The Last Command, Chapter 22

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 22 of The Last Command, information, misinformation, and cross-purposes information all find themselves a place.

My personal news this week sums up as “somanythingstodosomanyeeee.”

will: In mine, my cousin is getting married today, and my new home internet is getting hooked up tomorrow, and I’m continuing to retrieve my boxes of personal possessions from where I’ve been storing them. My family moved into a new home last weekend, I don’t know if I mentioned.

z: We open aboard the Chimaera, with Captain Pellaeon finding a report from Mount Tantiss when he gets to the bridge in the ship’s morning time. The transport ship had been and gone and everyone got off fine and General Covell had refused to take control until morning–wait what?

will: Given Covell’s attitude in the past, he of the contempt for the Navy boys, yeah, his refusing to be in command of anything is downright weird.

z: Just as Pellaeon is puzzling over how unlike Covell that is, he receives an urgent call from one Colonel Selid on Wayland.  He starts to tell someone to inform the Grand Admiral when that worthy himself steps into the bridge, and they take the holocall together.  Selid looks very nervous, and with good cause: “I regret to inform you, Admiral, of the sudden death of General Covell.”  Apparently, in his sleep, and all the medics can say is that large portions of Covell’s brain had “simply shut down.”  Thrawn objects to the very non-medicalness of this diagnosis, but reassures Selid that he understands the messenger is just a messenger here.  They are checking the other passengers and so far everyone else seems to be fine.  Except they can’t check the stormtroopers who came with Covell because those all left the mountain on Covell’s orders.  After some big meeting.  Before he died.  (Well, that’s a relief, glad Selid specified that.)  Thrawn, correctly realizing that this is going to be a tangled mess, tell Selid to start over from the beginning.

will: Here’s where we start to see one of the few counterbalances to my ongoing “milSF writers like hierarchical systems” discussion. A bit of it is here, with Selid being so flustered about talking to Thrawn that he’ll say things like “General Covell gave the orders. At the big meeting, I mean, before he died.”

z: The shuttle landed about six hours ago, and Covell refused to take over command from Selid, and insisted on having “a private word” with the troops who’d been with him on the transport.  If he had private orders for those troops, why wouldn’t he have given them during all the trip over there?  Selid says that maybe it was C’baoth’s idea, seeing as how C’baoth was “…at the general’s side from the minute they got off the shuttle.  Muttering, sort of, the whole time.”

Well…1.  It’s interesting that Selid’s way of referencing to the man is just “C’baoth,” because Thrawn still insists on calling him “Master C’baoth,” for instance when he asks where C’baoth is at that moment, and 2. *extremely flat stare* …and you didn’t think there’s something weird with that why, Selid?  (Actually, we’re about to get an answer to that second one.)

will: And this is it. General Covell is Selid’s superior, and the usual mode of operation in these hierarchical systems is You Do Not Question Your Superior’s Orders. I don’t mean that that’s true in all of them, of course. History and fiction are both full of cases of orders being rightly questioned, and of examples where they should have been but weren’t.

But the same sort of writer that sets up “hierarchical is good, democratic is bad” usually includes an element of “because in a hierarchical system you follow orders.” And this is a problem because sometimes, you need to question, dissent, argue, or challenge, and that’s not what hierarchical systems work well at.

So it’s good to see Zahn have a case where the hierarchical system led to a cowed junior officer not being able to act in response to a perversion of that same system.

z: Covell apparently ordered the Emperor’s old Throne Room opened for C’baoth, which is where he is now.  Pellaeon worries that it may be above “the ysalamiri influence” up there, but Thrawn reassures him that by his calculations, the entire mountain and some of the surrounding area is Force-free.

