The Truce at Bakura, Chapter 12

will: Welcome all, to this week in The Truce at Bakura, which as I intimated last week will have a Most Awkward Party, as well as a Most Awkward Sibling Interaction and a Most Horrifying Development. It’s a Most week.

If you’re reading this as it goes up, you still have a day to hie thee to the WMGSO show tomorrow, April 8. Further, my co-writer sayeth:

z: …that a) said show will be in Rockville High School at Rockville, MD, at 7 pm, and tickets are available online for one entire dollar cheaper, and b) said show is an extraordinary one and promises to be very, very interesting for a number of reasons. So if you’re around, I’d love to see you there.

will: Luke has had another long day. Tyers gives us another “this is what Luke was going through” sequence, namely, proving his worth and that he’s not above getting his hands dirty just because he’s a Jedi.

Are we supposed to understand that that was why the commander of the battle group kept getting involved at stuff mostly way below his level? Oy.

z: Oh good, I’m not the only one confused by that. It’s been pointed out that Luke’s not really the large-group-commander type, not even as much as Wedge, and that he feels uncomfortable doing that, and again, and again, but I don’t know, have him have a long irritating day reviewing repair reports or something instead of diving into any available broken engine elbows-first?

will: Anyway, it worked, FSVO worked, and then Luke had to actually do stuff he had to do, instead of that, like, you know, paying and provisioning and being In Charge.

I feel like Tyers thinks she’s selling “Luke is exhausted” but really is selling “dammit Luke, pick a role, and stop trying to do everything.”

z: …oooor what Will just said, better.

will: At any rate, Luke sees two stormtroopers, and is halfway to attacking them before his brain engages.

I’ll say it again: Dammit Luke, stop trying to do everything. This is why.

The stormtroopers don’t seem to mind, and Luke collapses in his suite, “laughing off his tension.” It’s just so ridiculous to have stormtroopers as actual guards, not threats or jailers.

z: In the meantime, calm, unflappable Jedi, everyone. 😀

will: He watches the rainfall, once again running the desertworlder script out–wow, rain!–and then sees a message: Senator Belden, asking him to dinner. Too late, it seems.

I’m still not clear when anything is supposed to be. Early evening? Midafternoon? Late?

z: Midlateafternoon, say 5? It mentions “early dinner,” and yet Luke is late receiving the message.

will: Not to mention, of course, like a lot of pre-cell-phone (pre-widespread-cell-phone) works, we’re left with “why was Luke out of contact just because he wasn’t in his suite?”

But I digress. Luke needs to go; if nothing else, he needs to talk to Belden about Eppie. He sets up a potential visit for tomorrow, and then his bell rings. He checks the video doorman (that’s what it is), but can’t get it to work. He opens the door himself:

Gaeri.

He starts tingling–really, the book says that–and invites her in.

z: Actually, the book says worse: The quote is “…her very presence made his Force sense tingle.”

Force sense… tingling.

I can’t stop laughing.

will: She shows him a box that amounts to a bug countermeasure in her satchel, and with it on, tells him about Nereus’s offer. Then switches it back off (it’s stutter-stepping) and asks how he likes Bakura.

“I’m allergic to stormtrooper armor,” he says, which…okay, at least that’ll not be much of a shock.

At any rate, there are two parallel conversations: one is mostly communicating the danger, and the other is…awkward. Luke asks Gaeri to sit, so he can–somehow this form of the propriety we get from Luke feels off–and she won’t.

z: It’s off because we have neither seen that form of chivalry, nor that form of guestright before, at GFFA. It assumes certain Earthly conventions.

will:

He overlaid his voice with a calming veneer of Force overtones. “I wish you would trust me.”

No matter how I read that, I don’t like it.

z: Nope, neither do I.

will: But at any rate, she figures hers to Jedi is just as much an “allergy” as his to stormtroopers, shifts to tell him about the one day time frame that Nereus had asked for, and then asks about if “your alien–a Wook?” needs anything.

Luke corrects her pronunciation and says all Chewie needs is more food than anyone else–and then shift, Gaeri warns Luke to watch his back and what he eats and drinks. She doesn’t know what the Ssi-ruuk want him for, either.

Gaeri asks if he’s eaten, he hasn’t, and she orders food “for her” that gets diverted to him. Ah, “subterfuge.”

Nice try.

He has no idea what she’s ordered…

z: …and apparently, can’t think of starting a conversation by asking about the unfamiliar food, so Awkward Silent Period happens… although his justification is staying silent and waiting for her to speak first, which does work after a fashion:

will: …and finally, she asks him, “are you listening to me think?”

