The Last Command, Chapter 8

will: Greetings, gentlebeings, and welcome to chapter 8 of The Last Command, where tense conversations lead to revealed secrets, and we’re reminded what conversations haven’t happened–and in the meantime, there’s a commando raid. You know. Just another day at the office.

I’m taking the lead this week because Z is swamped with some projects, but I imagine she’ll poke her head in with her usual trenchant commentary.

z: I was on top of things and everything until the Tuesday after Memorial Day, which was when ManyPeople simultaneously seemed to remember that they wanted me to do Things.  So that happened.

will: In other news, Balticon this past weekend was a lot of fun, though they did have a few issues of space allocation and planning…eh. It happens.

z: He’s not the only person I heard this from.  New space for the con, apparently.

will: Leia’s nursing Jaina, who’s still hungry, though Jacen has fallen asleep; she tries for the fifth time to read a page on her datapad, but it hasn’t been easy going, especially given the way she’s overwhelmed with wonder when she looks down and sees Jaina there, “A brand-new life, so fragile and yet so remarkably resilient. And she and Han had created it. Had created both of them.”

z: A crisp $5 says that that’s Tim Zahn talking about his own son, except from the other half’s perspective as it were.

will: No bet, I’d be a fool to disagree. Han comes into the room about then, commenting that the twins eat “like starving Wookiees,” and they agree that it would be nice if the twins could get their schedules lined up. He puts his finger in Jacen’s hand, marveling at his grip (Leia says that’s nothing, Jaina’s grip “on this end” is really impressive), and we get our timelines configured: Lando has made it to Coruscant and is trying to talk Admiral Drayson into diverting ships to Nkllon. With no luck. Even given the sheer amount of metals Nomad City was producing, there’s been no movement.

z: Priorities.  They definitely could use and were using what Nomad City is producing, but this is showing, not telling, us that Thrawn’s current multi-pronged offensive is being extremely effective in terms of harassing and harrying the New Republic and in particular the military.

will: Leia offers to help with Drayson, but Han tells her that “falling asleep on the table isn’t going to impress anyone.” Leia insists she isn’t that tired, and Han’s just as bad–but Han says he gets to doze during late-night feedings.

It does seem, though, that Han wakes up for those, to help get the twins out of the crib, and Leia thinks that’s kind of a waste–he should just sleep.

Han turns that into “now that the kids are around, you’ll just toss me aside,” but Leia (who after all knows how to talk to Han after this long) “soothes” him that he’ll always be needed as a guard and a diaper-changer. Nice, Han mock-growls.

This strikes me as a very ‘90s conversation; strictly speaking there’s nothing inaccurate in the fact that Han has nothing to do to help with feedings, but can be useful in other ways–but it has a gendered overtone that feels out of place nowadays.

z: Heh.  I’ve always read that as bantering between them: that Leia doesn’t really mean that Han should “just sleep.”  That might be my own prejudices, or rather lack thereof, coloring things though.

will: “Just sleep” sounded serious, but everything after that is pure banter, yeah. The conversation turns serious; Leia is feeling guilty about everything, but Han is used to weird hours and won’t let her wallow. And Winter’s still down in the Alliance archives, looking into something–she won’t tell Han what. Leia figures maybe she can get something out of her, since Winter just returned.

Han is heading back to negotiating with Admiral Drayson, and Leia suggests maybe a sabacc game, like how Han won the Falcon?

“Against Drayson? Thanks, hon, but Lando and I wouldn’t know what to do with a fleet of our own.”

Leia says she loves him, he says he knows, and Leia calls out for Winter. As Winter gathers Jacen up to put in his crib, they discuss Winter’s research. Winter says she thinks she has discovered an Imperial agent, but wants to confirm that before leveling an accusation. It’s not Delta Source, she says, when Leia (who’s on edge) brings that up.

Leia nails it: “Is it Mara Jade?”

Winter, hesitantly, admits that. Seems that the “Targeter” reference was interesting to Winter, who only had that code for a few weeks on Averam before Imperial Intelligence broke the cell.

