The Last Command, Chapter 10

will: Welcome back, honored audience, to Chapter 10 of The Last Command, where we learn that the Empire can make a huge classic mistake, and then learn that they’re not as stupid as that after all. Which doesn’t mean other people aren’t just as stupid.

In personal news, this week has been on the rough side, as my life is rather dramatically changing–job, apartment, everything. I don’t anticipate any disruption to this weekly routine, though, so keep checking back every Friday for more.

z: On my side, Sunday rehearsal Monday rehearsal Wednesday sectional Friday dress rehearsal Saturday concert Monday rehearsal Friday dress rehearsal Saturday concert again [gaaaasp].

And then I’ll have about two weeks to finish, or at least mostly finish, two arrangements. Whee.

will: The Whistler’s Whirlpool is another classic Zahnism: a unique idea presented as a throwaway, in this case, a natural rock formation creating a dramatic effect a la Old Faithful, which didn’t succeed as a tourist attraction, and was then abandoned.

z: It gets its waters from the local ocean; hence it’s affected by the tides. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this is high in my list fictional places I’d like to visit.

will: The abandonment turns it into the perfect place for a private meeting. Karrde and Aves discuss the charms and disappointments of the Whirlpool as they greet Gillespee, who even beat Karrde there–and this is a full two hours before the scheduled meeting time–and ran his own security check; not that this will stop Karrde from doing his own, given the presence of an Imperial garrison twenty klicks away.

Gillespee also hands Karrde the list of attendees, which they agree is small, but exclusive: the top names in the business.

Including Niles Ferrier.

z: Obligatory Dun dun dunnnnn: Dun dun dunnnnn.

Karrde naturally goes “uh…..  um, isn’t he a thief, why…?”

will: Gillespee explains that Ferrier smuggles, too–and sure he works for the Empire, everyone does, the Empire needs smugglers. Karrde is more concerned about Ferrier “working directly for Grand Admiral Thrawn. Doing such minor jobs as snatching the man who located the Katana fleet.” This…does not please Gillespee, after Ukio.

z: He, naturally, hadn’t known.  Later on, we’ll get to know Karrde’s source of information in this particular case: Han told him all that happened aboard the Coral Vanda.

will: Karrde confirms with his spotter Lachton (Tuckerism?) that the garrison is as quiet as a grave, and Gillespee says that’s the idea, but Karrde points out that a garrison is never that quiet, and if it’s understaffed, it should be even more active (as a show of force), not less.

Aves suggests canceling, but Karrde knows how that would look, so he says no. It’s not as if the Smuggler’s Quorum that’s showing up will be defenseless, and Karrde admits to his intel-addict tendencies by saying he’s curious what all this is about anyway.

z: “I lit the fuse because I wanted to see what color the bright bang’s going to be.”

will: As a final comment, Gillespee and Karrde discuss whether they might have completely hoodwinked the Empire. Not likely.

Two hours and change later, Karrde has finished his sales pitch, but he knows it didn’t work.

Brasck, a Brubb (apparently a reptilian species judging by the description), says that Karrde spoke well, even passionately if that’s possible, but he was not persuaded.

z: I found that “you spoke passionately, if such a thing is possible [for you]” remark both very amusing and character-revealing, tangentially.  Also, as the scene progresses it becomes clear that these people mostly know each other better than just by reputation.

It makes me wonder about Han–AFAIK he never had an organization, or even a crew of more than two, but he also has had a reputation.  He miss have really gotten around back in day.

will: He did, and we’ll eventually read about it. Han also was part of the biggest organization–he was Jabba’s favorite smuggler (which we’ll also see happen). And the Millennium Falcon was a legend in its own right.

Karrde accuses Brasck of cowardice, Brasck counters that the Empire is a good customer, and now Par’tah (a Ho’Din, whose “singsong” language gets offset by brackets, has a “snakelike” head, and indicates some feelings through expressions) counters that Brasck is supporting a regime that enslaves and kidnaps, calling Brasck “no better than was the Hutt.”

z: Another tangent to say that I really enjoy the slightly-archaic, slightly-off “translations” of Par’tah’s language.

will: I wonder if the Godwin’s Law of the Galaxy Far Far Away was about comparisons to Jabba? Or maybe Darth Vader, and this is a fringer-specific version. That sounds about right.

z: I concur.

will: At any rate, one of Brasck’s bodyguards refutes the comparison, as Karrde remembers that said bodyguard had been a slave of Jabba’s “when Luke Skywalker and his allies had chopped off the head of that organization.”

Last time this came up, Z asked for some recognition that it had been Leia who’s chopped off, or at least choked out, that head, but there’s some logic to the way Karrde phrases it. As Chewie tells Han, the plan is Luke’s (remember, Han is dumbfounded that Luke would be planning this, and doubly so when Chewie explains Luke’s a Jedi Knight now. At least, he’s claiming to be), and as much as Leia killed Jabba, this was really a team effort led by Luke. So that works.

Anyway. Karrde cuts off the fight, but then Mazzic speaks up. Mazzic appears to be a human, flanked by a “horn-headed Gotal and a decorative but vacant-faced woman.”

