The Last Command, Chapter 26

will: Welcome back, noble readers! This is chapter 26 of The Last Command, in which the traps spring shut, or open, as the case may be, and we’re off to the races.

How’ve you been? We just finished up the Jewish High Holy Days, which was a nice chance to see family and friends. Now, I’m staring down a couple of weeks of pretty intense work, with my job hitting, ahem, a fever pitch until early November. But as before, I will make sure to carve out time for you, our loyal following. (All two of you. I’ve seen our site view stats.)

z: Busy week… My cat’s getting used to having access to the whole house and studiously not using the cat tree or scratching anything I’ve bought (the nylon doormat is much more interesting); I’ve finally managed to cut the grass after nearly two months of weekends being a) busy b) wet c) me absent d) all of the above; so it goes.

will: And so will we, too, I suppose.

Oh, one more thing:

Yes please.

Damn, it feels good to be excited like this again.

z: Is it December yet?

will: There’s neither a time cut nor a space cut between last chapter and this one; C’baoth continues monologuing exactly as he had been. He talks about how he could see Luke and Mara coming from the time they left Coruscant, which is why he timed “the people of my city” to attack when they did.

Luke simply replies that that wasn’t necessary, while internally replaying Jomark and the feeling of C’baoth’s corruption, and while tempting fate with how C’baoth can’t do anything like that without the Force.

z: His sense is that C’baoth had come close then.

will: C’baoth’s response was that of course it was necessary, this way Luke and Mara could get in and the “lesser beings” could serve a purpose, and the best possible purpose is dying to serve the Jedi.

z: Ackptui gah bah OK better now.

will: I wonder whether C’baoth’s mental state is affected by his lack of access to the Force? I mean, the way we were given to understand clone madness and Thrawn’s ysalamir realization, one has to assume that the clonetroopers and clone pilots Thrawn is churning out aren’t susceptible to clone madness, suggesting that once the clone is matured it can re-access the Force without going berserk.

(Unless they are still susceptible, but Thrawn doesn’t care because they’re cannon fodder. Hmm. But anyway.)

z: Unless they stay very close together, they’re fine I suspect, given… well, it’s coming.  We already know that Thrawn has quite a few templates.  Although… the squad they found on board the Katana were all from a single progenitor… which makes me wonder, too.

But then, maybe once they’ve grown, if they are not Force-sensitive, they are OK.

will: At any rate, this suggests that C’baoth’s madness is there whether the Force is with him or not. At the same time, he was definitely capable of more subtlety on Jomark, instead of this rather blatant power fantasy.

z: Well, he has been getting scarier.   And he hadn’t yet done what he did to Covell back then.  And he’s very excited about that, too.

will: Anyway. Over Mara muttering something, Luke says that C’baoth has the whole thing backwards, the Jedi served the Old Republic. C’baoth counters that the Old Republic fell, and Mara points out that it lasted a thousand generations first.

z: I really wonder what Mara said there.

will: How long is “a generation” anyway? Maybe 25, 30 years, if you go “from birth to average next childbirth”? Maybe more or less depending on the universe? Even if you assume 20,000 years that’s quite literally longer, several times over, than we humans have records of civilization. Yeah, I’m with Mara, that’s a good run. At the same time, I always thought Ben’s “a thousand generations” line was more mythic than temporal. But I digress.

z: I’m certain it’s mythic; is just sounds much better than “fifty-two thousand six hundred and seventy-two years.” Or whatever.

will: Right. C’baoth says that Luke and Mara don’t see clearly, and calls Mara his apprentice. Mara insists they aren’t here for him, and he says that yes they are, the Force doesn’t care what you think, and “neither do the true masters of the Force.”

You know, I just don’t even have the time for C’baoth’s brand of wtfery right now, so let’s move on. Mara gestures C’baoth away with her blaster, he moves, and as she goes for the destruct C’baoth tells Luke that Mara has great strength of will and will be powerful in the galaxy that he and Luke will build.

z: Mara can’t take enough showers, one assumes.  Although it’s kind of nice that even C’baoth, who’s very, very stubborn, has noticed her strength of will.

will: Luke shakes his head in denial, thinking that this may be his last chance to bring C’baoth back from the Dark Side, the way he brought back Vader.

