The Truce at Bakura, Chapter 11

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 11 of The Truce at Bakura, wherein there’s some healing and some clueing.

In my world, there’s some rehearsing and then some more rehearsing, punctuated by a performance at a fundraiser Friday night for some added color.

will: Pretty quiet here–well, Mass Effect Andromeda came out, but if I say anything about it, I’m sure Z–who is a bit busy at the moment, has she mentioned that? She hasn’t started–will exact terrible spoilery vengeance.

z: Oh, you do that, and you will have to go to Andromeda-the-actual-galaxy to escape my wrath. Even that may not be far enough. It’s coming closer to the Milky Way, you know, the galaxies will eventually merge.

z: Luke leaves the comm booth after his conversation with Han and Leia from the previous chapter, remarking to himself that looking at their faces, Han and Leia are “more than all right.” I’d be irritated at how the untrained Leia tried to get Luke’s sense through the Force while he seems to just have gone by the monitor, but as Will pointed out before, there’s Leia’s deshabille appearance, so I’ll give it a pass.

will: Something about how that’s phrased makes it resonate to me with some of the early stuff where Luke is still processing and, really, bleeding off his crush.

z: He’s also checked Senator Belden’s address and is heading that way.

On his way out he meets Captain Manchisco, who was apparently intelligent enough to offer her Duro navigator triple pay in return for not taking his scheduled planetside leave.

will: Luke spends a few seconds thinking that as poor as the Alliance is, they’d rather pay money than blood–and I still go back to, if I were a Duro, would I want to go planetside? I mean, I wouldn’t say no to triple overtime, but.

z: She’s a bit concerned that she had to have Imperial technicians service the starboard shields of The Flurry, although they seem to have done good work. As they part, she says something that I’m not sure how to take: “You’re the one who knows about these things, but I’ve got this odd feeling we won’t meet again.”

Um.

If that was actual foreshadowing, it wasn’t even anvilicious. It was entire-smithy-licious. Ow. If it wasn’t actual foreshadowing but an attempt to raise the stakes and narrative tension, well, okay, I’ll grant it, the same way I’ll grant the crayon-scratched forms on display on fridge doors are attempts to depict realistic portraits of a child’s everyday life and experiences. If It wasn’t either, I’m at a loss.

will: So is Luke, who vacillates between wondering if Manchisco got a premonition, or if it was the Force, or what. Maybe it’s just her experience. Or who knows what. It clunks, that’s for sure.

That said, her attitude–“we do what we can, for as long as we can”–is commendable.

z: True And resonating right now, because Reasons.

So moving on, Luke grabs a speeder and goes over to Senator Belden’s place. He isn’t reaching out with the Force as he rings the doorbell-equivalent; instead, he’s looking around and noticing that this apartment complex is fairly run-down, so it seems dissidence quite literally doesn’t pay on Bakura.

will: Given the Bakuran oligarchical structure, the image here is “impoverished patrician,” formerly rich/in power but now hanging on to the scraps.

z: Which is why he’s caught by surprise when the door opens and it’s Gaeriel. He stammers that he had wanted to talk to Senator Belden, and even as Gaeri tells him that the senator is out, an old woman calls from inside for her to “let him in.”

Gaeri hurriedly whispers a warning: It’s Madam Belden, she’s “not well” (touches forehead). And here’s Madam Belden:

A wizened woman sat propped up on cushions in a brocade chair with wing-shaped armress. She wore yellow-orange, almost the color of namana candy, and she’d dyed her sparse hair auburn. “You’re back, Roviden. Why did you stay away so long?”

Gaeri explains to a puzzled Luke, whispering in his ear, that Eppie thinks every young man is her son–who was killed in the purges a few years ago. I’ll pause for our collective wince, which naturally matches Luke’s inward one. Looking for “an escape route” Luke notices antique furniture and electronics and that Gaeriel has bare feet under her skirt, but cannot figure a way out of masquerading as the old woman’s son. He takes her hand and mutters something about there being so much work to do.

will: Specifically, “for the Rebellion.” Since, after all, her son was killed in the purges, he takes a gamble.

z: That satisfies her, but she’s still confused, and starts saying something about Gaeriel “missing,” and when Gaeri contradicts this, she gets really confused and tired, starting and breaking off, “You’re–? I’m–?”

