The Last Command, Chapter 13

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 13 of The Last Command, wherein we’re going to break rules.  Again.

In Real Life (™), I have barely let myself come down from the last Concert High (also ™) before I started co-arranging a piece for the next one and organizing the other new piece submissions in the music library for repertoire selection.  If you have to crash, after all, better to hit the ground running.

will: Hope everybody had a happy Fourth of July weekend, especially those Americans for whom it was a holiday, instead of a typical Monday. I’m now done with this move and on to the next Stuff to Do, as life continues to go on. What a year 2016 has been. Not in a good way.

z: Here’s hoping it goes only up from here.

z: Something new this week; I want to quote the opening of the chapter directly instead of recapping it, because I love its rhythm and build-up:

They came in to Coruscant in the dead of night: ten of them, disguised as Jawas, slipping in through the secret entrance that the Palace Security had carefully sealed and that Luke had now just as carefully unsealed.  Getting to the Tower unseen was not a problem–no one had yet had the time to do anything about the Emperor’s limited maze of hidden passageways.

And so they filed silently into the suite behind Luke… and for the first time Han found himself face-to-face with the bodyguards his wife had chosen to protect her and her children from the Empire.

A group of Noghri.

Well, then.

This is something that, as Will remarked during Chapter 11 when it came up, is perfectly obvious in retrospect, but I hadn’t caught it in my first read, so the shock was nicely done.

will: And explains all of the reactions, from Han’s disbelief to Chewie’s agreement to Luke’s understanding. After all, Han is basically the only one (well, not counting Lando) who hasn’t had some one-on-one time with the Noghri. (And he’ll get his later.)

z: The leader of the “honor guard of the Mal’ary’ush,” as they style themselves, is one Cakhmaim of clan Eikh’mir.  He formally commits “[their]selves and [their] lives” to protecting Leia.  Han is startled to see Leia become all Alderaanian princess in voice, bearing and demeanor (“That sort of stuff usually kicked in his automatic disobedience circuits.”  There’s something to be said about self-awareness this strong.  “But on Leia it looked good.”  You don’t say, nerf-herder.)

Cakhmaim introduces his second, one Mobvekhar of clan Hakh’khar.  Leia in return introduces Han as her husband.  Cakhmaim greets “the consort of Lady Vader,” and I get a small grin from noting that automatic disobedience circuits or no, Han is technically Alderaanian royalty at this point, let alone royal consort of Darth Vader’s line.  But Han being Han, he responds with “Thanks.  Nice meeting you too.”

will: As I recall, the question of Leia as Alderaanian royalty and Han’s place therein forms a B-story (or a C-story, or lower in the alphabet given what a cluster of…something that book was) in The Courtship of Princess Leia, which we’ll get to eventually.

(As to being the royal consort of Vader’s line–he doesn’t really have a line, does he?)

z: Then Leia greets Khabarakh, who’s among the ten.  They exchange greetings from and for the maitrakh of his clan.  Chewie comes in and starts talking to Khabarakh, and Leia takes Cakhmaim in to introduce him to Winter and show him the twins, the “others under their protection.”  The rest of the Noghri immediately start taking defensive positions.  Not much for small-talk, really, which is what we would expect from the level of professionalism they have demonstrated so far while trying to capture Leia.

will: One wonders if the rest of the team are a bit jealous of Khabarakh getting the attention. I do get, though, why he wouldn’t be in command–he was very young after all–and also why he would be on the team at all (hell, if nothing else, this can be a place where the Empire doesn’t have eyes and ears. Well, except the ones we know about).

z: Luke moves towards Han and notes that Han still doesn’t like it, but Han acknowledges that there aren’t that many choices.  When Luke suggests that Han stays instead of going to Wayland with him, Mara and Lando, Han remarks that they could take the Noghri, too–at least out there they wouldn’t have to worry about the Noghri being seen.

