The Last Command, Chapter 11

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 11 of The Last Command, wherein…

will: …once again we are reminded how much information matters, and how the right piece of information in the right (or wrong) place shifts the entire universe into a new alignment.

In personal news, Z is somewhere around here vibrating at million-hertz frequencies. The concert I went to last Saturday was fantastic, and I highly recommend that if you can, you see about heading to the one this Saturday.

z: *vibration intensifies*

I am so glad you enjoyed it, and it means even more to sing to people I know in the audience, y’know?  I’m not going to lie folks, he’s right, it was fantastic.  The one this Saturday is the same program, so more of the fantastic, and it’s in Rockville, MD.  Last time we played that venue it sold out, and I’m told that nearly half of the tickets are already gone through online sales, so…

will: Me? I’ve been moving and packing. Well, mostly moving. Most of my week has been on the road between the apartment I’m in now and the place I’m moving to (in the short term at least). Lots of driving and carrying of boxes.

z: So we’re both swamped, except Will is trudging back and forth across the swamp.

will: Says the one who lives in the DC Metro Area.

z: Touché.

z: We open in the Grand Corridor of the Palace.

will: Han is racing to catch up with Colonel Bremen–a new character who we quickly learn is head of Palace Security, though we don’t actually get his title yet.  Han is there to discuss, demand, or just yell about freeing Mara Jade. It’s been two days since the Imperial attack was foiled, and Han matches sarcasts (like wits but for sarcasm) with Bremen, calling Mara’s imprisonment “Imperial rumor.”

z: Welp, we didn’t wait for long for the first flat stare of the week, I see.  As a visual background to the conversation, when Han slaps away a branch of one of the ch’hala trees that get in their way, the tree bark does that changing-moving-color thing that must look so pretty.

will: Bremen drops sarcasm and cuts to facts, probably raising his voice, and this time we’re flat-out told that the colors on the tree react without being touched! Interesting. Anyway Bremen points out that Mara admitted to knowing about the secret passages, and that she was acting before the alarm sounded.

Han points out that so were Lando and General Bel Iblis, but (and I have to admit this is a fair point) Bremen points out that even Bel Iblis’s checkered past doesn’t quite reach to being called an Imperial agent.

z: Yeah, Bel Iblis had said that Drayson views disagreement with Mon Mothma only as a step below being an Imperial agent.  Well.  Bremen also says there are people there who can vouch for Lando, and Han asks if he himself and Leia vouching for Mara isn’t enough–not when you can’t say you’ve known her for years, dude–and then performs an open-mouth-insert-foot maneuver by asking if Bremen is actually angry because Mara did his job for him.  Bremen is described as going nearly as red as the ch’hala tree bark, which, given that the word “purple” was used in the tree bark descriptions before, is pretty alarming.  So naturally, Bremen says that he does not want to hear any more about this, Mara needs to go through the entire standard procedure including background checks and acquaintance correlation and interrogation, go whine at Mon Mothma if you must, is that clear, Captain Solo.

Ouch.

will: Yeah, Han let his anger get further than his tact on that one. And Bremen also makes another valid point, even if it does feed into the whole “Thrawn paranoia” angle: Mara shooting those four Imperial Intelligence officers could have been a setup, Thrawn sacrificing some people (which are, after all, “cheap,” especially now that there are clones–not said, but apparent) to “prove” Mara’s loyalty.

I’m less convinced that all of the rest of what Mara did could be so easily explained, but from Bremen’s perspective, I have to admit, this is suspicion, not proven guilt, and the whole point of the investigation is to establish guilt or innocence.

Han isn’t wrong either, but it’s not obstructive stupidity, it’s justifiable caution.

z: An old friend has apparently been approaching during this part of the conversation; Luke announces his presence with a wry “You do have a way with people, don’t you?”

He must have compared notes with Leia at some point.

will: Four years of Han insisting he wasn’t in it for the cause, five of post-victory cleanup…

z: Han is surprised to see Luke, and asks where he’s been; wasn’t he supposed to get to Coruscant three days ago?  Luke says yes, but I got stranded at, uh, isn’t it a nice big crowded corridor here, my look at how many ears there are around, I’ll tell you later.

will: Strictly speaking that part of the conversation happens at the end, but yeah.

z: Apparently he came in ten minutes ago and went to their suite, and Winter sent him downstairs saying they’re going to a meeting.  Leia stopped by at Mara’s room first.  Luke says “Ah. Mara.” and I actually can’t tell what his tone must have been like.  Han’s response is that Mara was there when they needed her, which Luke reads as a reminder that he wasn’t; insert wince here as Han assures that wasn’t what he meant, and after all big brother can’t always protect Leia, so that’s what Han is for, right?  Not to mention Chewie.