Luke heads back to the door with Gaeri, who informs him that Eppie was involved in the resistance against the Empire, and that her son’s death “destroyed her.” Luke guesses that may be why Nereus let her live. I guess that even in her present state, her bright clothing and hair is meant to be a sign to the reader that Nereus made a mistake while trying to be cruel.

will: I’m not following this, but it’s also complicated by the below, which I’m familiar with and it colors my reading, so.

z: I read the colors as similar to the later remark about Gaeri’s bare feet indicating a lightness of spirit: She’s an old woman, and not well, and easily confused, but she’s still wearing bright colors and dying her hair a daring color. That’s the external indicator of the vitality Luke will sense in her later.

For some reason, Gaeri gets angry at Luke’s theory–

will: She’s still an Imperial-held world’s senator; Luke is basically saying they wanted to torture her more.

z: –but Eppie cuts into the conversation, crying for Luke not to leave without saying goodbye. Luke goes back, kneels by her side, and looks at her presence through the Force… and finds that her mind is there, and she may even have an untrained Force affinity, but she’s lost whatever lets her communicate that vitality to the outside world. He guesses the Empire damaged her so.

will: Hmm. This seems weaker than I remember, but maybe I’m integrating things from later.

z: Then Luke thinks about using the Force, hesitating that Gaeriel may throw him out, or be impressed if he does…

…before I can launch the book on a graceful parabolic arc yet again, however, he gets a sudden clue and notes that what Gaeriel may want or feel is immaterial when Eppie is in need of help, of healing. He decides he doesn’t want to pretend that he’s her son using the Force, and I wonder why he even considered that. But then, he doesn’t do anything himself. He talks to her in a murmur, reaches into her awareness and shows her the Jedi healing trance that Zahn mentioned, and Eppie receives this with eagerness.

will: He also encourages her to stay calm and focus, not spend energy.

z: He makes sure that she understands that using this may heal her, although it may be imperfect, so as not to give her false hope. He tells her that something’s been damaged, by the Empire, and that she can find it and heal it and fight back.

will: And spares a thought for how she may be so much older, but it’s not like she’s going to run off and have adventures, so Yoda, don’t worry about this. That was at least more subtly done.

z: May the Force be with you, he finishes, and feels her gratitude. She leans back and closes her eyes, her breathing slowing.

Okay, so this scene? Hits me right where it should. Well-played, Tyers.

Gaeriel has adopted an unconscious fighting stance, which I find hilarious, and asks him what he did. He first gives her his diagnosis: That Eppie’s awareness is still sharp and the damage doesn’t have natural causes. When Gaeri grasps that it was deliberate, he feels her hostility turn away from him–it can only be the Empire, after all, who did this.

will: In other words, her anger before at his “they let her live” was mostly denial.

z: Then he tells her that he just showed her some self-healing techniques, “that’s all.” But Gaeri isn’t having even that much use of power: “Is that so little for you?” she asks bitterly, so Luke reassures her that he didn’t do anything to Eppie himself.

will: More centrally, there’s the issue we’re about to get into, her ideas of what it means to have power and use it or not; the mere fact that he could show her this sort of thing would only inflame her (already established as screwy) religious beliefs vis-a-vis power.

z: This time Gaeri doesn’t let him leave and takes him to a dining room, tells him to sit, and asks him why he wouldn’t just get into a fighter, blast his way onto the Ssi-ruuvi flagship, and “get rid of them?” Luke thinks to himself that he might try if she told him to, which, heh, but explains to him about that whole “using the Force in anger or for aggression vs. for knowledge and defense” thing. He’s tempted to tell her Vader is his father. He isn’t as stupid as that, thankfully. But he tells her that the Dark Side made many Jedi into agents of evil. This seems to confirm Gaeri’s preconceptions, as she responds “I should’ve guessed.” ….what?

will: Yeah, I didn’t know that the Cosmic Balance would include a concept of “power corrupts,” which is what that sounds like. Then again, it seems a bit all over the map.

z: He turns the conversation back to Eppie, telling her that the older woman may seem to sleep for days if she tries the trance. Gaeri asks what he wanted to talk to “Orn”–senator Belden–about. He really really really doesn’t want to tell her, of course, but does, explaining the incident at the spaceport and adding that Leia is preparing a formal apology. Then he remembers Dev’s warning, and decides he’s endangering Gaeri and Madam Belden by being there, and I roll my eyes because no, he did not actually need an excuse to leave at this point.

will: No, but he needs to not feel like he’s fleeing.

Which he is.

z: He leaves a message for the Senator to contact him if he has any thoughts about “the incident,” and on his way out, tells Gaeri about what he felt within Madam Belden: “She was a fighter, wasn’t she?”

Which earns him a raised eyebrow, because he’s talking about being a Jedi again.

