The Last Command, Chapter 18

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 18 of The Last Commands, wherein idiots are gonna idiot.

will: Idjits gonna id, id, id, id, id…

z: In personal news, I’m in the maws of something best described as the “Amazing Expanding Deadline.”  Which should be enough said.  In nicer personal news, we’re slowly ramping up rehearsals for the Fall 2016 concerts.  So there’s that.

will: In my personal news, it’s now about halfway through MidAmeriCon II, the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City, MO; if you are reading this as it goes live, you have two hours until my panel “Share Your Star Wars Theories” in room 2209. Good luck.

I will say it’s Thursday night as we’re writing here, so we may be a tad rushed. But after last week’s grand revelation, this week is…more grand revelation. Oy. Well, once more into the breach…

z: This chapter is better recapped with a couple  “previously on…” sections attached, so here we go: Previously on Karrde’s Shaky Alliance:

will: Or perhaps Smugglers’ Cove, as it does bear all the backstabby hallmarks of a Melrose Place style show…

z: Talon Karrde had invited a group of leading smugglers to a meeting on Trogan to try to sell them on the idea of hunting for the clone facility for the New Republic, and had gotten a lot of buy-in when an Imperial squad attacked the meeting. However, another one of the smuggler chiefs, one Mazzic, had taken the attack a bit more personally and hit a shipyard to destroy a half-built Star Destroyer. Later on, however, the alliance had started to fray when the searching smugglers a) couldn’t find anything, b) weren’t getting paid for it.   Karrde, witnessing the attack, called another meeting of the fraying alliance to make them a new offer (the New Republic will pay…have you met my slicer associate Ghent who happens to be on Coruscant at the moment?) In the meantime, unbeknownst to everyone else in the Alliance, Mazzic was captured by Thrawn…who made some pretty broad insinuations about who had arranged the attack on Trogan *cough*Karrde*cough*, and let Mazzic go.

Previously on Niles Ferrier is an Idiot:

will: That title can’t be improved.

z: Niles Ferrier was hiding around a corner when Thrawn was talking to Mazzic. Thrawn gave him a data card and instructed him to plant it on Karrde’s ship during the meeting. Since Ferrier is an idiot, Thrawn had to give him painstaking instructions on how this was to be accomplished (“…You won’t even get near his ship…Your Defel, aka ‘wraith,’ will sneak in and plant the card…gah I do have to tell you everything don’t I”) and spell out that the card contains fabricated evidence that Karrde had instigated the attack to make the alliance coalesce (when, in fact, Ferrier had been the instigator, because Ferrier is an idiot).

will: And was stupid enough to have thought Thrawn would appreciate it, in a “I rounded them all up for you and all it took was spilling your men’s blood” way.

Wow, what a moron.

z: Chapter 18 opens with Karrde and Gillespee, having snacks and waiting for all the smuggler chiefs to show up.  Karrde notices some ships approaching, guesses it’s Mazzic, and calls to Aves, who IDs the ships as Mazzic’s personal transport ship and two of his “favorite customized fighters.”  Which makes him uneasy, as well it might.  He tells Gillespee who it is, and Ferrier, also grabbing some snacks, asks what’s that about Mazzic?

will: I suddenly wonder: how do you cater this sort of an event? You probably need more than just a bag of frozen Alderaanian Fries and a few six-packs of Coruscant Craft Beer…

z: I think there’s at least the equivalent of a charcuterie board and a nuts-and-cheese plate.  It’s Karrde’s taste, after all.

will: Yeah, but, like, is there a Smuggler’s Catering Service? And what sort of security guarantees do they have?

z: Ah.

Hmmm.

Heh.

Karrde repeats that Mazzic’s arriving, Ferrier says good, now we can start finally, and wanders off.  Gillespee is puzzled: He thought Karrde didn’t want Ferrier at this meeting?  Karrde says he didn’t; someone else must have assumed everyone at the first meeting was going to come along and passed the time and location on.  Karrde also says that he hasn’t found a way to ask the others who “without looking petty, suspicious, or overbearing.”

