The Truce at Bakura, Chapter 2

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 2 of The Truce at Bakura, wherein we meet an old friend, witness a decision, meet our antagonists and the first major original character, and…um.

From the personal side of things, November-to-February may be slow season in some industries, but for us it’s grant proposal season. Meaning *panic ensues*.  The next due date is next Friday, so next week will be worse, but we’ve got two proposals to write this time through so this week isn’t a picnic either.

will: As in the last two years, I’ll be spending this weekend at the Arisia science fiction convention in Boston, MA. (I’m not already there, as my job change a few months ago means I couldn’t take the vacation to go up yet, but I’ll be bussing up after work tonight.)

Come say hi!

z: Last week, we saw Luke chased out of the war room with an admonishment to rest, and a verdict that he was probably not going to be sent to Bakura.  Any guesses as to what won’t happen, and what will?

He gets back to the med bay and his bed, and with Artoo’s reluctant help, starts watching the data files from Bakura. A very green, wet world…so green…so wetzzzzzzzzzz.

will: Luke’s rather strong obsession with water, which will be present throughout this book, makes sense when you remember he was raised on a desert planet. Think how Cordelia Vorkosigan never tires of the view of the lake at Vorkosigan Surleau.

z: Or not.  Force vision time!  He’s flat on the deck of an alien spaceship, an alien approaches (“brown-scaled with a blunt, oversize head”), but instead of a weapon it’s carrying an “Owner device,” something that controls those restraining bolts we see on droids. And Luke can’t do anything, because he looks down and he’s got a droid’s body.

Like someone trying to wake up from a nightmare, Luke fights awake, senses a very strong Force presence in the room and sits up too quickly. I actually like this description of the consequence, it’s very evocative: “Invisible hammers bashed both sides of his head.”

Ow.

It’s Obi-wan Kenobi, Jedi Ghost.  He doesn’t seem to hear Luke asking questions, so it’s not as much a conversation as it is Ben telling Luke things and Luke trying to ask things.  Upshot: The aliens in Bakura were first contacted by the Emperor, who had made some kind of deal with them.  Luke is going to go to Bakura otherwise it’s going to be Very Bad for Everyone, including Imperial Worlds.  Got it?  Bye.  Except without an actual “bye.”

I don’t like this manifestation of Kenobi Voicemail.

will: “You have reached Obi-Wan Kenobi. That’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time. Leave a message at the sound of the lightsaber.”

It’s one of the less subtle moments of Tyers’ work, especially in light of how hard she maneuvered Luke to already know the critical facts. Would make more sense if these two chapters were reversed, frankly…

z: I’m not that thrilled with what comes next, either.  Essentially, we catch the end of the scene where Luke has told Mon Mothma & co that he had a visitation from Ben Kenobi, who told Luke that Luke must go to Bakura, and Mon Mothma & co. treat this as if “General Kenobi” is a commanding officer and therefore Luke has had authorized orders.  They put him in command of a cruiser-carrier (the Flurry); Han and Leia declare that they are also coming (Leia does, and Han declares his intention of not leaving her side); and scene shift, where we’re on board the Flurry.

will: There’s some interesting bits in that; they confirm that Wedge will be commanding the battle group (“no offense, General,” to Han, though the response is “none taken, if you force me to be in command and not with Leia you’ll be one General less”); the mission includes a request to try to see if there can be an alliance with the aliens (enemy of my enemy); Ackbar talks about needing to help Lando liberate Cloud City, but Lando has apparently said “thanks but no thanks”; and finally, all of that is before Luke gets command, that’s what closes the scene. And he’s surprised. He just thought this would convince the brass to let them send him.

z: I mean, on the one hand, it makes sense.  The Alliance respects the Force.  There’s obviously already a Luke-Skywalker-Jedi-Knight status being set up, even one day after Endor.  They were trying to get General Kenobi on board, presumably to do General things, just when he died.  So, sure, if Luke says he’s got orders from Obi-wan Kenobi, the Alliance brass backs those orders.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind a little bit of a “but are you…sure…”

On the other-other hand, no Borsk Fey’lya.  So there’s that.