will: I don’t think Luke read Han’s comment as a reminder as much as he was frustrated that he wasn’t there–subtle but a distinction.

z: This much talk of protecting Leia could have sat wrongly with me–of all the things Leia Organa Solo is, “delicate snowflake” she ain’t, and even given that there is a named direct kidnapping threat pointed at her right now, that’s a bit much.  But this will have a payoff later in the chapter.

will: I think it cuts both ways–no, Leia isn’t a delicate snowflake, but she is being targeted directly and personally, so all the help she can have she should. Like a Jedi.

z: Going back to Mara, Han says that they are trying to get Security to release her, and Luke replies that might be a little hard, what with her actually having been the Emperor’s Hand during the war and all.  To his eternal credit, Han’s reaction to this is along the lines of “Great.  Just great.  How are we going to convince anyone she’s on our side now?–” of course, the ex-smuggler understands all about shedding pasts and changing courses.  Which Luke is also aware of.  Luke’s response to Han’s “Why didn’t you tell us before” is also golden: “I didn’t think it was important.”  But of course, Security isn’t going to see it that way.

will: There’s an element of, on the one hand, it arguably wasn’t important, because from Luke’s perspective she wasn’t with the Empire anymore, so. But on the other hand, if they’d been more open about that, and gotten past it beforehand, maybe Himron wouldn’t have been able to derail everything by naming her. But on the third hand, how the hell do you get past that, short of–um, spoilers.

z: But before they can start discussing how to convince Security, Luke senses a huge burst of shock from Leia.  She’s with Mara… they don’t have to run, he says, but they should probably walk fast.

will: I like Han’s reaction to Luke feeling a “disturbance in the Force.” After all, that was what Obi-Wan said when Alderaan was destroyed (and I can’t wait to revisit that in I, Jedi), so he knows that usually means Bad Things. So he’s prepared for danger. Shock and surprise is relatively minor by comparison though.

z: Scene shift, to Mara and to a few minutes before said burst of shock.  She hears a commotion outside the door, and senses Leia’s presence–in her guest suite, in solitary house arrest–and thinks to herself that at least it’s not “that Bremen character” again, which, heh.

will: Also, there’s a guard droid outside, and Mara reflects that she isn’t sure whether Leia represents a step up from Bremen, or a step down.

z: Leia comes in and explains that the commotion was about Chewie not liking to let Leia out of his sight upon being told that Mara is being allowed only one visitor at a time.  But at least, Leia says, Chewie probably trusts Mara more than anyone else currently in the Palace.  She will try to get Mara released again in a “meeting downstairs” in a few minutes, but… Mara says that she should have pushed harder to get a ship out of there first, and Leia points out that if she had, the kidnappers would have carried her and the twins off to C’baoth in all likelihood.  Then she wants to know why Mara helped.  Mara says she simply didn’t like the idea of C’baoth getting his crazy grip on them–it had nothing to do with how she herself was taken from her family at a young age.  (This is left actually ambiguous in the text; my sense is not a straightforward Mara-is-in-denial.  Will?)

will: It’s more prolonged in the text: when Leia first asks why Mara did what she did, Mara says she doesn’t know, and says it’s “something about Thrawn trying to steal your children.” Leia then pivots to “where did you come from,” which Mara doesn’t remember–though she remembers meeting the Emperor and the ride back to Coruscant, which tells me that maybe there was some mental editing going on–and that all she remembers of her parents were flashes of them not wanting her to go with him. Leia then draws the explicit comparison about having choice, and Mara denies it, but even Leia makes clear (her voice) that she doesn’t believe it.

z: Leia drops it, and Mara admits to herself that it strangely felt nice to talk to someone about all that.  “Maybe she was getting soft.”

Hoooooo boy.  Where to begin.

