The Last Command, Chapter 21

will: Welcome back to Force Visions, where we’re spending Chapter 21 on Wayland, though bouncing between different perspectives, and we get a couple of revelations: one small, one medium but only semi-revealed, and one huge. It’s the Three Bears of discovery!

I hope everybody’s weekend was good, especially the three-day weekends for all the Americans observing Labor Day. My little rumpus and Z’s big one both were a lot of fun.

z: For a weekend that started with my bathroom faucet deciding to spring a leak ten minutes before I was due to leave for the airport, it was indeed magnificent.  By the standards of regular fun weekends, it was also magnificent.

(I closed the valves and left, and I’m having someone come in for a replacement tomorrow morning, no worries.)

will: But now, it’s back to work, so let’s dive in…

will: Mara is holding Luke’s lightsaber–which is such a dramatic change from how they dealt with the lightsaber in the previous forest walk, where Mara wouldn’t let Luke have his saber under any circumstances, that it has to be acknowledged–in “an unorthodox but versatile” grip, as Luke uses the Force to turn a seedpod into a version of his training remote, complete with “let the Force flow into you and anticipate the pod’s motion.” Mara gets tired, though, and instead reaches out, holds the pod still with the Force, and skewers it with the tip of the saber.

But if she thought that would upset Luke, she’s surprised (and kind of annoyed). He calls it good work, especially the part where she split her focus between the mental task of holding the pod and the physical attack.

z: That part of their dynamic is also a good demonstration of Luke’s Force-fu.  She always comes at him with shield raised and barbs extended, expecting to push into him… and he sidesteps and flows with it.

will: She thanks him grudgingly, and throws the saber off to the side–he pulls it back, nice touch–and they look over at the rest of the crew. Han and Lando (well, Solo and Calrissian–we’re riding in Mara’s head so it’s all surnames) are tending to Threepio, who has damaged his foot; Artoo is “running through its usual repertoire of encouraging noises,” and Chewie is looking for a tool in the backpacks.

z: 3PO got tangled in some more acid vine and that caused the damage.  I’m secretly amused and pleased at how this time it’s Mara perceiving Artoo’s sounds as “encouraging noises,” even “its usual repertoire of encouraging noises.”  It’s still “it” not “he,” but encouraging is a fairly sapient trait for her to be attributing to Artoo, I’d say, requiring a theory of mind and all.

will: Luke decides they have time for more exercises, and also says that her stabbing technique is new to him.

“The Emperor’s philosophy was to use everything you had available.”

“Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me.”

Luke holds the saber out for her, and she grabs it with the Force, also idly wondering whether she should try to ignite the blade at the same time–she’s not sure she actually could, but it’s worth a try, just to see him freak out. And maybe she’d get lucky and kill him–

The Emperor’s voice echoes in her head, and she shouts it down. She still needs Luke.

z: By this time, the reader may be forgiven for starting to get some Hamlet flashbacks–

…oh.  my. stars.   Well, was that one ever a new revelation for me, here.  Add one more to your laundry list of The Revelations of Chapter 21, Will.

will: (Side note: It is proper etiquette when handing someone a bladed instrument, be it weapon or tool, to hand it handle/grip first. Ditto firearms, of course. I like that Luke, who after all has all the farmboyish proper manners and habits, does it too.)

Anyway. Mara gets ready for the next exercise when Artoo starts yelling about something worth seeing, and Han, Chewie, Luke, and Mara investigate. It doesn’t take them long to find it: another group of vines, already pre-cut and bundled out of the way.

Well, says Lando, that settles which side their shadows are on; they’re being helpful, and they’re also definitely intelligent. No idea why though, and Luke wonders whether it’s related to the droids, a la the Ewoks thinking Threepio was a god.

You’re laying it on a bit thick here, Tim; yes, this has a lot of parallels to the Endor forest escapade, we get it.

z: Well, both of them are set in forests to start with…

<grin, duck, run>

will: At any rate, Luke says that he can usually sense them around sunset, so Han says it’s time to confront them.

That night, Luke (we’re in his head now) picks up the sense, and reports there are five or six. Mara asks, “just in the first group?” which Luke (who had been focusing tighter on the five or six and therefore missed the other cluster) identifies as also five or six, probably of a different species. Mara says the two native species and the humans didn’t get along all that well, and Chewie suggests maybe the two native species have decided to work together against Our Heroes. Luke can’t tell what emotions are brewing, though. Mara, focusing at her best, says they’ve all stopped, and Han says it’s time to meet the locals. He has Mara and Lando guard the camp and takes Chewie and Luke with him.

