The Last Command, Chapter 12

will: Welcome, gentlebeings, to The Last Command chapter 12, where we learn that even gnats can hurt if they sting in the right place, we’re shown large hook-shaped rocks, and two decision points are reached.

In the meantime, if you’re reading this, then my move is complete. It’s a long story but my family is basically on a summer retreat, which coincided with vacating our apartment. Made for an exhausting few weeks of box carrying and driving, let me tell you.

z: And I’m past the second concert of the season, which…

…well…

So after the first concert we all believed we had done something incredible; that was borne out by the recordings that we received afterwards.  There was one piece where my mind pretty much blanked out at how we sounded when I started listening to it.  So we were hoping we’d do as well…

…we did better.

And in particular, we did better in the a cappella  piece, which was my arrangement, and I’ll have to stop thinking about this if I’m going to come back to the ground long enough to, like, add my comments to this entry and stuff.

(Next concert: August, at Super Smash Con in Virginia.  Hint.  Hint.)

The Wild Karrde is about to “breakout” (exit hyperspace, I imagine) at Bilbringi in five minutes, and Karrde orders the turbolasers ready to go just in case. As he shuts down the display of another negative report on the clone pipeline, Aves says Dankin (who has the helm) sounds tired. Aves looks it, too, says Karrde, and says they need to do some training on double shifts. They joke about how the taskmastering will look good for their reputation, and then Aves asks the question: how sure is Karrde about the clones on Berchest?

Karrde says Luke was sure, and “I trust you’re not suggesting the noble Jedi would have lied to me.”

No, says Aves, but maybe it was a setup, “Something Thrawn deliberately dangled in front of you to put us off the real pipeline.”

z: By this time, that mode of thinking is reflex action for everyone in Factions One and  Two (New Republic and the Fringe).

will: Karrde agrees that they got in and out of Berchest way too easily. Aves wonders why he didn’t mention this to the rest of the clone-search squad, but Karrde says they’ve surely thought of it themselves, and realized that if there was an Imperial agent in the group, best to act as if they were fooled.

This is approaching Lord Vetinari levels of complexity here…

z: If they know we know that they know we kno–oh blast it just give me some Corellian whiskey.

will: Karrde acknowledges that this all hinges on if Berchest actually was a deception, and Aves counters that it also hinges on if there really is an agent…

Karrde smiled. “‘If we had some bruallki, we could have bruallki and Menkooro—”
“—if we had some Menkooro,'” Aves finished the old saying.

One of my personal favorites, that one.

z: I like it quite a bit too, especially the rhythm.

will: Anyway. Aves now raises the question of Ferrier, who Karrde says is in a he-said-he-said with Han Solo, which explains why he had the assault shuttle Ferrier showed up with taken to the Roche system for Verpine analysis.

Karrde also takes a moment to wish he had Mara back, because Aves is capable, but not nearly as quick-witted as she is.

As they arrive, Dankin gets the “honor” of playing the captain, and we learn that Mazzic told Par’tah to tell Karrde to swing by Bilbringi, probably related to Mazzic’s planned eye-catching demonstration. The Karrde Team have fake credentials, and they’re just here for a look.

They exit hyperspace to a flurry of activity. The Imperial shipyards are active and busy, and Karrde points out that the same is true at two other shipyards. No shock–if I were Thrawn I’d have made yard dogs, technicians, engineers, and construction workers the first priority of my cloning project.

z: “Yard dogs” is a new one on me, but I think I get what it means.

will: The system control cuts in, demanding ID, and Dankin plays the captain of the Hab Camber.

z: OK, that’s terrible.  And terribad.  Terribly terribad.

will: Control acknowledges his credentials and tells the ship to stand by–and launches an assault shuttle. Karrde says that could be just a test of their skittishness, but Aves and Dankin point out that maybe Mazzic has already been through and they have beefed up security.

Control tells the Hab Camber to stand by, they’re sending boarders to inspect, and Dankin strikes “just the right mixture of puzzlement and annoyance” in complaining. Control offers to solve all the ship’s problems with a turbolaser, and Dankin (as the captain) backs down. Karrde orders the ship prepared to receive boarders, scanning the shipyard, until he notices something and orders a closer scan. It’s a set of asteroids, twenty-two in total, with crews of support craft and shipyard workers all around. Aves wonders whether this is a mining expedition, but it doesn’t fit.

