The Truce at Bakura, Chapter 9, Part 2

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to the second part of Chapter 9 of The Truce at Bakura, wherein it’s dinner time.

will: And in the classic “snark with a snide of fries” sense, too. Pride and Prejedice?

z: In personal news, the extra bouts of stress from orchestral programming have finally abated, because now we have a program.  But we also only have four weeks to the concert, so.  Let’s just say stress mutates.

will: Things are calmer here, thankfully. I just turned 33, so there’s that. Happy birthday to me!

z: When we start in on the perspective shift from Gaeriel, going to get ready for the dinner, to Luke, he’s also getting ready for the dinner–washing his hair in a hurry, because apparently after he met with Thanas he went to…help…mechanics? And got some engine lubricant in his hair?  The commander of this task force, to be precise?

Ah, flyboy, never change.

will: It’s also an element of “Luke didn’t know he had a dinner engagement until he showed up back at the suite, covered in grease and looking forward to a deep soaking tub.” So while he was expecting a rest and a chance to recover, he got…else.

z: He crams himself into his dress whites and runs out to join Leia and Han to meet the people who have come to pick them up.  Leia’s wearing a long, red, one-shouldered gown, which would look cool, and Han’s wearing something black and shiny and satiny and, well, classy enough that Luke wonders where Han could have found it before he joined the Alliance.

will: Not said, but definitely thought: “and was it for a confidence job, stolen as plunder, or an old girlfriend’s fault?”

Given some of his old girlfriends, whom we’ll eventually meet, that’s not mutually exclusive…

z: Heh.

Leia’s also wearing a elaborate, beautiful metal bracelet, which she says was a gift from the Ewok tribe leader–obviously offworld and precious to them, since they had so little metal, but he had insisted so she had to accept so as not to offend them.

Chewie also steps out, brushed and ready, and the student-age woman who had come to pick them up does a double-take, but manages to say that their…”friend…” would be welcome, too.  There’s tension (sigh) between Han and Leia (sigh) about this, because apparently they have argued whether the invitation included Chewbacca, and I don’t know who this doppelganger is but it’s not Leia.

will: Luke also notes that Han’s holster isn’t there, and figures that concealed carry is formalwear.

z: Anyway.  They take a car with repulsorlifts, but one that goes close to the surface under the aircar lanes, and pull into a private driveway to a house.  The rest of Salis Da’ar seems to have apartment buildings as the norm, so Luke is surprised at this shorter, but fairly large, private house (and wonders how anyone can fill so many private rooms, which is a nice catch–dwellings on Tatooine weren’t exactly mansions and Luke has been living in mostly barracks situations since).

will: We’ll eventually see the Tatooine idea of a mansion–and yeah, Luke didn’t live there.

z: Luke jumps out first and looks for a threat, and doesn’t sense any.  Leia and Chewie get out of the car without waiting for his all-clear, anyway.  A woman greets them from among the columns on the porch, and Luke senses Leia panicking, but doesn’t see a threat–then he sees that the woman who greeted them, coming out, is wearing a long, black dress with glittery bits and a black cape. So. Apparently.  Leia.  Thought.  She.  Saw.  Vader.  And.  That’s.  Why.  She.  Panicked.

…moving right along.

will: It doesn’t really work, no, but at least here Tyers makes clear that it’s “Leia’s Vader preoccupation.”

z: This is Tiree Captison, of course, and the Prime Minister is with them and performs introductions.  There’s a bit of awkwardness with Chewie, Captison wasn’t expecting him; Leia glares at Han but Madam Captison seems delighted anyway, and makes a point of escorting Chewie in, her hand on his arm.  Leia takes Captison’s arm, of course, and Han gets jealous again okay look I can’t. Even if Luke just whispers to him this time instead of messing with his mind, I still can’t.

No, really. Will, I’m going to suggest something radical: I’m done with commenting on this particular plot thread until it’s close to resolution.  I don’t exactly remember how it gets resolved, but it must be at some point, and unless there’s something brilliant about that resolution I’m going to go right past that too.

will: Fair. I will note that Luke’s murmur here is “be charming,” so the whole “prior confidence job” thing might have weight.

z: They move to the dining room.  It’s a lovely house, with rain pillars on corners and the floor of the dining room transparent with water underneath–complete with fish–which of course fascinates Luke and elicits compliments from Leia.

will: And Luke murmurs to Han that this is “just politics,” and Han prefers a straight up fight.

z: The table is triangular with blunted corners, and there’s a miniature mountain with rivers and streams in the middle.  Nice touch.  Luke tries to feel if there’s any hostile intent in the room, and…senses Gaeriel instead.

will: “Unless there were two women on this planet who could electrify him without meeting his eyes,” Luke thinks.

z: Captison seats Leia so that he is between her and Madam Captison. The chair on the neighboring side to other side of Madam Captison is already occupied by Senator Belden, and Madam Captison directs Chewie to take up the rest of that side.   She also calls him “dear,” which amuses him, and, well, me.  Han sits down on the third corner seat, next to Leia, so Luke has no choice but to sit to Gaeri’s left.

will: Also, Luke notes that there are only human servants, and that the chairs are old fashioned, not repulsorlift chairs. It reads as a “rich restraint” thing, given how everpresent repulsorlifts are.