Karrde: the perfect diplomat.

will: And very concerned about his image, especially given the whole “I’m selling everyone on a ridiculous plan” thing.

z: Gillespee doesn’t like it, and Karrde reminds him that they’re watching approach vectors this time, so even if Ferrier has made a deal with the Empire they should be safe.  Gillespee hopes so because he hates running after having so many snacks.  Heh.  And just then, Karrde gets a comlink call from his associate, Torve, who asks him to “step downstairs for a minute” in a tone which puts Karrde on instant alert.  A brief code tells Karrde that there is an intruder and Torve has already called in reinforcements.  Gillespee is instantly alert at his host’s change of mood, too. When Karrde heads out, Gillespee settles down to watch and make sure Ferrier doesn’t leave his sight.

The Wild Karrde is in what used to be a banquet hall in one of the lower levels of this ruined fortress place.  Torve meets Karrde to report that Chin, taking the vornskrs for a walk, saw something “moving in the shadows” along the wall next to the entrance ramp.

This is where I start feeling a little bit irritated, because this is lampshading of the aggravating kind–the kind the characters don’t latch on to.

will: In fairness, this is one of those things that’s just too unbelievable, at least for now, and it’s well set up so that by the time the trap springs shut, any realization is theoretically useless.

z: A crewer named Lachton was on board doing repairs and was told to hole up in the bridge with his weapon.  Two groups of Karrde’s team are searching the rooms to either side.  Karrde sets two crewers from his Starry Ice (owowowstillowdammit) to watch and goes on board the  Wild Karrde to search the ship.

will: Heh. I like Karrde’s ship names, myself…

z: I know you do…

They don’t find anything.  Neither do the other search groups. Karrde is about to head back up to the party.  They discuss whether to warn the guests upstairs about a potential intruder–tellingly, Karrde does believe there was an intruder.

will: Well, if Chin saw one…Karrde’s always had a lot of trust in his people. As we’ll see.

z: Interestingly, there’s a discussion of whether to mention the intruder to the rest of the smugglers, and the conclusion is that they’re all adults, they can take care of themselves, but at the same time, they’re here at Karrde’s invitation and all that.

He gives commands to do a complete scan of the ship, in and out, to make sure there are no surprises, and heads back up, once again missing Mara and her unsupervised competency.

will: And her Force abilities, though he probably still hasn’t been fully briefed…

z: From his thoughts, we learn that he’s garnered rumors of a woman assisting Imperial commandos; he doesn’t believe that Mara would have done so, but it makes him worry about her because:

“There were many in the New Republic starting to edge toward a kind of war hysteria . . . and given her shadowy history, Mara was an obvious candidate for that kind of accusation.”

In this year 2016 of the Common Era on Earth, my reaction to that thought is way more visceral than it had been a teenager.

will: Yeah, there really are way too many parallels for this in history…Joe McCarthy was already a very known figure when Zahn was writing anyway, but these days…ugh.

z: He gets back to the party; Mazzic has indeed arrived, and…has seemingly brought an entire platoon of enforcers with him.  This makes Karrde uneasy, but he stays suave as usual and invites everyone to a meeting room.  Mazzic says he has a better idea: Let’s have the meeting aboard the Wild Karrde.

Say what now, Karrde doesn’t actually respond. He does ask why, and Mazzic belligerently retorts “So you have something to hide?” Well, duh, they are business rivals.  But obviously that’s not the issue.

will: Any conversation that includes “what do you have to hide” is a conversation being held under duress…

z: Looking around, Karrde notes that a) Gillespee, Dravis and Clyngunn are clueless and uneasy, b) Par’tah and Ellor, whom we know to work closely with Mazzic, do have a clue and aren’t happy about it, and c) Ferrier is smirking.

