “<sad futile grabby gestures>” to indicate that I would really like to have some of that kplzthx.

So: <sad futile grabby gestures>, at least until the issue comes out.

Anyway, back on topic: So we’re not going to gather a loose confederation of smugglers to work with the New Republic against the clone threat, no, absolutely not.  That would be taking sides.  We’re just… watching out for ourselves.  Right.  Obviously.  Of course.

will: It’s half a Default to Good, half “the New Republic is a government we can work with.” Or against. Or whatever.

z: Scene shift: Thrawn is in his command center, surrounded by fourteen men who all apparently look like slovenly civilians.  Except when they talk, they betray that they are nothing of the sort.  This is the commando team that Thrawn is sending into the Imperial Palace to capture Leia and the twins, and for one side mission.  They discuss the timetable.  Major Himron, who’s leading the team, wants to take six days to get into Coruscant, so that they can lay down a convincing false trail.  It’s a delay, which Pellaeon knows Thrawn doesn’t like, what with Mara Jade sitting right there in the Imperial Palace and potentially knowing about Wayland.  But Thrawn trusts his subordinate, tells him to set the timing as he thinks safe, and dismisses the commandos.

will: I will admit to good command structure here, consistent with Thrawn. Himron has a preferred plan, but Thrawn makes the decision–faster or safer? And Thrawn trusts his subordinate to understand and use his judgment.

z: Thrawn then remarks that Pellaeon seemed surprised at some of the directives he gave.  Pellaeon says that he simply “hadn’t thought the operation out to that end point” although it did make sense to him.

will: Which no doubt means that there were contingencies (which we’ll see later, of course).

z: Then Thrawn brings up his art gallery, which is currently displaying Mriss artwork: Apparently, until they were contacted by Alderaanians, the Mriss culture had never developed three-dimensional artwork.  Huh.  I will leave the perception/cultural makeup discussions to Steven Pinker and move on, but Thrawn is there to give his expert opinion as to the reason anyway: “A case of cultural blind spots combined with a very subtle but equally strong social harmonization.”

…heavens preserve me, I actually feel like I can unpack that and make some sense of it, but I don’t have enough time or brainpower to do so, therefore we’ll move right along.

will: Best I can do is compare it to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis discussion that I happen to quite enjoy when it is used (and, admittedly, misused) in fiction. Pratchett’s dwarfs are a good example: they sort of have the “many words for snow” myth, inasmuch as “show a dwarf a rock and he sees, for example, an inferior piece of crystalline sulphite of barytes”–there’s not one word for rock, there are thousands, for thousands of types.

z: So obviously, they are attacking Mrisst, which the subsequent conversation reveals is in an extremely strategically important position in terms of getting to Coruscant.  So Pellaeon points out that the entire Coruscant fleet would appear if they moved that way, and Thrawn says exactly, so we’re going to do that attack when we get to the point at which we’re ready to bait a trap for the Coruscant fleet.

will: In other words, Thrawn is researching Mrisst for the future; he’ll be able use it to fork the Coruscant fleet. Either they go into a full attack and the Empire will crush them (which…yeah), or they don’t engage and boom, the Empire has Mrisst and a forward base for the eventual full-scale assault on Coruscant.

z: In the meantime, we’ll continue with the nibbling attacks here and there to keep the Rebellion off-balance.  Pellaeon reveals that their next target is Ord Mantell, which apparently will scare some of the surrounding systems and relieve some of the pressure the Rebellion is putting on the Imperial shipyards.

Speaking of which, Pellaeon has a shopping list: They are running short of Tibanna gas, hfredium and kammris at the shipyards.  We learn that the Empire is still holding on to Bespin, since they apparently have sent orders there to step up the Tibanna gas production.  Bad memories. Poor Lando.

….wait.  They’re also running short of hfredium?

…as in the thing Lando has been stockpiling until the price would rise high enough for him, we’ve heard several characters comment on recently?

Poor Lando.

will: The fortunes of a gambler…

z: And yup: Thrawn says that he’s found a convenient stockpile, Pellaeon objects to the superhot planet of Nkllon being called “convenient,” Thrawn points out that they don’t need to go in with a blinded Star Destroyer this time, because remember all those new shiny Dreadnaughts they have?  Which happen to be small enough to be able to use the impressive shieldships they have over there?  So the plan is go, capture shieldships by boarding them, use them to take Dreadnaughts to the planet’s shadow, raid, grab the stuff, leave the same way.

will: An interesting note is that Pellaeon remembers that the Nkllon raid back in Heir cost “over a million man-hours” in prep and repair, which is nice–it’s certainly a large number and a large resource draw, but also, that’s what, a week of nonstop work for ten thousand crew and yard dogs? Which is probably a low number for the amount of people it would take to do the work. Remember, Space, and Star Destroyers, are big.

Also, the Dreadnaughts are slave-rigged, as are the shieldships (remember how the first time we heard the words “Katana fleet” was from Han after Lando extolled the values of rigged systems?). So it’ll actually be even easier.

z: What if Lando sells the stockpile before the assault commences, though?  Thrawn the commodity trade expert is certain he won’t, since “men like Calrissian always wait for it to go just a little higher.”

Poor Lando.

will: Specifically, though, Pellaeon is worried about Lando coming over all patriotic and selling everything to the New Republic.

z: Pellaeon says, still, we should probably hurry, and gets yet another nice bit of schooling on not to try to second-guess Thrawn: “Recommendation noted, Captain. And, as it happens, already acted upon. The raid was launched ten minutes ago.”  I laugh.

But poor Lando.

They themselves head to Ord Mantell.  And scene.

This is actually one of those “get players where they need to be for the next act” chapters: Karrde and the potential smuggler-coalition-what-smuggler-coalition are heading off to that meeting in eight days, the commando team is heading to the Imperial Palace, and some Imperial forces are heading off, sorry, have headed off to Nkllon ten minutes ago, which presumably will make Lando head off somewhere, while the flagship is heading off to Ord Mantell.  As such, I don’t have much else to say about it, although it’s fun to read, and Gillespee is one of those characters that you feel a connection to immediately.  Will?

will: Agreed. I’ve recently been reminded that the idea of dividing things into “plot scenes” and “character scenes” is a ridiculous distinction–plot is informed by characters, characters are affected by plot–but this is an example of not much happening, just stage-setting and giving us insight into people and plans in the process. Now that the initial tempo of the book has been established with the opening raids and maneuvers, Zahn is throttling back a bit, taking his time putting dominoes into place. But he uses that to show more of the characters–Karrde’s sense of loyalty, which does exist (just not to the New Republic as such), the rest of the Smugglers’ Quorum, Thrawn being his Thrawniest…

Next up, we’ll see the son of Vader, who has managed to learn a few things about Force-inspired visions in the six years since Bespin, and we’ll see a poor gambler who knows when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away, and when to evacuate his rolling mining outpost. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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