He does an entire, extremely cute shuffle-feet-stare-at-floor thing, but as he’s leaving, Gaeri tells him “Luke, thank you for trying.” And since she used her name, he leaves happy.

will: Yeah, sorry, the chemistry is mostly told, and I don’t think it’s sufficiently shown. Compare to a certain other character, where the chemistry was bonkers even with the death wish aspect.

z: Scene change; Leia is taking Threepio and Artoo to the Prime Minister’s office. Which is placed in an interestingly named “Corporation Wing” of the Bakur complex. Huh.

will: Yeah, the line between corporation and government would pretty much always be a muddled one given the settling. Add in the oligarchy, and…well, let’s just say I suspect that some of the key families, like the Beldens and the Captisons, were principal shareholders of Bakur Corp.

I say “were,” but then again, the planet’s only been settled what, twenty years?

z: The Prime Minister frowns at R2 and 3PO, so Leia waves her Owner to show him that she has “both droids under control.” Me no like. But me like the following even less:

She had also programmed Threepio not to speak until she rescinded the command. Asking him to keep quiet on his own just hadn’t seemed kind–or plausible.

….try “respectful,” maybe!?

Okay, folks, we can’t have it both ways. Either the droids are sentient beings and deserve respect, or not. Tyers’ approach may be all of Threepio’s “quirks” are programmed, and not emergent as a result of a developing personality. The way Zahn wrote Artoo (and had Luke and Leia react to Threepio) has nothing of the sort. I would have been mostly fine with Leia commanding Threepio not to talk until she told him to, actually, and her thinking that not doing so might have been unkind is nice, that it’s implausible indicates that she’s aware there’s a strong personality there. But the fact that she exhibits no inward cringe for having had to do so because stupid Bakurans and their stupid preconceptions and stupid Ssi-ruuk and their stupid battle droids–that sits very, very badly with me.

will: My turn for a “what she said.” I’ve said before that droid rights in this universe are a bloody awful mess, and this–a planet where there are both prejudices and the example of robotic weapons–makes it even messier.

At this point, Z has asked me to pick up primary review, and so.

z: Because Reasons. I’m sorry, and Will is The Best.

will: Han sits sideways, and Leia keeps telling herself she loves him to soothe her patience. Captison is amused though. Leia makes formal apologies for the deaths, and Captison also mentions that he’s heard from Thanas about the Ssi-ruuvi formation, which has shifted. Han and Leia are pretty shocked that Thanas reports to Captison at all, and Captison claims to not know how unusual that is. Leia thinks maybe he does.

The next subject is translation; Leia says that maybe Threepio can translate Ssi-ruuvi? Captison admits a lack of fondness for droids, but is willing to try. Threepio comes back to life and gives his six-million-forms speech, and we get told that actually, that’s pretty impressive if you’re not used to hearing it.

z: Well, actually it is.

will: Captison becomes interested, and has some recordings played. Han gives a line about Threepio being really good at talking, and Threepio takes it for a compliment. Heh.

Captison tells Leia that it’s all set, tell your droid to listen; Leia, in a bit of recovery from before, says you can tell him yourself, he’s Threepio by the way.

z: And this, I like unreservedly. Thank you, Tyers.

will: Captison, to his credit, does so, but Threepio doesn’t recognize the language–and he speaks “every language ever used within Republican or Imperial space.” Captison reminds the Rebels that the Ssi-ruuk are from outside that, but just when all looks hopeless, Artoo basically repeats the recording.

z: I laughed.

will: Threepio claims that Artoo missed one note “by a full four vibrations,” and the usual comedy show starts briefly before the attention turns back to the humans.

z: I laughed more. Then I remembered that one time when me and another musician friend were told by someone, in all seriousness, that a note was off by six Hertz–and six Hertz precisely–and laughed some more. The circumstances made such a precise diagnosis… unlikely, let’s say.

Though I wouldn’t doubt Threepio.

will: Leia and Han sell Captison on the idea that with enough time and recordings, Threepio can decode Ssi-ruuvi, and if so, they have a “native speaker” in Artoo.

“Take your metal friends into my aide’s office. Zilpha will set them up with enough recordings to keep them busy well into tomorrow night.”

Points to Captison for not letting his prejudices override his common sense.

Scene shift again: Nereus walks through a greenway, chewing a namana twist, trying to ignore his fears. The Rebels are much more of a threat in light of Palpatine and Vader’s deaths, but to his eyes, the Empire is still the better bet, and he might be able to give them an edge by taking out Leia and Luke…

That’s a side note, he decides. Back to the question: who will be the new Emperor? Someone will, he’s sure. He might have tried but for the whole “middle of nowhere” thing. So whoever it is, he has to suck up and prove Bakura’s worth.

