The Last Command, Chapter 20

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 20 of The Last Command, where we get to find out what everyone else has been up to while there’s a siege of stones in the sky above Coruscant (alliteration is awesome) and Han Solo has involuntarily been learning about forests…again.

In personal news, this week Tuesday and Thursday I’m playing host to two small ensemble rehearsals in my music room, thus concluding what I can guess the orchestra’s pre-season; organized “official” rehearsals start next week.  Before then, though, over the weekend I will be visiting scenic Detroit, Michigan (no, I mean that) for a Labor Day rumpus with mutual friends of Will’s and mine.

will: Which I unfortunately can’t attend due to life commitments, so I’ll be hosting a smaller rumpus closer to home. Such is life. Multiple rumpi are just the way it goes.

z: Multiple…

…you know, if certain ones of our mutual acquaintance find out about that word, I’ll never forgive you.

Yes, I’m aware this is an open blog.

will: Hi guys!

z: Captain Pellaeon is satisfied when we meet up with him again on the bridge of the Chimaera, because it is the last bit of a battle to capture Xa Fel, which is apparently a planet very central to an entire sector called “Kanchen.”  In between clean-up orders and receiving the surrender from the planetary government under imminent threat of bombardment now that their defenses are down and Thrawn making sure to send all the Imperial crews a special “well done” along with said clean-up orders (which Pellaeon is especially happy about, as it demonstrates good leadership, as usual), they receive a message from Imperial Intelligence about Tangrene.  Imperial Intelligence, apparently, is determined not to disappoint General Madine, because they have noted and are following along with all the quiet-like “Rebel” movement towards Tangrene, with warships and fighters and support ships, oh my.

will: Follow the Rebel-built trail! Follow the Rebel-built trail!

z: Was anyone surprised that they noticed?  No?  Good.

Thrawn instructs them not to get too close or openly nosy because they don’t want to scare away their prey.

Is anyone surprised that he’s talking about a trap here?  No?  Good.

will: Pellaeon especially is amazed that Thrawn has predicted the massive materiel buildup for an offensive strike, which he (Pellaeon) believes (as does Intelligence) is against Tangrene. Which…

z: But Thrawn gets a bit preoccupied during that conversation.  After some details of the surrender is taken care of, Pellaeon asks if anything is wrong, and Thrawn says he doesn’t know yet, but maybe in an hour he will.  Accordingly, he orders Pellaeon to join him in his private command room then.

Scene shift to The Smugglers’ Council or Collective or whatever you want to call it, meeting in a tapcafe.

will: I’ve been saying Quorum, inasmuch as it encapsulates the idea of “enough of the fringers to constitute a binding agreement among the fringe at large,” but whatever. As usual the example of the Golden Age of Piracy comes to mind…

z: Gillespee finishes reading a datapad and hands it to Mazzic, commenting to Karrde, who is also present, that the stuff Karrde finds is amazing, and from where does he dig all of this up anyway?  Karrde’s response is priceless: “Around [vague hand wave].  Just around.”

…yeah, technically…

Gillespee actually complains that this was a non-answer, and Mazzic dryly points out that it was meant to be.

will: Karrde, Datalord of the Smugglers…

z: What’s on the datapad is apparently interesting to Mazzic as well, though he’s not sure if it is reliable.  Karrde says that the information itself is, but Karrde’s interpretation of it may of course be wrong.  From the conversation, we easily deduce that Karrde’s also uncovered the New Republic’s nonchalant surreptitious sidling up to the Tangrene system to try to grab the crystal grav trap array there, which they seem to be pretty desperate for, no idea why.  (Karrde does know as much as “it’s got something to do with the reason why Coruscant has been closed to civilian traffic for the past few days.”  Days, not weeks–we’re in the last stretch, and things will start moving fast now.)

will: Fast, in terms of characters and reactions; slow, in terms of ‘no more time jumps.” It’s like a temporal dolly zoom.

(Google it.)

z: Mazzic asks if Karrde wants to sneak away the CGT array at Tangrene before the New Republic gets there.  Karrde says no, while everyone’s busy fighting at Tangrene I thought we’d just go pick up the one in Bilbringi.

Mazzic spit-takes.

will: Unfortunately not actually. I would have liked to have that happen, though. I love a good spit-take.

z: I headdesk.  Somewhere, General Madine wonders where that sudden chill came from.   Gillespee thinks it’s…not a half-bad idea, actually.