There it is: Another throwaway revelation, and the answer to a few sideline questions (as in “where are the thousands of ysalamiri Thrawn took from Myrkr, if not on board Star Destroyers?”)  It’s mentioned a couple of times all the way back in Heir to the Empire that Thrawn is amassing ysalamiri at Mount Tantiss, but I sure as blazes hadn’t remembered that by the time I hit this point in this book.  When C’baoth’s control over Covell *shudder* apparently snapped last chapter, we probably all flashed to there being ysalamiri around, and here’s verification.

will: Right, and it’s interesting that this is here because I feel like it’s structured so that we don’t really get the point. Because we will be told it soon, in a more real way, that will have us going “oh, he flat out told us this and we didn’t care!” At least, that’s how I remember what we’ll see soon.

z: Anyway.  The general told his troops things, then told Selid that he had given the troops secret orders “directly from the Grand Admiral” and not to interfere, then C’baoth took Covell to his quarters and he himself was taken to the Throne Room for the night.  The troopers left, after emptying one of the field gear and explosives supply rooms and spending some time within the mountain to familiarize themselves with the layout.  The General was then found dead in the morning. So C’baoth was not with him when he died, but the medics think he didn’t live for very long after C’baoth left.

Thrawn asks Selid point blank of his impression of General Covell, and here’s the answer to my second question above: Selid obviously didn’t have very good impressions, and just as obviously is loath to criticize one superior officer to the face of one superior-er officer.

will: Again, more of what I said about hierarchy.

z: With Thrawn’s reassurances, he admits that he was disappointed by Covell, hadn’t found him what he expected to be at all.  Covell was distant, harsh for the few words he did exchange with Selid, non-specific and rude to others who tried to talk to him, too.  That wasn’t what Selid knew of his reputation.  Thrawn verifies that that wasn’t Covell’s usual behaviour either, and asks to be connected to the holocall system in the Emperor’s throne room.  While they are waiting for the connection, Thrawn correctly diagnoses the cause of death to Pellaeon: C’baoth had taken over too much of Covell’s brain, and when he lost control completely because of the ysalamiri, there wasn’t enough left of Covell.

(BRB still shuddering forever. Poor Covell…)

will: Mind control, creeps, &c. &c.

I note this, too: Pellaeon is pissed. Partly, probably, because of the loss of Covell. But primarily:

“He’d warned Thrawn about what C’baoth might do. Had warned him over and over again.”

That’s pretty impressive. Appropriate and important, but…wow, Pellaeon. Even thinking that takes guts.

z: Now I wonder…brb shuddering even more.

will: Whether Pellaeon had actually managed to warn Thrawn, you mean?

z: Oh, I’m sure he did warn a number of times, although I think “warning” is too strong a word.  But I wonder if he did really warn all those times he thought he intended to or did, yes.

will: There’s that.

z: Next, we get an Emperor-in-The-Empire-Strikes-Back sized holo of C’baoth’s head, which, thanks Mr. Zahn, I needed yet another mental image else to wake up screaming from.  (Thrawn dryly comments “I see you’ve discovered the Emperor’s private hologram setting,” however, which does make up for it with some giggling.)

will: It does point out how utterly ridiculous that setting is…it exists solely to be large and imposing and not helpful at all.

z: C’baoth, to everyone’s complete lack of surprise, is furious and is raving about Thrawn’s “betrayal.”

will: Which he clarifies as a betrayal of the Force, so clearly it’s the existence of the ysalamiri.

z: Thrawn tries to cut him off and ask him what he did to General Covell.  As an answer he gets some more raving and then impotent glaring, and actually asks “Are you finished?” in as many words.  C’baoth doesn’t get it, and looks confused and uncertain, which makes Pellaeon realize that a six-meter tall head can look imposing and impressive if the owner of the head has control of his mental processes and facial expressions…which Palpatine did, but C’baoth, not so much.

will: C’baoth and “control” do not exist in the same sentence.

Or the same star system.

z: Point.  Thrawn then says, again in as many words, “It was you who insisted on going to Wayland.”  I giggle again, because another way to express the same sentiment would have been for Thrawn to say “NO U.”  Thrawn asks about Covell again.  C’baoth tells Thrawn to “restore the Force to him” first, and Thrawn flatly says, nope, the ysalamiri stay.  After another brief glare match, which C’baoth loses, he says “General Covell was mine to do with as I pleased, as is everything else in my Empire,” which is completely in line with how he sees power and his place in the Imperial Remnant and ignore the whimpering sounds coming from my throat I’ll be better soon.

will: I wonder–how much more off base is C’baoth, not only because of the ysalamiri, but because he’s talking to a hologram? That is, an image of a person that he can’t read even if he had the Force?

