The Last Command, Chapter 14, Part 2

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to the second part of Chapter 14 of Dark Force Rising, wherein competency takes over.

But first–squee:

And more squee: Enter Thrawn: A Q&A with Timothy Zahn

The background of this decision must have been fascinating, because… eh, if it’s history becomes myth, myth becomes legend, then certain aspects of the legends–Legends–must have been actual history after all, huh?

I’m also excited about some of the things they can use Thrawn to explore now.  More than his inclusion in this animated series Rebels (…which I may have to, like, watch or something, now), I’m excited about Zahn’s own book.

will: Yeah, my response to this was “I guess I’m going to have to watch Rebels now. And read Zahn’s book, though that one was a no-brainer. Oh, and read Wendig’s book. And maybe the others too.”

This might be the straw that broke the camel’s back on me vis-a-vis the rebooted EU, is what I’m saying.

z: In a very real sense, this sequel/reboot Universe (at least the part of it contained in The Force Awakens) is not our mother’s Star Wars, by which I mean our Star Wars.  This target was pursued before in the New Jedi Order series of the EU, but it didn’t quite work because what they meant by that was HAI GUISE WE GRIMDARK NAO.  …yes, yes, I know, that’s unfair.  But it seems to me that that was the failure mode of the NJO looking at it from this remove, anyway.

Whereas The Force Awakens quietly, without any fuss, muss, and without feeling the need to bring out seventy-six trombones about it, takes care of the no-women no-minorities situation on both sides of the Galactic conflict, which sets it apart from the original trilogy instantly.  It can be argued that the prequels were going that way too, on the side of the Good at least (and besides, I’ve got a crisp shiny $20 that says that every female-identifying SW fan will instantly recognize the words “Stand by, ion cannon… fire!” and feel a tiny little thrill).  So Lucas, while still at the helm, was completely OK with undoing, if not actively trying to undo, the mark left by the original movies having been filmed in 1977 through 1983.  But even he left the Evil side untouched once stormtroopers entered the scene (given that the original template of the clones of the Clone Wars was male, the sexism couldn’t be handled within the context of that Empire anyway).  But then, Naboo has no female pilots either if memory serves?

But TFA‘s “what sexism, what no minority representation, here they are and they’ve always been around I don’t know what you’re talking about” approach only makes another thing clearer: The Empire’s anti-alien bias is still there.  The Rebellion New Republic Resistance has all kinds of aliens in all kinds of positions.  That’s always been the case, since (*sigh*) the Gungans.  The Empire doesn’t have any, in any position whatsoever.  That’s always been the case, since (*sigh*) Darth Maul.

will: I will say that I’m willing to give the filmmakers a bit of a pass concerning aliens, on the argument that they were working with limited budgets and the like. This came up in a certain other–why am I dancing around this?–in Star Trek‘s expanded universe, too. It’s a lot easier to describe a multi-species crew that doesn’t just consist of Rubber Forehead Aliens than it is to show one. That’s why Diane Duane’s description of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is a helluvalot more full of non-humanoid beings than we saw the U.S.S. Enterprise have. And as Lucas’s budget expanded, so did showing non-humans as more than background. Compare anybody in the Cantina to Nien Nunb…

z: So Grand Admiral Thrawn has always had an extra bit of fascination, which many characters explicitly comment upon in the EU: Given the Empire’s well-known anti-alien bias (that’s what the characters call it, not recognizing the irony in not calling it “anti-non-human bias” at the least), this Thrawn must be amazingly good to even be given any command, let alone rise to Grand Admiral.  Which, of course he is.  But all aspects of that side of the story have only been told, not shown… until now.  Now, when Tim Zahn is writing a book set, if I understand correctly, right in the middle of Thrawn maneuvering and rising to that position to start with.

will: We have seen certain bits and pieces of that maneuvering and rising in the past–Outbound Flight, Choices of One, and “Mist Encounter” spring to mind. Of course, that was under the old EU. I’m…let’s go with, I’m very intrigued to see what happens next.

z: I don’t know if Zahn’s chosen to explore that aspect.  I don’t know if he was allowed to, or if it fits the plan.  But the chance is there, and I want to see that exploration.  Especially in light of the fact that, whether we like it or not, this will be a number of fans’ first introduction to the character.  One part of my fascination is that speciesism has always been explored in mostly fanfiction in the SW universe, though a number of EU authors also touched upon it explicitly. It does have the usual connotation of being “magical racism,” which I realize is problematic, but better than nothing.  But since TFA has done the “sexist, who’s sexist, they were all… yeah, they were all on leave, yes, all through the war, visiting Coral Vanda or something” thing about female representation and, yes, minority representation, but has explicitly chosen not to touch the anti-alien bias, the chance exists to at least confront that explicitly.  And that chance excites me.

