The Last Command, Chapter 15

will: Welcome back, gentlebeings, to The Last Command. This chapter has Karrde making deals, and putting some pieces together, while Thrawn–his attention freed up a bit after a strike to Coruscant–turns back to sowing some trouble among the fringe.

In news of the us, as you see this post go live, I should be in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, on a family adventure. I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled location soon, but in the meantime, shout-out to all the Yoopers out there.

z: In news of the other us, I’m having no adventures, really.  I planted a tree in the front yard of my house–the first one I’ve planted; preparing for a performance with the orchestra in two weeks and wrapping up the next arrangement to be performed in Fall.  Quiet stuff.

will: Karrde is holed up in one of his backup-backup bases, and Zahn gets to thumbnail-sketch another scene: the world of Hijarna, and its fortress, “a vast expanse of incredibly hard black stone” overlooking a blasted plain. The fortress was ancient when “the Fifth Alderaanian Expedition” discovered it–and while we don’t get a sense of how long ago that was, it reads roughly like if I said “that was ancient when Leif Erikson came across it.” Or maybe even “that was ancient when humans were learning the whole flint-knives thing.”

z: I like the Leif Erikson thing.  Other than that, I always imagined this as a black version of the Yavin base, which is very likely a failure of imagination on my part.

will: Gillespee, feet up on a console, asks how Karrde even learned about the fortress, to which Karrde just says, it’s amazing what you can find if you look through old records. Karrde’s distracted by a report that seems to put the final nail in the coffin with regard to the Orus sector and clones. Karrde’s now sure that the clones Luke sensed were bait, and Gillespee, around a mouthful of fruit, oh-so-casually points out how weird it is for smugglers to be doing “snoop work,” especially given it hasn’t paid well. And without something to sell to the New Republic, it probably won’t either.

Karrde isn’t fooled by the casualness, and points out that this isn’t just about payment, it’s surviving the Empire, but Gillespee says that Karrde is the only one who sees it that way. Everyone else has expenses–and everyone else isn’t as wanted by the Empire, he doesn’t actually come out and say.

“So you and the others want money?”
“I want money. The others want out.”

One imagines that this was a conversation Gillespee (the Old Man of the community, remember) was point-blank asked to have…

z: I got that sense, too.  But he has the decency to visibly brace himself before dropping the brick.  One gets the sense that he wishes things could be otherwise–well, no, not really, because “otherwise” would mean the Empire is actively gunning after all of them, not just Karrde.  The fact that in the long term the Empire is no good for anyone…

…uh, why do I suddenly have phrases like “carbon emissions” and “coral reef extinction” and “rising sea levels” flashing through my mind?

will: Karrde, as usual, is logical enough to not go berserk, or even be surprised. Anger cools off, business is business…he tries to argue that the Empire is still a threat, but Gillespee says they’re not (except to Karrde, he again doesn’t say). There was no followup to the Whirlpool attack, no harassment of the Orus snooping, and even Mazzic isn’t in trouble for, you know, destroying a half-completed Star Destroyer.

z: So it’s a little more immediate-no-threat than “no Miami in 50 years” is to people living in Oklahoma, but…

will: Karrde tries to logic Gillespee, asking if this makes him feel less or more safe. Gillespee, thoughtfully, says yes. On the one hand, maybe they can live and let live; on the other, army of clones. He figures Thrawn’s just too busy with the New Republic (and he’ll come for the fringe eventually).

z: So Gillespee does see the writing on the wall.  He just thinks it’s pointing at something farther ahead, and the fringers’ philosophy and way of life doesn’t admit much in the way of responding to non-immediate threats.  But anyway–

will: –Karrde disagrees with the last part, because Thrawn’s never too busy to be planning something. He suspects this is a ploy to win back the fringers’ trust until the hammer comes down. It’ll be shipping contracts next.

It already is, Gillespee says. Par’tah has been offered a contract for shipping Imperial sublight engines, and she can’t afford to refuse.

And with that, Karrde sees the Quorum die. “And the Empire hadn’t had to fire a single shot to do it.” He starts to put on a martyrdom act (I honestly don’t know if he’s faking it or not), and Gillespee tells him to cut the crap. It’s not that it isn’t a problem, they just can’t afford to keep doing it for free.

z: Honestly, it’s a bit out of character either way…

will: And that gives Karrde an idea. What if he can guarantee funding for everybody?

“Don’t con me,” says Gillespee, reminding me again of his Old Man of the Community status (you half expect the next thing to be “I was pulling better cons than that when I was still a youngling”), Karrde doesn’t have that kind of money.

The New Republic does, though. They’d be willing to pay privateers, right?

Gillespee’s not interested in that–he won’t die for the cause either–but Karrde clarifies that he was thinking pay like privateers, for the snoop work.

Gillespee doesn’t think the New Republic would even think about that.

“Actually, I wasn’t planning to waste their valuable time telling them about it. Have you ever met my associate Ghent?”

z: …and this is where, if I was drinking something when I first read the book, I’d have inhaled it.