They head out. Luke can’t tell if the aliens have noticed the three of them, but they’re also not coming any closer. Then, Luke senses someone slightly ahead taking cover behind a tree, and a quick flurry of action commences: Luke ignites his blade, Han and Chewie both fire and hit trees, and the figure darts to another bit of cover–and “a strange warbling split the air, sounding like a dozen alien birds–”

“And with a roar of understanding that was part recognition, part understanding, and part relief, Chewbacca swung the end of his bowcaster into Han’s blaster, sending the shot wide of its intended target.”

Han is shocked, but Luke says it’s all right, and orders the shadowy figure (have you got it yet?) to stop. It already has, standing out of cover, hooded but, to some, recognizeable already.

z: Yeah, I had got it at the time Chewie roared.

will: Luke introduces himself formally and gets the response he (and Chewie) already know is coming:

“I’m Luke Skywalker. Brother of Leia Organa Solo, son of the Lord Darth Vader. Who are you?”

“I am Ekhrikhor clan Bakh’tor. I greet you, son of Vader.”

So there were more Noghri who came to Coruscant: one group stayed behind to guard the twins, and another followed the Falcon–they were the sensor glitch, and the bird-strikers, and everything.

Welp.

Yes, it’s obvious in retrospect. In spect, though…I didn’t see it coming. Did you, Z?

z: No, not the first time I read it.  The bird killed in mid-flight with a single knife thrust should have been the Big!  Honking!  Clue!  but somehow it wasn’t.

will: Yet again, we shift perspective, this time to Han. Ekhrikhor takes Han, Luke, and Chewie to a clearing, where both of the Wayland intelligent native species are represented, along with a handful of Noghri.

One group is short, stumpy, and reminds Han of a pile of rocks (they’re the Psadans), while the other (the Myneyrshi) is nearly as tall as Chewie, with four arms and bluish-crystal skin. The Noghri confirm that the aliens have been trying to confront the expedition, but the Noghri “could not permit” that. They aren’t openly hostile—yet—but things are less than ideal.

z: That “could not permit” is an interesting bit of phrasing.  I’m not quite sure how to take it.  The simplest one is that it is their duty to make sure that the Son of Vader isn’t bothered, so they cannot permit any bother.

will: That said, if there is a fight, there’s no doubt of the result…

One of the Myneyrshi speaks a little Basic, but Luke has a better idea, and Han (who agrees) calls Lando to send Mara with Threepio. He also tells Lando to stay back, keep an eye on things:

“Oh, and if you see some short guys with camouflage suits and lots of teeth, don’t shoot. They’re on our side.”

“I’m glad. I think.”

Han also says to cross his fingers–they’re either going to gain allies, or a mess of trouble.

z: I like how he covers the entire possible spectrum of outcomes there.

will: Ekhrikor says that Lando can relax, the Noghri are on guard, and Han confirms that the Noghri have been tailing him. Ekhrikhor asks the “consort of the Lady Vader” for forgiveness–turns out Cakhmaim, the leader of the teams, had sensed hostility, and wouldn’t have accepted a Noghri strike team.

Over Luke’s smirk (“the kid’s halfway try at hiding a grin”), Han admits that his practicality outweighs his pride about free help these days, but please, can we say something other than “consort of the Lady Vader”?

z: I giggle.

will: Luke suggests “Han clan Solo.” which the Noghri accept, and Luke continues to smirk as he tells Han he’s been adopted! And to remember Endor.

z: The Noghri not only accept, they seem to like it: “Ekhrikhor brightened. ‘That is good,’ he said.”

will: As Tim lays it on even thicker… Han thinks to himself that yeah, the Ewoks had “done their bit” on Endor, but hell, it was ridiculous to have been adopted. He also remembers that the Ewoks won by the numbers. The Noghri… he asks, and turns out there are eight.

Eight of them, silently killing or driving away predators and natives. Day and night both. And still finding time on top of it to clear their path of nuisances like clawbirds and vine snakes.

This time, it’s not as ridiculous.

Threepio and Mara arrive, and Luke asks Threepio to translate. As Threepio starts into his usual routine, Mara cuts him off, and takes aim at Ekhrikhor as soon as she sees him. Luke tells her that he’s a friend, Mara says the Noghri work for Thrawn, and Luke and Ekhrikhor both say they don’t. Mara grudgingly points her blaster somewhere else, but it’s a start.