It’s worth pointing out that Karrde’s belief that half the Imperial Fleet will be at Tangrene, and not at Bilbringi where it’s regularly stationed, is based on his belief that Thrawn will see through the quiet-like preparations (just like the New Republic hoped he would).  But neither he nor the New Republic believe that Thrawn is any more clever than that, that he’d see the deception as deception.

will: And, Karrde honestly believes that the New Republic is massing for an attack at Tangrene. It’s one thing for Ackbar and Madine to underestimate Thrawn’s second-level deception skills; it’s another for Karrde to be able to say “the Rebels are massing for an attack, it looks like Tangrene, Thrawn is going to figure that out, but he’ll also figure out that it’s an attack on Bilbringi instead, even though I don’t know that’s the case.” He’s good with data, but he isn’t actually predictive.

Huh. That twigs–Thrawn and Karrde are the inductive/deductive reasoning contrast writ large, aren’t they? Karrde gets data and draws conclusions based on that. Thrawn gets data, and extrapolates predictions based on his interpretation of it.

Nicely done, Tim.

z: …but I’m getting ahead of myself.

As Mazzic rereads the data and muses, we get a descriptive interlude of Karrde looking around the tapcafe, where pretty much every table is populated by bodyguards from one of the three smuggler groups present.

will: Including a couple of familiar names, such as Faughn (who will show up much later as a Karrde employee–one imagines that eventually Gillespee really does get Out of the Game at last) and Shada, Mazzic’s bodyguard and a major player later, who is “playing the flirtatious hostess role” for two of Karrde’s people while being “convincingly leered at” by two of Gillespee’s.

z: They are not taking any chances with anything at this point.  Mazzic finally decides that he’s in, but only if Karrde can get confirmation that this indeed is the New Republic’s plan, because if the Imperial Fleet doesn’t flit over to Tangrene and the smugglers show up at Bilbringi in their midst, well, goodbye smugglers.  Karrde says no problem, I’ll have Ghent poke into the battle plans while he’s, you know, also slicing us into the payroll like I said I would have him do.

Karrde, you’re a very bad influence on the poor boy who doesn’t know any better, you know what?  Bad Karrde.

will: Well, someone needs to balance out the good influence that Bel Iblis is putting on Ghent, after all.

z: Mazzic’s response is also priceless:

You know, Karrde, I’ve never seen anyone play both ends against the middle the way you do.

Later he says that he hopes to be there on the day the New Republic either gives Karrde a medal, or has Karrde shot, whichever.  Karrde says he hopes to be there, too.

will: Beats the alternative.

z: He’s going to swing by Coruscant (to pick up Ghent, and as he thinks, Mara–of course he’s not worried about the no civilian traffic thing, although one imagines that he shortly will be), leave Ares to help coordinate, and meet up with the rest of them at Bilbringi.

One Comedy of Errors, coming right up.

Scene shift to a…uh, I don’t know if it’s a Council meeting of the New Republic per se, because Councilors are there but so is Admiral Drayson.  I guess he’s either reporting to the Council or attending in Ackbar’s absence (Ackbar, you’ll remember, was out on tour of some defenses somewhere when the Stone Siege (™) began).

will: I would guess a sort of Situation Room meeting–senior politicians along with military officials for military matters, a briefing of the bosses.

z: It’s a show-and-tell session, moreover.  Drayson is showing the video feed from, we’ll soon learn, Gillespee’s macrobinoculars, taken as he was witnessing the Imperial attack on Ukio.  The first clone attack, and the first attack where Thrawn successfully used C’baoth’s coordination abilities to pull a fairly fancy trick with the timing of some turbolaser beams and gave the Ukio planetary government the scare of their lives by seeming to shoot right through their planetary shield.  Well, apparently the New Republic analysts have been busy on this recording since they received it, and noticed that a) the spectrum of the beam that leaves the Star Destroyer in space is not the same as the spectrum of the beam that “gets through the shield” and hits the ground, b) and actually if you enhance the image and stop it at the right moment, you can see the space beam splash against the shield, a physical gap, and then the new beam appearing to race towards the ground…having been fired by a cloaked ship right under the shield.

will: In other words, exactly what Thrawn predicted would happen if the senior leadership of the New Republic encountered the trick.