And with that Karrde realizes that the “wraith” Defel must have sneaked something on board the Wild Karrde, and I allow myself one good headdesk.

will: Right. It’s the sort of thing that once Karrde specifically sees that Ferrier is Up to Something (Specific), he can fill in the pieces. Until then, it would be only general suspicion. And the idea that the Defel would even show up is almost unthinkable.

z: But given the numbers and the situation he accedes, and they head down.  Dankin and Torve are by the ship, and they don’t like what they see–said platoon of enforcers all traipsed down along, too–and Dankin blocks the way, gets apologetic at Karrde saying they’re going to hold the meeting aboard ship, gives a covert hand signal that puts all Karrde’s crew in there on alert and stalls by mentioning that there’s a scanner crew aboard and so many people would mess up their readings.  And then Shada, Mazzic’s lady bodyguard, puts a blaster on Karrde and Mazzic says to call his people off, or they’ll have a firefight.

will: She’s still not named, just “Mazzic’s decorative bodyguard,” and a scent of perfume.

Hmm. How many relationships in the Star Wars universe started with “her gun was in my face and she was threatening to kill me,” anyway?

z: OK, actual LOL.

Gillespee tries to interject something and is ignored.  Karrde says he won’t surrender his people to Mazzic, who says that no problem, it’s only Karrde he’s interested in, and not for something stupidly personal, but for treachery.

will: Interesting choice of words and concepts, really–if Karrde had done what Mazzic thinks, I guess he’s betrayed his host’s oath and a sort of honor-among-smugglers code, huh?

z: Welp.

Gillespee objects and is shut up again, and Karrde decides that he doesn’t want to risk his people. He says that there’s only space for the eight of them in the wardroom; everyone else will have to stay out there.  Mazzic accepts to order his people to leave Karrde’s alone, and they go in.

Once there, Mazzic sends Ellor to go get all data cards from Karrde’s office.

will: Karrde, asked whether he has any passcodes on his office or datacards, answers only “none, I trust my people.”

Also, Karrde says that while they’re waiting, maybe he could give the chiefs the pitch he’s been working on? Mazzic smiles a bit at Karrde’s audacity, but no.

z: On his return, he and Par’tah are directed to read through them on datapads.  Both of those worthies, it must be noted, are unhappy about this and protest.  As they search, Karrde worries more about his organization falling to pieces and being snapped up by the others if he’s killed here; tellingly, he wonders if Aves and Mara would be able to “beat them off.”  Not kidding about that second-in-command bit…

will: He remembers the post-Jabba shakeup well…and one imagines that he’s having older but also not-yet-extant memories too, of his own boss way back when, and how he stepped up when that worthy vanished. We’ll learn about those someday.

z: He asks Mazzic to at least say what the accusation is, and Mazzic declares what he’s learned from Thrawn, including the part where he did learn it from Thrawn: The attack on Trogan was staged.  Someone hired that “Imperial lieutenant and his squad.” Mazzic thinks it’s only Karrde who had something to gain by it, so…

Interjection: So Karrde’s supposed to have gathered them all and did all that to set them on the clone track because…he wanted Thrawn off his tail?  Or he’s a New Republic mole? Or…? Mazzic doesn’t exactly make that clear, which is the next mild irritant of the chapter.

will: To get them galvanized to the cause, yeah. To take all of them down with him, divide up the Imperial heat, help the New Republic win so the Empire wouldn’t be out for his blood. The elaborate “who cares why, there’s a reason” reason.

z: Anyway, Mazzic did some digging, got some details of the Imperial operation, and is now looking for more evidence in Karrde’s data cards.  Karrde, realizing that the Defel must have planted the data card, looks at Ferrier and asks mildly if it is too late to mention that there has been a recent intruder on board.

Ferrier immediately speaks up: don’t try to insinuate someone planted that data card.

Head.  Desk.

will: As we have learned before, Ferrier will give information away for free if he’s allowed to keep talking.

z: Gillespee asks what data card, there’s no data card, but Ellor, looking unreadable, states that he’s found out and hands the reader to Mazzic.  Mazzic states there’s nothing more to say, but Gillespee interjected that he heard the call about the intruder earlier, too.  Mazzic goes “fine, I’ll play” and asks what Karrde found with his search.  Karrde says, unfortunately, nothing, and yes there aren’t many places for a human to hide near the ship, but we didn’t think about shadows…

Ferrier immediately leaps in: “Meaning you think it was my wraith, huh?”

Head.  Desk.