No, he can’t do that–he can only get some of her feelings. But that’s not entirely true, he thinks. She says even that is unfair, because she doesn’t know what he’s feeling.

So he tells her.

z: What you just heard was the book crumpling in my hands thanks to involuntary muscle spasms in my hands, caused by Epic Cringitis. There’s no cure, sorry.

will:

“Honesty was one thing, stupidity another.”

He manages the second one.

He “knows her on a deeper level than anyone else,” and all she knows about him is what she “thinks she believes,” and she’s got strong feelings for him–strongly ambivalent about him.

z: Oh for the love of. Strike One: “I know you better than anyone else” is a one-way ticket to Creepzone. Strike Two: “You don’t know what your own feelings are” is a one way ticket to be defenestrated from a room if I was there, Jedi or no Jedi. Strike Three: “Your feelings are strong for me. Strongly ambivalent.” Nope, we’re back in Creepzone with the implication there.

Of course (spoiler!) he’ll turn out to be right, because Plot demands it, which makes it much worse.

will: Not afraid, she insists, she just has a “religious objection to what you are. What you’ve become.”

And then he feels her attraction to him, and thinks that five years ago he might have forsworn his life for her hand.

What.

Seriously, I accept that she’s pretty, but I absolutely do not buy Luke’s reactions to all of this.

z: No, there’s been an attempt at invoking chemistry with all the vibrancy in the Force and all that, but it really hasn’t worked.

will: And then, he finally has a thought that I can agree with: what sort of right does he have to undermine her beliefs?

Finally.

z: Exactly.

will: They make small talk about the role of a senator, for the bugs to hear, and we’re reminded that there are always collaborators, and he tells her–distortion field in place–that he will respect her fears, and her beliefs.

Room service arrives, and we shift into Gaeri’s head; she’s all sorts of twisted up and knows she won’t convince Luke of anything.

z: It’s deeper–and worse–than that: She’s thinking she has no hope of making Luke understand the universe the same way that she does.

Emotional maturity and theory of mind developmental stage: Not very high if you take the average in that room, the way they are written.

will: She reveals seafood, and now she thinks about how he’s a desertworlder.

We get it.

Luke asks her to stay. She’s about to refuse, which is when he puts his lightsaber on the room service cart, and says she’ll be safer where she is–and then admits he sounds ridiculous.

She appreciates that part, and decides to stay, and has a few bites of food. He chows down, clearly hungry.

He asks, projector on, if the Cosmic Balance is a majority belief on Bakura.

No, but in her family, she’s a moderate–her sister is an ascetic, who lives with nothing so others can have more.

Once again, I feel like there’s an interesting idea somewhere in this religion, but it isn’t on the page…

z: The flip side of living with “almost nothing” is that you cannot contribute to create more things–wealth or comfort or even subsistence–for anyone else if you live that way. You can only survive. Seriously, think about it. I don’t think that’s a very efficient or admirable religion, sorry.

(Yes, you can contribute to society by living a hermit’s life if you’re a good philosopher. How many people are good philosophers?)

will: She says that the entire universe could weigh on one atom, and Luke says she’s a woman of deep feelings; but everyone else is convinced by her conniving politician act. (Her what?)

Gaeri tries to avoid his eyes, which she’d rather look at, and Luke gets preposterous: he says that once he “settles” with the Ssi-ruuk, he’d like to come back and talk to Gaeri, to try to get her to change her mind about him, because she isn’t altogether right when she says he wasn’t born a Jedi. It’s a family thing.

She’s surprised he came out and said it, and admits she’s attracted to him–which she calls dangerous. He insist he “wouldn’t–,” she says he would if she encouraged him–he could manipulate people.

He says no, that would be dishonest, and there is no future in that.

z: For once, I like that a Captain Obvious remark is made.

will: She then asks, what is he, what right has he to his powers, and he calls himself a farm boy.

“A family of Force-strong farm boys?”

Well, when you say it like that.

z: Heh.

Also, there’s something about Luke calling himself a farm boy that sits badly with me. (First off, I prefer “farmboy,” single word, but that’s neither here nor there.) Yes, we call him farmboy, lovingly and teasingly, when he reacts to something which betrays a straightforward, sheltered upbringing and a life that doesn’t concern itself much with certain intricacies of things like interstellar politics. Han calls him a farmboy in very much the same manner. But for some reason, Luke himself calling himself that without any hint of hesitation isn’t… right. I’m thinking of the Standard Fantasy Farmboys Mk. I, II and III in the Wheel of Time series–one of them becomes very self-aware for good reasons and several times thinks to himself that he can’t be a simple farmboy any more, although sometimes he longs for that time; one of them sheds the label right away, throws himself into what he’s going to become next; and the third one… keeps going around calling himself a farmboy–actually a blacksmith, but the same idea–and wondering why anyone would follow him and complaining that he never wanted to lead and it gets really tiring. Because having gone through all he has gone through, if he can’t see that he’s grown and changed, you start wondering if there’s something a bit dense there.

