The Truce at Bakura, Chapter 9, Part 3

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to the third part of Chapter 9 of The Truce at Bakura, wherein we finally conclude a dinner party with apologies.

will: We hope. It’s already Thursday night, so let’s get right to it.

z: About right after when we finished drafting last week’s post, I got a message from my parents saying that they had bought plane tickets, pulling a planned visit to a month earlier.  They came in last night, and yay, they get to attend the concert!

will: As do I! Woo.

z: Woo!

z: When we left Luke, he was planning to vindicate the Jedi in Gaeri’s eyes, but his daydream was interrupted.  The interruption was Han raising his voice in objection to something Nereus said, it seems, because Nereus, ignoring him and addressing Leia (as “highness” and Senator Organa, emphasis his, and heh), says that he’s not accustomed to eating with…aliens.

will: As usual, there’s the classic problems of human and alien being a massive othering. Star Wars never dealt with that one well.

z: Note that this is around the end of the meal. Nereus was either very hungry or isn’t very observant, I don’t know.

will: Well, this would sour the main course, so you wash it down with something sweet…

z: Also, he thinks bringing a Wookiee to dinner was in bad taste when Bakura is in a life-and-death struggle with aliens.

Wellllllllllllp.

Both Leia and Han start to interject something, but Chewie cuts them off.

will: And note that Luke’s reaction is “Oh, Chewie’s temper is under his control,” because if it wasn’t, he would have sent the table flying.

z: Han listens, then translates somewhat sullenly–“My copilot” (bet you dollars to donuts that he’s using the word very deliberately) “doesn’t want me to argue for his sake.”  Chewie has pointed out that since the Ssi-ruuk only seem to want human batteries, he’s safer here–the worst they can do is to kill him–so he volunteers to carry messages to the Ssi-ruuk if there’ll be bargaining later.  Nereus sneers that no one knows their language and it has never been translated, Han snarks that “never” is a big word, the reader dodges the anvil of DEV DEV TRANSLATED SOME SEE, and Leia points out that, hey, I do have a droid fluent in (say it with me) over six million forms of communication.  Which only means Nereus gets to extra-sneer “send an alien and a droid to represent an Imperial world? I think not.”

Have we gotten a clear enough picture of multiple-bigotries here?  Yeah?  Good.

will: Not all of which is strictly Imperial, though yeah, the line about “the Empire does not deal with…aliens” got Luke’s silent “except as slaves.”

z: Chewie settles down to indicate that he isn’t leaving the dinner table, which makes me grin despite myself, and Nereus adds that anyone trying to talk the Bakurans into sedition will be arrested and expelled.  Which is…a non-sequitur, but hey, as long as we’re snarling.  Leia shoots back that she has a question–Dev’s recording said that the Emperor himself had invited the Ssi-ruuk, how does Nereus explain that?  I expect Nereus to say that the boy has obviously been lying, but no, he’s a good little Imperial boy: He says he doesn’t presume to second-guess the Emperor.

will: Well, you have to admit, that was a good habit to be in…

z: Senator Belden is not a good little Imperial boy and loudly suggests that maybe the Emperor thought he could conquer the Ssi-ruuk, which was probably close to the mark.  Han’s idea is also probable: Maybe the Emperor had spare prisoners to sell to the Ssi-ruuk.  Which gives Luke a flash of insight, which is presented in a weak analogy that I’m not going to recap, but the gist of it is that the Emperor had access to many human beings for whom he had no use (I’d say, almost all of them) and wanted battle droids of his own.  They are very maneuverable and better shielded than TIE fighters, and as Leia pointedly remarks, they’ve seen some up close so they should know.

will: The analogy is so close to working–it’s “he was like a farmer who got his grain milled for wheat, the Ssi-ruuk were the miller”–but because Luke was a “moisture” farmer, it doesn’t get the right terminology. It’s all “produce” and “processed goods.” I’m put in mind of the “seed corn” analogy in Memory by Bujold.

z: After the requisite Awkward Silence Mk. 3, individual conversations start up again.  Luke catches a snippet from Han about this not working and wanting to go home and to sleep, but Leia wants to spend time with the Prime Minister.  Before he can hear any more, Gaeri leans into his ear and wants to know if “that man” is the consort of the Princess.