Anyway.  On The Flurry we meet Captain Tessa Manchisco, who, we’re told, was involved in the Virgillian Civil War.  I don’t know if that’s a reference to something set up elsewhere in the continuity, and I’m too lazy to go to Wookieepedia, but it does serve the quest of making it a bigger universe.  She brought her crew and lots of stuff stolen from Imperials.  We’ve got 20 X-wings, 3 A-Wings, and 4 B-wings (“cruiser-assault”?  I thought B-wings were only bombers?) in the holds, which is as many as the Alliance could spare then.

will: Either “cruiser-assault” refers to their being better than Y-wings, or more likely, their weapons package–like how you would have “reconnaissance” X- or Y- wings, kitted for more shields and speed, these would be equipped with proton torpedoes and concussion missiles over proton bombs.

For example.

z: Flying around in formation, there are two Corellian gunships (which Luke thinks of as “his Corellian gunships”, which, hee) and the Millennium Falcon, with Han, Leia, Chewie, and C-3PO aboard.

Luke starts to feel the responsibility for all those lives: He’s a good fighter pilot, but being responsible for strategy is something else.

(Oh, talk to Wedge about that in, say, four years’ time, farmboy.)

will: Hell, talk to him in two, which we will. But certainly in four. And six. And, you know, a lot.

z: But he thinks that he’s studied strategy and tactics texts, and is maybe kind of looking forward to this?  Before my incredulous stare even has a chance to form, however, Luke almost feels a rap on his knuckles and hears Yoda’s laughter in his head.  Adventure, excitement, a Jedi craves not these things.  He settles down.  Manchisco gives the signal to go to lightspeed, and Luke buckles in, wondering what kind of disaster it might be that requires his presence personally not to happen.

will: And with yet another reminder that I was a little harsh on Tyers for making Luke as immature as, well, he was (yes, he’d gone through the crucible of the Death Star, but if five years from now he’s still grappling with what Zahn put him through, it makes sense that he’s even younger now–I still want to slap Luke, but I no longer think it’s badly written), I’m taking over for this part…

Dev Sibwarra is aboard the Shriwirr, feeling the pain of the human prisoner he’s minding, telling him how much better his life is about to be. The prisoner is in an “entechment” chair, which when I first encountered I thought of it (still do, usually) as pronounced with a “ch” as in, well, “chair.” The Imperial, for he is, is gasping for breath, strapped into the chair, only the straps are just to keep him in place–his nervous system is ionized, he can’t move. And there’s an IV of “magsol,” whatever that is, that’s apparently necessary for this process.

“Master Firwirrung” asks in the trilling Ssi-ruuvi (The name is capitalized, while Human isn’t; did we discuss this before? I thought we did) language whether “it” is calmed yet, and Dev bows and says almost.

We get a description of a Ssi-ruu (so, Ssi-ruu is the race name, Ssi-ruuvi is the adjective), which I’ll elide–big bipedal lizard–as the alien slides a device into place. Dev watches the pupils, and calls the signal. Firwirrung (incidentally, I’m going to try to get the Ssi-ruuvi spellings right at all times, but no guarantees) throws a few switches.

z: Big bipedal lizard with a large bold V mark on their forehead, which bothered me more before I played Mass Effect and saw the vorcha.  It bothered me, because, well, this, although the version I watched was this.  Which is also the reason why the Nightmare on Elm Street series were extra-traumatic for me: Robert Englund is a good guy, dammit.

…aaaanyway.

will: We now get told that “entechment” is a method of using life energy as a power source. So, en-tech-ment. Putting into technology.

I’m going to quote here.

Inside that round human skull, a magsol-drugged brain was losing control. Though Master Firwirrung assured him that the transfer of incorporeal energy was painless, every prisoner screamed.

As did this one, when Firwirrung threw the catchment arc switch. The arc boomed out a sympathetic vibration, as brain energy leaped to an electromagnet perfectly attuned to magsol. Through the Force rippled an ululation of indescribable anguish.

Lovely.

z: My headdesk is painful, but not indescribably so, thankfully.

will: This was a good five years before The Matrix, but since we don’t have the how-do-you-keep-them question they had, the comparison they made is pretty damn apt.