And so soon after we had Han’s “when the rules don’t work, you break them” statement, too.

will: Karrde, you magnificent bastard. Gillespee can’t believe Karrde would even think of pulling this, but Karrde says it makes perfect sense. It takes all the “troublesome accounting details” out of the picture.

To which I can only say, if the New Republic is any good at this whole governing thing, they have teams of managing accountants specifically to look after the accountants who track this sort of thing, because any war will have profiteering…but nobody’s perfect, and if they don’t have a Ghent-level slicer on hand (and we’ve already been told and shown that Ghent is a very high tier indeed)…

z: After all, he cleared the mess about the lump sum in Ackbar’s account in a few days, and one assumes that said team of accountants had been taking whacks at it.  So the implication is, if Ghent wants to hide something, it will Be Hidden and Stay Hidden.

Not to mention, the New Republic is new at this governing thing, we have no sense of how much of the Imperial bureaucracy was retained, and those would be the folks who’d know how to note something like that.

will: Anyway. Karrde follows up that after all, once the fringe finds the clone center (um, yeah, Karrde, about that…) the New Republic will pay anyway…

“We can consider this merely a prepayment for work about to be rendered.”

Talon Karrde: chutzpah to spare.

z: Well actually, technically, the fringe was who have already pinpointed the clone center for the New Republic.  Karrde’s own organization, even.

…yeah yeah yeah from a renegade ex-Imperial agent to a team of unauthorized commandos details.

will: Karrde also points out that Ghent’s already on Coruscant–he has been meaning to pick him up, along with Mara–so the job will be even easier.

(If you say so.)

Karrde asks Gillespee to set up another meeting so Karrde can present the new plan, four days away.

Gillespee: “What have you got to lose?”
Karrde: “With Grand Admiral Thrawn, that’s not a question to ever ask lightly.”

Talon Karrde: learned caution the hard way.

z: Although I’d say he was predisposed to it, too.

will: Later that night, Karrde sits with a cup of I-still-don’t-know-if-it’s-tea-or-booze, marveling at the fact that he, the “intelligent, calculating, appropriately selfish smuggler who’d made a successful career out of keeping his distance from galactic politics,” is now volunteering not just himself, not just his organization, but the entire fringe into New Republic service, and remembering how Han Solo had the same thing happen. It’s a lot funnier from the outside, he thinks darkly.

z: And here it is: The comparison we’ve been making all along, finally expressed by the character himself.

Except Karrde doesn’t have the additional reason/excuse of a certain Alderaanian princess…

will: He hears a noise, but quickly realizes that it’s a vornskr (probably Drang, the more sociable one–as if we needed more evidence that the vornskrs are cats), who comes over and socializes a bit. Karrde notes how the beast looks out over the plain, noticing how quiet it is, and wonders what the Hijarna fortress represented… and then Karrde thinks about how he had, remarkably casually, made pets out of “possibly the only animals in the galaxy who hunted via the Force.”

He thinks about how that sounds, as it’s ludicrous. Yes, a few intelligent species have some Force sensitivity, but those are sentients. Nonsentients? Insane.

z: …and why, exactly?  The wonder is there aren’t more species that evolved with Force sensitivity, given that life creates it…

That bothers me when I think about it, but I don’t have the time to think much about it at the moment… so, apologies.  Anyway, Will is addressing the “how it fits” of this a little ahead, so…

will: But it explains why the Myrkr wild vornskrs reacted to Luke like they did…and how even these relatively-tame vornskrs had looked at Mara with such fury during the Myrkr escape

z: So Jedi and proto-Jedi also draw more of the Force around themselves.  I guess that does make sense.

will: And it explains ysalamiri: Their Force bubbles are an evolutionary defense to Force-using predators, the same way that a species that hunts with its eyes will be an evolutionary predator to visual camouflage.

And thus, we get Zahn fulfilling a lot of brilliance. The idea that ysalamiri have an explanation, one that fits the universe and makes sense, and all we needed was the idea that a predator species can develop Force sensitivity… which is the definition of “it’s a big galaxy.” Especially because Yoda and Ben always talked about the Force as more than just thinking creatures.

I have to wonder if he came up with the ysalamiri first and then the vornskrs, or what. When did he know this part? He seeded it in Heir talking about the vornskrs going after Luke, so… yeah.

z: What he said.

will: Anyway, Drang sits up, and Karrde hears the shuttle returning with his crew, and Karrde takes his pet downstairs. It’s lonely at the top.

Of the fortress.

z: <pursed lips, tired stare>

will: Scene shift! Pellaeon watches as Thrawn greets a shuttle. Pellaeon is confused, because dealing with the fringe never ends well for the Empire. And this is after the Star Destroyer debacle.

z: So am I; after all, Ferrier worked out fine so far, and Pellaeon knows by now that Thrawn changes rules…

will: Sure enough, a pair of stormtroopers bring a prisoner: Mazzic. Thrawn “apologizes” for the whole prisoner thing, saying he needed a face-to-face meeting. Mazzic—all semblance of civility and suave gone—is less than cooperative. He asks how Thrawn found him, and Thrawn just points out that he’s Grand Admiral Thrawn.

z: Really now, Mazzic.

will: I do wonder–how did Thrawn capture Mazzic? If this was any sort of ground fight, how did Shada (who we met at the Whirlpool, and will see again much later) survive–she’d have put up a fight? More likely they were under Interdictor, tractor, and turbolasers.

z: Yes, Mazzic surrendering so as not to get everyone vaporized makes sense.

will: Anyway, Mazzic points out that Karrde has managed to stay away from the Empire, as a matter of bluster, and turns into the whole “OK, you caught me, start the torture already,” but Thrawn cuts it short by saying he doesn’t want to punish Mazzic, he wants to settle matters. He knows Mazzic was behind the Star Destroyer’s destruction, and he doesn’t care.