….yeah this means that I am going to have to start reading books from the rebooted EU.  And maybe even see this Rebels thing.  Welp.

will: Oh, also, apparently a certain ace fighter pilot will show up as a teenager too. I got that one secondhand, but.

Damn, they’re really striking for the core of the old-school fans, ain’t they?

z: …huh, what?  Sorry, couldn’t hear you over this soft but high-pitched squeeing sound.  No idea where that comes from.  None.

will: If I start calling you “Squeenock,” will that bother–yes, of course it will, nevermind.

z: WILL
NO

will: Back to our story, though.

z:Yes, let’s.

When we last left the actual Zahn book we’re commenting about currently, Garm Bel Iblis had consented to take over the defense of Coruscant, since Mon Mothma had unbent enough to trust him enough to ask him to do that explicitly.  We open this week’s section with a scene shift, to check in on the Imperials.  Pellaeon is watching and directing small- and mid-size ship dogfights, while Thrawn is watching the capital ships of their enemy.  Thrawn points out to Pellaeon that some Rebel Dreadnaughts, previously attempting to directly protect a Golan battle station which didn’t actually need all that protection, have now started to pull back.  He concludes from this that Garm Bel Iblis (“our old Corellian adversary”) is now in charge down there.  Pellaeon, as usual, doesn’t see the withdrawal pattern until way after Thrawn and can’t figure how he concluded about the change of guard, but by this point he has complete blind trust in Thrawn, so he just shrugs and gets on.

Not before a funny exchange though:

Thrawn: [I wonder what took them so long to get Bel Iblis in charge.]
Pellaeon: Perhaps they had to wake him up.

will: That’s one interesting facet that doesn’t come up all that often but is present here: the “reality” issues of command. No, it wasn’t that Bel Iblis needed to be woken up–but couldn’t he have? Or what if he was on the other side of the planet when the attack hit? Hell, there was no guarantee he would even be on Coruscant if not for the Nkklon attack and the subsequent negotiating…

But then, Thrawn’s plan didn’t depend on this, it was just an interesting side note.

z: But since the main point of this attack was never capturing Coruscant proper, the change of command down in the gravity well isn’t worrying; it only means that they will be able to take out of commission fewer ships and personnel than they had initially counted on, but who cares.  It’s time to unveil Thrawn’s “brilliant new siege weapon.”  Thrawn holds off the order until enough ships have retreated far enough.  He says he doesn’t want Bel Iblis to “miss this.”  “This” left undefined, although it has something to do with tractor beam launches.  Pellaeon checks that everything is ready, then sits down to wait patiently.

will: Did anybody think they knew what was going on here? I certainly didn’t.

z: Scene shift, back to the surface. Bel Iblis is watching over the battle and conducting more than commanding an organized retreat. Leia, watching, concludes from the tactical situation that the battle is almost done and they will have managed to defend Coruscant; the Imperials apparently don’t want to risk coming into the range of ground-based weaponry.

will: And even Leia didn’t realize how much punishment “Golan defense platforms” (Golan Arms having been part of the West End Games material that Zahn got) could take. Given that they would basically be immobile starships–thus immune to any concerns of engines, mass/thrust ratios for movement, or the like, and able to pack in that much more armor, shields, and weaponry–it’s a bit surprising that Drayson would consider them fragile…

z: And then, one of the sensor station officers speaks up about “a funny reading from the Chimaera‘s hangar bay.”

It looks like the launching tractor beams are being activated, but drawing way too much power.  But what’s weirder is that nothing seems to have left the bay at all.