Oh, for crying out loud! I mean, really. Clearly I don’t have what it takes to be a Jedi if I’m supposed to have that reaction.

z: You had the exact same reaction as I did, though, so there’s that.

will: Come to think, this may be where the change away from C’baoth as a clone of Obi-Wan Kenobi may be hurting things. If Luke were looking into the face of Ben, his mentor, his friend, his surrogate father, I could more easily believe that even now he would be thinking of trying to save him.

z: …and I’d never even thought of that aspect; good catch.

will: Anyway. Luke’s line is to tell C’baoth, “you’re not well, I can help you.”

“How dare you say such things? How dare you even think such blasphemy about the great Jedi Master C’baoth?”

What a word right there. “Blasphemy.” Says it all really.

z: Yep, and it’s all stuff that should ideally not be said, period.

will: Luke, though, has an ace up his sleeve: he knows that the Jedi he’s talking to isn’t actually Jorus C’baoth. Turns out the Katana, which had been lost some time after the Outbound Flight mission was launched, also wasn’t subjected to whatever data-wiping went on (presumably by Palpatine) concerning same, and it has “the proof” that C’baoth died.

I…

Hmm.

This is tricky because of what we will later learn about Outbound Flight and its relationship to everything else, because I can’t really understand what the Katana will have that proves that. And clearly Zahn knew this, because he casually introduces this point without any setup, hoping to get it to slip past our defenses. But I’m feeling magnanimous, so let’s continue.

z: Heh.  As good a way to take that kind of thing as any, I’d say.

will: Anyway, Luke points out that this means that C’baoth is a clone.

C’baoth “goes rigid” and denies it, but Luke presses, saying it must have occurred to him. (In light of that whole “we didn’t want to upset you” thing, I’m almost surprised C’baoth is shocked at all.) Suddenly, C’baoth starts laughing wildly. Mara goes on alert as Luke points out that C’baoth can’t hurt them.

z: Because no Force, right.  The foreshadowing anvil goes right past Luke’s head on this one.

will: C’baoth marvels at how obsessed everyone, Thrawn, the New Republic, Luke, is about clones. He stops laughing and says that Thrawn doesn’t understand true power, which isn’t about matter and energy, but the ability to “grow beyond ourselves” and extend to the entire universe.

z: Compare and contrast with Han’s thoughts about Leia’s vision extending to all the beings of the Galaxy, and Luke’s “every individual is important” philosophy that’s beginning to bloom.

Of course, the difference is that neither of the Skywalker twins have any idea of remaking anything in their own image, or taking over, or controlling at that scale.  Leia seeks to serve and uplift.  Luke seeks to care and heal.

…whoa, nice gender role reversal there.  I’m not sure if this was intentional to that degree, or how much of that is my reading, but even for making that a possible reading at all, well-played, Mr. Zahn.

will: Luke and Mara don’t get it either, so C’baoth–with all of the pride and shining eyes you’d expect from someone who solved their life’s work–explains that he did more than the Emperor, even, and rebuilt General Covell’s mind from the ground up. He goes on to say that the “future army of the Jedi” is waiting, the army Thrawn thinks is his.

z: {hides face in hands}

will: Luke sees it:

The clones growing down in that cavern weren’t just physically identical to their original templet. Their minds were identical, too, or close enough to be only minor variations of the same pattern. If C’baoth could learn how to break the mind of any one of them, he could do the same to all the clones in that group.

z: {peeks through fingers}

will: In other words, exactly what Pellaeon was thinking and C’baoth mindwiped.

z: {snaps fingers shut again}

will: Mara says what I’ve been thinking for a book and a half:

“Still think he can be saved?”

No. No, I don’t, and Mara, you have a blaster. But I guess she’s still following Luke’s lead on this.

z: It could easily be that she doesn’t see a need for summary execution, at that; she’s happy as long as C’baoth is…  just quiescent and bragging.

will: C’baoth insists he doesn’t need saving, and asks whether he would have let Thrawn imprison him, but Mara says being imprisoned usually isn’t a matter of “let.” And Luke? There’s no self-destruct here (probably disabled like the rest of the systems when Thrawn said C’baoth was to be confined), let’s go.

C’baoth, however, says he did not give them permission to leave, and holds up a small device.

Mara’s turn to tempt fate: “A remote activator has to have something to activate.”

C’baoth says it does, something Covell’s soldiers did for him, and Mara just dismisses him.