(I think it’ll be in a Rogue Squadron book that someone high on telepathy-inducing spice has that issue, right?

And yes, we’ll get to the “wait, ‘spice’ that gives someone telepathic powers? How much Dune did you read?” issue.)

z: For Thrawn, that much verification is enough; he cuts C’baoth off, calls Selid back on to the comm, and orders him to arrest C’baoth and confine him to the royal quarters and the throne room, figure out where exactly the troopers who came with him and Covell and then left the garrison had been within the garrison before they left, and not to let any of them back in.  Thrawn will send another transport to round them up and take them off-planet, and they are not to get back into the mountain until then.  Selid is confused.  Thrawn explains that those men are now considered untrustworthy and in fact under suspicion of treason or being accomplices to treason. That last word has exactly the impact you may imagine.

will: Though in fairness he does say unwitting accomplices. More of the “Thrawn does not waste people or punish them for others’ mistakes” theme.

z: Thrawn reiterates that Selid now has command of the garrison back, and they cut contact.

Oh, look, we’re not done with the screaming heebie-jeebies yet.  Pellaeon asks if it’s safe to keep C’baoth there; Thrawn trusts the ysalamiri, and besides, C’baoth is not useful as a military asset any more but can serve the Empire in one more way…Pellaeon probably feels exactly as we do: Thrawn means to clone C’baoth?!  Yyyyup.

will: Huh. You know, I wonder whether Zahn had specific thoughts about the relationship between body and Force. My sense is that he sort of felt like, a clone of a Force-sensitive will be just as Force-sensitive, and on the one hand, that makes sense; on the other, that’s not specifically stated (good), and on the third, there’s no reason to assume that either.

A nice bit of unsquared circle. The Force doesn’t always follow your rules.

(Which ties back into the Secret of Mount Tantiss too. Oh, doesn’t it? Well then…we can deal with it.)

z: We get one more (and as far as I can tell, last) hint as to the ysalamiri’s purpose in Mount Tantiss: Of course that particular cloning procedure “can’t be carried out there,” so Pellaeon will put Intelligence on another, absolutely secure location to set up a new cloning facility.

will: Lots of interesting bits and pieces to that: Thrawn envisions raising a clone of C’baoth fully, accelerating it to childhood and then letting it grow naturally. He also imagines putting the cloning facility:

“On one of the worlds in the Unknown Regions where I once served the Empire.”

That tears it. I can no longer believe that Zahn didn’t see at least some broad strokes of the Hand of Thrawn coming.

z: Pellaeon’s not so much on board with having twenty young C’baoths “running around in the galaxy,” but it’s not like he can refuse.  He’ll start that search after the battle at Bilbringi.

Which, we remember what that’s about, right?

…in case we don’t, no worries, because here comes a scene shift.

Wedge–Wedge!–is just finishing his drink in a cantina somewhere.  He’s been there with Hobbie and Janson–Hobbie!  Janson!– for the last hour, during which the composition of the clientele has changed from local/family/after-work to more “fringe types,” and they should go.

will: I was going to interject here, but since Z did her part first, I note that she’s asking me to fill it in after we finish the recap. So what I’ll say here is that I expect that Zahn simply grabbed the two Rogues he knew had survived Hoth (though Hobbie’s survival was unclear due to differing sources) and left it at that. This is still before other material, so no Tycho yet though.

z: They are in civilian clothes, which he finds uncomfortable.  He directs that they should return to the base, to which Janson replies “good, morning’s going to come soon enough as it is,” and the reader is invited to deduce this is a scripted line with Wedge’s follow-up thoughts:

“Morning could come anytime it wanted to, of course; well before then they would be [long on their way towards Bilbringi.]”

will: The point of the line being to make observers believe they’re staying onplanet tonight–which means this would have to be a New Republic planet, at least sufficient to have a base, which does suggest they could have been out in uniform and patches. More to do with not overplaying themselves, I suppose, than danger…

z: As they slip through crowded tables, a drunk man abruptly almost shoves his chair back into Wedge, stumbles to his feet, collapses against Wedge and puts an arm across his shoulders and leans on and slurs and oh look drunken lout.  Janson puts a supporting arm around the guy from the other side, at which point the guy abruptly stops slurring: “All four of us–nice and easy now, let’s help the poor old drunk out of here.”

will: For added unbenefit, Wedge and Janson are both tangled in him, so they can’t pull their blasters. (Janson, after all, is a crack gunner in addition to a pilot.)

z: Wedge, unsurprisingly, tenses up, which the guy senses and asks if Wedge doesn’t remember him.  Since the face is closer than any reasonable range that Wedge could clearly focus on, the answer is “should I?” which makes the guy put on an injured tone.  “You go up against a Star Destroyer with someone, especially in the middle of nowhere, you’d think they’d remember you.”  It’s the “middle of nowhere” that does the trick.  Wedge flashes back to the Katana fleet battle, where Karrde’s people had suddenly appeared to help, and to some brief introductions on board a capital ship,  later.

will: Wedge also notes that the group is already in motion, impulse, not wanting to stand out, and a sense that if they were wanted dead, they’d be dead…

Also, I have to admit that it’s impressive that Wedge would remember Aves; the introductions were “preoccupied.”

z: It’s Aves, and he wants to get out of there without attracting any more attention please.  Wedge isn’t happy, since he still doesn’t completely trust Karrde’s people: What if they are passing information to the Empire too, having been threatened or bought?  But there seems to be nothing for it.

will: Trust is, after all, a difficult thing between these groups. Another major theme being reinforced in the runup to finale.

z: Out on the street, Aves drops the drunk act and leads them towards something.  Janson throws a dubious look at Wedge, who shrugs and follows–he doesn’t think there’s anything else to do, and besides, by now he’s simply curious.  Aves turns into an entryway, and tells them to wait a moment.  An Aqualish (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Aqualish) passes by on the outside, except he actually slows down and looks into the entryway as he passes by.  From the other side of the doorway, there’s a “thud,” then other confederates of Aves’ appear, dragging the unconscious Aqualish between them.

will: And commenting on how Aqualish are “a lot meaner than they are smart.” Ah, speciesism.

z: Aves is all under the impression that they saved Wedge and co. from a lot of trouble: “Take a good look at him, Antilles.  Maybe next time you’ll recognize an Imperial spy when you pick one up.”.  Wedge is internally disgruntled that an evening’s work has been wasted–wait what?  …oh.

will: Though he does admit that this proves Karrde’s people are on his side.

z: So far in this Trilogy, pretty much every single time Wedge appeared in civilian clothes somewhere, someone else always pointed out how clearly he wasn’t a civilian.  Conspicuous. Obviously not used to plainclothes.  So what’s he doing out there being obviously-not-a-civilian again?

Being noticed.

I can’t stop laughing.

will: Yeah. Arguably the payoff to Wedge being the worst camouflaged civilian ever was in his first appearance, as he was the distraction for Page, but this is even moreso.

z: Aves obviously means well, though, because he knows nothing about this being a misdirection.  In fact, more hilarity is about to come.  Wedge asks what he and the others can do for Aves in return, and Aves says that they have “something in the works,” they know that the New Republic does too, and they would like to time theirs with the New Republic’s so that the Imperials will be distracted elsewhere.  Wedge can’t believe the irony: They were out here to plant suspicion about their fake Tangrene operation, and here is someone asking about outright confirmation.  Still, he can’t be too obvious.

will: Anymore.