The point being, Mara could only know that name if she was wither with that group, or else, knew it from the other side.

z: Quick reminder: When Mara first woke up in the hospital and Winter was leading her to the guest quarters, they briefly discussed what Winter did during the war proper, and Mara came up with the codename Targeter from Winter’s description of her major reconnaissance activities.

In other news, I have to try three times to spell “reconnaissance” correctly.

will: Keep this in mind, by the way, it’s one of the places we’ll have to come back to in order to massage a continuity error…

But besides that, I like how this demonstrates the incomplete nature of wartime intel. The Empire broke Averam, they learned of this “Targeter” with the perfect memory, so they would have always used “Targeter” whenever they had reports of a perfect-memory scout. Even if her Rebel codename was different, if they didn’t have the information that the perfect-memory scout had a new name, they’d use “Targeter.” So the fact that the Rebels only had her use that name for a few weeks doesn’t matter to the Empire’s Intel division–and likely blinded them to her other activities if her memory was kept out of the reports.

z: …so Mara didn’t even have to have heard of Winter during the period when the latter was using that name, but just to have heard of a perfect-memory agent any time after that period.  Nice.

will: Exactly. Leia thinks about Mara, who had never claimed to be a Rebel, but at the same time, she’d broken Karrde out of the Chimaera, and she comes to the (ultimately correct) conclusion that Mara’s loyalty now is to Karrde and Karrde’s people. Winter and Leia agree that’s a mix of Jedi insight and diplomatic practice.

At any rate, Jaina has fallen asleep, so Winter puts her to bed. There’s a reception going on downstairs, and Mon Mothma had asked if Leia could possibly drop by if she had a few minutes. Leia thinks about how even with the “armor-plated excuse” of newborns, Mon Mothma is still trying to get Leia to be part of the glitzy form-over-function parts of governing, but she’ll have to disappoint the Chief of State: she’s going to see what she can find out about Mara Jade. Winter asks how.

I’m going to ask her.”

z: Reading over Will’s draft of this chapter commentary, I was somewhat surprised to find no wry remark about this statement of Leia’s.  As we’ve mentioned before, Will and I met online twice in a way–first in the Star Wars fandom, but shortly after that in a newsgroup dedicated to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  And this is such an injoke that it is not really a joke anymore in that fandom: The books could have been at least one-third shorter if anyone in them had ever done what Leia’s decided to do here:  “I’m going to ask her.”  As in, talk to her.  Unpossible.

will: Scene shift. Mara is having what is quickly obvious as a dream: the Emperor stands before her, Luke and Darth Vader preparing to fight each other–until suddenly they roar in hatred and turn to the Emperor. Mara tries to reach him, but can’t; she is overwhelmed by thought and emotion as she watches the Emperor use Force lightning on the two of them, and watches with sudden hope “that this time it might end differently”–but it doesn’t. She hears a roll of thunder and snaps awake. She tries to pull herself together, but senses someone outside, and hears the roll of thunder again. It’s a knock.

I didn’t get the significance of this the first time. We’ll save the full discussion for later, but suffice it to say, I think this is the first time we learn that Mara has some details very wrong.

Z, did you get it?

z: …that the Emperor made it so that Vader was betraying him much earlier in the flow of events that he was, and completely skipped over the part where Luke was the one to turn Vader back, that Vader’s act was redemption from Luke, not betrayal from within himself?  I had noticed that.

will: That, but also, Luke’s direct role in the Emperor’s death, in Mara’s dream at least. Anyway. Mara tries to pretend she isn’t there, but it’s a waste of time, and she invites the person in. It’s not Luke like she had thought, though, it’s Leia Organa Solo, who exchanges pleasantries (Mara doesn’t want to, but she and Ghent are still stuck on Coruscant, so better not antagonize her), and Leia throws an opening line about “the late Emperor’s confidence” in Thrawn.

Mara wonders what Luke has told Leia, but there doesn’t appear to be any mockery. Mara says that Thrawn was one of the best, “brilliant and innovative, with an almost compulsive thirst for victory,” which they attribute to his “mixed heritage” in light of the Empire’s racism. (So, we’re still operating with “mixed heritage,” I see.)