He presses the button, and:

In the back of Luke’s mind, something distant and very alien seemed to shriek in agony.

z: There are a couple of nice touches in the space of just that sentence: One, that Luke can feel the ysalamiri’s dying pain just as they are dying, and two, that he feels the touch is not just “alien” but “very alien—” which creatures that live outside the Force would feel like, to him.

will: He has the same reaction he did upon leaving Myrkr, a surge of awareness and power like walking into light from darkness, and knows what just died. He yells and leaps to Mara, but C’baoth is fast, and tears her blaster from her hand, firing off the lightning as he does so. She gets thrown back, but Luke gets between them and starts catching lightning on his blade again.

Luke is shouting for C’baoth to stop, but when he does, it isn’t because of that. He “petulantly” says that Luke can’t give him orders. “I am the master. You are the servant.”

Luke says no, checking Mara’s injuries, but C’baoth says yes he is, and so is Mara, who has just gotten a lesson in obedience, so leave her alone. Luke ignores him, focusing on easing Mara’s pain, but C’baoth tells him to save his strength, she isn’t dying and he, Luke, has something else he should be worrying about. He points to the galaxy map, and Luke turns to see a familiar-looking figure in a brown robe.

C’baoth, “his voice almost gentle now,” says that there is no other way; Luke must serve C’baoth, or they can’t save the galaxy, so he has to either face death and win, or die and be replaced. He calls the figure, saying, “come and face your destiny.”

The figure moves forward, lightsaber in hand, as Luke feels a buzzing pressure on his mind as he notes how familiar everything feels. It clicks, and he remembers the dark side cave/tree, and he gets very scared. But this isn’t a clone of Darth Vader, he can tell.

As the figure steps out of darkness, Luke remembers how that dream battle ended:

Vader’s mask had shattered, and the face behind it had been Luke’s own.

As was the face that gazed emotionlessly up at him now.

C’baoth confirms it:

“He is you. Luuke Skywalker, created from the hand you left behind in the Cloud City on Bespin. Wielding the lightsaber you lost there.”

Remember when C’baoth asked for a special clone to be made from one of the Emperor’s prized trophies? Yup.

z: {mutters a few of the same words that she suspects Mara muttered earlier in the chapter}

will: (Naturally this was a long time before The Force Awakens was a gleam in someone’s brain, but I do like how that lightsaber doesn’t stay buried no matter what continuity you’re in…)

z: (Good catch, and I agree.)

will: Luke can only ask, why? And C’baoth answers that it had to be done: “one way or another, you must serve me.”

Luke quickly turns to look at C’baoth, shows eyes are “glowing with anticipation. And with madness.” And that’s when the clone leaps at him, cutting at Luke’s chest.

Luke (in the interests of not confusing everyone, I’m going with “Luke” and “the clone.” I know it’s a bit reductionist about the clone, clones are or at least can be people too, but in this case, this clone is even more of a weapon than, say, Mark Vorkosigan was, so I’m not going to feel that bad) parries, the impact throwing him off balance, as the clone attacks again. Luke keeps dodging and ducking, needing time to recover, think, plan, and “find a way past the distraction of the buzzing in his mind.” But he can’t get it, as the clone stays on the offensive, throwing his saber not unlike Vader on Death Star II, cutting the stairwell Luke is standing on. Luke backflips but misses, either misjudging the distance or still distracted by the mental pressure, and hits the catwalk too low, ending up slammed back-first against it.

C’baoth calls out that he doesn’t want to do this, and all he needs is for Luke to join him, and they can save the galaxy from the lesser peoples.

Luke refuses, pulling himself upright, and connects the pressure on his mind to the presence of a clone standing right there. He doesn’t know for sure, but it’s possible (and connects to Leia’s insight about the Force and clone madness), so I’ll accept it.

z: Well.  I didn’t want to interrupt the action flow there, but:

…I read this years before I read the Vorkosigan series, and the Luke-clone (I appreciate your nomenclature, by the way) has absolutely no personality.  We’re meant to see that he’s a skillful lightsaber fighter, and his very presence throws Luke far enough off-course that Luke can’t use his greatest strength—his adaptability—to any effect.  But that’s it.  The first word used to describe him and his demeanor is “expressionless;” he’s utterly silent; from the get-go, Zahn’s determined not to let the reader stop and think about what this means in terms of, so, yeah, clones, human or…?