I do note that maybe Wedge has grown tired of the cloak-and-blade game; in Rising he was clearly relishing the chance to do a countersign when Mara picked up the Etherway, but now he’s probably itching to just go shoot something.

z: Janson gives him an inspiration by tapping him on the shoulder and saying they should go, they’ve got a lot to do before they leave, and Wedge grabs the chance to spin a bit of tradecraft: Look, Aves, I can’t directly tell you anything of course, but I’ll talk to my unit commander and try to get special clearance for you (Aves: [full-body eyeroll]), but he’s busy, so if you don’t hear from us in twenty-eight hours, repeat, twenty-eight hours…right?

Oh, my sweet summer ace pilot.   Anyway, Aves obviously gets it, and they separate.

Hobbie remarks that the “twenty-eight hours” was pretty clever, and, well:

“I thought so,” Wedge agreed modestly.

Still can’t stop laughing.

will: The interesting part is that the time before departure doesn’t help in and of itself, since there’s no clue about transit time or speed, but there’s an element of “this is the natural staging point for Tangrene, so we can assume that timing, and 28 hours puts you at this timing if you assume task force speed…” The sort of thing that would be second nature to military and shipping and smuggling types.

Of course, the whole point is that the task force will leave sooner, and travel further and probably faster, to hit a different target.

Clever. Ish.

z: The other two pilots grumble a bit: They hope Aves and the rest will “sell that information straight to the Empire,” and in fact seem to feel certain.  Wedge isn’t so certain, actually, thinking back to how things went at the Katana fleet.  Maybe the fringe scum…isn’t.  But at any rate, they do have a lot to do before they actually set out soon to battle…at Bilbringi.

will: A couple of notes: first, Hobbie is the one who’s sure that, Aves being a smuggler, he’ll sell what information he has–consistent with his future-established characterization as a former Imperial pilot (he and Biggs Darklighter defected at the same time, from the same ship); second, this is clearly before Wedge was given a backstory involving being a former smuggler and the honorary nephew of a legendary smuggler, or he’d never think this:

“Maybe that was indeed all Karrde and his gang were: fringe scum, always for sale to the highest bidder. But somehow, he didn’t think so.”

z: And scene.

It hit me that for the casual fan, why the names Hobbie and Janson caused me to go all bouncy up there is a bit of a mystery, but it’s late, I’m tired, and I’m shamelessly leaving it to Will to explain that one.  Actually, given the “somanythingstodosomanyeeee” situation, I’m actually exhausted, so no other extra thoughts about this chapter, I’m afraid.

(Actually, let me give one clarification of the situation: Four days.  Five rehearsals.  Savvy?)

Will?

will: OK. So we mentioned back when that Wedge is a perfect example of competence porn, and that’s part of what drew us to him…well, wasn’t just us. As Zahn pointed out, he had added Wedge and thus the Rogues just for being survivors, but here he adds the other two known and surviving Rogues (not counting one Jedi) from Empire, and later authors–Stackpole for comics and especially Allston for novels–will tell us more about them, too. It points up the aspects of how writing in this universe is a collaborative game.

And what Allston especially did with this Odd Couple of dour Hobbie and joker Janson is one for the ages.

And remember, for both of us, Wedge and the Rogues were a major entry point for the wider Star Wars universe.

So yeah, this is a reminder of the fun still to come.

Besides that, I like how this chapter shows us the difference between “our goals coincide for now” and “allies,” on both sides–the collapse, for good, of the Thrawn/C’baoth uneasy power share, and Aves and Wedge working at cross purposes because of trust.

As I’ve said before, Aves and Wedge fit a very similar role. Aves is the definition of the average smuggler–loyal, perhaps a bit old for the excitement, maybe not brilliant or exceptional, but doing his job. It probably isn’t a coincidence that these two were the ones Zahn chose for this scene.

Yes, yes, Wedge is exceptional. But he’s exceptional in his ordinariness.

That’s all for me, too. Next week, the beginning of the end, with the last revelation, and the second greatest description of piecing something together that I’ve ever read. (And I’ll tell you what the best was, too.)  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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