The Last Command, Chapter 24

will: Welcome, readers all, to chapter 24 of The Last Command, where everybody gets a turn at the wheel. Except maybe Z, she’s back somewhere buried under a metric ton of work, so I’ll start off in the driver’s seat for the week.

z: …a metric ton of work, and seven pounds of cat.

Yeah, I adopted this past weekend.  Because I didn’t have enough calls on my life and time already.  But some things are worthwhile, I think.

will: But first, a brief update from me: so, that happened.

Also, this did, but that’s a bit more esoteric, since the co-composer of that little geek ballad is an old friend and I went to a performance of his work this past Monday. (Guess what line had me groaning loudest.)

will: We start with Luke and Han, who are atop a hill watching the entrance to Mount Tantiss and the city at the base of the mountain, deciding to find another way in, and again pointing out that (as the Endor Escapade taught us) you never take the front door.

They freeze long enough to let a patrol go past a few meters away (natural scanner blocking or the Force? Who knows), muttering how those are more frequent probably because of how close to the mountain they are (and Selid is in command again).

z: I think it’s the Force–the dialogue and actions a ways ahead implies that they aren’t within the ysalamiri field yet.

will: Han shifts to look at the Psadans gathering in the city, trying to zoom in on what they’re doing. Luke takes over, figuring maybe he can use “Jedi techniques for enhancing vision” above and beyond macrobinocular zoom, which I suppose is better than just saying “enhance.”

z: Well, the Force may not be blind the Nyquist rate, because you see {sits on hands to stop typing}

will: Luke isn’t sure, he says, having looked, but he thinks the Psadans are holding a datapad–which is not in keeping with what they expected. Plus, suddenly there’s something odd in Luke’s voice and he’s staring at the mountain.

It’s dark, Luke says, like Myrkr. And Han gets pretty damned scared, saying now what? He figures it’s a trap, time to go.

z: It does figure that the Empire would be defending the mountain against the one extant Jedi Han knows certainly to be so.  All he knows of C’baoth are second- and third-hand reports.

will: Luke isn’t sure, and thinks it’s related to how the contact with C’baoth was cut off. Han is skeptical–aren’t C’baoth and Thrawn working together? But Luke is more confident, saying maybe there was a falling-out, maybe C’baoth was always being used, whatever–the point is, the Empire doesn’t know they’re here, which means the ysalamiri in the mountain are for C’baoth.

Not that it matters, Han says, because they’ll block Luke’s access to the Force too. But Luke says he and Mara did okay on Myrkr (true–remember his plan for dealing with the stormtroopers?), and besides, this is their only chance. Han can’t argue with that:

Once the Empire gave up on this deserted-planet routine, chances were the next New Republic team wouldn’t even make it into the atmosphere.

z: Well, not in one piece, anyway.

will: He asks whether Luke is going to warn Mara–of course, says Luke, but he’ll do it on the way, let’s go.

Mara and the rest are waiting downhill, Mara practicing levitating stones. Han thinks about how he had given up trying to convince Luke not to teach her, and how it’ll do a fat lot of good now, and asks Mara if she’s ready to take them to the back door.

z: The scene has a vaguely funny sense to it.  They walk back into the camp, and Han sees Mara sitting on the ground with five pebbles hovering in front of her.  You know, as one does.

One also wonders how many times he walked in on Leia attempting to levitate cups and spoons and whatnot.   There’s a definite sense of ” the things I got used to…” there.

will: Mara emphasizes that she only saw the air system from the inside, and while she’s sure there are intake ports, she doesn’t know where.

That’s right, they’re infiltrating via the air vents. Plus ça change

z: Heh.

will: Threepio and Artoo check in then, both enjoying how much easier this trail–as it turns out, a Myneyrshi trail–is to follow. Mara knows there won’t be any as they get closer, but Luke says the Noghri will help.

And we shift! Bilbringi Control is authorizing the Garret’s Gold, which is to say the Etherway with a different set of plates transponder code, to approach the shipyard, and making snide comments about the (presumably cosmetic only) sorry state of the ship. Aves, in command, takes it with as much grace as he can muster, which is to say, virtually none, but he keeps it out of his voice. Gillespee is copiloting, and they make small talk about how surprised everyone will be at the heist and how they both do, and really don’t, want to see the Imperials’ faces. They also note how heavy security is, figuring that the whole “a bunch of fringers blew up a Star Destroyer” thing may have something to do with it.

z: Nice callback to that revenge raid of Mazzic’s, actually. Remember how Thrawn had told the garrison commander afterwards that he had 36 hours to design and implement a new, better security system, or else?