I understand the carp is a freshwater fish which often leaps out of the water.  This behavior has led to a Turkish idiom: if you say someone is “[being] a carp,” you mean that they keep jumping into conversations that may or may not be their business and whether they should or not.  So.  Well.  Yeah.

will: Yes, Ferrier is definitely acting fishy.

(You left it sitting there.)

And I’d remind you this is exactly what Thrawn told Ferrier not to do.

z: As Ferrier carps up again, Karrde realizes that Mazzic isn’t working with Ferrier; rather, Mazzic is being used here.  So there’s a chance to convince him he’s wrong.  Karrde starts by asking whether Mazzic thinks he’d be stupid enough to leave hard evidence lying around, Ferrier immediately–

–oh my stars shut up

–immediately says that Karrde didn’t know “we’d” be looking for it.  Karrde bluntly asks “oh, so it’s we now?” Mazzic, now at least talking again, asks why Thrawn wouldn’t just have taken Karrde out at Trogan instead of going to the elaborate charade; Karrde points out the obvious that then the entire fringe would have turned against Thrawn.  Demonstrating that by now many people know a bit about Thrawn, Clyngunn says that Thrawn wouldn’t have wasted troops in a sham attack: he’s not “like Vader.” Karrde agrees.  Someone else must have planned the attack; Thrawn’s just making use of it.

Ferrier whines that–

no really shut up–

–that Karrde is blaming him about that too.  Karrde finally shoots back directly to ask if he has a guilty conscience, given that, like, no one accused him or anyone else. Ferrier says hey, you practically accused my wraith!  Karrde, and me screaming from home, point out that Ferrier brought up the wraith himself.  And Karrde thinks to himself that Ferrier is obviously not good at thinking on his feet.

Also, stars are hot, and space is big.

will: Don’t mind me, I’m kind of enjoying watching Z want to scream at a moron.

z: Karrde asks where the Defel is.  Ferrier says he’s on his ship and has stayed there since they landed.  (No one has asked about where he had been, if you’re keeping count.)

will: Eh, under the circumstances that would have been an obvious next question, so I’m willing to give Ferrier a pass on that.

z: Why not here with the rest of the bodyguards, Karrde asks, given that he was acting as a bodyguard on Trogan?  Gillespee remembers that actually the wraith was standing right by the wall where the Imperials came in… almost as if he’d been waiting…Mazzic, quite reasonably under the circumstances, cuts through the bickering and asks what Ferrier would have stood to gain.   Karrde reminds that Ferrier did have an open business relationship the Empire then and maybe wanted to quiet suspicion what side he was on, by fighting them off?

Ferrier snaps that–

–gah, will you–no you know what nevermind keep running your mouth–

will: Heh, heh, heh.

z: –that Karrde can twist all the words he wants:

“But that data card doesn’t say I hired Kosk and his squad. It says you did.”

Oh look my desk just broke from that headdesk.

Mazzic, one imagines in little chips of ice rather than words, asks how Ferrier knows what’s on the data card, which Ferrier hasn’t read, and in particular the Lieutenant’s name, which Mazzic hasn’t mentioned.

will: And the room goes silent, Ferrier goes pale, and the jig, she is up.

As we’ve also said, twice, Ferrier is free with names.

z: Ferrier backpedals: maybe a soldier shouted the name or something? Karrde presses on: here’s a different question. I didn’t invite you, who did?  Dravis and Gillespee, whom you remember were confused and dismayed by the entire thing, back Karrde and press Ferrier; Mazzic, surprised that Karrde wasn’t the one who invited Ferrier, tells Ferrier to sit down with his blaster pointed “not at Karrde.”

will: As Ferrier thrusts a hand out in accusation, and Gillespee says watch out, Ferrier takes advantage of the moment of distraction…

z: Ferrier pulls out a thermal detonator, and suddenly, there are no more questions about whom to trust.  He calls in his wraith, who was lurking outside the wardroom, and leaves him to guard the rest of the smugglers–

–no, really, this would be the same Defel who couldn’t hold on to Han Solo by himself, and there are six people here–

will: Like we said, Defel make bad jailers. And Ferrier…not the brightest star in the night sky.