Leia next asks if Mara knew the Grand Admiral, and Mara says she knew he pulled thousands of ysalamiri off of Myrkr, but Leia cuts Mara off:

“I meant, did you know him during the war.”

z: Parenthetically, I believe this is the first time we’re given a number for how many ysalamiri Thrawn has had harvested.  And I hadn’t noticed this in my previous read-throughs, but, well… we know even from just earlier in this book that Thrawn has only one on board the Chimaera, for his personal protection from C’baoth; where, one may wonder, are the other n thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine?

will: Mara recognizes that Leia can’t know the truth or she’d have had Mara locked up, so this is fishing. She asks, why would Mara have known Thrawn, and Leia says only that there’s been “a suggestion” that Mara served with the Empire.

Mara says, so this is a prelude to the lockup? But Leia says all she cares about is fighting Thrawn, and that maybe Mara has something they can use. Mara says nope: no weaknesses, no patterns, no favorites, no pride (well, less pride than pragmatism). Leia says maybe at least they can figure out what psychological weaknesses he’s planning to go after. Good luck, Mara says.

Leia says thank you, Mara automatically says you’re welcome, and Leia turns to go, confirming that Mara still has the run of the Palace, and “whatever you did in the past, it’s clear you’re not serving with the Empire now.”

Leia has her hand on the door handle when Mara blurts out “I’m going to kill your brother.”

z: And then asks if Luke had told Leia that.

Um.  No, for some reason it seems to have skipped his mind to mention that.

will: He did tell Han, though. Heh.

Leia controls her shock and simply asks why, and Mara gives Leia the download: she was a personal agent of the Emperor, the Emperor’s Hand, gave orders throughout the galaxy…Luke took it all away.

Leia actually apologizes for destroying Mara’s life, but says she had no choice, billions of lives, &c.

z: Hmmm.  I didn’t read that as an apology, but rather as condolences.  Mara is explicitly blaming Luke (“your brother took all of that away”) so Leia would have to have said “I’m sorry on his behalf” or something like that for an apology.

But then, English does this thing where “I’m sorry” is used in both meanings, with almost no distinction, and it’s one of the few things in this weird and wonderful language that actually irritates me.  Anyway, tangent over.

will:  Mara says Leia couldn’t possibly understand.

“You’re wrong. I understand very well.”

Mara’s glare of defiance has no actual heat: this is the woman who saw Alderaan destroyed before her eyes. Finally she goes with the much weaker “at least you had a family in the Rebellion,” and Leia just says that it must have been a hard life after the Emperor’s death.

“I survived,” Mara says shortly, and then asks if now she’s going to get locked up. Leia wonders about this–does Mara really want that or something, given how she keeps asking for it?

Mara says what she wants is to kill Luke. Leia expresses disbelief, pointing out that Mara’s had several opportunities, and hasn’t done it.

Mara says she wanted to but kept needing him alive, though her own doubts on that score gnaw away at her. But sooner or later, Mara says, the time will come.

Leia, though, wonders whether that’s it at all. Maybe it isn’t Mara who wants Luke dead?

Leia explains that she was at Endor a few months ago, and Mara tries–and fails–to be confused as to Leia’s point. They discuss the “emotional bloodstain” (Mara’s words) marking the Emperor’s death, and Mara asks what this has to do with anything.

“I think you know.”
YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER. “No. You’re wrong.”

(The point, for anybody who didn’t see it, is that Leia is wondering whether Mara really wants to kill Luke out of revenge and pain, or whether she’s still feeling the Emperor’s command in her mind; and that means it isn’t Mara who wants to kill Luke at all.)

Well, Leia says, Mara would know, but it might be worth thinking about. And she leaves.

Damn she’s good.

z: Trained diplomat, inspiring leader, and budding Jedi–that’s Empathy levels 1, 2 and 3 right there.  Of course she’s good.  And she’s shaken thoughts loose in Mara’s mind that the latter could have kept buried for longer.

will: Mara decides enough is enough, and keys for the contact man she used to get to Karrde, to get him to get her a ship. But long-range comms are down–OK, really? Over the entire planet? One wonders about the feasibility…

z: I read as “long-range comms out of the palace,” which makes a bit more sense.  Were we ever told where on the planet Karrde’s contact was?  I don’t think so.

will: Hmm. Makes sense. And no, we weren’t told–I’m not even clear whether the contact was on Coruscant. Anyway. Mara decides that she should go to bed, but she doesn’t; she simply stares out at the Coruscant skyline, trying very hard to convince herself that Leia is wrong. She doesn’t really get it to work.