He hasn’t done too badly, at that.  There are narrow corridors of security fields, very tightly controlled navigation, the works.

will: At any rate, we learn that the Etherway is mostly there as backup–it’ll unload some “specially tweaked” tractor beam capacitors, then be ready for when Mazzic makes the actual move. One imagines the knowledge that some tractor beams will have faulty power supplies is a good little bonus. Aves checks the time: three hours until the Tangrene attack begins, which means even Bilbringi won’t be thinking about Bilbringi at the critical moment.

Oh, you poor fools.

z: One comedy of errors, coming right up.

will: Gillespee notes that Ellor’s Kai Mir and Klivering, backed up by the Starry Ice, are in position, and Aves thinks how everything is going smoothly…but you never know, that could just be Thrawn lulling them into a false sense of security.

Gillespee now asks about Karrde, and Aves is clearly rankled. He insists that Karrde isn’t deserting the Quorum, and if he had something more important that’s what it is, and Gillespee simply says he wondered if anyone else has asked. Aves is frustrated that even after Hijarna, this is going on, and rattles off all of Karrde’s ships that are present, giving Z a case of pun-hives: Etherway, Starry Ice, Dawn Beat, Lastri’s Ort, Amanda Fallow

z: I knew you’d be spotlighting those. You knew I’d be twitching.

will: Gillespee tells Aves to cool his jets, and Aves apologizes, sick of smuggler paranoia. Which Gillespee says is simply the nature of the business, and he’s just impressed that the Quorum has survived even this far. He then asks what Karrde is up to, not as a leading question, but idle curiosity. Aves is loyal:

No idea. But it’ll be something important.

They see their destination for the next batch of course corrections, and in they go.

And now, we’re at the rendezvous point for the New Republic fleet. Wedge confirms that Rogue Squadron is ready, gives them their orders, and smiles at the professional answers. There’s been some consternation among the general staff about the wisdom of having some units do both decoy and combat work, as they might be overworked…but the Rogues are not feeling it.

Janson (who’s Five right now) asks whether Thrawn got the Mumbri Stove message, their leak about Tangrene, and says he doesn’t know. But even if it didn’t, and it was just for the smugglers, anything that can distract the Empire would be nice.

Rogue Six says they probably just want to use the attack as cover for a smuggling drop, and Wedge is unsure. He knows Luke says Karrde is “quietly on the New Republic’s side,” but he’ll never convince the Rogues of that; for himself, anybody not helping Thrawn is helping the New Republic somehow, even if they don’t admit it (or know it).

I like this fog-of-war perspective. And I also like that Wedge’s thought (remember that he’ll only later be given a smuggling backstory of his own) isn’t “unless you’re openly helping the New Republic, you’re helping Thrawn” it’s “unless you stand with him you’re standing against him,” a much different approach. And more consistent with a group that is willing to resign from the New Republic if they have to.

z: I hadn’t noticed that anti-parallel: Not “if you’re not with us, you’re against us,” but “if you’re not with him, you’re with us.” Nice one, and inclusive instead of exclusive, in a way.

And if course, Wedge’s more of a tactician than a strategist, but he’s been around some and can anticipate the second- and third-order value in things.

will: And with that, the Star Cruisers are in position, and Wedge orders the Rogues into escort formation. In two and a half hours, they’ll drop out of hyperspace “within spitting distance of the Bilbringi shipyards.”

A shame, he thought that they wouldn’t be able to see the looks on the Imperials’ faces.

Aves, Wedge, parallels again.

z: Dark horse to dark horse.  And speaking of which…

will: Time for another shift. Pellaeon is reviewing the Intelligence reports that are still saying “Tangrene, for sure,” and still isn’t convinced. Even when Thrawn calls it “a very convincing performance,” Pellaeon has to fight to be “properly deferential” even as he pulls out “respectfully suggest,” which is to a military man like Pellaeon the equivalent of anybody else’s “for God’s sake!”

z: After the books of witnessing Pellaeon’s conversation into someone with massive trust in Thrawn, to watch him be that concerned about Tangrene serves as a very effective showing-not-telling of how good the appearance New Republic forces must have put in place and are keeping up must be.

will: Thrawn, though, will have none of it, saying it’s all an illusion, the ships the Intelligence reports are citing were pulled out leaving just skeletons and uniforms to confuse the spies, and that’s that. Pellaeon resigns himself to this, worrying that if he’s wrong, that will be exactly what the New Republic plans the Bilbringi attack to be–a major loss and a show that Thrawn is not unstoppable.