Plus, someone–Senator Belden, I believe–compliments Luke on the military engagement.

z: This may not be meant to be hilarious, but it is: When Luke steels himself and looks her way, Gaeri’s actually leaning away from him and offers to trade places with Chewie if “Chewie would like to sit with [his] party.”  Okay, look, I’m a mannerless lout who’s never organized a formal dinner party in her life and even I know that there are rules to that kind of thing, especially about how people are supposed to mingle, and I don’t understand why Tiree Captison’s eyes don’t bug out at that breach of protocol and hospitality from her niece.  Luke mentally nudges Chewie to say no, but at least there’s no implication that he implanted a Force-suggestion–

will: There isn’t? I read there was.

z: –and Chewie refuses saying he likes it there.  Han, translating this, also warns Madam Captison that Wookiees “make friends for life.”  She responds note-perfectly with “I’m honored.”  I like her a lot already.

will: The Alys Vorpatril of Bakura.

z: Yes.  Perfect.

(Have the usual plug for the Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold here.)

will: I feel like this isn’t so much a direction to me but the summary of the plug, so.

z: Luke looks Gaeri’s way again, notices that she has one green eye and one gray eye, stares, and she snaps a “how do you do, Commander Skywalker?”  He just tells her that it has been a long day.  Then he tones down his awareness of the Force so he won’t be distracted by her presence.  He doesn’t have time to say anything else before Nereus arrives with bodyguards and takes the third corner of the table. Which puts him next to Gaeri on the other side from Luke, and way to discourage his intentions towards your niece, Madam Captison.

will: Eh. It keeps him from monopolizing her, anyway?

z: They immediately serve the soup course.  Luke’s hungry apparently, because he only pays attention to that for a while, then looks up and finds that Leia’s talking to the elder Captisons and Senator Belden, Han’s staring at her [presses fast forward], Nereus is whispering something to a bodyguard because there needs to be an excuse for the only person available for Luke to talk to being Gaeri.  Because he needed that excuse.  And also Chewie is apparently a stuffed animal.

will: It must be said–his job would be to talk to the Bakurans, not his friend the Wookiee.

z: Luke dives right in with “You have some very strong preconceptions about Jedi,” which…might not be a bad approach at that.  Farmboy forthrightness.  She blinks and furrows her forehead, so he explains that he had been trying to sense intentions and sympathies in the Senate chamber earlier, so couldn’t help notice.  She starts to emulate a party-line recording: “I am a trained Imperial diplomat,” significant glance at Belden, “It is possible that others are Rebellion sympathizers, and misled.”  Wait, I thought that she liked Belden?

will: She can like him while thinking he’s misled. Personal, professional/political…she’s also not wrong, of course, as we’ll eventually see.

z: Luke brings up how Thanas has accepted the Alliance presence because of the military support they brought, Gaeri mechanically counters with “we are grateful for your assistance.”

Luke goes back on the direct path and outright says that he can’t read her mind, only sense emotions, and only when he’s trying to.  This is obviously the right tack to take, because she relaxes somewhat, and says that that’s not what bothers her: “I have…religious difficulties with your kind.”

will: Well, forthrightness for forthrightness.

z: I don’t want to have to get up and walk across the room, so I don’t throw the book at the wall.  Go, me.  Or rather, stay, me.

will: Advantage of a Kindle: I’m less tempted to Dorothy Parker.

z: Luke’s shaken, because “Ben and Yoda had taught him that the Force embraced all religions.”

…had they, now.  Somehow, I doubt that.  Somehow, I feel rather certain that comparative theology or any kind of theology weren’t any part of any instruction they may have had time to impart.  The Jedi have their own philosophy and their approach to the Force is of necessity tied to a moral code of its own; and as for the creation-myth aspects of religions, we’re on very very very slippery slopes of steep cliffs with “…created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”  I wouldn’t necessarily object to someone opposing the Jedi on religious grounds–the book-throwing urges arise from the particular nature of those objections in this particular case, which we covered during the Senate-meeting chapter–but I am objecting, vocally, to Luke being shaken by this because Ben and Yoda apparently took the time to lie to him about something he wouldn’t have wondered about in the first place.

will: Yeah; it could have been structured far better.

z: But Luke sets that aside and nudges her about the Alliance, and she softens up a bit more, admitting that they need every bit of help they can get at the moment.  Well, yeah.  But she’s afraid that accepting that help could bring further trouble down the road, and Luke shows that he understands: “Like Alderaan. The Empire rules by your fears.”  Which isn’t the most diplomatic way to put that, and he apologizes when he realizes that she’s struggling to find an answer, saying he wasn’t brought up to be diplomatic.  She relaxes some more and even smiles at him, finding that refreshing.