Leia isn’t convinced entirely, but the military is, and says that they have run analysis on the lasers and confirmed they’re different and stuff like that. This is deductive, not a guess.

z: Nice trick, though of course it won’t work any more. (“Memo to all planetary governments: If Imperial bombardment looks like it’s penetrating your shield, fire everything you’ve got down to and including slingstones at the point it seems to be going through the shield.  And try not to be standing right underneath.”)

Bel Iblis comes up with the (correct) theory that it was C’baoth who enabled this coordination.  Leia supports the idea, referring to information Mara gave them about that.  This actually causes a chill pause, however, as not everyone likes to be reminded of Mara.  Bel Iblis tries to help (“Where did this macrobinocular recording came from, Admiral?) and makes it worse (“From that smuggler, Karrde…another outsider who came here with information that didn’t pan out.”)

will: Cheap shot, Admiral. This did pan out.

z: He’s referring to the fate of the Katana Fleet, which makes Leia defend Karrde, saying that it wasn’t Karrde’s fault that they lost the fleet.  She glances at Fey’lya, who’s sitting at the table not saying anything–he’s still in his self-imposed Bothan penance since his bid for power at the fleet failed.  Which is of course again counterproductive, since now he’s not contributing anything.

Then Leia does something either very adult or very Jedi or, probably, both: She not only suppresses her anger and resentment at Fey’lya, she releases it and lets it drain away altogether.  I find myself thinking that she did not learn this from Luke, and that in fact it’s completely unnecessary for him to worry about teaching her about those aspects of becoming a Jedi.  She’s always had them.

will: The fact that the kids have Leia as an example (and in his own way, Han) should not be overstated. Jedi training is not isolated, or damn well should not be, from general moral training.

Bel Iblis tries to soothe matters again, pointing out that Karrde did help and they would have lost worse without him; they owe him.  This once again turns out to be an unfortunate choice of words, as Drayson sarcastically brings up the New Republic credit line that they just discovered–the one Luke had set up back on Berchest, not the one Karrde plans to ask Ghent to slice in for them and pay all the Smugglers’ Quorum with, mind you.  Admiral Ackbar’s aide Commander Sesfan is there, and both he and Drayson are incredulous/caustic about that.  Drayson says that they will close off the line immediately, which draws a literal word-by-word “You’ll do no such thing” from Mon Mothma.

Mommy is irritated.

will: I would say, more, emphatic. It’s not crazy for that to be a response, but Mon Mothma has a decision here.

Mon Mothma points out that they need all the allies they can get, official or not.  Drayson is still skeptical of Karrde’s intentions: What if he’s providing good information now to build up trust and provides bad information or sells them down the river galactic arm later?  Mon Mothma says that they can just be on their guard against that, but, pointing out the obvious here: Luke Skywalker is a Jedi, and he seems to have some trust in this Karrde.  Which settles the matter as far as Mon Mothma is concerned, and would give Luke even more nightmares of responsibility if he heard it in as many words.

will: Which he has, but yeah, finding out that the head of state of your galactic government feels that way…eeeeeeeeep.

z: But voluntary or not, nightmares or not,  that’s the role he has.  Oh, well.  I guess I kinda like it that “with great power comes great responsibility” is less of a choice and more of a fundamental natural law the way Luke (and Zahn) approach it.  I wish…OK, OK, not talking about that now.

will: We’ll get there. A lot.

z: Drayson moves on, uploading another data card, and is a bit audibly irritated himself when Winter gets a comlink message and leaves her seat by Leia’s side to go to the door.  Someone hands her a data card.  Drayson tries to snap “I trust this was something that couldn’t wait?” but he’s really outclassed in that by Winter, who, I imagine in tones that illustrate her name, responds “I’m certain it could have.”  Heh.  And then she both manages to underplay it and ham it up at the same time, which is some serious acting chops:

For you, your Highness, the coordinates of the planet Wayland.

Insert record-scratching-needle sound here.

Drayson is immediately suspicious again, because the information got back too quickly; how did they find it so easily?

will: In retrospect, I had no clue. I should have–I think we’re supposed to be putting a few pieces together–but I don’t remember twigging to it at all.

z: Neither did I.  Leia is a bit uneasy herself, but she uploads the data card on Mon Mothma’s request.  Galactic map springs up and does its thing.  Bel Iblis muses something about that being the Emperor’s “rat’s nest” and “so that’s where he squirreled away all the tidbits that went missing from official storehouses and depots.”  Hrm.  Drayson jabs “if that’s really the place,” Mon Monthma asks Leia that she can confirm with Captain Solo…right?  Now Winter is uncomfortable, forced to say that the information didn’t come from Captain Solo exactly.