I wouldn’t be so sure about that: If they stop at anywhere with civilization and an Imperial spy sees the Noghri openly walking around with Luke Skywalker and reports: Problem.

will: Eh, the Noghri wouldn’t be openly walking around, certainly. We’ll get to that.

z: If they head directly to Wayland, and there’s someone at the garrison there with open eyes who might get five seconds to report that they are under attack by the Noghri and someone with a bright green sword of plasma: Also problem.

will: Again, not so much…and again, we’ll get to that.

z: So in balance, if they are seen anywhere in the vicinity of Luke and not fighting Luke, problem, but anyway–

“No one will see us here,” a gravelly voice mewed at Han’s elbow.

will: And then there’s that.

z: Han, who’d never even felt the Noghri approach, jumps about half a meter straight up and almost draws his blaster–nice reflexes–and grumbles about the Noghri sneaking.

will: Heh. Han was a professional sneak, after all. So there’s an amount of professional pride there too.

z: “Forgive me, consort of the Lady Vader, I meant no offense.” Well, they are great hunters, Luke says, and Han finally comes out with it: It’s not that he doesn’t think the Noghri can protect Leia and the twins, it’s that he isn’t sure they want to (although he doesn’t say the second part out loud, being more intelligent than your average piece of rock on Tatooine).  Luke points out that Leia has already trusted them with her life once before.  Han knows that, but he’s still prickly.

will: Cuts across a bunch of spectra, there, not least that Han wouldn’t trust anybody to look after Leia besides himself, and maybe Chewie. But beyond that, yeah, as I said a few minutes ago, Han hasn’t had the experiences anybody else has with the Noghri, hasn’t had a chance to reevaluate his opinions.

z: They discuss everything being OK at the landing pad–it’s not very clear, but apparently they sneaked in a ship to some landing pad while Wedge and some of the Rogue Squadron flew escort, read distraction, and they’ll use the same secret passages the Noghri came in to sneak out, and have Cakhmaim seal it behind them.  Han’s startled to realize that Luke means to leave right away.  He wasn’t planning on that, and hoping to have some more time with Leia… but the Empire’s making more clones every hour.

will: The running theme of this trilogy…the major running theme, for there are several…one of the many major running themes of this trilogy (thank you, Douglas Adams, and RIP)…is that Han and Leia really, really need a vacation. A time when they aren’t responsible for anything or any decision more complicated than what they’re going to have for dinner.

(Like many other New Yorkers, I’ve been pretty well converted to the cult of Hamilton, the musical, and I can’t help but hear “Take a Break” and “One Last Time” as I write that…the former consisting of the protagonist being begged by his wife to, well, yeah; the latter is a dramatization and performance of George Washington’s farewell address.)

z: Luke tries to offer sympathy at how obviously Han is crestfallen, but becomes all business immediately when he senses that Han isn’t in the mood to appreciate it.  He leaves to get Lando and spring Mara out of her quarters-arrest, intending to use a restraining bolt that Chewie made on the guard droid.  Han’s left in the entry room with the Noghri and in a mood:

“What’re you looking at?” [Han] demanded.

The Noghri standing there bowed.  “I meant no offense, consort of the Lady Vader.”

I laugh, because… not helping, dude.

will: One of the more…tricky aspects of the Noghri in this trilogy and beyond is that they explicitly place themselves into servitude, even as Leia is putatively trying to free them…and then the “white savior” flipside of Leia freeing them. This little bit doesn’t quite help…it reads like something Han would say to a droid, or a servant. (Or Chewie, frankly…but I’m going to just sidestep the whole issue of the life debt…for now.)

