: Welcome, readers, to Chapter 23 of The Last Command, which features Leia figuring things out, Zahn managing to surprise us with something he already told us (by giving us the missing context), and Plotline Collapse, which is to say, one plotline collapsing into another.
: Not quite like a waveform collapse, but similar.
: Before we dive into things, though, how are all of you? Things are going well here. As I said last time, my family recently moved into a new apartment. In the last week we’ve hooked up the cable and internet (a necessary and important step, I’m sure you’d agree), started getting all our possessions out of storage, and have generally been assembling and creating our new home. It’s pretty sweet, if I do say so myself.
: That’s all the coolness up there. While Will and his lovely wife are putting their life back in some semblance of order, I’ve had a four-rehearsal week and am looking at another next week, had a personal project hit a huge sprint period, and decided that this was the perfect time for yet another Major Life Decision, about which there’ll be more details later if I get the time this weekend to go forward with it.
: Plus, tomorrow I’m going to a “Weird Al” Yankovic concert.
: Plus, now I’m jealous.
: Leia comes off of a research binge with no new information, forced to the same conclusions she’d already been told by the librarians: the Senate library has no information on Clone War-era cloning, so they can’t figure out why (as Leia told Mara) Thrawn can get the speed up to twenty days instead of a year.
: …which the New Republic had figured with biochemical analysis of the clone bodies they had recovered after the , Symphonic Suite for Ion Cannons and Turbolasers at the Depot, aka the Katana fleet battle.
Also, I love the phrase “research binge.”
: Apparently she’s been checking their work, in that futile but inevitable way everybody does–they can’t quite believe it until they see for themselves.
: …yup, that one. But I’m getting better at it.
: She heads over to the twins’ crib, seeing Jacen awake “and making a serious effort to study his fingers,” while Jaina stays sleeping. She picks her son up and carries him to the window, watching the world go by, the mountains in the distance, the sky overhead…
“Beyond the sky was the planetary energy shield. And the Empire’s invisible, deadly asteroids.”
Jacen picks up on her distress and gurgles unhappily, so she bounces him in her arms to cheer him, and herself, up.
: Your biweekly “Force-Sensitive Babies Here” reminder.
: Winter enters then, with a mug of “spiced paricha.” More on that in a second, because I think we’ve found GFFA tea.
: …I’m not so sure, but I’ll comment down there too.
: Anyway. Winter says there’s no news, no more asteroids found past the twenty-one (plus the one Thrawn blew up), and Bel Iblis is starting to think they got them all. Drayson and Mon Mothma don’t think so, and neither does Leia. She figures that this wouldn’t be worth it for anything less than seventy.
Winter asks how the research is going, and is a bit surprised/disappointed to learn there’s nothing a Jedi can do beyond what the librarians already have.
: “Not enough to guide me to the right archive, of there is one,” is Leia’s own assessment. Well, reference librarians matter for a reason. Go hug a librarian this week. Or a database admin.
: Leia continues to drink her paricha, remembering in a melancholy way that the root isn’t native to Coruscant and needs to be imported from offworld, so this might be the last they get.
Okay, so. Paricha is a root-based hot drink not native to Coruscant, spiced.
Parichha (note the two h’s) is a town in northern India.
Chai is a word for “tea” in languages including many dialects of Chinese as well as Hindi.
Masala chai is a spiced Indian tea, often just called “chai” or indeed “chai tea” outside of India.
I figure “paricha” is to chai tea what “caf” is to coffee.
So, maybe Zahn could have had hot theobrom after all?
: Yeah to all that and especially the town name and chai-çay-thé-tea, but… It’s a root. And it has to be exported, and here on our Earth, it’s most often served with cinnamon, and “gentle aroma” and “soft flavor” are basically the perfect descriptions. I can’t argue with the linguistics, but I really can’t change my mental image on this one. But either way…
: Oh, nice. Yeah, I wouldn’t have that referent. Either way, digression over.
Winter cuts into Leia’s musing to ask about the puzzle she’s still worrying over, something Mara said coupled with something Luke did, but she hasn’t made any progress.
The comlink goes off, and Leia expects Mon Mothma has reneged on her promise of a morning off. But it isn’t the boss after all, it’s Central Communications. Seems there’s a freighter in orbit, the Wild Karrde, asking to speak to her, and CentComm wants to know if she wants to talk to him, or should they just open fire?