Back in my teenage years, I’d gone along without a second thought.  Coming back to it after the Vorkosigan series, however, there’s no going along without those thoughts.

will: Zahn himself will eventually develop those thoughts further.

z: One theory I could have stuck to would have been C’baoth doing the personality-imprint thing on the clone Luke a la Covell, and turning him into a fighting machine, destroying the Luuke-sentience before Luke even got there.  But the clone has been growing since the beginning of this book, and completely within the Force-free bubble.  C’baoth also has been without the Force since he came here until a few moments ago.  So I don’t see what happened there.  Personality imprints, this one intentionally left blank (because the imprinting personality is not present, for starters)?  That could work.  Otherwise…

will: Luke also isn’t clear how this is supposed to serve C’baoth’s ends. Maybe killing a clone of himself would be the path to the Dark Side, or insanity?

z: Well, duh.  Miles would have been screaming “what’s wrong with all of you” pages ago.  I’m going to go with insanity and Dark Side both; I just can’t imagine anything good or ordered coming out of that act.

will: Luke shakes all that off. He could bail out, he realizes, head back down the turbolift and rejoin the Boom Squad downstairs, solve the problem.

z: …yeah, of coooouuuurse you can.

will: But Mara’s still in the throne room, injured, and he can’t leave her.

z: This would be the same Mara who said, in as many words, “kill me before you let C’baoth have me” a chapter ago.  And Luke being Luke…

The least he could do was stay with her to the end.

Whether it was her end…or his.

will: And on that dramatic note, scene shift!

Lando hears a muffled kaboom, wondering what it was, and Chewie reports that it wasn’t one, it was a whole bunch of little booms. Doesn’t sound like a malfunction, Lando thinks, as he notices wisps of smoke rising from each cluster of cylinders. (The ysalamiri, obviously. He doesn’t put that piece together directly, though, not that it really matters.)

Whatever. He turns back as Threepio comes up to him, saying that Artoo has suggested “the negative flow coupler on the main power line.”

In addition to being connected to Threepio’s kissus interruptus in Empire, this is a tip to some of the West End Games material; according to Wookieepedia, what gets set up here was introduced in a sourcebook called Cracken’s Field Guide (which would be a Star Wars in-universe sabotage and Intelligence manual), which was published in 1991. But I precede myself.

Anyay. Lando tells Threepio to get out of sight, because while Lando and Chewie have natural camouflage, gold and equipment don’t mix.

z: Gold in the dim upper reaches of the cavern, natch.  This is a visually funny scene.

will: Threepio starts to say that Artoo has found the comlink jammer, but Lando cuts him off, saying go kill that, take the Noghri, and as Threepio starts to react, the soldiers Lando was seeing out of the corner of his eye open fire.

They miss, Threepio “scuttles” away, and Lando considers his advantages: the Imperial troops can’t fire heavy shots for fear of damaging the equipment, and they also don’t have cover. Unless, Lando and Chewie note, they repositioned to fire from a different angle…he aims at the control for the one door on the level that Han would have left open, and blam, it’s not open anymore.

And that was that. The Imperials were locked out. And he and Chewbacca were locked in.

Lando (staying low so as to avoid getting picked off by a lucky shot) catches up with Chewie, who has an idea; he’s found “a positive flow regulator.” Lando starts to get a bad feeling about this (though he doesn’t say it), because he’s heard what happens if you combine a negative flow regulator with a positive flow detonator (that being the trick described in the sourcebook to blow up a small starship), and as Chewie confirms, doing it with a positive flow regulator is far worse. It’ll blow up the entire mountain.

z: I was promised there’d be a big badaboom!

will: Lando’s hesitant, but Chewie insists that this be plan B. As Lando works on plan A, explosives in the power lines, he thinks that at least if they go back on “Chewbacca’s power core arythmic resonance scheme” (two words you don’t want to go together right there; even if you don’t know what they actually mean, they sure sound bad), the question of escaping “would probably become academic.”

z: They do sound good, but I have to purposefully stop myself from thinking about them for more than around 300 milliseconds at a go because resonance requires a consistent frequency and set of frequencies and {sits on hands to stop typing}

will: But like a good general, commando, or gambler, he just focuses on what’s in front of him.

Scene shift again! Wedge’s timer hits five seconds, and he gets ready to drop out of hyperspace…when he gets pulled out instead.

They’d arrived at the Bilbringi shipyards. Only they’d arrived too far out.