will: I do like that Gaeri picked those words. Because as much as Bakura was technically a republic with a senate, it was an oligarchy, and Gaeri as the senator would get all the court-palatine (court-palpatine?) terminology. Not just a lover (and yes, the other part was that this was Star Wars in its relatively innocent ‘90s phases w.r.t. age of viewer/reader), not a boyfriend, or partner…a consort.

z: Nice catch.  I did like that, too.  But…Oh look it’s been, what, five pages since I head-desked?  Luke thinks “They certainly fight like it” and the stereotyping, it burns, and it burns extra coming from Luke.   But he responds “I think so,” and I have to giggle.  He then recommends Han to Gaeri as being a little rough on the edges, but the truest friend one can have, which is a little out of place since Gaeri wasn’t criticizing Han, just asking; Gaeri remarks that she’s also had a friend like that.

will: More specifically, she says yes when Luke asks if she did–given the rest of the book I guess she’s thinking of Belden’s wife, whom we’ll meet?

z: They’re having a dessert which sounds like six layers of differently-flavored gelato and yay, now I want some, when a trooper comes in, gets Nereus and leads him out of the door. When Nereus comes back, Luke can sense that he’s blasting out agitation and fear, and thinks that even Gaeri must be able to see it.  He calls out “Something is very wrong, Your Excellency” as Nereus approaches.  This makes everyone else shut up, and Nereus glare at Luke, because he was going to…try to act like nothing had happened?  That could make sense, except in that case, why he doesn’t immediately lie is a question (maybe because he thinks Luke would call that out, too).

will: That could be why Luke did it–to say “I can tell if you’re lying and I won’t let you get away with it.”

z: At any rate, Nereus says that this was a personal communique from one Admiral Prittick (!) (!!!) (really?!) of “the Fleet:” Second Death Star go boom, Emperor and Lord Vader presumed dead, fleet regrouping near some place called Annaj, which, why are you telling the local enemy commander this are you an idiot oh wait.  We’ve talked about this often enough that by now y’all know that I especially enjoy scenes where the characters find out something the reader already knows, but this one was…a bit flat.

Leia blurts out “Now do you believe us?  Commander Skywalker saw him die” and excuse me I have to go fetch the book back from across the room.

Who is this person and what has she done with Leia?

Gaeriel recoils, as well she might, and Luke rushes to explain that he didn’t kill the Emperor, Vaded did and then died for it, he was there just as a prisoner, and once again, I have to giggle immediately after the previous outrage because is he blabbing all of that to, I don’t know, convince the Imperial Governor in the vicinity that he isn’t responsible for The Emperor‘s death? No, he’s just worried that the girl won’t like him any more.

will: Right. Apparently only she recoiled.

z: Senator Belden, bless him, eagerly wants to know how Luke escaped, and Luke gives the sanitized version: It was chaos after the Emperor’s death (see also, Load-Bearing Boss, and no I’m not responsible for the hours you may lose to That Website) and Luke managed to get to a shuttle bay.

will: Note that Belden’s described as “grinning like an old war-horse eager to swap stories,” and I’ll forgive the horse thing (the smeerp problem; also not my fault for lost hours), but…really? Feels a bit awkward.

z: It has good company.

Previously it was Nereus who realized that he was eating with an alien after they’d had all the courses except dessert; now Prime Minister Captison joins the late-uptake gang, although I’ll excuse him because there’ll be fear and shock aplenty in that case, I assume.  He springs up, his chair crashing to the floor, and asks/says that so there really won’t be any help coming?

will: Right. I feel like if this was structured so that Luke, Belden, and Gaeri were having their own conversation while Captison and Nereus and Leia were being all political, that might have worked. As it is…nope.

z: Nereus responds by staring at Luke, who is aware that the governor is scared “half to death.” Luke says that the Imperial Fleet is likely to be too busy licking its wounds, effectively.  Leia points out that this was one of the reasons for their coming, and Han oh for the love of–

Okay, breathe.

“We tromped ‘em,” Han crowed.