Karrde, by contrast, wonders if this is related to Thrawn’s superweapon that let him take over Ukio and Woostri almost magically, and Aves says that would explain the security at the shipyard…and about that assault shuttle?

Karrde repeats the order to stand by and prepare to be boarded. Dankin says that their fake delivery schedule and paperwork can withstand a certain amount of scrutiny, but then tells Karrde to check out a Star Destroyer in construction off to the portside. He starts to say something about activity around it…

And in midsentence, the starboard flank of the Star Destroyer blew up.

Aves confirms that this is a fatal blow, not least because to repair and rebuild it would probably be more expensive than starting over, but Mazzic’s people (because that’s definitely who that was) have cut things sharply and are going to be fleeing under attack. As the freighters that killed the ship turn tail, they’re followed by squadrons of TIEs. Karrde knows that he could help, though he is way out of position, and “[h]elping to salvage careless tactical planning only encourages more of the same.” Still, he can’t sit idly by, so he starts passing orders concerning opening fire on the assault shuttle and the nearby battle station, to cause more confusion…but Dankin says hang on.

Two Corellian Gunships jump insystem along the freighters’ exit vector, providing cover. That’s out of Mazzic’s style and budget, but Ellor’s people are all over this, especially given “the legendary Duros cultural recklessness,” and as to the cost of Gunships, well, they figure he stole–er, borrowed them from the maintenance depots he part owns along a major trade route.

z: That quote sits badly with me; it’s a bit unnatural.  Granted that we’re talking about a stereotype, we don’t say “the legendary British cultural stiff-upper-lip” or “the legendary German cultural efficiency,” after all.

will: Aves is amused:

“I bet there’ll be some complaints about the service this time around.”

z: …I knew there was a reason I feel uneasy every time I have to leave my car at the mechanic.  Even though I don’t have my Little Red Car battle-fitted.

will: Aves also reminds Karrde about the assault shuttle, and Karrde (who, uncharacteristically, had almost forgotten) stands his ship down. They’re going to stay insystem and get a nice view of post-raid Imperial procedures.

z: (It looks like the raiders haven’t planned so badly and are going to make a clean escape after all.)

will: Aves is skeptical, but Karrde says one of the classic confidence-game lines:

“This is the last place an Imperial commander would expect us to show up. Hence, no one here will be watching for us.”

That trick never works, Bullwinkle.

Anyway. As Karrde reviews what happened, with Mazzic and Ellor doing something big, flashy, and dangerous, and possibly traceable back to Karrde…

“We’re not going to be able to stop here,” [Karrde] murmured, half to himself. “We’re going to have to organize. All of us.”

Aves asks what was it that Karrde said, Karrde blows him off (after all, Aves is clever, but not brilliant or quick), and they turn to the matter at hand… but Karrde vows to get Mara back soon.

Scene shift. Pellaeon watches Thrawn confront General Drost, the commander of the Bilbringi Shipyards, with far more calm than Pellaeon himself could muster. Drost knows how badly he screwed up, and can’t even offer a reason not to be removed from command.

At the same time, the lesson of the tractor beams has not gone unlearned: Drost doesn’t offer excuses, or anything, just the facts. On the other hand, Pellaeon knows that this is grounds for a summary court-martial, or else, “Lord Vader’s traditional response to incompetence.”

z: And, as Pellaeon is probably constantly aware, Rukh is standing right there.

will: Thrawn dismisses Drost at last, saying he has thirty hours to design and implement a new security plan. As Drost leaves, promising not to fail again (“I trust not”), Thrawn notes that Pellaeon disapproves. Pellaeon admits he thought more punishment was in order, but Thrawn shows good-boss chops: Drost’s weakness is complacency, this will be a system shock.

Pellaeon notes how expensive the lesson was, and Thrawn says this was why he didn’t want to antagonize the fringe. See, contra to Drost and Pellaeon, Thrawn thinks (correctly, of course)  that this was Mazzic and Ellor. Pellaeon accepts the correction, and says he figures it’s time to “teach them the folly of attacking the Empire.”

z: Pellaeon not only accepts the correction, but takes it as “the sky is black” level fact within a single beat of Thrawn uttering it.  He’s seen too many analyses of that sort turn out to be precisely correct.

will: But Thrawn says that lesson would be counterproductive, as it would stiffen the fringers’ resistance. Pellaeon says the Empire doesn’t need the fringe, and Thrawn says true, but they also don’t need the fringe plying its brand of mischief more than it is. He’ll make sure all is dealt with, he promises.