Thrawn, though, is pragmatic, saying all war is risk, and if he’s wrong, they’ll lose a base, but if he’s right, they can destroy two sector fleets.

z: It’s very clear that he’s assigning far less weight to this Ubiqtorate base than Pellaeon is.

will: Pellaeon isn’t convinced, and Thrawn knows it, but doesn’t care. He just says that Pellaeon should be ready to be wrong. Pellaeon hopes he will be, and we’re back to hindbrain:

“Is my flagship ready, Captain?”

“The Chimaera is fully at your command, Admiral.”

“Then prepare the fleet for hyperspace. And for battle.”

Back to Wayland, this time we’re riding in Luke’s head. He was right, the Noghri could navigate Mount Tantiss. The air intakes, though, look “more like a retractable turbolaser turret,” and Han again compares it to the Endor bunker. Luke, though, is more focused on how he’s as blind as he was on Myrkr, and wonders if Mara is feeling the same way. By the look on her face, she is.

z: He’s in dread, quietly.  She’s in dread, a bit more expressively.

will: Han says he’ll take Artoo over to a computer outlet (better than trying to hot-wire it again, right?), everyone else stay put–but Chewie hears something, and then everyone does: blaster fire a ways away. The Noghri then report some of the Myneyrshi are approaching to parlay. Han goes off with the bird claw of safe passage—

z: I think you mean “claw bird,” but it’s a funny sentence either way so I’m not touching it—

will:  —and Threepio to translate, leaving Artoo to grumble about how little Han really cares for the other droid. (Slander, good sir droid. Han cares. He just really sucks at showing it.)

Lando, Mara, and Luke all agree about the need for haste, though, so they head to the air intake, with Lando and Artoo heading to the computer outlet. The barrier itself is an oversized screen door, so all Artoo needs is to turn off the actual air ventilation system.

As Artoo gets to work, Mara turns to Luke, and takes his hand:

“Whatever it costs, don’t let me go over to C’baoth’s side. You understand? Don’t let me join him. Even if you have to kill me.”

z: Yeah, I did a doubletake at the hand-holding too.  She must be in real, real dread.  And by now we know her well enough to get that.

will: Luke says that there’s no way for C’baoth to force Mara to his side, but Mara isn’t sure, and neither is Luke–“There was so much he didn’t know yet about the Force.”

Mara reminds Luke that C’baoth has claimed to see her joining him several times–which is a fair, but not exclusive, way to interpret “kneeling at his feet”–and begs Luke not to let her. Luke is scared about the thought of killing someone in cold blood, even if they ask, and instead promises that Mara won’t be alone.

“What if you’re already dead?”

Now Luke gets it: This is her battling with herself. He tells her that the Emperor’s voice is just a memory, and she doesn’t have to obey. Mara says it’s hard to ignore…but Luke says she can’t use that as an excuse. She gets to make her future, not the Emperor, not C’baoth, not even Luke. She makes her choices and she deals with the consequences.

Mara is unimpressed. She drops his hand, calls his speech “spouting philosophy,” and boom, shields back up.

z: Week, I wouldn’t say “unimpressed,” as she’s obviously impressed enough with something to bring the shields back up so quickly and strongly.

And I’d just like to point out: Holding someone’s hand while trying them that you’re still seriously wrestling with the question of whether to kill them or not…yeah, there’s a lot of there there.

will: Han returns and says that they have allies, as Threepio goes to see what Artoo is squeaking about.

z: (Because Lando calls him over.)

Han explains that a group of Myneyrshi wants to go attack the Empire, not so much to help Our Heroes, as to attack the Empire.

z: Tiny little parallel here about Wedge’s thoughts about the smugglers, earlier on…

will: Cutting through the Threepio dialogue tricks, it seems a group of Psadans has received smuggled weapons (blasters, missile launchers, and thermal detonators) and instructions (that datapad) to attack the mountain and demand C’baoth be freed. Custom-cut diversion, Lando says, proving that maybe deep down he is a bit of a clotheshorse.

z: “Maybe?” “Deep down?” “A bit“? Have you seen Lando?

will: It’s a bit too convenient, but what the hell. Artoo kills the intake, and Luke cuts his way in. There’re no floor plans, but they’ll make do.