And yeah, Dev is Force sensitive. The Force is what’s staggering him with pain right now, even as he tells himself it isn’t really pain–since the human is already dead, all the energy is in the machine by now. The point that if you can power machines with life energy, you might imagine that the life energy can feel pain, has escaped (read: been kept from) Dev.

Firwirrung calls the jump a success, and we get a nice view of Dev’s brainwashing: he thinks of himself as small, weak, and vulnerable, and wishes he could be enteched into a battle droid, but “the talents” he has mean he can’t. Hell, we even get told he knows he’s been hypnotically conditioned.

Loooovely.

z: That, of course, bugged me a lot until slightly later in the chapter…

will: Anyway. It turns out that life energy is inefficient; eventually the brainwaves that come with it blow the circuitry, but humans are better than any other species. There’s a Humans Are Special trope for you: we’re far better at being batteries!

Eugh.

z: Go…humans…?

will: Anyway, Dev reflects again how much better being a droid is, sounding (again, in advance) like Cavil from Battlestar Galactica: you can see extra wavelengths and in all directions, no need for oxygen or temperature, and even “free from the awkward necessity of will.”

I think I’m offended. I’m necessary, aren’t I?

z: WILL

NO

will: Ahem.

Which reminds me: if you do find me at Arisia, ask for a ribbon!

Firwirrung takes a coffee (“red ksaa”) break while Dev cleans up the chair, and two P’w’ecks (a servant race, we’ll learn) bring in what appears to be a captain–white hair, eight rank tags on the tunic. Dev approaches with his “ion beamer,” a combination medical device (remember, “neural ionization”) and weapon (stunner), Dev talks to the man–whose eyes are wide, and the whites are “obscene” to Dev’s perspective–and ionizes his spine. Firwirrung berates the P’w’ecks when they don’t catch him so he falls on the deck, and Dev starts using the Force–because yes, that’s what he’s doing–to calm the prisoner down, and it all goes again.

He had not sterilized the needles. It was unnecessary.

Oh, and the people have to be conscious or it won’t work.

z: And the Imperial is paralyzed, but crying.   While Dev is earnestly telling him how nice this is.

My turn?  My turn. Looooovely.

will: So yeah, that alliance against the Empire? Not happening. The enemy of my enemy is not going to be my ally.

Scene shift. All the prisoners but one have been enteched, the one being a woman who committed suicide. “What a waste,” Dev and Firwirrung say.

And it gets worse. Dev and Firwirrung head back to their quarters, and the Ssi-ruu asks whether Dev is happy. If not, see, if Dev misses “the sense of wholeness” he had from his mother (also Force sensitive), he can just get “renewal therapy.”

Looooooovely.

z: And this is where Dev’s “they hypnotically conditioned me, isn’t that nice?” stopped bothering me, because he’s getting regular touch-ups, and there might even be a biochemical component.

will: We also get some backstory. Ssi-ruuk are not Force-attuned (I imagine that if one was born Force-sensitive it would die of horror in minutes, if all of their society uses entechment). Dev, though, has been useful. See, it’s probably through Dev that the Emperor and the Ssi-ruuk met; certainly Dev was the one to report to His Potency the Shreeftut (Ssi-ruuvi head honcho) that the Emperor was dead, and the deal of prisoners for droid fighters fell through. The “traitorous humans” that were apparently the envoys went home, and Admiral Ivpikkis headed out with a minor task group to test the Empire. Success here could lead to a grand invasion of the Empire, since there are “dozens of millions” of Ssi-ruuk. (Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale strikes. I mean, this is all Dev’s and the Ssi-ruuvi perspective, but still. Dozens of millions in one star cluster, versus a galactic empire.)

z: Yes, that bugged me, too.

will: Back to the present. Firwirrung has asked Dev what the Force shows him; nothing of interest. Now Dev asks if he can ever go home to the Ssi-ruuvi homeworld of Lwhekk; no, but they might “consecrate” (ah, religious indoctrination too! Wonderful) a new world to live on. But Firwirrung is tired, and Dev is instantly repentant to have kept him awake. Ah, loyalty programming. What fun.

z: Dev also thinks he admires his masters’ courage so much, because if they die here away from the consecrated worlds their spirits will roam among the lonely stars forever (or something), but they still came for the noble and great work of freeing all beings into entechment anyway because they are selfless and eeeeeexcuse me while I go take a few deep breaths.