Hah.

This is apparently news to Leia, too, who naively asks if it is Luke, then.  Not as such.  Winter says that she can only confirm that the source is reliable.

will: I can see the idea being “maybe someone sent a message back?” We know they didn’t, inasmuch as they were worried about being spotted…

Again, in retrospect it’s obvious.

z: Mon Mothma chides her that the Council is not used to having information withheld.  Over my incredulous stare, Winter digs in and says that it’s not her secret to reveal, and no, she can’t say whose, either.  It’s Mon Mothma’s turn to start getting intractable and Bel Iblis’ turn–again, I’m beginning to both notice a pattern here and understand why it was such a huge coup for everyone from Han on up to have brought him back aboard–to step in and try to defuse matters.

will: Though they are clearly working better, inasmuch as it’s Bel Iblis (who has, I guess, mellowed in his own way; being in charge of a group himself has, I think, given him some perspective) who acts as the peacemaker/defuser.

z: But yet once again, his interjection has a side effect.  He points out that it’s not going to matter until they’ve done with their attack on Bilbringi (<sideheaddesk>) since there’s nothing they can do.  Leia, aghast, asks are they not sending backup, then?

will: On this point, everybody is in agreement. Though Drayson does point out that this could be a trap. Leia starts rising to that bait, saying she trusts Mara, and again Bel Iblis plays peacemaker, or at least focuser: it still doesn’t matter.

z: They can’t spare the ships, they can’t spare the people, and by the way, the footnote to the map says that their landing has been undetected and a couple of Cruisers appearing over Wayland is not exactly low-profile.  And did we mention they can’t spare the ships from the Bilbringi attack?

Then, Fey’lya says, perhaps the Bilbringi attack should be postponed.

………

…………………………………..

<crickets>

will: If this was really Zahn just leaving himself a hook, I take my hat off to him. If he knew what he was doing with it, I take my hat and shoes off.

z: Seconded.

will: It’s shocking enough that Fey’lya is even speaking again, Leia thinks.

z: Mon Mothma is the one that finally responds that it’s not feasible to alter timetables at this stage of planning an attack, and besides, it’s imperative that they don’t have, like, actual multi-ton rocks that’d cause a planetary catastrophe–make that thirty of them–without the shield hanging over their heads.  Fey’lya says why?  We’re safe here, we’ve got food, we’ve got communications, what’s the hurry?  Are you that afraid of looking weak?

…who’s this and what has he done with Fey’lya?

will: The pot calling the kettle furry…

z: That seems to be Leia’s impression as well.  Mon Mothma reminds the Bothan that appearances are important, and I can’t believe I just typed that.  The New Republic must be perceived as strong.  But Fey’lya continues in the same astonishing vein:

The Bothan people knew the Emperor–knew his desires and his ambitions, perhaps better than all of those who were not his allies and servants. There are things in that storehouse which must never again see light. Weapons and devices which Thrawn will some day find and use against us unless we prevent him from doing so.

will: Hat, shoes, and socks.

z: I’m…not quite sure how that’d work.   But, hey, it’s Thrawn, he’d work out something.

Faced with further opposition, Fey’lya also tries to drum up sympathy for the plight and peril of Captain Solo and Luke Skywalker.  No, really.  And that seems to be the tipping point for Leia, who now actively wonders what is it in that storehouse that would be so embarrassing or frightening to either the Bothan people, or Fey’lya specifically.

will: Interestingly, he says “Captain Solo and Councilor Organa Solo’s brother.” Not “Jedi Skywalker.” More of an indication of Bothan thinking, because Luke has no role in government he doesn’t get his own name?

z: Nice, I hadn’t worked that out and was wondering about his awkward phrasing, which had to be intentional.

At any rate, Leia also muses that it might be a good thing she doesn’t know.

will: Give it time.

z: Scene shift back to the Chimaera, where it’s now an hour later it seems, because Pellaeon is going to see the Grand Admiral as instructed.   In the antechambers, we’re treated to a very amusing game of “I’m behind you…no, the other behind you, no, behind you behind you” by Rukh demonstrating on the hapless Captain.

will: We’re given a bit of a reminder that Pellaeon may be mostly Lawful, not Evil, but he’s not entirely so–he reflects that someday he’ll be able to convince Thrawn that he doesn’t need Rukh, and that on that day, “he was going to take a very personal pleasure in having Rukh killed.”

z: Yes, and that’s somewhat striking too.  Demonstrating that Rukh really, really gets on his last nerve.