: Not so much with the middle ground with these guys, no?
Although the controller asks about “chasing them out of the system,” not necessarily shooting directly, so probably the reaction is congruent with the civilian traffic ban.
: Right, I was glossing.
Leia goes with option A, and starts the standard pleasantries. Karrde opens by reminding the New Republic how helpful he’s been what with the macrobinoculars that proved the lie of Thrawn’s superweapon, but deflects a little bit on crowing, saying he was well compensated (Luke’s credit line). Leia also deflects that there was no problem with paying (remember, there were a few squawks), and they’d be happy to pay for more.
: Leia knows what “return on investment” means. So did Luke, instinctively.
: Karrde next says he might have some technology, “semirare,” to sell the New Republic, if he can land and talk in person, but Leia says no, no nonessential ships in or out.
Karrde fires back that he’s heard it’s more than nonessentials, but it’s only whispers, “only one of which really concerns me,” and he asks about Mara. He’s heard she’s under arrest.
“Karrde, this isn’t something we should be discussing–”
“Don’t give me that. You owe me. More to the point, you owe her.”
“I’m aware of that. If you’ll let me finish, this isn’t something we should be discussing on an open channel.”
: Hi my name is Princess Leia and you might be the big Information Broker and prominent smuggler and all but I once smuggled secret plans from underneath Darth Vader’s nose so don’t even with me.
How old is Karrde, anyway?
: Karrde doesn’t show embarrassment for his jump to conclusions about Leia’s sentence, and says to rustle up Ghent–he can plug in an encrypt code. Leia figures “it’s a start” and agrees, telling Winter to watch the twins, as she continues to feel something hovering at the edge of her brain.
Scene shift; Ghent has finished configuring the encrypt, and Bel Iblis reminds Leia not to say anything the Empire doesn’t already know–no telling how good this encryption actually is. (Answer: very good. But hey.)
They reestablish the connection, Karrde asks why Mara’s under arrest, and Leia tells him about the break-in, that she was named as an accomplice, that she was investigated, that she was a member of the Emperor’s personal staff, that the Council has concerns about her loyalties, and that Karrde can’t speak to her–never mentioning that she’s gone, of course.
Karrde probably sighs, and then asks why the shields are up.
: He also scoffs a bit first, and calls said council members “fools.”
: Leia checks with Bel Iblis, who agrees reluctantly, and Leia tells him about the asteroids.
Karrde explains that Thrawn has been spreading rumors that the New Republic is trying to cover up getting damaged, a morale hit, and then asks how many asteroids they’ve found. 22 out of a possible 287. Karrde says he’s willing to risk going through, but Bel Iblis says it’s not his risk (heh), even for a five second gap.
So Karrde pulls a different tack, and offers information for a talk with Mara. Leia says, information first, then we decide, and Karrde says it’s his best offer:
“You can lower your shield any time now. The asteroids are all gone.”
Remember those twenty-two asteroids that Karrde noticed being maybe-mined? Yup–those were the ones, the numbers line up, the timing lines up, and everything.
Karrde explains how he knows, sends his sensor data–Bel Iblis and Leia agree, and Bel Iblis says it wouldn’t make sense for Thrawn to have rustled up another group of asteroids.
: Thrawn wouldn’t want to spread the cloaking technology any wider than he had to, so there’s a minimal chance that there may have been another group fitted with shields in another shipyard.
: Karrde agrees, and says, he’s done his part. So?
Leia’s out of stalling tactics, but Bel Iblis has one more–he asks why Karrde wants to talk to Mara.
“If it matters, one of the hardest parts of being locked up is the feeling that you’ve been deserted. I imagine Mara’s feeling that–I know I did when I was Thrawn’s unwilling guest aboard the Chimaera. I want to let her know–in person–that she hasn’t been forgotten.”
: No real comment here, except *salutes Karrde*.
: Bel Iblis asks Leia for her thoughts, but she’s staring off into space, barely aware of him.
There it was, right in front of her: the key she’d been searching for. Karrde’s imprisonment aboard the Chimaera…
She orders the shields dropped for the Wild Karrde, barely registering anything else, even Bel Iblis’s objection.
Suddenly, all the pieces had fallen into place…and the picture they formed was one of potential disaster.