Bel Iblis reacts to this immediately and orders all ships to focus their sensors on the calculated exit path for drive emissions, since he believes the Chimaera has launched a cloaked ship.

will: At which point we get Zahn’s favorite elision, “someone swore feelingly.”

z: Leia remembers Admiral Ackbar’s contention that since cloaking fields are double-blind, they’d be useless for warships, but if anyone found a way through that it’d be Thrawn…

It gets worse: Chimaera fires again, and again, and so does the other Star Destroyer, Death’s Head.  Bel Iblis directs all battle stations to just fire along the exit vectors, but before they even can, an Escort Frigate, Evanrue, collides with an “unknown object.”

will: Which Bel Iblis confirms was impact, not a turbolaser.

z: As it fights to get its spin under control and, like, not enter the atmosphere and break and burn up–Newtonian mechanics is still A Thing, around here, and hold that thought–Leia reads intent into the collision and asks how could they be maneuvering and targeting from inside a cloaking shield.  Bel Iblis gets another suspicion and commands the tactical station to calculate a–wait, I want to quote this because pretty, pretty physics:

“…a new track from point of impact with Evanrue. Assume inert object; calculate impact velocity by distance to the Chimaera, and don’t forget to factor in the local gravitational field.”

(Anyone could have written the commander asking for a billiards ball problem, but Zahn is talking orbital mechanics here and don’t you forget it.)

will: Dude was a physics major, and shows it.

z: Give the location to the Harrier, Bel Iblis says, and commands them to use ion cannon only.  Leia asks if he wants to take the enemy ship intact.  Bel Iblis says, intact, yes, but I don’t think it’s a ship.

Scene shift, back to the Chimaera. Thrawn has apparently predicted that this calculation and unseeing-attack would happen, but not that they would attack with ion cannons only.  This verifies, for Thrawn, that Bel Iblis is in command, but he says so far they’ve been leading the Corellian “by the nose.”

will: Except that Bel Iblis is now rejecting the lead, what with the whole “ion cannon” thing.

z: Okay, then.  He commands the turbolasers to track the same asteroid, but not fire until his command.  The ion cannon attack finally knocks out the cloaking shield; looky there a cute little asteroid.

Okay, maybe not so little and probably not cute.  Work with me here, it’s been a long da– wee– 2016.

will: Whosa widdle slatewiper? Whosa kewtiepie pwanetbuster?

z: …long for all of us.

Thrawn waits for one extended moment for enough souvenir photos, then lets the turbolaser crew destroy it and its cloaking technology.  Then it’s time to pack up and leave.

will: Though not before we get the clearest outline of the nefariocity of this: the Star Destroyers have been dry-firing their tractors, using a “feedback shunt,” such that a lot more asteroids look to have been launched than actually were. 287 total firings, only 22 asteroids.

z: Thrawn states that Coruscant is for the moment effectively out of the war.

Another confession time:. As a first time reader I didn’t get why; not until I read past the scene shift, back to surface.  Drayson is reporting that the Imperials have fired 287 asteroids into very probably unstable orbits.

will: And that’s if they didn’t miss some (which they didn’t, but they don’t know that) in the confusion of the battle!

z: Oh, that’s why.  No one down there would dare open the planetary shields for anything at the moment.  The sky falling on your head is bad enough; an invisible piece of the sky doing so…. Especially remembering that there’s almost no undeveloped place on this planet’s surface.  Lucky strikes in distant tundras are not going to be on the program.

Bel Iblis can’t quite believe Thrawn squandered the resources necessary for almost 300 cloaking shields, since he  also immediately sees that a much smaller number would have been just as effective. Leia asks about faked firings, and I suddenly remember that she must have spent a lot of time aboard the Millennium Falcon, can’t imagine why that came to mind.  Rieekan points out that the sensors definitely recorded the projectors drawing power.  Bel Iblis appeals to Drayton’s professional pride as well as his experience about Star Destroyers.

will: Which works, as Drayson stops thinking about how pissed he is at Bel Iblis and answers the question. It also probably helps that Bel Iblis says “you know more about Star Destroyers than the rest of us.”

z: Drayson actually rattles off the exact technical trick the Imperials did in fact use as a possibility… but their immediate problems are:

  1. How do we find n cloaked asteroids in unknown, possibly unstable orbits, n≤278;
  2. How do we decide, if n<278, that we have got all of them, and we need to be damn sure since see also, disaster, planetary scale;
  3. Oh and we can’t open the shields, no way no how, until we can prove that there are no more invisible asteroids.  After which we can probably find new jobs as philosophy department chairpersons throughout the Galaxy.