Keep an eye on that woman, by the way. I have to give Zahn props for this. It demonstrates how even Karrde can miss things. And given how she ends up–depending how much you want to read into some teasing from Han and Leia a decade later–it goes to prove the old saw about the attractiveness of mystery.

z: No comment, just a quiet grin.

will: Mazzic says that the pitch Karrde gave sounds like a recruitment, and Dravis reminds us that Han pitched the same thing way back at the start of Heir.

Clyngunn (a ZeHethbra, shaggy and furred) says it’s too dangerous, and Karrde pretends to be shocked why. Clyngunn explains that the Empire is harassing New Republic shipping, duh.

z: Is there anyone who doesn’t imagine stripes on said fur?

will:

“So what you’re saying, is that Imperial strength is becoming increasingly dangerous to our business activities?”

Brasck cuts the hustle off before it starts. It was a good ploy, but nope. Karrde tries to say he isn’t creating a “scheme,” just suggesting that the smugglers pass along any useful intel to the New Republic.

The topic then turns to whether the Empire would object. “Who cares?” asks one, but the response is “Grand Admiral Thrawn is a reason to care, so we shouldn’t oppose the Empire.”

Gillespee points out the obvious: the last thing you want is Thrawn to win.

Brasck tries to be sufficiently mercenary, and say the Empire needs smugglers, but a new voice says “nope.”

Ferrier’s voice, in fact. Ferrier says that if Thrawn wants you, he won’t care that you’ve been playing it cool until now.

Mazzic says “I’ve heard he pays well,” and Ferrier gives an admittedly truthful but nonetheless slanted version of his storyline from Dark Force Rising, with an emphasis on the “rigged ship” part. Karrde is a little surprised that Ferrier seems to be supporting him, but if it helps, it helps.

Mazzic confirms that Ferrier was paid. Ferrier says that isn’t the point, but Mazzic says it is for him.

Karrde pulls his hole card: the clones. Mazzic says that while he doesn’t particularly like it, it’s not his problem. Par’tah responds that it’ll be his problem eventually, but Dravis disagrees.

Mazzic sums it up:

“We’re businessmen, pure and simple; and I for one intend to stay that way. If the New Republic can outbid the Empire for information, I’ll be happy to sell it to them.”

z: And here we see some who are actually a bit more sincere in that “I’m only in it the money, Princess,” attitude.

…to a point.

will: Karrde knows when to fold ‘em, but he has earmarked a couple of the smugglers to discuss further, including Par’tah and Ellor (a Duro staying quiet is a Duro who agrees). He’ll go back to the rest later. He starts to give a thank-you-and-good-night speech.

The back of the room blows in, and they’re told “stay where you are, you’re under arrest Imperial detention.” Thirty army troopers, two pairs of stormtroopers, and two command speeders in the back outside have shown up.

Gillespee agrees with Karrde that this was Ferrier, and Karrde expects to see Ferrier smirking, but he isn’t–he’s looking to the side. Karrde follows his gaze, recognizes the “solid black shadow” detaching itself from a wall from what Han has told him, and points Gillespee to the sight.

Amazingly, the Imperial forces are shoddy enough to let the smugglers stand around and talk quietly, as Karrde passes the word to get ready. The smugglers all have gone from shocked to angry, which of course they have, we’ll come back to that, and as they all look ready, the wraith attacks the line of stormtroopers–

–the troops, storm and army, react as expected–

–Karrde says “now”–

–two blaster rifles peek over the edge of the natural whirlpool formation in the center of the room and open fire–

–Karrde ducks behind a table–

–and every smuggler also opens fire.

Brasck and company take out a squad in seconds, Par’tah and the bulk of the smugglers keep the rest pinned down, Mazzic is firing on the command speeders.

Karrde has his two hidden surprises join Mazzic in his speeder attack, and he also notices that Mazzic’s arm candy is throwing what he thought were hairsticks, and killing troopers with them. He shoots one of the troopers who’s drawing a bead on her, then the speeders blow up, and it’s over.

z: Hey, I’d missed that save-the-lady-in-particular moment.  Nice one.

will: Karrde has everyone take stock. Mazzic reports that his Gotal friend, Lishma, is dead–he wasn’t even shooting–and that he’s off the fence, and where does he sign up? The rest give similar comments, which of course they have, we’ll come back to that.

Karrde says, somewhere else, checks to confirm that the spaceport and the garrison are still quiet, and orders his people to start bugging out. Aves and Fein, the whirlpool shooters, climb out, and everybody heads to their ships.

Scene shift–everyone is chatting aboard ships. Dravis confirms that Karrde wants help with the clone pipeline, Ferrier says he’ll help (and see about shipjacking some fighting craft), as does Par’tah. Mazzic and Ellor are interested in doing Something Else, and Brasck can at least pledge his noninterference.

z: I always felt it’s really nice of him.  “I can’t bring myself to help, but you have enough people anyway and I won’t tell on you or betray you,” essentially.

will: Right. Fair enough, as Karrde admits. The decisions are made, everyone jumps away, we’re reminded that Karrde knows Mara is stuck on Coruscant and “probably ready to bite hull metal by now” but that’s the safest place for her (yeah, Karrde, about that…), given the bounty on Karrde’s people. Aves wonders whether bounty hunting was what happened here, but it doesn’t fit. They decide to do some investigating. While they go elsewhere.