Though at least there may be a hint that if this is the same Noghri who just spooked Han, they’re kind of playing with him a bit (not unlike how Rukh would surprise Pellaeon, but with less death-fear and more nose-tweak).

z: Han moves into the suite, determined to at least say good-bye to his wife in private.

will: I’m going to refrain from anything untoward here.

z: Scene shift, and we’re in… uh, the second Death Star’s Throne Room, with the Emperor blasting Force lightning at Luke and Darth Vader… yeah, it’s Mara, and she’s dreaming.

will: The exact same dream as last time, in fact. And I mean the exact same. Zahn copied his earlier description of this part of the dream word for word, up until the fact that this time, it’s “with an electronic-sounding shriek of rage” instead of “with another roar of rage.”

z: An electronic shriek throws her out of her dream.

will: That shriek. Last time, it was a roll of thunder that she realized was a knock, this time it’s the rage shriek that interferes.

z: Nice catch.

Mara knows that something has happened to the guard droid outside, and assumes that it’s an intruder that the droid was protecting her from.  The door opens, and she hurls a datapad she had to hand at the figure seen through the door.  Which figure raises an arm, and the pad stops in mid-air.  Wonder who that could be.  But, being a well-brought up young man and all, Luke announces himself anyway, as “it’s just me–Luke Skywalker.”  Somehow, I don’t think she needed the surname, but anyway.

will: Well-brought up young man, after all. One of the tropes inherent to the farm-boy-child-of-destiny is politeness in a way that can only be described as “old-fashioned,” and that’s an element of that. Luke is informal around his friends; around anyone else, he’s proper.

z: She reaches out with the Force and confirms that it’s Skywalker, as she always thinks of him, and I smile when I realize what she apparently doesn’t think about: That she knows Skywalker’s mind and sense in the Force well enough by now to recognize him through the Force, and that she’s back in command of her Force faculties well enough by now to be able to identify anyone with that method in the first place.   Remember that just at the end of Dark Force Rising, Luke wasn’t sure he could reach her mentally, because she couldn’t respond the same way, and a few chapters ago, she herself wasn’t sure she could reach Leia even when she could.

will: I am again surprised that the fact that he Force-stopped a datapad wasn’t proof–though I guess she could have been confirming that it wasn’t C’baoth? And yeah, that’s a nice touch, that she now has more strength in the Force, especially concerning Luke, who she’s gotten a lot of her sense of (as it were).

z: She asks Luke what he wants.  Luke states that they are there to get her out.  She asks why, and he’s all “why, just so that you can take us to Wayland, of course,” and she’s all “I never said I’d take anyone there,” but even saying that she knows it’s pointless.

will: Luke quite seriously says “we need to stop this,” with the same earnestness that he used to ask Mara not to kill C’baoth, in fact. A nice touch.

z: She had committed herself as soon as she’d told Leia about the storehouse and the cloning facility.  She knows Luke knows that too, but Luke is polite enough not to say it out loud.

will: Or “had the sense not to throw it back into her face,” which is how Mara sees it. But I agree with Z. It was politeness, not merely a lack of sadism.

z: She tells him to wait outside and gets up to get dressed.  Walking out to the guard droid’s room, she’s surprised to find the droid intact but restrained–she thought guard droids couldn’t be restrained (“not easy, but Han and Chewie found a way”) and so it would have been destroyed.

will: And, Luke says, destroying the droid would have made the prison break less conspicuous.

That’s right. Luke is polite, direct, and no master of euphemism…he broke Mara Jade out of prison. New Republic prison. Which…

z: Looking at the angrily-quivering, silenced droid, she comes to an explicit realization that Luke, hero of the Rebellion and Jedi Knight and all that, has just defied everyone on the New Republic “from Mon Mothma on down” to get her out, so that she could help get them to the cloning facility and stop its operation, because he sees and does what has to be done no matter the rules.  And he trusts her, a smuggler who has promised to kill him, to help him do what needs to be done.

And here they go.

will: One of the things about Luke, and about the series in general, is the difference between trust in people and trust in organizations. And one of the most difficult things to grapple with in the underlying transition of rebellion-to-government is that eventually you do have to put your trust in systems and organizations…which is hard when you’re been doing this as people. Leia is the Flame of the Rebellion and the Shining Star of the New Republic…but what if she dies? The New Republic can’t keep going just on the fact that the Good Guys Are Currently in Charge.