Once he’s inside, he finds an art gallery again, but one that’s housing two very different styles, so much so that even he can tell.   On the one side is Mon Calamari art, which Thrawn asks his opinion of. Pellaeon finds that style repulsive and primitive (“like the Mon Calamari themselves”) but aloud, he only says that it’s “interesting.”

will: It almost feels like Zahn’s doubling down on Pellaeon, reminding us that he’s a bad guy too.

z: Yup.  And also, note that he doesn’t actually say what he thinks of Mon Calamari art.

will: “Interesting” is definitely him saying something, even by what he isn’t saying. Trust me…

z:  He seems to think that he should appreciate the art in front of Thrawn, whether he finds it repulsive or not.

Thrawn responds by seemingly taking the words at face value.  He points out two pieces as having been created by Admiral Ackbar himself.  Pellaeon is surprised that Ackbar has had an interest in art.  It was a minor interest, it seems, but still gives Thrawn insight, of course, as do the other pieces in the room.  Those, it turns out, are pieces of art personally chosen by Bel Iblis.

will: Whom Thrawn identifies only as “our Corellian adversary,” but Pellaeon fills in that it was Bel Iblis. One imagines that after the Symphonic Suite, Bel Iblis’s identity is not a secret.

z: No, but Thrawn doesn’t like referring to him by name anyway.  Because reasons?

Thrawn asks Pellaeon to verify that the Rebels still seem to be moving in position to attack Tangrene,  which Pellaeon does…but not obviously, right?  Almost as if they really intended to attack Tangrene?

will: And here’s where, charitably, Zahn asks the audience to accept that Thrawn’s just that good; or, uncharitably, he puts a thumb on the scales.

z: Surprised, Pellaeon asks where if not Tangrene, and Thrawn responds by changing the tactical holo in the middle of the room.   Pellaeon’s so shocked that he almost asks out loud “Bilbringi?  But that’s insane.”   (He does manage to keep that last to himself, but Thrawn completes the sentence anyway.

Here’s all my headdesks earlier paying many dividends.

will: Thrawn explains it as “they’ve decided they can’t beat me straight-up, so they’re trying to trick me, get me to set up a trap at Tangrene.” Which–yes, that is in fact what they’re doing. Like I said, Zahn is asking us to just go with it here.

Pellaeon isn’t convinced.  He thinks it would be foolhardy to stop preparations to defend Tangrene, and…can they get confirmation first before changing anything around  Maybe from Delta Source?

Unfortunately, says Thrawn, Delta Source is no more (heh).  But Thrawn doesn’t need confirmation.  He’s very, very sure.

And scene.

As said before, one Comedy of Errors, coming right up.  It’s possibly a bit stretchy that Thrawn figures out the New Republic’s trick as a trick, but given that they do need a CGT array, once he does figure that out it’s not that much of a stretch for him to conclude that the rebels will be going to Bilbringi.  (I’m assuming the other extant arrays are much farther away or otherwise inaccessible).

will: Well, one of them is at Tangrene, that’s part of the bait-and-switch setup.

z: That the smugglers also get caught in Thrawn’s trap,  by quite a different route, also illustrates the age-old adages that no plan survives first contact with an enemy…and in this case, the quintet I was working with earlier tonight is not even an enemy.  Just…they were not me, myself.

Will?

will: (That last point explains why it’s currently past midnight on Thusday night/Friday morning and we’re still typing, folks. So this will be brief.)

z: (So of course, things went differently than planned with them too.  But well.  But differently.)

will: It’s all dominos from here. I can’t help but think we were supposed to figure out where Winter was getting her information, and connect it to Han’s discoveries, but it’s hard to be sure.

I think Zahn is also glossing a bit here. Delta Source’s silencing is disposed of with a line, while Thrawn’s genius is more outright pushed. At some point I figure Zahn said “if it takes Force prodding and coincidence (same thing) to get where I need to go, then so be it,” and kept placing dominos.

I’d say he’s earned it, overall.

Anyway, enjoy your Labor Day if it’s a holiday you get, and we’ll see you next week, when we and the characters all learn some things. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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