will: Anyway. Once the alien is asleep, Dev goes back to his project: he’s trying to write out Ssi-ruuvi in musical notation, to improve Ssi-ruuvi/human communication.

z: {hiss spit get away from my notation}

will: But he’s too tired, and starts remembering his own past; he was from Chandrila (Mon Mothma’s homeworld), his mother “a Jedi apprentice who hadn’t completed her training” (this is pre-prequels, remember; the galaxy was thought to be full of those) and who’d passed down some Force to him. But when the Jedi purge began, the family fled to an isolated planet…just in time to be invaded by the Ssi-ruuk.

Dev knows that his parents would have killed him rather than let him be captured, but the Ssi-ruuk (and thus he) think of that as horrifying.

Anyway. As a ten year old, giant lizardthings were interesting to him, and the Ssi-ruuk learned of his Force gift–he doesn’t even remember how–and they decided to make him useful. He has already helped them take several more small outposts; now it’s time for Bakura, “a major world.” And yay, thinks Dev, they’re winning! He’s even recorded and sent a video about how much better entechment is than human life, but the humans don’t seem to agree. Oh well, Dev thinks, humans are more fearful of the unknown than Ssi-ruuk. They’ll learn.

Someday, Dev thinks, he’ll get enteched. He dreamily touches where the IVs will go, and on that fucked up thought, goes to sleep.

And we’re out.

Nuke the site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.

z: Um, don’t we have to nuke the orbit from the site, as it were, in this case?

will: So yeah. This is our enemy: aliens from an isolated part of the universe, who are blind to the Force, have very screwy ideas about life and life energy and technology, live in a society has a religious-indoctrination component, and have designs on galactic conquest.

Remember last chapter how I said that this book seems like a first draft of one of the great failures of the Star Wars Expanded Universe?

Two words: Yuuzhan Vong.

We’ll come back to that.

z: Can we not?  …okay, okay, I know, I know.

will: Let’s just say that a lot of the same ideas that were bad in there are here too, but because the tone of the entire universe hasn’t been scribbled on with black magic markers, it isn’t as Dorothy Parker-inducing.

z: {stricken stare}  ….the New Jedi Order was the Galaxy’s…Goth phase?…

Oh my stars that explains so much.

will: And you remember what Legacy of the Force did to Jacen? Try to tell me that wasn’t somebody confusing teen angst with profundity.

z: …I’ve got this week’s futile-argument quota blown away already, sorry.

will: At least when Episode VII did it, they–possibly unintentionally if the merchandising miscall story is true–nailed how teenager the whole thing was.

That’s about it for me, between notes on Z’s writings and my clear perspective through this half. Z?

z: So when I first read this book, I had watched no Doctor Who whatsoever.  And in the past five years or so, I watched some seasons of Doctors Nine and Ten.  Three guesses as to what I instantly jumped at this time when I read the words “entechment chair.”  But at least the Cybermen don’t have a human brainwashed and trying to tell everyone else how nice and lovely and all this is, so there’s that much decency going on with them, as far as I know.

(By the way, Will, my phonetic-native-language-reared brain was very, very puzzled at your initial inclination to read the “ch” as in “chair.”  The word “tech” jumped out at me first thing.)

will: Hell, just be glad I didn’t try to read it with a Hebrew intonation. Then again, making a noise like you’re going to hock a loogie is kind of appropriate.

z: At the least, we’ve got a glimmer of a hint why Luke must personally go there: He seems to be the only one around with conscious control of the Force, and there’s a chance he may get through to Dev, and getting through to Dev would be key to stopping the Ssi-ruuvi because…reasons.  We shouldn’t get more than glimmers of hints yet, this is only Chapter 2.

Next week, we get to our titular location. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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3 thoughts on “The Truce at Bakura, Chapter 2

    1. The way I heard it–and I don’t have confirmation, the news reports source to a toy review website, not to Disney itself–is that the merchandisers expected that Kylo Ren would be the big breakout character and had lined up a ton of Kylo merchandise…and then not Kylo, but Rey was the biggest breakout.

      Like

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