Rogue Two (that has to be Tycho) calls the alert, TIE interceptors, and Ackbar makes it official:

“It appears to be a trap.”

z: Do either of us have to point it out?  No?  Good.

will: Well, there we go. Wedge sees the Interdictors, set up in a solid entrapment configuration (I  imagine two groups of Interdictors, one close to the planet protected by the fixed defenses to bring them out of hyperspace, another further out behind the fleets to prevent escape, basically pinning the New Republic’s fleet between the planet and the fleet with Interdictors on the edges), and then the TIEs arrive, and Wedge also focuses on what’s in front of him.

Scene shift, last time this chapter, promise. Han hears footsteps, expecting them to pass him by (he’s been hearing status reports as he’s been sneaking toward the throne room; the mountain is on alert for the natives’ riot), but they get closer, and Han hears a gasp, knows he’s been spotted, jumps out to repeat his cross-corridor fling trick (which won’t work as well without Chewie for backup), misjudges how many and where the attackers will be, loses time tracking his shot…

“Han!” Leia shouted. “Don’t shoot!”

…and slams “rather ungloriously” into the wall, shock having overloaded his entire body.

Ow.

z: Ow. (And heh.)

will: Han confirms that it is in fact Leia, and Talon Karrde “along with those two vornskr pets of his,” and asks what’s going on. Leia hugs him quickly, saying that Luke’s in trouble, but Han says they know about the ysalamiri.

Leia, though, had the same reaction as Luke (and presumably Mara) when the remote trigger went off, and knows the Force is back. It came back just before Han threw himself out of cover.

Oh, huh. That means the gasp Han heard wasn’t him being spotted at all, it was Leia’s reaction to the Force returning. Nice.

z: Nice catch, too!

will: Anyway. Han and Leia agree that that’s C’baoth, with Leia shivering (she’s close enough to feel his Force corruption, one imagines), as Han looks a question at Karrde. He explains why he’s there, and why the vornskrs, and Han confirms there’s no escorts, Karrde’s crew are defending the ship and the exit while Leia’s (two) Noghri are dealing with a squad of troopers. Han takes Leia and Karrde up toward the throne room, and gets the last mental word, thinking about Vader torturing and carbon-freezing him on Cloud City.

Somehow, from what Luke had told him, he didn’t expect C’baoth to be even that civilized.

z: Understatement again, I’m afraid.  Vader was all civilized.  Just… you know… lawful evil.

will: And we’re out.

Enough with the domino setting, there was the kick. The one-two punch of the ysalamiri going blam and the Bilbringi trap closing means it’s all over but the everything.

As I said up top, I feel like Zahn is stacking the deck more and less smoothly than usual, especially regarding C’baoth. I just don’t see why Mara wouldn’t have shot on sight. Respect for Luke’s decision I guess, but really, it feels weaker than it should be. How much different would this last bit of the book gone if it was “So at last you have come to ZAAAAP! sizzle” rather than this?

z: So what would have happened, then, if/when Luke discovered Luuke (or the latter hunted the former)?  Interestingly messy things, that’s what.

will: Getting ahead of me…see next week.

On the other hand, maybe it gets chalked up to the Force, because Mara has two more things to do. Still, it’s a bit less deft than usual. Double ditto that for the Katana thing, because I just can’t see it connecting up.

z: For all that, I agree, and yes about the Katana records too.

will: But I’ll let it all slide because the revelation of the clone is perfect. We did get that seeded, very well; we get a reminder of the Dark Side cave (probably why Zahn made sure to remind us about it in Heir), we get the image of a Luke/clone faceoff.

Question–did that click for anybody for what the solution would be? I don’t recall stopping to consider–I read straight on, so it wasn’t like I had the chance even–but did anybody manage to put “clone Luke” together with what Mara had to do? Obvious in hindsight, but was it clear in foresight? Was there even enough foresight to see?

That’s all from me. Z?

z: It was foreshadowed in the best way—I had no inkling of the clone’s presence until the end, even though all of that plus C’baoth’s secret My First Clone Project would have been fresh in my mind.  And then in a single line it all became clear, and right.

I honestly don’t remember whether I connected that to Mara’s compulsion/trial or not.  I might have, but… Like you said, it isn’t a point where you’d pause.  And I don’t remember the lightning strike that realization would have been.

And that’s all from me, too.  Battles: Joined.  Next week, there’ll be some resolutions.  Until then, may the Force be with you.

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