“In the meantime—”
“GRAND ADMIRAL THRAWN!”

Time for a visit to crazytown. C’baoth storms in, dropping two nearby stormtroopers guarding the bridge door offhandedly, as Pellaeon nudges himself further into the ysalamiri field. C’baoth complains about the failure of the Intelligence team, which Thrawn agrees with, but then Thrawn asks what C’baoth has done to Thrawn’s men?

C’baoth snaps that they were his men, he is the Empire, and then settles down to the business at hand: the commandos have failed. Now what?

C’baoth: Take me to Coruscant now.
Thrawn: OK. I’ll finish loading my cargo and we’ll go.
C’baoth: Wut?

z: Honestly, that was my reaction, too.  Well.  Semi-that, semi-giggling.

will: Thrawn says he just needs some special cargo loaded, C’baoth is downright confused (Thrawn is off-script!), and then C’baoth sees the asteroids. The good news, Pellaeon thinks, is that all of the people who know what the plan is for the asteroids are ysalamir-protected, but C’baoth can get the half-formed speculations and guesses from less clued-in techs and officers, does so and gathers them, and comes to a wrong conclusion–he demands that Thrawn not destroy Coruscant until the Jedi are his.

Thrawn tries to argue that isn’t the plan, but C’baoth finally does what Pellaeon had always feared, and reaches out to take control of the entire crew.

Thrawn treats it like a party trick, asking what now. When C’baoth explains he’s going to go get the Jedi, Thrawn almost laughs:

“It’s a minimum of five days to Coruscant from here. Five days during which you’ll have to maintain your control of the Chimaera‘s thirty-seven thousand crewers. Longer, of course, if you intend for them to actually fight at the end of that voyage. And if you intend for us to arrive with any support craft, that figure of thirty-seven thousand will increase rather steeply.”

Thrawn then throws out a ton of questions, pictures and ideas about strategy and tactics, and while C’baoth says that there are officers who know those answers, that isn’t enough in time.

z: I like how Thrawn frames his questions, too: “I don’t doubt the power of the Force, I merely present the problems you and the Force will have to solve.”  Heh.

will: And with that, the storm passes and everybody is released from Force-control.

C’baoth says that Thrawn will never surrender the Empire, and Thrawn dodges, saying for now he’s needed. C’baoth responds with some classic “always in motion is the future” stuff, but he heads out, pausing only to remind Thrawn not to forget–which he never will. Thrawn has Pellaeon call in a caretaker crew while everyone recovers, and closes with some classic commentary:

“History is on the move, Captain. Those who cannot keep up will be left behind, to watch from a distance…”

How interesting and classically evil.

z: Especially how he concludes: “And those who stand in our way…” [significant look at the door C’baoth left through] “will not watch at all.”

Well, not that I blame him.  He just had to literally import 500 crewers from another ship, temporarily, to keep his own flagship running while his own crew has the Force-shakes.  I’d be gluing a moustache on my face to twirl for a few minutes, too.

You’re welcome to that mental image, Will.

will: Would that I could draw.

And with that, we’re out. This chapter is plot-heavy, dealing (as it does) with the Empire-versus-fringe dynamic, especially in light of Mazzic and Ellor’s daring attack. The asteroids all but scream “this will matter,” and I surely like what Zahn does setting that up, because I never saw it coming.

But I always like Karrde and his interactions with his crew. And the mentions of Mara don’t hurt.

That’s all for me this week. Next week, back to the negotiating table.

Z?

z: I liked the spectacular descriptions of the attack (well, of the almost-finished-SD destruction) and how Aves and Karrde are a bit like football commenters, watching from a distance and not quite but almost raising scorecards.  Apparently Mazzic meant that when he said “eye-catching.”  And Karrde being ready to provide distraction, even though they themselves are much closer to a battle station, cut off from any allies, and will be in a very very dangerous situation if they do reveal themselves to help the raiders.

It says a lot about Thrawn’s characterization that a) he doesn’t even consider starting openly gunning for the fringers right then and there, b) he only has to mention “we’ll do that but when it’s most advantageous for the Empire” and Pellaeon just nods by now, and c) we the readers don’t even find it particularly remarkable and definitely not a surprise.  That’s rock-solid characterization right there.

Next week, we’re also going to see a reunion of old… OK, relatively recent friends.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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