Which means he has to deal with the Ssi-ruuk.

“He despised them on principle, even without the entechment complication. As a youth, he’d pursued two hobbies alien parasitology and alien dentition. The Empire had quietly used both talents. Aliens were creatures to dissect or fight–not to ally with.”

We’ll circle back to that eventually…

z: In the meantime, let me please state a MEGA-SHUDDER for the record here.

will: Nereus’s aide snaps to attention, but Nereus lets him wait, reflecting on his paring down his namana habit to nectar only at night, and only two candy breaks a day, and also on how the Empire is better for him, so he’ll keep it, and he’s annoyed to lose the fear-inducing Death Star II. But hell, everyone’s afraid now…

He finally lets the aide speak: Nereus has received a message from the Ssi-ruuk.

Naturally, his response is “why did you wait?” Oy.

Nereus takes the call at his desk. It’s Dev, of course, whom Nereus calls a true “alien parasite,” and they trade the usual flowery lunacy for a while, until Dev makes an offer: they’ll leave Bakura in exchange for Luke.

Why?

Dev tries “to get rid of him for you,” but…no dice. That said, Nereus thinks it might be nice, and he can point the Ssi-ruuk to Endor.

Dev admits they think he could be “useful in certain experiments,” which Nereus decodes to entechment, and knows they can’t have Luke.

z: A tiny itsy bitsy bit of credit to him for actually figuring that out.

will: But, he has an idea. What if he gave them Luke but ensured he died before they could use him? The Rebel fleet here would still probably defect to the Imperial side, if it was their only hope. (Dude doesn’t know Rebels.)

z: I just remembered that Wedge is with the task force here too. And then laughed. And laughed.

will: He asks for a day to prep, and that ends that. One more scene shift.

Gaeri’s trying to pull her workload together, having spent time looking into Luke’s theory about the Empire and Eppie. She has learned that Eppie has no criminal record–which is unusual, everyone has one, even the Prime Minister (“a very minor offense”). Eppie’s has either been deleted or is classified, and she doesn’t understand why.

z: The fact that she notices this saves me from going “oh my sweet summer child” yet again.

will: Someone knocks on her door–one of her aides, a woman named Aari, and very quietly tells Gaeri about the deal Nereus has struck (there are bugs, of course). Gaeri, of course, is terrified and confused, but also, admits that she was a bit impressed by how Luke has used his powers to help Eppie even knowing Gaeri might be troubled by it:

If Jedi were self-serving at heart, why had he acted on his conscience despite her disapproval, when he so obviously–and frighteningly–hoped to befriend her?

Points for asking the tough questions.

z: Seconded.

will: At any rate, Gaeri follows Nereus’s three reasonings: clueless, desperate, or conniving, and goes for door #3. She can’t decide whether to “give weight to Nereus’s side of the Balance,” or risk “unweighting the universe” by helping Luke. But, as they always do, those big concerns fall to the practicalities: Luke wants to help Bakura, so she needs to help him.

z: But doesn’t that disturb the Balance towards Bakura, I ask slyly?

I’m sorry. I’m really not on board with this whole interpretation of this religion, and can’t always keep the snark down.

will: She checks and sees that “sensible people would already be eating dinner,” which…wait, Luke went to Belden’s in the morning, and Leia and Han went to Captison same, then now it was evening for Nereus and Gaeri’s scene…oh, OK, the backfill of Luke and co. is the start of next chapter. Anyway. She decides to act, and the chapter decides to end.

Plot looms! And some characterization, and defrosting of the religious ice queen a bit. I do like Luke’s deciding not to worry about whether Gaeri would approve of his helping Eppie–and I also like that Gaeri realized what was going on and actually appreciated his choice. And I liked Captison, who epitomizes “old is not the same thing as close-minded.”

z: I liked almost all the characterization notes in this chapter. Gaeri getting glimmers of a clue, Luke actually acting the Jedi, Eppie (whom I love, more later), Nereus turning up the creep factor several notches, Captison being a sensible and responsible ruler.

And, oh, poor Dev.

will: Yeah–with the exception of one or two minor things, most of what’s been bothering us about this book hasn’t been on display, and the strong notes have, so yeah, I’ll call this a win. It was certainly an easier chapter to write, if nothing else.

Next week, we see Luke and Gaeri have what isn’t the most awkward dinner date in the universe, but might place in the single digit ranks, and an awkward twin conversation or five. Oh, and more depictions of the hell that is entechment.

z: Until then, may the Force be with you.

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