…actually, I can’t figure out where to begin without getting too personal about myself.  So let’s just point out that long term loneliness has effects, lone-wolf tendencies also have effects, and those reinforce each other and have baby effects, and then you get to view them as strengths not weaknesses and hello more effects, and pretty soon it’s an effects mess that can rival any Michael Bay movie easily.

will: Nicely phrased!

z: And I would have noted absolutely none of this back when I first read this book.  I wouldn’t have perceived this as character growth for Mara, or, more accurately, Mara denying her own character growth; it absolutely is.  Just take my word for it; moving on.

will: Oh, it definitely is growth, and it’s a very classic bit of character growth/characterization especially for mythic stories like Star Wars. Actually it’s similar to the Dark Magical Girl trope primarily from anime (for another Western example, see Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

z: Leia says she needs to head out and check what Thrawn’s fighting clones are up to–Mara stops her. What fighting clones?!

will: And so it begins.

z: Leia gives a precis of the cloning operation (Thrawn has Spaarti cylinders somewhere, the clones are everywhere), and Mara… remembers.  A forest, a mountain, the Emperor’s personal treasure house, the cloning facility with thousands of tanks.

will: Before that, even, Mara is reacting–she missed that entirely while she was holed up in the medical wing, and really only Ghent gave her a true precis (though Winter did say “unlimited personnel”)–and, well, Ghent. Leia acknowledges that Mara wouldn’t have heard, despite it being “the main topic of conversation in the Palace” for that month.

z: And as Leia is turning to leave, Mara calls her back.  With the Emperor’s face swimming accusingly before her eyes–even the very existence of the place was a “sacred trust” for a very few people–she tells Leia that she knows where the cylinders are.

will: Even Mara can detect the shock from Leia when she says that–so now we’re caught up to Luke and Han. Also, I note that the comment about “sacred trusts” reinforces what I said all the way back in Chapter 1 of Heir: having Thrawn pull his inforaid on Obroa-skai to find Wayland makes no sense, but finding Myrkr and the details of ysalamiri makes a lot more sense.

z: Mara describes the twenty-thousand clone tank facility; about the tanks arranged in concentric circles in a vast cavern; about how she was there only the once with the Emperor flying the shuttle himself, but how she can remember how to navigate to the planet and get to the facility.

will: Leia also tells Mara that Thrawn can grow clones on a twenty-day cycle, leading to this perfect exchange:

“Twenty days? That’s impossible.”
“I know. Thrawn’s doing it anyway.”

In a nutshell.

z: Leia is thinking very fast, and we know this because her sense (through the Force) is giving Mara the feeling of  “wind racing through a ravine.”  This is beautifully descriptive imagery and I wanted to take a moment to appreciate it.  Then Leia warns Mara to tell no one about this, and she means no one, because Thrawn is still getting information out of the palace somehow and this information–what Mara knows–is well worth killing for.  When Leia is gone, Mara is left alone with the realization that now she has cast her lot absolutely with the New Republic, with no quibbling possible, and therefore with Luke, sworn to kill him or not.

will: What makes this interesting is, if Thrawn hadn’t told Himron to blame Mara, which he did explicitly to discredit and neutralize her, this might not have happened, and maybe Mara wouldn’t have heard about the clones at all. (Or she might not have in time, or Delta Source could have gotten wind of it, or something else entirely. Fog of war.)

z: One thing I want to mention before we leave that scene: This is another one of those moments where we are reminded how different New Republic politics and policies are to Earth analogues.  Neither Leia nor Mara give a moment’s thought to the possibility that Mara’s apartment may be bugged by Security, what with her being in house arrest and under suspicion as a mole and all.  There isn’t an interrogator in the room at the moment, and this is a private visit not an interrogation, and that’s that.

will: Good point! Though again I wonder if that isn’t a limitation of imagination in the 90s, or else, the implication is that Leia ordered the bugs deactivated on her Councillory authority.

z: Scene shift to a Luke point-of-view, and to a war council.  Place: Leia’s office, which has been swept “personally by Lt. Page,” our new dark horse, and pronounced clear of bugs; also, their solitude is being monitored by one Jedi who’s actively looking at the moment.  In attendance: Leia, Han, Luke, Lando, Chewie, C-3PO, R2-D2, Winter, and a sleeping pair of twins.  In Luke’s thoughts, “His friends.  His family.”

will: We met Page back in Heir, recall. He’s basically the Wedge of the army corps as opposed to the starfighter corps–elite commando, perfect backup, and very useful for fanficcers.

z: And here we raise a glass to our selected families all, and carry on.

will: *silent raise*

z: Apparently Leia has called the meeting, and she wastes no time, opening with the bomb right away: “Mara thinks she knows where the Empire’s cloning facility is.”  She explains about Mara not remembering the coordinates, but probably being able to navigate there.  Luke isn’t skeptical at all.  Han’s also a little accepting, remarking that a private rat’s nest sounds like the Emperor all right.  Lando is Sir Devil’s Advocate in this scene, bringing up everything you’d expect to be brought up in this situation: Why didn’t she say anything before, is it believable that she hasn’t heard about the clones in the entire last month, isn’t it convenient that she comes up with this right after this Imperial major has named her, isn’t it even more convenient that we need to  take her with us because she can’t remember the coordinates but can navigate there.