Why.  Everyone in the table glares at Han, including Leia, which, seriously, but anyway, why.

will: At this point a servant picks Captison’s chair up. Okay.

z: Moving right along, Nereus looks over to Leia, and addressing her formally  (“Princess Leia”), offers an official truce, “as official as [he] can make it.”  They shake hands, Leia with the Ewok bracelet on her wrist, Nereus still wearing a glove (…he was eating with gloves on?!?), and we get the cover-art equivalent of the title drop along with the title–scene, I guess, not exactly a drop.

will: And Tyers…tells, not shows. She has Luke think about how portentous this event is, but it doesn’t really feel that way.

z: Then Nereus raises a glass “to strange alliances,” which, heh.  Luke adds that defeating the Ssi-ruuk won’t be easy and will require total cooperation…thanks, Captain Obvious, again…and Han (why) says that if they can’t, they’ll all end up as batteries together (why would Han say that why would he say anything why).

The steadiness of characterization in this book is making me remember how Route 1 in College Park used to be at the end of every winter–potholes! Potholes everywhere, potholes for everyone, the four thousand holes of Blackburn, Lancashire have got competition!–and this old car a friend of mine had which didn’t have the greatest suspension to begin with…

(Two Internet cookie points if you get the reference in the previous paragraph.)

will: I read the book today, oh boy…

z: …right, but you get cookie points automatically for that anyway.

will: Nom.

z: Moving right along again, because what else are you going to do, people start saying goodbye to their dinner companions. Luke senses worry from Gaeri.  He asks what’s wrong and thinks it’s too much to hope that she would be wishing he would stay longer, which, again, heh.  But she’s got bigger worries, really: Now that Nereus can’t rely on the Big Bad Death Star, he might look to more immediate threats at home.  Luke correctly guesses that without the Ssi-ruuk, there’d be a real danger of purges.  Gaeri wonders how he knows, which, seriously now; Luke mentions that it’s standard Imperial procedure that they’ve seen before.  Gaeri gets pensive.  Luke asks if she really believes in the Empire.  What was that about “sedition,” not that I really expected any of Our Heroes to care?  Gaeri actually seriously thinks about the question, blinks, then says that it’s a balance: All things contain light and darkness.  Even the Jedi, she supposes.  Now this is an application of her religion that makes sense.

will: Yeah, for once it sounds like the right idea in the roughly-correct order.

z: He agrees, gets an impulse that he almost attributes to Ben (“Ask to see her again!”) and asks if they can continue this conversation the next day.  Gaeri offers her hand but says that she doubts there’ll be time.

Luke remembers the Imperial officer kissing Leia’s hand, thinks that may be the proper gesture here, and “gambles” by raising it to his face.  She doesn’t snatch it away, which, heh, again–and he “mashes her knuckles with his lips” because he’s nervous and hurrying.  Wow, suddenly we’re in Awkward Building, fourteenth floor.  “He felt like a clod, but he didn’t dare try it again.”  …yeah, you don’t really try that again.

will: Nope.

z: But Gaeri tightens her fingers on his hand for a moment before pulling away. Luke stands rooted where he is and tries to visualize Gaeri as part of his future.

I do not comment on this, because I’m already too tired to try to figure everything I think about it out.

will: Luke also promises himself that he’ll make time to talk with her tomorrow.

Better than promising himself he’d make her part of his future; points to him and Tyers for getting the right degree of response to chemistry anyway.

z: And with that, finally, the endless dinner party has ended.  We’ve got The Truce (™); Luke talked to Gaeri like normal human beings, and…wait, why was this chapter 23 pages?  And it opened on a Ssi-ruuk ship?  I’d forgotten that.

As per course, there are some funny moments, a couple of potentially interesting ones, the plot. plods. along. its foreordained course, and I get carsick from the shakiness of the characterization of everyone I’d known before I opened the book for the first time. Or maybe “shakiness” isn’t the exact term; let’s say, from how their characterization is yanked to and fro violently, just so that the plot will plod.along.its foreordained course.  Will?

will: Yeah, this really is endemic of the overwritten nature of so much of this book; I didn’t remember it being this clunky, but in retrospect…some of these books survived not because of how good they were or weren’t but because, you know, they were Star Wars books.

But we’ve managed to make it through and we’re on to a new topic, namely, the Ssi-ruuk and Dev, who at least we can’t call out of character. We’ll see you here next week, and until then, may the Force be with you.

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