And Luke is not dense. And I don’t buy that anyone who’s rescued a princess from a Death Star, blown up said Death Star, lead battle groups and guerilla groups, sought out an ancient guru in a remote swamp somewhere, learned from said ancient guru, rushed out to confront an enemy only to find out that said archenemy is his father under rather traumatic conditions, hatched that extremely baroque plot to save a friend from a crimelord, saw two mentors die, and managed to save said father’s soul while witnessing the death of the strongest evil force in that corner of the universe at said father’s hands to save his life… no blame if he has one doozy of an identity crisis at any point, but he can’t just call himself a farmboy and not come across as disingenuous. Sorry.

Tangent over.

will: Luke says, if there are always people who are evil, doesn’t that require people who have power to protect good? He finishes:

“People constantly sacrifice themselves for good causes. I didn’t ask anyone to die for me.”

This would be a better philosophical debate if one side had any sense at all as a position…

z: …instead of being the Ploticus School of Thought. I agree.

will: She says the Cosmos must balance, he says that the Dark Side calls for aggression. She says, so if you loved someone, you might hate them; he wonders about the disruption field and she says, “No need, we could be eating in silence.”

No, not really.

z: I think this is the basis of most of the issues we’re having with the Cosmic Balance idea: Luke is trying to meet it halfway, as it were, indicating the presence of the Dark Side and isn’t a Light Side needed to, you know, balance that; Gaeri (and her ascetic sister) seem to think that “balance” means “variance = 0”, no movement at all beyond the mean.

…yeahnope. And that is at its face such a yeahnope idea that I can’t believe Tyers conceived it intentionally that way; but Plot requires Gaeri to take that position so Gaeri does, and that’s making everything very bothersome.

will: Luke gets back on topic, discussing the ups and downs of his life–Owen and Beru forward. He asks if she approves of the Empire; she figures of course, but admits, they have seized a lot of power; but there’s an upside, like the ability to study at Imperial Center.

z: I wrote and deleted a line about “at least the trains…”

will: Of course, some don’t get to leave, as Luke points out… The best and the brightest, in fact?

She admits that people play a little dumb so they get to leave, but doesn’t the Alliance have problems too?

“The problems of freedom,” Luke says, and that one stings her. She says the Rebels are “destructive, not constructive.” He promises, “honest,” that they’re not.

She thanks him for talking, lies that she feels more certain, and says she’ll be leaving.

He asks whether they can buy a disruption box. No, there are only a few, secrets from the governor. Because apparently there’s no other way to defeat bugs. Ah, scaling problems.

She takes the hover cart out, and she’s gone.

Luke walks her to the door, tempted to do anything from manipulating her with the Force to begging, and just lets her go.

Again–I just am not seeing it. Is it me?

z: No. I mean, first crush, not knowing what to do could be normal–but this is the third time they’ve even talked in, what, 40 hours? And there’s something a little bit off about the first-crushness. There should be a great deal of not knowing what he wants on Luke’s part, but he’s too certain of that. He doesn’t know how to act, that’s all.

Which, meh.

will: Luke heads to the roof, and looks out over the city. After a few seconds he realizes it’s laid out like a star chart diagram, with the finest homes in the yellow-sun zone. He somehow goes from that insight, the use of his skills and talents, to believing more firmly against Gaeri’s religion, which he quickly imagines going Harrison Bergeron. Or maybe ultra-communism.

z: Or Church of the God of Utterly Indifferent, as described later in that Wikipedia page.

will: Luke now thinks about the people who are here, and how many have families and loved ones, and that as he gets stronger in the force, it might be harder to find a girlfriend.

He begs for Ben’s guidance, no answer; same with Yoda; finally for Anakin.

Leia arrives, instead. Or maybe because.

She says she felt someone reaching out, which reminds him of Cloud City, and tells him that she left the droids with Captison–and he teases out that this got Han and Leia some alone time. They went for a walk, they talked… Luke feels a bit shy, and reflects on the sibling experience. They agree it’s nice to talk to someone, and Luke gets gloomy about how at least she has someone to pass on the family strengths to; he won’t get the chance.