Fast.

Final scene shift. And it’s time to come back to that. Ferrier is standing before Thrawn, smug and satisfied, when Thrawn tells Ferrier “you had Imperial troops attack the smugglers meeting.”

z: We’re once again in a Pellaeon point-of-view; and his thoughts leave no doubt that a smirk-wiping situation is coming up.

will: Turns out that yeah, Ferrier did, and then he called Thrawn to say he did. The Empire didn’t know about or sanction the action, except one lieutenant that Ferrier convinced to attack.  Thrawn wants to know something:

“I should like to hear your reasons why I should not order your immediate execution.”

Ferrier’s smug melts, and he starts babbling about being trusted, being in with Karrde’s people.

Thrawn says Ferrier caused thirty-six deaths, and the destruction of two command speeders, and he doesn’t waste troopers or take their deaths lightly.

z: On the one hand, clones.  On the other hand, of course doesn’t; he’s an actually good commander.

will: Ferrier is starting to turn white as a sheet, as Thrawn gives the coup de grace: he’d ordered the Smugglers’ Quorum meeting left strictly alone. Because he knew that as long as he didn’t threaten them, they’d stay neutral, and now, they’ve united against the Empire… which of course they have, I say a third and final time.

I can barely even understand what Ferrier was thinking. Did he expect the attack to work? Clearly not. He probably figured he could use it to get Karrde to trust him, and that was the end of it. Which means he both didn’t figure on Thrawn caring (moron), and didn’t even consider that it would unite the smugglers (double moron)–because he then told Thrawn he’d done it.

Hell, I want to shoot Ferrier on principle.

z: I will graciously let you have first go.

will: Thrawn explains that Ferrier has just put Thrawn’s entire game plan for the fringe to smoke and ashes, and Ferrier starts begging. One more chance, please, he’ll give Thrawn everyone.

Thrawn says “one last chance,” and has Ferrier explain what everyone will be doing. Thrawn orders Ferrier to bring along an assault shuttle he “stole.” Ferrier says “perfect, rigged ships,” but Thrawn (who really should just gag Ferrier, it seems to be more convenient) says they’ll be genuine (he’ll waste machines and ships far more easily than lives), for credibility purposes only. “Assuming you still have any.”

Beyond that, Thrawn says, wait for orders.

Ferrier falls over himself to agree, and gets escorted out. Including by Rukh, to help reinforce the “small-minded” Ferrier about the consequences for failure.

Thrawn asks Pellaeon for his analysis, and they agree that could be worse–besides the line on Ferrier, the false clone trail intended for Luke will at least hook the smugglers. And Thrawn figures this alliance won’t last very long. Still, they don’t have that much time, so Thrawn says maybe they can use the fact that the attack was so bloody stupid to convince the smugglers that Karrde staged it as a unifying factor. It would certainly be an easier sell, he says.

Pellaeon responds neutrally, because he thinks there are more pressing matters, and “suggests” that Thrawn get back to the Ketaris campaign. Thrawn smiles, but asks about Himron and the Coruscant attack. Pellaeon says no word yet, but you never know why–could be they haven’t even arrived yet, still creating a data trail.

Thrawn confirms that no matter what, they’ve neutralized Mara Jade thanks to Himron blaming her, and orders a course set for Ketaris.

And scene.

Niles, you idiot.

(I hope you get that one, Z.)

z: <giggle> I did.  But I think you’re unfairly maligning the original person there.

will: So, yeah. This is a major plot chapter, and the act break for the fringer storyline. The idea that the thing that brought the smugglers together was staged will obviously come up again, and it’s nice to see (for some values of the word) that Ferrier, idiot that he is, is consistent. Thrawn should have shot the man out of hand, I say again.

It’s also interesting how passionate Karrde was for his cause. Maybe he got backed into it, but now that he’s there, he’s committed. And seeking allies.

I also liked the throwaways of various new and established (that is, not given long explanations) races, speech forms, locations…it’s very Zahn, the lived-in universe. Karrde doesn’t think of the races as having data dumps, so we just cut to the heart of it.

And I like how many of them will come up again, principally Mazzic–actually, principally his bodyguard, so far unnamed (though she will be named in this book)–but also Ellor, Par’tah, and everybody.

Z?

z: A thing I noticed and liked and appreciated when I first read this: Par’tah is identified as “she.” It definitely mattered back then; it still matters now.

I’m not quite sure how you could spin “the attack was incompetently done, so it must have been Karrde” to people who know Karrde, but we’ll see the fallout from that idea ahead of us, anyway.  Other than that, everything you said.

And because of the can’t brain music has eaten brains situation, I’m not very fit to add anything more right now.

Next week, remember that thing about Mara which scared Thrawn most?  So yeah.  We go there.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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