One of the Noghri sets up as a rearguard, and in they go. (Note: Han doesn’t even blink at the idea of a Noghri rearguard. He’s learned, folks.)

The Myneyrshi follow the team in, which gives Luke (and Han, who’d had it before) pause. Knives and crossbows against blasters is a short fight. But Luke details to Noghri to support the Myneyrshi. There’s some concern about how Luke is their protectee, but Luke says each Imperial the Myneyrshi take out is one less for him, and they can be helpful if they aren’t slaughtered. Ekhrikhor assents, and they go.

z: He assents unhappily though.  And we know that Luke’s mostly taking responsibility for the Myneyrshi anyway.

will: As the team continues into the tunnel, Luke sees Mara’s face: dread mixed with determination.

Whatever was waiting ahead for them, she was ready to face it.

He could only hope that he was, too.

Final shift. Leia sees Mount Tantiss from above as Karrde points to is, explaining that the navigation feed they’ve gotten thanks to Ghent’s fake plates transponder code shenanigans. Leia can’t feel anything from Luke–ysalamiri, you know–and reports such.

Ghent says there’s an Imperial report of a riot outside, and they’re being diverted ten miles away, so Leia says they need to risk calling them. But the Noghri have a better plan; they can create a recognition code with landing lights that the rearguard–of course there will be a rearguard–will see and respond to.

It quickly works, and Karrde says to tell the garrison they’re off to the secondary landing site, and tells Leia to strap in: “we’re about to have an unexpected repulsorlift malfunction.”

Leia sees that this isn’t a new trick; before she can react they’ve cleared a landing space and not-crashed down.

z: It’s still impressive from the readers’ perspective though.

will: She and Karrde are going in, Ghent will stay on the comm to tell the garrison they’re all fine here now, thank you, how are you? To Dankin, he says:

“You’ll stay ready in case they don’t believe him.”

Z : Again, heh.  But Karrde’s decision/approach and his way of passing it on are interesting, too: He looks at Leia with a question, and when she says she’s going in, no need for him or the others to come along, he tells his crew “The Councilor and I will be going after her friends.”

Her friends.  Right.

will: The Noghri exchange recognition whistles, and Karrde and Leia get ready to go. The team is too far ahead to warn, but they can provide backup, at least.

First, though, Karrde is waiting for someone. Chin, with the two vornskrs. Karrde gives them a scritch, and explains:

“I don’t believe you’ve met my pet vornskrs, Councilor. This one’s named Drang; the somewhat more aloof one there is Sturm. On Myrkr they use the Force to hunt their prey. Here, they’re going to use it to find Mara. Right?”

I should be offended that the vornskrs, who have always previously been cat-like (oh, and by the way, Z now has more context for that!), are now Force bloodhounds, but what the hell, it works. It pays off the whole “ysalamiri/vornskr evolutionary conflict” thing, and while I wonder at the effectiveness as a Force hunter in a mountainful of ysalamiri, it can’t hurt.

z: Well, they could sense and react to both Luke and Mara in a planet full of ysalamiri, both these two and a forest’s worth of wild ones, so…

will: And with that, one more “strange cackling purr” from the pets, and away we go.

Scene.

Whooooof.

This is mostly a whip-round, but it’s a big one. As with Sluis Van, it’s the last moment before it all starts Happening, Big Time, so I’m not even sure what I can say that hasn’t been said already. By now we find it harder and harder to talk about foreshadowing or expectation setting–for this book, at least. At this point, a good two years after Heir came out,  it must have been clear that the Star Wars machine was not going anywhere, so it’s appropriate that we talk about what came afterward.

But that’s all for me. Z?

z: …huh, what?  I’ve a cat curled up by/on me and I’m typing with one hand, I am also supposed to come up with original thoughts here?

Anyway.  Everyone’s where they’re supposed to be again, although for some groups “supposed to be” is only true from “a certain point of view.”  There isn’t much left to foreshadow, although there are one or two prophecies out prophecy-equivalents that have to be explained and their interpretations validated or disproven.  Next week we’ll start working on some of those.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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