will: After all, from Bakuran high society to Imperial Center to the Bakuran Senate, she’s probably sick of diplomacy.

z: He “flings caution to the winds” and reaches out with the Force to touch her presence again, and what he senses is described evocatively as very vivid, deep, and alive.  Nice.  Through the rest of the meal he tries small talk, commenting on the decor and the city and complimenting her outfit–danger, danger!–and she remains polite but distant.  Finally, casting around for something else, he tells her that he likes Senator Belden, and asks if he’s a friend of the family.  She is now off-guard enough to answer sincerely, “Yes, despite his oddities.”  Then she becomes more fully engaged and offers him a few drops of a viscous, pale orange liquor from a carafe, drinking a similar amount herself and telling him that it’s a specialty here and he’d be offending Bakura if he refused.

Ah, that’s why the Ewok bracelet came up.  I’d wondered.

will: Not sure that was necessary, but good catch.

z: He drinks it, and it’s impressive: “Liquor turned to fire and burned his mouth and throat.  Then he caught its flavor, like intoxicating jungle flowers mixed with the sweetest fruit he’d ever tasted.”

Gaeri tells him that it’s “namana nectar,” one of their chief exports, and refills his glass since there is likely to be a toast soon.

will: Namanas were mentioned as an export when Leia was looking at the fact sheet.

z: Then she offers him another namana product, a dish of candies.  Add this to the list of things I don’t know how to feel about:  Without the burning kick of the alcohol–which, in my book, isn’t the sign of a high-quality liquor, but what do I know–the flavor is more intense, a hint of spice, and…”His eyes flew open.  ‘That was quick,’ she said, smiling.  ‘Namana fruit, once processed, induces a faint sense of pleasure.  Most people don’t notice immediately.  They just feel good without knowing why.'”

…no comment, your Honor.

It could be habit forming, like “all the best sweets,” she says, and warns him to be careful.  He decides not to have any more.

…no comment, your Honor.

(Oh, no, there isn’t a metaphor here at all, nothing that will be used to beat us over the head and shoulders later on, what with her “electrifying” and “intoxicating” presence in the Force and all.  Perish the thought. Okay, no further comment, your Honor.)

will: Heh.

z: But she’s opened up even more.  She bends her head closer and asks, almost in a whisper, if Luke is certain that the Emperor is dead, because she’s not supposed to ask after rumors but they didn’t get any response to their pleas for help…

Luke senses abrupt hostility from her other side, sees Nereus glaring at him, and immediately wonders if the Imperial is jealous and if he has any designs on Gaeri.  Which, probably yes and yes, but if the Imperial Governor overheard one of The Emperor’s subjects clandestinely ask a declared enemy of the Emperor if the Emperor is really dead, I suppose he might be completely asexual or not know anyone in the scene personally and still feel hostile towards the subject and the enemy both. Occam’s Razor: Not known to farmboys from Tatooine.  Or Luke’s got tunnel vision about that, for some reason.  Which bugs me.

will: On the other hand, it is not inconsistent with Luke generally…I dunno. It bugs me less.

z: He says that the Emperor was strong in the Force, so he felt the Emperor die, for one thing.  That is technically true, he wouldn’t have seen what happened down that shaft but he did definitely feel the blast of dark energy that also hurt Vader.  And then he’s surprised that Gaeriel blanches, because he’s misunderstood that Gaeri only has “religious difficulties” with Jedi specifically, as opposed to with anyone strong in the Force.   Gaeri says that she hadn’t known that about “his Majesty.” Luke asks to get clarification on that point, imagining himself vindicating the Jedi and blaming the Sith in her eyes (aw, woosawiddleawkwardfarmboy), which tells us he actually still doesn’t get it.  But before she can respond, there’s an interruption.

will: Progress, certainly; it makes him understand the issue isn’t Jedi or even the Force exactly.

z: This marks a point in the chapter where we move out of the private conversation between Luke and Gaeri, out to the table in general–and we’ll also move from the personal to the political.   (The personal is political, and it applies to the SW universe as much as it applies to ours.  Let’s call it from the personal-to-political angle and to the political-to-personal angle, then.)  Since we’re past our usual commentary length and there are  still several weighty beats to come, I feel that it makes sense to split this chapter into three, not two–there will be enough material for a full-length commentary in what remains of the dinner party.  So I will bow out once more here, to take it back up next week.  Will?

will: I don’t have much to add, and we are running up against the later side of finishing times (though like I said the record is 6ish on Friday morning, so we won’t hit that), so I’ll just say this: it’s interesting that this chapter, which isn’t really that long, is the first time we go to three parts. It’s not a compliment here the way it was when we split Zahn’s chapters, though…in this case it marks how hard it is for us to get through this.

z: Yes, we are struggling with a number of things that weren’t present in Zahn, although he did have structurally dense parts too.

will: So we’ll pick up with the rest of the dinner party next week. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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