At this point, Mazzic does name Shada as one of the two potential groups who would get Karrde. “It would be a toss-up between Shada and my enforcers.” So yeah, even at this point, Shada’s effectiveness is established. We haven’t learned the name “Mistryl” yet, but…yeah.

z: –and makes Karrde take him to the bridge, so as to fly him to his own ship.

The rest can be told more briefly, I hope.

will: At this point, it’s just another chase scene…

z: By using the outside lights to attract the attention of the crews outside, Karrde manages to prevent a firefight from breaking out as they take off.

will: Everyone seeing Ferrier training a blaster on Karrde is rather effective as a shorthand, so nobody thinks Karrde is stealing their bosses.

z: They get to Ferrier’s modified Corellian Gunship, and Ferrier calls to his wraith on the comlink.

Clyngunn answers to say that the wraith is, in effect, otherwise engaged.

I laugh.

Ferrier growls that he should have killed everyone back there (dude Mazzic was already pointing a blaster at you what do you think you can gahhhhhh)

will: He could have, I don’t know, stepped out of the room and thrown in the thermal detonator? With his luck he would have forgotten to arm it though…

z: …but he can still take care of Karrde?  Karrde puts his hand on the light switches and says this is the auto-destruct, so don’t try anything or we all go up.

will: Strictly speaking, he doesn’t bother to say it, just bluffs a “I said I’d destroy this ship before you stole it and I’m holding down a switch” and lets Ferrier draw his own idiotic conclusion.

You know. Because Ferrier’s an idiot.

You may have noticed.

z: He does one thing semi competently though, and shoots out the weapons control part of Karrde’s control board before leaving.  You know, because there are absolutely no other ships capable of shooting him down around.

will: Well, it’s only semi competently.

z: He gets to his ship, takes off, and drops a charged metal mesh over the Wild Karrde just as the other smugglers get to the bridge. You know, because there are absolutely no other ships capable of running him down around.

Maybe semidemi competently.

will: Semidummy competently, I’ll give you.

z: {musician glare} OK, I set that one up…

will: That’s two in one chapter.

It’s Thursday night, folks, and you can tell…

z: Karrde could, obviously, call in Starry Ice or the Etherway, But..

“But under the circumstances, I think Mazzic should have the honor.”

Mazzic calls his people and only says “Gunship on the way.  Take it.”

And shortly thereafter, close enough for the flash of light to be seen, they do.

will: Scratch one recurring plot complication.

Mazzic tries to apologize, but…

z: Karrde emphasizes that hey, this is how Thrawn works, OK?  Mazzic says he won’t forget, no worries.  They call their people to cut the net, and while they’re stuck there in the meantime, Karrde did have a proposal…

…And scene.

There’s almost nothing in this chapter except action-setting dialogue, action, and seriously idiotic dialogue and seriously idiotic action.  So it’s hard to recap, and even harder to recap without denting either my head or my desk, for idiocy, she aggravates me.

will: We’ve talked a lot about the competency porn of characters and the setting in general; it’s significant that this is sort of incompetency porn. It’s cheering to read about Ferrier swallowing his own foot, certainly, but at the same time, it demonstrates just how small-time he is; you don’t need to think hard to beat him, or really think at all. Just let him sabotage himself.

z: But on the other hand, it’s not like we didn’t have adequate foreshadowing of the fact that Ferrier is not one of those competent villains that we all love to hate.  He’s a walking, talking, and thankfully now previous, Dunning-Kruger Syndrome demonstrator.

So between what I just said and what Will said right above, and given that i have been doing a little too much reading on certain election-related personages recently, I’m…just going to go ahead and give myself nightmares here.  Don’t mind me, carry on.

Will?

will: No comment on the size of Ferrier’s hands…

Not much to add here. It’s a satisfying, and plot significant, but also kind of a…light chapter, full of not so much threshold guardians as weak speed bumps. So yeah, it doesn’t lend itself to too much analysis. Just as well given that I’m about to go rejoin the convention fun and games.

Just…wow, Ferrier was every inch a moron.

That’s all from us. More next week, we promise. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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