will: It’s interesting because after all Lando was on the scene for Mara to save Leia from the Empire–though he has also shown himself to be skeptical of complex plans, so the “she shot them to ingratiate herself” argument is clearly running behind his eyes.

z: Leia mentions that she had only thought about smuggling in a nav computer to her, not breaking her out; Han points out that even if that works, BIG PLANET itsybitsy cavern-complex-in-which-mountain-again–so Luke says, we do have to take her with us.

will: Which is the first thing Luke has said since Leia dropped her bombshell, and everybody looks at him at that, even Leia–he’s apparently jumped straight to the punchline of “commando raid.”

z: Han now joins Lando in the DA position–even if it isn’t a dead-end chase to get them to break her out, it can be worse; it can be a trap.  After all, say it with me, We’re Dealing with Thrawn Here.

will: In the skeptical justice system…nevermind.

z: And the bright line against the Thrawn-paranoia (nice one, Will) is drawn here.  Luke thinks that he knows this feels right, and that he can feel his destiny drawing him with her to that journey; he’s taking guidance from the Force.  He only says that it’s not a trap, at least not on Mara’s part.  Leia speaks up and agrees with him, and also says that they have to take Mara with them.  Han stares between them and gets the idea:

“Let me guess,” he growled. “This is one of those crazy Jedi things, right?”

Heh.  And yep, it surely is.

will: Which, for the record, gets Han on board. He may think the whole Jedi thing is crazy, but this is the Han of “it’s true, all of it,” not “hokey religions and ancient weapons…”

z: Leia moves ahead to link it to logic, evaluating that if Thrawn knew that Mara knew about Wayland (he sure did) it makes enough tactical sense for Thrawn to have tried so hard to discredit her (he sure did).  But we are all aware that it is very possible to argue that in circles, so it has to be rooted in her sense of the Force, and it is.  (A little hilariously, this time Lando points out that Thrawn would have had to prepare for the failure for the kidnapping mission for the discrediting bit to work (he did), and Leia says that she assumes Thrawn prepares for all contingencies (he does).)

will: Basically, this is Occam’s Razor, Inverted. (Sounds like a tarot card of logical arguments.) The simplest solution is that Mara did help the Empire, but because it’s Thrawn, the more complicated answer–that this was a contingency plan–is the right one.

z: Leia also tells the others that she made mind-to-mind contact with Mara twice during the attack, when Mara reached out to her to wake her up and then to “tell” her to “surrender.”  She knows Mara, uh, “doesn’t like us very much,” (her significant glance at Luke leads Luke to understand Leia knows about that you-will-kill-Luke-Skywalker issue) but she also thinks that Mara really really doesn’t want clones overrunning the galaxy either.

will: As much as Zahn says that earlier he dodged the “what the Clone Wars were” problem, these comments prove that Zahn had the same thought most of us did, that the Clone Wars were clonemasters trying to overthrow the galaxy.

Hmm. I guess they sort of did, at that, it’s just that the clonemaster was Palpatine. But I digress.

z: Luke pipes up with the Standard Hero Line #62, “If she’ll take me I’ll go alone with her, not asking anyone to go with us.”  There’s also the Standard Small Assistance Request Addendum #95: Just asking you to help me get Mon Mothma to release her.  And then there’s a very nonstandard, but also very Luke, addition:

“And [asking for] your blessing.”

At first glance I didn’t understand what he wanted blessings for; it’s not like he needs to get permission from Uncle Han to go traipsing across the galaxy into a wild goose chase at best, a very dangerous situation in the worse case, and a trap at worst.  But no.  Mark this part:  It’s not a very common thing for a hero to ask permission (and blessing) from his friends and family when he’s throwing himself into danger.   Somehow heroes always neglect to think about the part where there’ll be a weeping mother or sister and sorrowing friends at home as the flip side of glory and duty.  But not Luke.  Actually, not the Skywalker twins.  Remember how Leia, even if silently, asked Han to understand and allow her to take the risk she took in going to Honoghr? And he did, because to do otherwise would be to diminish her?  There’s a heroism of its own on the part of those who have to watch the heroes go, if they are given the chance to allow the heroes that risk.

will: Right, exactly. Luke is the Hero, but he’s not alone, and he needs his friends and family to understand, or the whole thing is pointless.

z: It’s an emotional moment for everyone, so of course Han has to break in with an effective throat-clearing: He points out that they can’t ask Mon Mothma, because Mon Mothma would “go through channels” and they might as well announce through the Palace PA system that Mara knows where the cloning facility is and will take them there, with the attendant severely-shortened-lifespan issue.  So they’ll have to break Mara out.  A comedic interlude follows when Leia protests that they can’t break someone out of prison, that would be highly illegal, bordering on treason, and while I’m falling off the couch laughing (“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”) Han says what we are all thinking: “The whole Rebellion was a highly illegal action bordering on treason, sweetheart.  When the rules don’t work, you break ‘em.”