Bel Iblis gives Karrde his five seconds, then turns off the comm and focuses on Leia, asking her what’s going on.
: Did you get it? I hadn’t got it.
Leia took a deep breath. “It’s the cloning, Garm. I know how Thrawn’s growing them so fast.”
The whole war room had gone dead quiet. “Tell me,” Bel Iblis said.
: And here it is. Leia explains that the problem is the Force. There’s a resonance effect or something that happens when you try to grow a duplicate so quickly–again, Zahn is completely making shit up, but it’s the right sounding sort of shit–and if you don’t grow a clone slowly, its mind breaks.
Bel Iblis is willing to entertain the idea, but not entirely convinced. But assuming Leia’s right, what’s Thrawn doing about it?
It’s very simple. He’s using ysalamiri to block the Force away from the cloning tanks.”
Bel Iblis’s face went rigid. Across the silent war room, someone swore softly.
And there it is. We heard about this last chapter, but we (at least, I at first read) didn’t really put the pieces together. Now, though…
Leia explains that what she was tickling out of her brain was, Mara saying the Empire had harvested thousands of ysalamiri (what she said), and Luke having been able to use the Force when he rescued Karrde (what he did)–because the ysalamiri weren’t on the Imperial warships, but Wayland.
: And I’m filled with admiration, because that’s quite a few steps in a deductive reasoning chain, but then, Leia. And someone who knows how to write her well.
: And Bel Iblis gets the next bit too:
“Which means that when the team gets to the mountain–”
“Luke will be helpless. And he won’t even suspect it until it’s too late.”
Which, I note, isn’t entirely true. Luke will be able to sense the lack of Force before he’s at the mountain, and in fact already has figured there are some ysalamiri there. It’ll just be too late to help. But then, Leia might not realize the Noghri are there (it’s less than clear) either.
: No, I think she knows–she knows where that message about Wayland’s location came to Winter from, after all–but still finds the idea of Luke being without the Force alarming, and who can blame her?
: But anyway, Leia now realizes that her dream of Luke and Mara facing C’baoth “and an unknown threat” was a vision after all, and there is nothing she can do.
Bel Iblis says he’ll try to shake loose some ships, but Leia knows he won’t be able to. Even though she’s now convinced the asteroids are gone, not enough of the Council will be, either, making Bilbringi still a go.
Which meant there was exactly one person left who could go to the aid of her husband and brother.
She heads off. Much to do.
Scene shift. Karrde exits his ship to meet three figures. Leia, a very fidgety Ghent, and someone short wearing “the coarse brown robe of a Jawa,” for no reason Karrde can think of. He greets them, asking Ghent if he’s been useful (“I suppose so, they say so anyway”), and asking for the Jawa–who is, of course, a Noghri–to identify itself. Mobvekhar does, Leia saying he’s a bodyguard, and Karrde asks for Mara.
: Two things about that. One, yup, those two “jawa” who pushed their way into the elevator back during the attack on Coruscant definitely… weren’t, even though they weren’t mentioned again during Leia’s adventures in the War Room. Two, Karrde’s reaction when Mobvekhar introduces himself is precious:
[Karrde] resisted the urge to take a half-step backward. Whatever it was hiding under that robe, it most certainly wasn’t a Jawa.
But let’s not digress any further:
: Which, of course, Mara’s not there.
Karrde looks at Ghent, who fidgets more, and Leia explains she never actually said Mara was on planet, just that she’d been detained, and all that letter-of-the-law stuff. Heh.
: Doubling that “heh.”
: Ghent fidgets more, and Karrde swallows his annoyance, asking where she is.
Leia answers “Wayland.” Karrde is clueless, so Leia fills him in. He boggles (well, as much as he ever does) at the news about Mount Tantiss, even as he also sees all the clone-tracking work, risk, and potential payoff from the fringe go up in smoke.
Leia now asks to be taken there, because Mara, Luke, Han, and everybody are in danger, and Ghent starts to agree before Karrde cuts him off. Leia says that he’s condemning Mara too, and Karrde says Mara’s an employee, no more, no less.
: Leia says, isn’t being an employee enough? And Karrde knows she has him. He’s bluffing…
In her eyes, he could see that she knew perfectly well that it was a bluff. He couldn’t simply walk away and abandon Mara to her death, any more than he could abandon Aves or Dankin or Chin. Not if there was anything he could do to prevent it.