The lead Myneyrsh produces a bleached-white clawbird and puts it on the ground, which Ekhrikhor explains is their version of a white flag–sign of truce, no violence now. Threepio, fearfully, and Luke head for the meeting, and Han and Chewie stay back. Threepio translates that the head Myneyrsh fears the danger and trouble the strangers (Luke and co., of course) bring. The Noghri argue that they can free the Myneyrshi and the Psadans from the Empire, but they’ve heard this before. Asked to explain, the Myneyrshi (through Threepio) gives a history, in “the professor mode Han had always hated.”

The Noghri get him to give highlights only, but basically, the original colonists came, fought back the natives, but eventually their weapons stopped working. (Out of power? Too much trouble to colonize? Probably.) The the Empire showed up and enslaved the locals to build the mountain. Then the Guardian came and conquered the mountain, and enslaved the locals. Then the Jedi Master came, fought the Guardian, brought humans, forced them to live together, and now the Empire’s back.

You know, this is the first time we get any suggestion that C’baoth (the Jedi Master) and the Guardian are different people that we can’t ascribe to C’baoth.

No matter. I know my story and I’m sticking to it. If this is even an account we can believe, I’m going with the first Guardian was a patsy set up to be “defeated” when C’baoth came in, and nothing can convince me otherwise.

z: It would be really, really easy for anyone and everyone in that long chain of only-cares-for-the-mountainers to have misinformed or confused the Mynershi and the Psadans, anyway, simply because what cause did they have to set the record straight or explain anything?  Exactly.

Ironically, it might be Joruus C’baoth who treated the native inhabitants of Wayland the best.  Relatively speaking.

will: Yeah, FSVO “best.” At any rate, Luke says they aren’t invaders, they’re liberators. Threepio knows that. Luke tells him to tell the others that.

Ah, Threepio.

z: I giggle again, because that is such a 3PO exchange indeed.

will: Han, Chewie, and Mara, back in the peanut gallery, discuss how the Empire’s treatment of the natives here was a lot better than it could have been, but on the other hand, “primitives” (accurate but reductionist at best) usually have this reaction to “visitors” (read: invaders).

What a difference twenty years makes in that sort of exchange.

z: ….yeeeeah.

will: Han and Mara confirm that C’baoth was the Jedi Master, but Mara can’t sense him here–not that this means he isn’t there, of course. Han also wonders how well this conference is being watched by other Mynershi and Psadans.

Finally Threepio says that the natives have no way to trust Luke and co., and Luke asks how they can prove their good intentions. But before he can get an answer, Chewie sees a predator, pulls out his bowcaster, and slices the thing in half.

z: The Wookiee is going to Wookiee.

will: You came very close to “Wookiees gonna Wook, Wook, Wook, Wook, Wook,” you know.

All the Myneyrshi snarl in response to Chewie’s attack. Han and Mara start worrying that they’ve just broken a truce, but better that than being eaten, Threepio, please let them know that?

The lead Myneyrsh, though, points at Han:

“You! He have lightning bow?”

Han takes a second to wonder at the question, Of course Chewie’s armed, all of them are–oh.

“Yes, he has. He’s our friend. We don’t keep slaves like the Empire did.”

Translation proves unnecessary, and Mara reminds us that the Empire had Wookiee slaves–who would never have been allowed to be armed.

z: And this was where I said “well-played, Mr. Zahn” again.

will: A local debate, which Threepio tries and fails to commentate, commences. The upshot is that the Myneyrshi are on board with the Great Jedi Hope and his crew, but the Psadans are scared of getting involved.

z: Great Jedi Hope.  I see what you did there.

will: *grin*

It’s a good thing they aren’t asking for direct help, then. Luke finally gets the floor and says this isn’t the locals’ fight, and they aren’t asking for it to be–they’re just asking the locals to stay out of it, don’t interfere, and don’t sell us out to the Empire.

The Myneyrshi give the clawbird to Luke, which Threepio is pretty sure means they have the right of safe passage, and Luke tells them they won’t be sorry.

Scene shift, the penultimate. General Covell gets a report: they’ll land in a few minutes. He turns to the passenger–C’baoth, of course–and reports the same, but C’baoth heard, and his amusement “echo[es] through his voice. And Covell’s mind.”

Oh, this scene. Time for creepification!

z: Time for confession: Last week, when I took the lead, I read forward one more chapter, and spent some time being grateful that this week would be Will’s turn, because no no no nopety nope no.  This scene gets me badly every time.

will: C’baoth asks if this is the end of the voyage, or the beginning, and Covell says it’s the beginning–there is no end. C’baoth asks about Thrawn, and Covell is confused, but “the answer came soothingly into his thoughts. As all answers did now.”