Key point: Be someone who understands when the rules don’t work and that it’s time to break them.

will: Also, Han’s answer to “we can’t do that!” is “sure we can, Chewie and I broke a guy out of jail once,” which is also hilarious, and even better when Chewie growls a response and Han says “yes, it did go fine, he got re-arrested the next day but that wasn’t our fault.”

It reminds me of one of the best lines that Alan Dean Foster (he was the ghostwriter for the novelization of the original Star Wars) added. On the Death Star, Han proudly says that “Corellians don’t get lost.” Chewie growls something, and Han says:

“Tocneppil doesn’t count; he wasn’t a Corellian. Besides, I was drunk.”

I have a few stories like that too…

z: Han then states that Leia should be staying there with Chewie, and he’ll go with Luke and Mara.  This time Luke senses Leia internally give her scared blessing: Of course it’s dangerous for Han, of course it makes sense for them to be three when attacking an entire mountain instead of two.  Oh, also she doesn’t want Luke to be alone with Mara, again given the kill-Luke-Skywalker issue.  Lando joins in on the Reluctant Hero part: “Might as well make it four.”  He wants to get back to Thrawn about what happened to Nomad City.

will: Which he officially gives up on, given Drayson and now this.

z: Chewie is very unhappy, as very well he might be, because his life-debt is pulling him two ways: Can’t let Han go into that kind of danger alone, can’t leave Leia and the twins unprotected with kidnappers still out there.

will: Especially when Han points out that the alternative to Chewie staying is Palace Security…Chewie’s opinion of whom was damn low to start with.

z: Then Leia gets an idea.  We aren’t told what the idea is.  This is one of the very few shrouded-narration moments Zahn uses: “They all listened to it” is all we get.

will: He uses that trick more in his mystery series, appropriately.

z: Chewie agrees with the idea immediately, which stuns Han.   Han says that it must be a joke, and Leia says that Chewie will be miserable otherwise; Han says tough, Luke, back me up here… and Luke says, sorry, no can do, I actually think it’s a good idea.

will: Bonus: Luke “hesitates, but couldn’t resist,” and says it’s “one of those crazy Jedi things.” Han is Not Amused by this. (I bet he’s laughing inside.)

z: Han asks for support from Lando and Winter.  In a nice echo of the scene before Leia’s Honoghr visit, when Chewie and Luke had climbed past each other to get out of the room and the discussion as quickly as possible, Lando is all hands-raised nope-not-getting-involved here.  Winter just says that she trusts Leia’s judgment if Leia thinks it’s safe.  No help there either.  Leia says that they need a few days anyway, maybe Han will get used to the idea.  “Yeah.  Sure.”

will: Read: “Fat chance.”

z: Another moment of silence, broken by Lando: “So that’s it?”  Leia confirms that that’s it; they need to start planning, which they do–and scene.

will: OK–so, did you know at a first read what this was? In retrospect it was obvious and even appropriate, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t put it together at a first read. Then again, it won’t last long.

z: I don’t remember exactly, but I don’t think so.  Although I agree with you on both fronts.  Besides, that’s pretty much the only thing they haven’t tried to keep Leia and the twins safe so far.

This chapter is all conversations, with not as much character development as character revelations, except for Mara’s small step into opening up.  But when the characters in question are mostly old friends, there are no complaints on my part.  Will?

will: Yeah, this is Zahn saying “I’m starting Act II now,” keyed to Mara hearing the word “clone,” and building everything fore and aft around that. And yeah, this is an example of how enjoyable it can be to watch old friends have conversations, even (especially) serious ones.

And it’s more of Zahn seeding hints, like the ch’hala tree reacting solely to sound, and we get reminded about the value of information in Mara, and the value (and lack thereof) of paranoia, justified and otherwise.

That’s all for me. I’m back to moving and shipping and packing, with the occasional job interview. Wish me luck. Next week, we’re back to the smugglers, we see what Mazzic was planning, and Thrawn deals with personnel down and up–well, down and sideways-maybe-up-depending. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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