We’ll get to a lot more of that later.

(Yes, once again I’m hearing Hamilton, given that this was one of the principal reasons why George Washington refused to run for a third term as President.)

z: Scene shift, but we’re still with Mara’s point of view.  They get to an old private landing pad in Lando’s airspeeder and find the Millennium Falcon there. They board and leave immediately.  Mara asks for a course to Obroa-skai, which was apparently the last stop before Wayland on her previous journey there.

will: Likely supposed to synergize with the fact that Thrawn raided Obroa-skai to find Wayland’s location. Still not buying it, but hey, continuity points.

Also note that apparently the procedure for the Millennium Falcon to depart Coruscant is so trivial that it barely rates mention. Compare to the TSA…ah, the nineties.

z: They strap in, and Mara asks what sort of assault force they’re taking.

Heh.

At Han’s “You’re looking at it,” Mara has to explicitly swallow, and goes for sarcasm: Are you sure we’re not being unsporting, here, five against an entire garrison and heavens know what else?  Han just says that they didn’t have many more than this at Yavin or at Endor, which would be a humblebrag coming from almost anyone else.  At the mention of Endor Mara expects to feel rage and hatred, but all she feels is a distant ache. Change creeps on us and time changes things, whether we want or expect it or not…

will: She flatly tries to feel rage and hatred, in fact. But nope.

z: They’re calculating the hyperspace course, and there’s some bantering between Han and Luke, with Threepio’s mechanical abilities or lack thereof being an easy target, I mean topic, but Zahn very artfully manages to convey that the bantering is a bit mechanical and the lines are falling flat, not only because Luke’s stopping to explain the in-jokes to Mara (which is very amusing in and of itself, I may add).

will: I think Luke is oblivious to the tension, actually. From his perspective, he has a team of people who he trusts, so the jokes are quite funny. For everyone else, well, the degree of trust in the room is just warmer than Absolute Zero.

z: That… is also amusing, and very Luke, so I think I agree.  Also, Mara thinks to herself that Luke is the only one there who does trust her, for one thing.  But there is tension in the air; some of these experienced raiders are worried about what they are embarking on.  Han makes it explicit at the scene’s end: At Luke’s “Your first command since you resigned your commission,” he flatly responds with “Let’s hope it’s not the last one.”

One conversation: Is now an ex-conversation.  It has joined the choir invisible.  Etc.

will: Unlike, we hope, the Wayland strike team.

z: Scene shift, to the Chimaera and the good Captain Pellaeon. He receives a battle-readiness report from the ship Bellicose, sends them the final battle orders, and goes back to trying to suppress his apprehension on the very eve of their coming attack on Coruscant.  It’s not the attack that he’s worried about; it’s that it might not “stop there,” since C’baoth is on board, and any repeat of that trick of his to take control of the full crew.

will: It’s confirmed that the attack is an extended hit-and-run hit-and-fade, though the plan is still silent to us.

z: C’baoth is still obsessed with getting Leia and the twins, and the middle of an attack to the New Republic’s capital planet would be a very very very bad time for that kind of loss of leadership-control for the Imperials.  Much to his own dislike, Pellaeon is reminded of the sudden loss of will in the Imperial forces at Endor after the Emperor’s death, and is worried that if C’baoth interferes with Thrawn’s control this time, the same kind of massive loss can occur.