Mind control gives me the creeps.

z: Just… so much wrong.

will: Anyway, this is the beginning of Thrawn’s end, apparently. C’baoth laughs, and Covell considers asking what’s funny, but he knows. And C’baoth knows he knows. And Thrawn is apparently just as clueless. This is about power, Covell knows. It’s a familiar theme.

C’baoth explains, though it’s more like a monologue, that true power is not conquering worlds or wars:

“This–this–is true power. Holding another’s life in the palm of your hand. Having the power to choose his path, and his thoughts, and his feelings. To rule his life, and decree his death. To command his soul.”

Mind control gives me the screaming creeps.

z: All the things are so very wrong.

will: Anyway. Covell, or I should say the part of C’baoth’s mind that resides in what was once Covell’s body, adds that frisson of extra pleasure by reminding C’baoth that even the Emperor didn’t understand this sort of power, and C’baoth riffs a bit on that, before saying this was clearly destiny.

Covell is scared of leaving C’baoth, and feeling a loneliness he can’t understand, but C’baoth knows. It’s the loneliness of C’baoth lacking a disciple. He reaches out and senses Mara and Luke, who he calls the first of “our many.” But the key to Luke’s soul is in the mountain below, while Mara–he has seen that she will kneel at his feet.

We’re not there yet, but we’re about to be.

Suddenly, Covell feels an emptiness. C’baoth shouts for Covell to say whether he can hear, and he can, but things sound different. C’baoth isn’t there anymore; he is, but not in his mind. Covell is reacting around like he’s in a fog, which he is after all, and C’baoth tells Covell that Covell will continue to obey. What an odd word, Covell thinks, not the same as just doing what comes naturally.

Mind control gives me the fucking creeps.

z: Not enough wrong in the Galaxy.

will: Anyway. C’baoth promises that if Covell says what C’baoth tells him, eventually he will return, despite Thrawn’s treachery.

And he does, and then he stays wherever he was put and eventually falls asleep.

I’m moving on now, because mind control, creeps. And also because the thing I want to examine about this section is in the next one.

z: So I’ll interject a few comments; I didn’t want to really break the flow through up there.

The melange of feelings that section gives me is complex and overwhelming.  I think it’s so overwhelming because, up to now, we’ve only seen the aftereffects of C’baoth’s control, and temporary, “mission-oriented” control at that.  (There’s that bit with Pellaeon who took some commands from C’baoth and then “forgot” about them, but even that is limited and targeted, as it were.)  And then, with no ramping up whatsoever, we’re in the point of view of a complete and total mind control victim, and it’s everything: Covell’s being given what to think and what to feel and eeeeeeesh and then when C’baoth’s control suddenly cuts off (everyone figured out what that’s about, right?) Covell’s got nothing, no sense, no motivation, no anything and brb shuddering forever.

will: Yeah. That.

z: Sweet, sweet scene shift.

will: Mara’s taking whatever watch this is, since she doesn’t trust the Noghri. Well, whichever Noghri it is says she doesn’t. Mara thinks she hasn’t given it much thought, but says Luke trusts them, isn’t that enough?

The Noghri says that they aren’t seeking approval, just repayment of their debt. Mara thinks how useful they’d been so far and says they’re making good progress with the New Republic, and asks if they figured out the Empire had duped them.

There was a quiet click, like needle teeth coming together. “You knew about that?”

“I heard rumors,” Mara said, recognizing how potentially dangerous this ground was but not really caring. “More like jokes, really. I never knew how much of it was true.”

“Most likely all of it,” the Noghri said calmly. “Yes. I can see how our lives and deaths could be amusing to our enslavers. We will convince them otherwise.”

z: So, as an aside, of course the Noghri’s plight was a cause of merriment and jest.  Of course.

Hi, extra rage.

will: How, Mara asks, while noticing how focused and determined he is. The Noghri explains that when the time is right, the entire race will rise up. And five groups of Noghri will come to Wayland, now that they know where it is.

Mara’s a bit surprised how much the Noghri trust Luke’s team, but the Noghri explains that it’s a matter of complementary purpose. Mara’s group aims to destroy the cloning facility, and with the son of Vader’s help, that will happen. And then the Noghri can wipe any trace of the Emperor from Wayland.

Mara realizes that this might be the last trace of the Emperor’s presence anywhere, and wonders why that doesn’t make her upset. She’s probably just tired, she says to herself, before asking who this “son of Vader” is and when he’ll show up.

The Noghri’s response is confused.

“The son of Vader is already with you. You serve him, as do we.”