She asks if it’s about Gaeri; he quotes how a Jedi feels no passion, but the Force sometimes controls him, he doesn’t control it.

z: {opens mouth} {closes mouth} {reaches for keyboard} {pulls hands back} {sits on hands} {glowers}

…I mean that Jedi not feeling passion thing was stupid when it was first said and stupid now and Luke has demonstrated multiple times that hes a maverick Jedi in those terms and that’s in fact why he’s, like, Luke, and but and and and {sits on hands again}

will: Leia says Luke has been detached, and in order to distract her (yes, that’s how we’re told it happens), he asks if Leia and Han are opposed to having kids.

That’s not the issue, she says.

He says he’s been thinking about it lately, which is as much news to him as it is to us, and he pictures himself “as head of a clan of young Jedi apprentices with mismatched green, blue, and gray eyes.”

z: The picture could have been cute, except it’s also creepy on multiple levels.

will: They talk about the risk of children–potential for good or evil–and how their mother dealt with it–

z: Okay, I just had a lightning-flash vision of how Leia in particular would have reacted to how their mother is _supposed_ to have “dealt” with it (or rather, with her partner becoming evil) if we take the prequels as canon, and my mind fused shut, gimme a minute. It’s telling (and for once, appropriate) that it’s Leia who has the correct insight here, though: It’s perilous to bring an intelligence into being, it’s a risk that humans have always had to take.

….and Mon Calamari and Wookiees and Duro and Rodians and Twi’leks and Ewoks and Jawas and but you get the idea.

will: And Leia tells Luke she saw Vader–Anakin, whatever–and has a message from him: He said that fear is of the dark side, as we know. Luke says he had only seen Anakin for a moment, and he hadn’t spoken. Leia says she doesn’t want any part of him.

“Hatred is also the dark side, Leia.”
“It’s not wrong to hate evil.”

Dust off that fighting-monsters line…

z: In a maybe-touching bit, Luke is a little jealous that Anakin talked to Leia, not him. Awww, catching up to 25 years’ worth of sibling rivalry, too.

will: Anyway. This next part is confusing, but basically, it boils down to Luke apparently now realizing that when he called this morning, he was pretty close to committing coitus interruptus. Which–wait, I thought he knew that? OK, whatever. He knew they were happy at least, I feel like he shouldn’t be so shocked.

Leia gets somewhat embarrassed and says, again, that they haven’t had a lot of alone time. And Luke probably dislocates his arm reaching, by saying maybe Anakin did some good because he “sent you to Han for comfort.”

Ow, my credulity.

z: Ow, my forehead. {picard_facepalm.gif}

will: Anyway. Leia says that seeing Vader as Anakin put into context how normal people can fall into evil–that she could.

Luke insists she would be the good side, and Tyers maybe manages to link up some of this, by having Luke again remember how he loved–read, lusted after–her, “before they learned what she refused to acknowledge.” So basically she’s in deep, deep denial.

z: No, wait, I’m confused. She’s denying that she’s his sister, too? Wha–?

will: Luke pushes her away, and when she gets upset, he says he’s pushing her toward Han. She leaves, irritated.

z: That makes three of us, I think.

will: Luke tries to reach out to Anakin, but can’t, and it occurs to him that if he doesn’t have any unfinished business with Anakin–if he made his peace–that could be why Leia got the visitation instead.

Luke meditates, and I admit that I like this next turn of phrase:

He had a sister; he wasn’t alone. Some day, as he grew in the Force, real love would unite him with someone else of his own kind. Every emotion of either partner, every ripple of pleasure or pain, would bounce back from the other, resonating until sweet echoes faded.

He tells himself that if it didn’t work out with Gaeri–and things aren’t done yet anyway–he’ll only have faint regrets. And then he admits he’s lying to himself, and it’s time to go inside. Though not, I hope, to Han and Leia’s suite…

Scene shift again.

Dev is impressed with the new system–not an entechment chair, per se. There are a bunch of other ones under construction, but this is the linchpin.

It’s more like an upright bed, really, reclinable, and instead of a catchment arc system, it has circuitry that rests along the spine, along with what amounts to a life-support rig. “They’d tested those parts yesterday.”

Shudder.

Dev says he loves it, Firwirrung apologizes–for this not really being Dev’s entechment, because this is Only a Test.

Dev locks himself in, makes sure it doesn’t restrict breathing, and Firwirrung comments how odd the human form is.

Dev spends a few minutes wishing he could really be enteched now, and thinks about how in the meantime the P’w’ecks have been enteched en masse to prep for the asault.

z: There is a remark that the P’w’ecks won’t last as long as enteched humans.