C’baoth enters the bridge, and Pellaeon senses this without turning around–not because he’s displaying nascent Force sensitivity himself, but because he feels the crewers all getting uneasy.  And Pellaeon is “a dozen long steps away” from his own command chair, where his protective ysalamiri is.  He doesn’t want to “go running around like a frightened field scurry for cover,” his own choice of words, in front of his entire crew–

will: Yet again, a nice bit of coining a phrase–we don’t need to be told “mouse” to hear the word thanks to “scurry.”

z: –but he’s also frightened that if C’baoth chooses to grasp control of him in front of ditto, the humiliation of that plus the unpleasant recovery period he witnessed in his previously-hijacked crew members (shudder shudder shudder ewwww) won’t be any better, and will damage his authority.

will: And potentially brain. In fact, Pellaeon explicitly wonders whether this was how the Emperor rose to power.

z: I feel so very, very sorry for Pellaeon.   He’s standing there hoping that he can reasonably do whatever C’baoth has come to ask for, so he won’t lose face, and, oh, his will and self ew ew ew ouch.

So it’s nice that the exchange between them is a reversal of the one between C’baoth and Thrawn in the previous chapter:

Pellaeon: What can I do for you? [please don’t ask us to go land on the Palace landing grounds or something please please please SSDs can’t land]

will: Ahem. Bit of Rogue Squadron prememory there?

z: …hush, dude, spoilers.

will: Heh.

C’baoth: …a ship and crew to take me to Wayland.
Pellaeon: …wut?

z: The problem is, as much a relief as it would be to not have C’baoth metaphorically breathing over all their shoulders during the Coruscant attack, C’baoth has actually agreed to help with the attack, so presumably at least some plans depend on his being there, and there are other reasons why they don’t want him at Wayland… C’baoth says that he’d told them that he’d go take command at Wayland one day, okay, this is the one day.  Pellaeon questions if something has happened at Wayland–is the Jedi sensing some upcoming trouble?  (To which the answer is, yes, actually, but trouble for whom?)

will: Good catch. Yes, it’s clear from context that C’baoth is going to Wayland because he knows that Luke and Mara have just started going there themselves. And hell, if C’baoth hadn’t been so ready to take advantage of that, if he’d told Thrawn…

z: If we had some bruallki, we could have some bruallki and Menkooro…

will: Indeed.

z: C’baoth brushes Pellaeon off and says that’s not your concern, just get me a ship and a crew, or should I just choose my own?  The threat isn’t even very implicit, so it’s nice that Thrawn chooses that moment to step into the bridge.

He openly studies Pellaeon (he might as well ask “is the Mad Jedi possessing you?”, which, heh) and signals a stormtrooper wearing a ysalamiri frame to walk by him as he approaches them.  C’baoth repeats his demand for a ship to go to Wayland, without even looking around.  Thrawn gets there and the stormtrooper positions himself such that Pellaeon is now protected, to his obvious relief.  Thrawn asks why C’baoth wants to go to Wayland, and also gets a “my reasons are my own,” but unlike Pellaeon, he seems uncaring about potential trouble.  Sure, he says, and calls on Lieutenant Tschel–

(Hi, Lieutenant Tschel! {{waves}})

–to signal Death’s Head to detach a Star Galleon from its group and send it over to get troops and passengers to take to Wayland.  C’baoth objects that he didn’t ask for troops or other passengers.  Thrawn says that he’d intended to send General Covell (the one ground-forces commander we’ve met before, the one with a healthy contempt of the flyboys, and we’re counting Captains and even Admirals as flyboys)–

will: And even Grand Admirals, though even Covell isn’t stupid enough to say that aloud.

z: –to take over the garrison at Wayland, anyway, as good a time as any. C’baoth says that he’ll be the one giving the orders, not Covell.  Thrawn readily acquiesces.  C’baoth twitches for a bit, his instability jumping up and down and waving flags to Pellaeon, but then leaves for his chambers without an explosion.

Which is when Thrawn tells Pellaeon that by “I had intended” he meant “I just decided;” Pellaeon was surprised anyway because he’d known that Covell was slated to be sent to take command somewhere else.  But now Thrawn instructs that Covell be informed of the change, and the “troops and crewers assigned as cloning templets,” who are listed in the central computer, should also be transferred to this Galleon.