Mazzic is dumbfounded.

z: He isn’t alone.

will: Thrawn explains that he knows the Star Destroyer was a retaliation for the Whirlpool, and he understands the idea of vengeance, but Thrawn didn’t order the attack at the tapcafe. No one in the Empire did.

Mazzic doesn’t believe it, but Thrawn points out that the attack was horribly underpowered. Mazzic has to concede that point.

z: After all, Thrawn asks, would he be that incompetent? Not likely.

This is actually hitting me somewhere near where it hurts, given certain recent Earth-events that I don’t want to talk about, but… well, I don’t want to talk about it.

will: Thrawn says, there you go, and the shuttle will take you to your base. Your backup base that I know about, by the way. (Nice one.)

z: I giggle.

will: Mazzic asks, is he supposed to believe Thrawn? Thrawn doesn’t care, but says, I had you right here, and I let you go.

Mazzic asks the inherent next question: if they weren’t Imperial troops, who were they?

Thrawn clarifies. They were Imperial troops, but Lieutenant Kosk (remember that name) was hired by someone else. As Mazzic reacts to that bit of news, Thrawn says that he believes he knows who hired the troops, but has no proof. (Liar.)

z:  Small children and the more intelligent vornskrs aren’t fooled.

will: Mazzic asks for a hint, but Thrawn won’t give, and exit Mazzic, stage Chimaera.

Pellaeon asks whether Thrawn thinks this was enough, but Thrawn says it’s not necessary: if Mazzic can’t get to the conclusion that Karrde did it, someone else will.

z: After all, cui bono?

Just what Karrde was supposed to gain from this isn’t clear, but something can be deduced, even something reasonable.

will: At that point, the shuttle leaves, and Ferrier appears, complimenting Thrawn on a job well done.

“Thank you, Ferrier,” Thrawn said dryly. “Your approval means so very much to me.”

z: I swear I was saying this along with him the first time through.

will: Ferrier asks what’s next, and Thrawn says, they know there’s going to be another meeting, you’ll go there.

Ferrier figures he’s going to help Mazzic blame Karrde, but Thrawn says no, sit in the back and shut up. Instead, plant a data card aboard the Wild Karrde, which will implicate Karrde in the hiring of Kosk.

Ferrier figures then he needs to just get aboard the ship… no, says Thrawn, you stay away. Never be alone, never indicate you have anything to hide.

z: You can practically hear Thrawn spitting these things out, and so can Pellaeon.  “Do I have to tell you how to do everything?” indeed.

will: Ferrier is now confused, but willing. And Thrawn tells him what should be pretty obvious, but then, Ferrier is dumb: the Defel.

Ferrier agrees that the Defel can do the job, and Thrawn, his voice now down into the sub-zero range, says that Ferrier has killed Imperial troops, and Thrawn hasn’t forgotten.

“You owe the Empire, Ferrier. And that debt will be paid.”

Ferrier finally asks, once this happens, what’s next? Thrawn says, go about your business…until I summon you again. And Ferrier realizes that he’s never getting out of this one…

And scene.

First up: Thrawn, what exactly did you think would happen with Ferrier? I mean, seriously. Ferrier can’t keep his mouth shut. And he leaks. Full stop. The upshot in this whole thing is that Thrawn may be a genius and may be able to predict a lot of people, but apparently he underestimates how far fear will govern a person–because eventually, something breaks.

How very indicative of the Imperial mindset.

z: There’s also the part where it’s a mistake to try to work with a not-very-smart person for undercover shenanigans, even though they are fully under your thumb and have no reason try to undermine you.   They won’t knife you in the back intentionally, they’ll just trip and fall into you with the knife-hand extended because they were running with said knife.

will: Besides that, this chapter is mostly transitional in nature. Karrde’s new digs, a setup for the next (and potentially last) Quorum meeting, and of course Karrde with the vornskrs.

But I’ve been blathering all chapter, so let’s hear from the Sturm to my Drang. Z?

z: I’ve done most of my blathering inline, too?

Bits and pieces:  As could go without saying by now, I’d like to see Hijarna and that fortress.  Karrde the Information Junkie must have an extra layer of frustration about how they couldn’t trace the clone pipeline.  Karrde the Information Junkie points out that he knows about this ancient back-backup base location because he’s an Information Junkie.  I wonder if Thrawn is being plain nasty by working out a plan to have the other smugglers turn on Karrde, instead of just going after him with his own intelligence apparatus.  He isn’t above revenge, after all.

And that’s all she wrote this time, folks.  Until we see you again next week, may the Force be with you.

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