She leaves the emotional tornado where it stands, simply saying “nope, I am the one who wants to kill Luke, it’s not the Emperor.”

She watches as a far-off clock shines a chime (that is, it gives a ripple of light as the visual equivalent of Big Ben; a nice image), and she knows she should just go to sleep…and then the alarm bell in her head goes off. Danger nearby.

z: We’re given the time as “half an hour past midnight” with that nice “chime” image.

will: She draws her blaster and listens at the door–and hears “footsteps with the kind of quiet but purposeful stride that she had always associated with combat professionals.”

She lets them pass, waits, and opens the door to get a glimpse.

Four of them in a “bent diamond” formation–presumably a diamond with the front and back offset so they can have four clear lines of fire–and Palace Security uniforms. They communicate silently, with hand signals only, and Mara knows what all this means:

Imperial Intelligence had penetrated the Palace.

z: …oh, so that’s what a “bent diamond” means.  I’d wondered. It makes perfect sense.

will: Mara turns back to raise the alarm, but she knows that the team has probably already broken into the comm and computers. So instead, she just heads out after them–and makes it to the corner when she hears a blaster safety catch right behind her and gets told “it’s all over.”

And scene, hanging from the cliff. Zahn, you sonofabitch.

z: …I don’t think I know of any author who could have resisted that cliffhanger once it made sense to have that moment within their plot, actually, so I’m not blaming Zahn.

It’s an extraordinarily good one, though.

will: The primary purpose of this chapter is to get Leia the Emperor’s Hand details, though the bonus of Mara beginning to react to the Imperial Intelligence raid (and note that whatever her mixed feelings about the Emperor’s death and Luke, she immediately goes to stop the raid; Mara has no loyalty to Thrawn) was nice. And in addition to Leia putting the seeds of doubt in Mara’s mind, there’s one very significant and quiet informational pass here, the “what Mara said” of Leia’s later puzzle. We’ll come back to that–in addition to Z highlighting it here, of course.

I admit I elided some of the longer descriptions of Mara’s emotional turmoil, in no small part because they were a bit overwrought–but also because frankly I’m not good at secondhanding those into a post like this. Z might add some in (I’m writing this before she’s seen this week’s post). I think the overwrought nature is accurate to character, not a flaw, but it gets a bit hard to recap.

z: I don’t think I’ve added any in, but I didn’t think they were that overwrought either.  (Now that I go and read back, yeah, I guess I see what you mean, but Mara’s mind is so messed up for completely understandable reasons that it’s completely normal she can’t have understated emotions about any of this.  Her steely self-control outside is more impressive than all get-out, to be honest.)

will: True. Other than that, I continue to not really feel as moved as I probably should be by the newborn twins. Maybe it’s me.

Z?

z: …whereas I’ve been doing all the aww-cute-cooing right on cue, so I guess I’ve bought into it from the start?

I’m confused by one thing, and maybe it’s been stated but I missed it–does Mara know of the “No, I am your father” business?  I shouldn’t think so, if for no reason other than she mislikes Leia merely for being Luke’s brother, and Luke for “killing” the Emperor; there’s no double-dose of rage there.

will: No, she very much doesn’t, and it matters that she doesn’t. (Further, non-spoiling deponent sayeth not.)

z: Other than that, I reacted as if it was nothing out of the ordinary when responding to Will up there, but Leia is really quietly amazing this chapter as well, as is her wont.

will: Well, it is nothing out of the ordinary. She’s awesome.

z: Next week, Zahn will thankfully pick up the major cliffhanger right away, or there would have been lots of agony on our part.  Or almost right away, after a tiny rewind.  I like that kind of timing back-and-forth, too.  So until we skip a few minutes back and find out how other negotiations have been going, may the Force be with you.

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