“You mean … Skywalker?”

z: The thunderbolt is so complete that Mara doesn’t even think about bristling at “serve.”  She probably doesn’t even notice.

will: Mara looks back at Luke’s sleeping form, finally putting the pieces in place. This–the Emperor’s final command–wasn’t about Luke at all. It was revenge against Vader for betraying him–which proves what Luke had been saying about how the Throne Room Battle happened. And proves that everything she wanted, to kill Luke for killing the Emperor, was wrong. Luke didn’t kill the Emperor.

YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER.

It echoes in her mind, louder and louder, and she tries to block it out, reenacting her internal battle when Leia mentioned the Emperor’s psychic stain orbiting Endor, insisting to herself that she is making her decision (YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER.), her reasons (YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER.), her choice…(YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER.)

But you are another matter, Mara Jade. I have seen you in my meditations. Have seen you coming to me and kneeling at my feet. You will be mine, and Skywalker will follow. One way or another.

Mara tries to block out this new voice, but it starts to laugh, and push on her barriers…and just as suddenly, it’s gone.

z: Which is either extremely bad or extremely good timing, or both.  She isn’t given the time or leisure to even try to come to the end of her tangle of thoughts; suddenly there’s a huge, imminent threat right there in her mind.

will:  Luke, awake, asks if she’s all right, and explains he didn’t hear words, but he felt the pressure. They know who that is, and even Luke is frightened. Mara asks about aborting the mission–little good that’ll do–but Mara says they’ve been outed, the Empire knows.

Luke isn’t sure and points out how abruptly the contact cut off, as if C’baoth was surrounded by ysalamiri. Maybe he’s a prisoner, and wouldn’t want to tell the Empire anyway.

Mara asks if Luke knew C’baoth would be there, if that’s why he wanted Mara to practice her Jedi training. He didn’t know, but he did know they’d face C’baoth eventually, C’baoth knew. Mara can’t help but remember the “kneeling at my feet” comment, and doesn’t want to face him. But they have to. Luke volunteers to take the next watch, he’s awake anyway.

Her last memory, as she dropped off to sleep, was of the voice in the back of her mind.

YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER

Scene.

And now, the great Prophecy/Twist conversation.

z: *settles down with a tall glass of something*

will: All great prophecies are about what they don’t say.

Oedipus, probably the greatest victim of prophecy in mythology, was told that he would kill his father and marry his mother. So he fled his home–not knowing he had been adopted, his father having abandoned him over the same prophecy–and meets and kills a man on the road, saves the city-state of Thebes, and is brought to rule it, marrying the recently-widowed queen of the city, whose husband the king had recently died on the road…

Croesus of Lydia was told that if he waged war on Persia, a mighty empire would fall, and one did–his own, when the Persians crushed it.

Mara Jade will kneel at Joruus C’baoth’s feet.

Mara will also kill Luke Skywalker, though that isn’t so much a prophecy as such.

(Unless it is.)

If the prophecy says it will happen, a good one, it will. Just… it won’t mean what you think. This is the great advantage of a tightly-knit story–you can do this. If you know what’s going to happen, you can make it so that you’ve told your readers just that–but they’re still surprised.

And this might be the greatest and truest example of it in all of the canon we’re dealing with.

Other than that (Mrs. Lincoln), this chapter is important for answering the minor mystery of who’s been tailing Our Heroes, setting up the forces arrayed against Wayland, and especially for giving Mara the missing piece of her mystery, the “why” of Luke trying (and succeeding!) to redeem Darth Vader, and what that meant for her personal mission. In many ways, while the Force compulsion part of that final order is still there, the grand impetus, Mara’s anger, is gone, as she realizes what sort of order that was: nothing but spite.

That’s all from me. Z?

z: About the prophecy and all that–what Will said.

As a sideline: I’ve always been fascinated by the “who knows what and who gets told what when” aspect of long-form stories.  When I read fanfiction, I was drawn to the “missing scene” subgenre, and I especially appreciated the stories that filled in how information spread.  I don’t actually know why that holds such an attraction for me, but does it matter?

will: And this particular “missing scene” is significant too. The question of who knew what regarding Luke and Leia’s parentage is inconsistent through the EU, with different writers deciding different people knew, as I’ve said before. But Zahn has always set it up to be a tight secret, mostly so that he could add this reaction to Mara finding out. It matters to her.

z: So given that, that section was very much The Good Stuff for me.

Next week we check in with the Imperials, when they discover that something has gone wrong on Wayland, and get to join in a dark horse convention of sorts, and meet some more old-and-future friends.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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