will: One niggle I have is that we will later be told that Coruscant has two layers of shields. I can easily see the New Republic using that to their advantage, inasmuch as ships can maneuver and asteroids can’t. Setting up a checkpoint system where a ship would need to move so far away from its initial entry point to the outer shield so as to allow dropping a section of the inner shield…

Eh. Give it a pass. Even if that was doable for emergencies and the like (and remember, other books will suggest that Coruscant needs to import food daily), this is definitely a crippling blow to general travel.

z: But it still could be worse, says Bel Iblis, the sector fleet is out there and they’ll fix the out-orbit relay station so we can still give commands.  The security chief, Bremen, says good–we need to give an all-worlds alert: Mara Jade has escaped.

will: Leia had noted Bremen enter the room a moment before, and one wonders if she knew what that meant.

z: And Mara had help.  The guard droid is restrained and memory-wiped.

will: Thus demonstrating just how jury-rigged that restraining bolt is.

z: Maybe they intended some extra sabotage along with the attack so we’ve got extra security, and we’ve sealed the Palace.

will: “Like a smuggler’s profit box.” Nice turn of phrase.

z: Mon Mothma asks for a complete search.  Bremen agrees and, bracing herself, Leia tells him not to bother.  She’s gone, with Han and Luke.

Mr. Observant Garm Bel Iblis says he’d wondered why Solo wasn’t in the war room with her. I snicker. So, what’s up, continues the general, and I’m struck by how it’s him–not the security chief, not Mon Mothma–who’s doing the asking.  And to me, he sounds curious rather than suspicious.

will: I chalk that part up to Bel Iblis being slightly less shocked by the whole thing (he was running a private war against the Empire for a decade), and being a Corellian. He’s just faster on the uptake.

z: Leia still hesitates, but if any of these people–Drayson, Bremen, Bel Iblis and Mon Mothma–have anything to do with Delta Source things have gone pear shaped anyway, so she explains about Mara knowing about the clone facility and the decision to send a small team to check this out.

will: To be clear, they appear to be in a small knot in the war room, so it’s not like even the whole war room is hearing this.

z: Drayson wants to know just who made that decision. Leia bluntly says “my family and closest friends, since I can be absolutely certain they are not the ones leaking to the Empire.” Drayson bristles, affronted–well, one of them had to and he’s the thinnest-skinned one–but Mon Mothma cuts him off.  Reprimands can wait.  It’s done; how can we help?

will: Thus demonstrating that maybe Mon Mothma is taking some of the lessons of Bel Iblis to heart; yes, Leia was one of the people she trusted all along, but even given that, this is a lot of trust, and if Mon Mothma was still concerned about needing to be In Charge, she’d need to come down on Leia’s neck for this or else she’d risk losing face.

z: Leia relaxes slightly and tells them to pretend Mara is still there, so the Empire won’t have any indication anyone might be coming and reinforce the garrison.  Given that the plan is that those handful of people will try to destroy the facility, and all.  Mon Mothma says that they should have consulted the Council, so Leia has to spell it out further: Council equals aides and researchers and official aid being mounted equals supply officers and tactical planners and and and yeah no thank you.  Bel Iblis concurs.

will: See above re private war against the Empire, and being much more savvy about how many people can keep a secret and be alive at the same time.

z: Mon Mothma says that she’s worried about this being a trap, and it’ll cost Han and Luke.  Leia’s politer than I would have been: they did think about that, decided it was worth the risk.

(Poor Lando and Chewie have no one worried about them.)

will: Mon Mothma does, in fairness, say that she isn’t interested in blame or power niches, she’s worried for the team. And yeah, nobody mentions Lando or Chewie, but that includes Leia, who hadn’t mentioned that they’d gone at all.

z: Mon Mothma directs Bremen to start the pretense that Mara has not escaped, and they turn their attention back to the cloaked asteroid business, and someone touches Leia’s shoulder.  It’s Ghent, asking if it’s over.