Shudder.

will: They also test the nerve-beaming system, which will keep them from having to pre-disable Luke’s nervous system.

z: Dev wishes very much that it was real, but… “…an undercurrent of fear lurked behind his longing.”

Good.

Well, you know what I mean.

will: Firwirrung apologizes again, I keep shuddering, and Bluescale and Ivpikkis show up with a human prisoner, already nerve-disabled, and the admiral asks for an infodump.

The idea, as we knew, is that they think a Force-user can entech at a distance, and they’re testing over short distances with Dev. (We also get told about the difference between enteching P’w’ecks, flat on the deck, versus the human chairs.)

Dev gets pumped with version 2.0 of the magsol arrangement, that’s intended to “orient the entire nervous system toward the bed’s in-built catchment circuit.” His body feels all pulled toward the focal point, the catchment circuitry, in a “bio-gravity illusion.”

Wow, that’s an impressive word salad. A small one, more like a word amuse-bouche.

Dev, comforted(!) by the fact that at least he can entech someone else, pushes out through the Force, finding the other human with some effort, and “letting the catchment circuitry pull through him.”

He feels doubly heavy and doubly pained, and then it’s done.

It works.

z: …yaaaaaay.

will: Which is bonkers, to be clear. Like, this is Star Wars, and yet this whole setup feels ridiculous and unbelievable on a tech level! That’s really saying something.

z: I’ll have to agree with that one. But then the entire entechment thing: It’s great nightmare fuel as long as you don’t think about how it works for even a moment. It’s the m-word writ large.

will: Anyway. Firwirrung points out the inevitable: they’ll need to force Luke to comply. They test Bluescale’s ability to force Dev to comply–Dev stabs his hand with a scalpel, all the way to the bone, because “what could be more reasonable?”

They agree that the human drive toward self-preservation is very strong, but Bluescale has overridden it so completely, and the last question is, how long can they keep Luke alive and enteching?

Several hours, they think. So they need to test it. They leave.

Dev lies on his back, wishing for real entechment; his nose itches, but he hasn’t been told to scratch it; he bides his time translating poetry into Ssi-ruuvi, then feels sorry for Luke, who won’t be enteched. Then he counts his pulse, from it beating in his throbbing wound no less, then he suddenly thinks, “scratch your own nose!”

He tries to force himself to pass out by holding his breath, but gets an electric shock that forces him to inhale–something he’d suggested. Ow.

He eventually gets his right hand a few millimeters free, then the Ssi-ruuk return. They ask how he feels: he hurts.

His legs can move, but they hurt. Bluescale tells him, entech this next prisoner. He says, “you’re not listening. It hurts.”

Bluescale tail-slaps Dev, saying they need him unwilling. After all, they’re going to have Luke, who won’t cooperate. They’ll force him. And they can test it on this “less valuable subject.” Dev reels, but Firwirrung hits him with a hypo, and tells him to entech the woman. He does.

He hears himself scream, his throat hurting, and it works. Firwirrung says he wants to leave Dev there for several days, but Bluescale says no time to waste. They want to begin on Skywalker now.

Firwirrung and Bluescale discuss how odd it would be if, unlike P’w’ecks, humans had souls. And then, Bluescale renews Dev again. Dev staggers out of the chair, smelling something weird–oh, it’s him.

Dev asks why renewal, and Firwirrung says it’ll help him forget the whole “didn’t get enteched” thing. But it worked. All they need is Luke.

(Luke is all they need.)

z: WILL

NO

NOT HELPING

will: Firwirrung “affectionately” pushes Dev away, telling him to go bathe.

And we’re out.

Well, this is a mess. We get the most frustrating parts of the book–Gaeri’s religion, Han and Leia’s relationship issues that don’t really work for me, and of course entechment, which at least is intended to make me recoil–but at the same time, I admit that it at least tries to expand out some of those, provide some context, or at least some justification and grounding.

In my repeated refrain: this book has some good ideas, badly implemented, which is better than bad ideas at least. But it’s still pretty bad implementation.

But I’ve said a helluvalot. Z?

z: I think I’ve been fairly chatty inline, too, at least until this last section. I didn’t have much to add there. I will remark that this was another extraordinarily long chapter, and I actually can’t figure out why it was kept as one single chapter–there would be a good break point after Gaeri left Luke, and the next chapter we could have gone up to the Ssi-ruuk and come back down for the Luke/Leia conversation… but anyway. We’re through.

Next week, we start in with a military strategy meeting and have plenty of time to get irritated at Nereus again, yay! Until then, may the Force be with you.

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