He explains that he has other responsibilities, like the CGT raid–“not the one you’re trying for” (heh, heh, heh)–and Leia is apparently distracted enough to not ask how he knows about the Tangrene raid. Which means that what she’s really doing is thinking “oh, our disinformation campaign worked,” and possibly “I hope they aren’t planning to go after Bilbringi too.”
: Actually, I think she decides not to ask how he knows about the Tangrene raid. And I think she does think the disinformation campaign worked.
Which, of course, it did. In a manner of speaking. *facepalm*
: She asks whether the Wild Karrde is going to make a difference, which it isn’t, but the other problem is that if they leave now, Karrde won’t be able to get that Ghent-assisted payday.
Heh. Business first, always.
: I think if it was still only his organization, he could have let it slide until later, but he kind of promised kind of a large Quorum of Smugglers…
: But Karrde’s no fool, and realizes he has another way to make the cash. He starts to shift into “I have responsibilities to my people” mode, but Mobvekhar cuts him off, stalks down the tunnel they’re in, and comes back soon with Borsk Fey’lya in tow.
: Good, I hadn’t had time to take my palm off of my face yet.
: Fey’lya starts in on “I protest being mistreated, and I was not eavesdropping,” then gets to his point: he “urges” Karrde to help Leia. Wayland must be destroyed, before what’s in it can be found and moved. Which would be a disaster.
Remember what I said last chapter? Ditto. This isn’t seeding. This is full on plot hooking.
: Very much so, and by this point in my first readthrough I was really, really curious.
: Karrde wonders what Fey’lya thinks/knows is in there, but he figures Fey’lya won’t tell. But it doesn’t matter:
“How much do they worry you?
Fey’lya takes another repetition to get it:
“How much worry will it take?”
Seventy thousand, take it or leave it.
: I shouldn’t giggle, and yet.
: Fey’lya opens a martyrdom speech about draining the lifeblood of the Bothans, but Karrde has no patience, and just says yes or no? Yes. Karrde says to use Luke’s credit line, and they’ll get going–but they’ll be checking on the deposit before they go. Fey’lya insists he’s honorable (…well, for Bothan definitions, I suppose), and Karrde says, good.
Aboard the Wild Karrde getting ready to jump, Leia asks if they really are going to take the time to confirm the transfer. Of course not, but Fey’lya doesn’t know that.
: No qualms about giggling this time.
: Leia says, so it isn’t about the money, but Karrde insists it is–he has obligations, and if Fey’lya didn’t get him the money, the New Republic would have had to.
Leia says, of course, and Karrde insists he means it.
Leia just smiles.
The words were different; but the look on Karrde’s face was almost identical. Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution, and I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.
Her smile fades as she hopes that this time, she can save Han and Luke, they way they saved her.
Well, this was a helluva thing and no mistake. Not only did we get the context for the ysalamiri, not only did we get the biggest plot hook to the Hand of Thrawn series, not only did we get the explicit connection between Han circa the Battle of Yavin and Karrde circa now, not only did we get the New Republic and Karrde finally acting like they’re on the same side (Karrde even thinks that in so many words!)…well, there’s a reason this probably has the most block quoting from any chapter of the trilogy to date. Well, two reasons, the other being that they’re great lines.
But I’ve been blathering forever, time to let someone else take the mic.
: And I even added blockquotes of my own, you’ll have realized.
I continue to be a sap for the Cute Jedi Babbies; sorry.
Once again, Leia figures things out. She’s really the perfect combination of insight and intelligence, and it’s not even necessarily Jedi insight. That was, and has been, another reason why Zahn remains a favourite writer: I imprinted on Leia at an early age for a role model, but that was for her agency (rare for a female character, however limited) and strength (likewise). Zahn makes her the problem-solving one, and did that ever draw and impress me.
In that scene where Leia calls Karrde’s bluff, I can practically see the expression that would have been on Carrie Fisher’s face. Since it’s a Karrde PoV, that’s no mean feat.
Next week, the Convergence begins. (Dun dun dunnnnn!) In a relatively brief chapter, we’ll touch base with every faction, and find out where almost every named character is and what they are doing. When we get there, buckle your seatbelts, and until then, may the Force be with you.