…two sentences ago they were talking seriously, vitally sensitive stuff, and Ghent just sidled close by to tap Leia on the shoulder.

will: Well, he had an access code, and it’s not like Leia had it revoked. And remember, nobody interrupts someone who looks like he knows where he’s going…and Ghent, unlike everybody else, doesn’t see the knot of Leia, Mon Mothma, and multiple generals and admirals and think “I don’t think I should interrupt them right now…”

z: While I’m still laughing, Leia performs the sneak-oblivious-hacker-away maneuver, asking him how he enjoyed the battle codes.  Ghent thought they were OK, but the highly-tuned routine that the crypto department uses for real-time cipher-breaking is a “silly drill”.  Leia is as amused as I am, but turns on the diplomat and says she can take Ghent to the person in charge, maybe Ghent can make some suggestions?

will: Or, you know, become the person in charge after a few years of him learning from them and vice versa…

z: Ghent isn’t interested–“Naw.  Military types wouldn’t like the way I do things.” Heh.  “Even Karrde gets bent out by it sometimes.” Giggle.

will: Karrde, who may run a smuggling operation, but is going for the whole “classical gentleman” thing, and to whom a monomaniacal slicer (but I repeat myself) defines chaos.

z: “By the way, you know that pulse transmitter you’ve got going somewhere nearby?” Hehehe–wait.

will: Speaking of slicer style and a degree of obliviousness…

z: Leia identifies that as the transmitter Delta Source has been using, but counterintelligence can’t even locate it because blah blah cross-frequency split-phase weird demodulation chirping (those last two are my two semesters of communication theory talking) blah blah.  Ghent doesn’t know anything about that “tech problem”–

will: How many software engineers does it take to change a lightbulb? None, that’s a hardware problem.

z: The hardware engineer over here nodding…

–but, here–Ghent pulls a data card from his pocket and hands it to Leia, who asks what it is.

The encrypt from that pulse transmitter.

What.

Extra bit of hilarity interjected by Ghent taking Leia’s incredulous “it’s what?” as “I didn’t hear/understand you” and innocently explaining again: “The encrypt code that cross-frequency whatsis is using.” He’s been working on it for a month, but he’s finally got it sliced.

will: Remember, Ghent told Mara about that back in Chapter 2.

z: Leia urgently asks if anyone else knows he’s done this.  Ghent says no, he was going to give it to the colonel back there but the guy was busy, so.

will: And it’s not like he’s been talking to anyone (except to Mara)…

z: So of course, if he can’t hand to encryption team lead, he’ll give it to the one person he’s been talking to.

Leia’s thoughts sum it all up: “Delta Source’s encrypt code… and Delta Source didn’t know they had it.”. She warns him to don’t-tell-anyone, he doesn’t get it but agrees, and Leia’s mind starts racing about how best to use this, and fast.

will: Hell, Ghent will probably forget about it (except as a memory a la ILKO) by next week.

Or, you know, day.

z: And scene.

This is already a monster of a commentary, because as long as this chapter is, it’s also very lean.  No wasted word or action.  Thrawn is an innovative military genius, news at 11; Bel Iblis is calm and competent enough not to be overly fazed by Thrawn, news at 11:30; Coruscant is in some kind of trouble after all; news at 12; and Leia now has a means to try to figure out who Delta Source is, that’s not going to be on the news thank-you-very-much.

Will?

will: And while Mon Mothma and Drayson both may have their hangups, they’re also professionals themselves–Mon Mothma even taking Bel Iblis’s perspective to heart, and Drayson appreciating when his expertise is called for. Film at…Mon Mothma was 10:30 and Drayson is into the next day’s broadcast by now.

So when you combine last week and this, you get one of the most impressive chapters in the book, really. I’m almost surprised that Zahn didn’t split it where we did.

But yeah, I’m not going to talk more than I already have, because I kinda need to start watching Star Wars Rebels now, and that takes time.

Next week, we’re back to the Smugglers’ Quorum, and Karrde having a moment of a version of conscience–not to mention, starting to put some pieces together about the way the Force interacts with evolution. Also, Ferrier finds out just how tight the leash is around his neck…and how quickly it can become a noose.

Until then, may the Force be with you.

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4 thoughts on “The Last Command, Chapter 14, Part 2

  1. Making Thrawn still canon is cool and all, but what I really want is Mara Jade. And by that I mean being mentioned by name if not actually shown in a live action movie.

    Liked by 1 person

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