Oh hi Yet Another Disturbing Picture.  There are at least two complete novels there, one from the point of view of one of these “templets” and another from that of the resulting clone/clones, and both are going to be disturbing.

will: For most of the templets, I wonder. The implications might be disturbing but the actual process probably not. For the clones, yeah, freaky.

z: Pellaeon concludes from Covell’s reassignment that Thrawn thinks Mount Tantiss–the warehouse and cloning facility–will be in danger.  Thrawn says probably nothing serious, but it’s possible the Jedi Master did sense something, so let’s not take chances.  But he thinks it may be something like native unrest, rather than anything from the “Rebels;” he doesn’t think the Rebels have even heard of Mount Tantiss yet.

…erm, so, about that…

…and if they had, Thrawn would know.  “Through Delta Source,” Pellaeon prods transparently, which amuses Thrawn: “And through normal Intelligence channels.  It still disturbs you, doesn’t it, to receive information from a source you don’t understand?” Pellaeon admits that it does, a bit, and Thrawn says to consider it a cultivation of trust: One day he’s going to turn Delta Source over to Pellaeon.

Um, Will, who put that new gun on the mantelpiece?  I don’t remember noticing it before…

will: Garm Bel Iblis, actually. But you bring up a good point–this is Thrawn being rather…naive, actually. Or at least refusing to understand what the New Republic could get up to, that they would have secrets and private meetings and conspiracies…which is what this was, a Conspiracy for Justice.

z: Anyway, Pellaeon is still uneasy about… something, he’s not certain what, about having C’baoth at Wayland… something tickling his memory… Thrawn picks up on his unease and asks what’s up, and Pellaeon has to say that he just doesn’t like the idea of C’baoth being inside Mount Tantiss, don’t quite know why, sir.

will: Some combination of remembering that he ordered a certain clone made, and his revelation about the ability C’baoth has to break clone minds, both clouded by C’baoth, no doubt.

z: Thrawn goes full-mysterious and tells his Captain not to worry about it:

Thrawn: Actually, this is more likely to be a solution than a problem.
Pellaeon: …wut?
Z: …wut?
Thrawn: Don’t worry about it, I’ll tell you in good time.

z: …ouch, that anvil hurt?!

will: Yup. And frankly it’s pretty disturbing when we find out.

z: But then, it’s formality time again: “Is my flagship ready?” “The Chimaera is fully at your command, Admiral.”

Thrawn gives the command: Wait until C’baoth’s ship is out of the area; then let’s go remind the Rebels what this war is all about.

And scene.

Wayland: quite the popular destination this time of the war, it seems; everyone’s going there.  Except those who stay on Coruscant with Noghri commandos for protection, and those who are about to attack Coruscant who get information from… something… on Coruscant.  The battle on two fronts are set to go, with a nice symmetry: The New Republic is attacking… OK, representatives from the New Republic are attacking… OK, OK, a ragtag band of unauthorized guys plus one ex-prisoner that they sprung from the New Republic are attacking the most important military facility of the Imperial Remnant, while the heart of the Imperial Navy is attacking the heart of the New Republic itself.  We could be forgiven if we momentarily forget about the third side in the war, and it’s going to be a while before we check back with them anyway.  In the meantime, Will?

will: Yeah, all of that. Though actually we’ll meet up with the third side after one more chapter…that said, I’m already wondering about splitting the next chapter, it’s a real lulu.

z: Let’s see what we can do.

This is where Zahn shifts the events into high gear, and we start to watch all the unfolding and the dominos and the connections happen. You start to see that just with the Noghri and Wayland and Mara, not to mention C’baoth, and it’ll only get more and more.

(Like I said, a real lulu.)

Join us for that lulu next week, where we get the King of the Nerds meeting those who will eventually be his devoted subjects, see a rift heal, and watch Thrawn prove that you don’t get to be Grand Admiral by collecting stormtrooper bobbleheads. Oh, and we learn a bit more about how to keep secrets in an open society.

Until then, may the Force be with you.

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2 thoughts on “The Last Command, Chapter 13

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