: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 13 of The Truce at Bakura where ewwwwww eeesh yeeeeeeesh ew ew ew brb shuddering forever. Oh, also, people who have been involved in intrigue and covert operations and espionage all their lives suddenly have no idea how to behave in such situations, because Plot.
: Or, indeed, failure to Plot. But yeah.
: (So yeah. Consider yourselves warned. And please for the love of little kitties, don’t read this chapter’s commentary if you have had food poisoning recently, are extra-squeamish about that, or feel extra tension about parasites and such. Go here instead, I’m not kidding.)
: …OK, in respect to the parasitophobic among us, I’m refraining from a comment, but you left yourself wide open.
(Seanan McGuire is a personal friend. These days, parasites are just part of the background radiation of absurd conversations in my life.)
: On the personal side of things: Had concert last Saturday, and it went impossibly, improbably well. I’m still resting and relaxing from the impact of that, and discovering that it’s in fact going to take a while. But we’ll see.
: The concert was indeed amazing. I’m very glad I could make the trip.
Speaking of trips, my wife has just headed to England for two weeks, so in the meantime, KEGGER! Woo! Wait, no. Mass Effect, Overwatch, and a surprising number of concerts/outings. Not that she would have had a problem with them or anything, it’s just that the timing works out this way.
: We open up in Nereus’ head, and I’m discomfited already. He’s walking into a meeting in an Ops Room, where he finds Commander Thanas, the “fraudulent ‘General’ Solo” (…which… to be fair…)
: Well, there’s fraudulent and there’s authority definitional issues. The Alliance made Han a general, so if you’re treating with them, you recognize their ability to assign ranks to their people. But Imperial governors aren’t chosen for their institutional consistency.
: …and Luke, whom Nereus thinks looks secure in his (Luke’s) invulnerability, which is what passes for foreshadowing hereabouts at the moment.
This is a military meeting, and they start by reviewing the tactical situation. The Ssi-ruuk aren’t attacking, and Nereus thinks that’s because they are waiting as per their arrangement with him. Throughout this chapter, I constantly find myself wondering why he doesn’t have a moustache to twirl, by the way. Thanas mentions something about a new, extra-strong EMP weapon against battle droids, Solo immediately requests some for the Alliance forces, they “spar,” and Nereus quietly takes out a small medisensor and points it at Luke.
: The weapon is a “DEMP gun.” One assumes it stands for “Directed EMP,” a la “DEW,” a real-world generic term for laser type weaponry. (Directed Energy Weapon.)
: Structurally, I’d normally actually quite like the way this chapter is built. Over a backdrop of military strategy and discussion, Nereus scans Luke and, through his thoughts, gives the reader the picture piece by piece until the full horror emerges. Also, the horror is very effective horror. There’s even as little “as you know, self-Bob” as could be contrived in a setting like that. But, alas, the horror is very effective horror, at least for me, so we’re right back to shuddering forever.
: So hey, it’s better than analyzing writing failures.
: But at first Nereus can’t see anything except that Luke seems to be in perfect health (Mental Moustache Twirl (MMT) No. 4: “Concern, not remorse, made him frown.”) and that should not be the case, because apparently Luke’s ingested a five-year egg pod of something, unknowingly. One gets the sense that this isn’t something anyone would eat knowingly. So he contacts his technicians quietly. Solo observes that “you people,” meaning the Imperials, also use the color red to indicate threat, Skywalker quietly comments that that is probably universal wherever people bleed red, and MMT 5: “Oh, yes, they bleed red.”
: Honestly that confuses me; Han might have cause to say that to the Ssi-ruuk, but why in the world would he be surprised by the Empire–of which he was a serviceman, remember–using red? The Alliance has more red in its color schemes–if anything maybe they might swap things out. But the Empire is all cool blues and grays, of course red would be a threat.
: Nereus has his technicians patch more sophisticated sensors through his hand-held model somehow, and welp: “Two minuscule fourteen-hour larvae squirmed in the left bronchial passage.”
: This looks like the first appearance of texting (by implication–he sure wasn’t talking aloud) in the universe, and it looks like it was after texting was invented but before the modern text boom.
: I’ll get ahead of ourselves: These are larvae of something called “Olabrian Triochids,” who use other bodies as breeding hosts, and Luke’s eaten some eggs, as aforementioned. In four to six hours Nereus expects him to start coughing and in another two hours have “massive thoracic hemorrhaging,” and look I warned you okay.
: Remember how we learned that Nereus has a hobby of xenobiology, and xenodentistry in particular? And it was useful to him? Yeah.
Oh, by the way, while this is going on, Han and Thanas are having a discussion–and no, I don’t mean a fight, it’s a discussion, if heated–about balancing projected losses between the Empire and the Alliance, and Luke is backing Thanas’s decisions that put the Alliance in the effective vanguard. Basically, Han is assuming the Empire’s going to stab him in the back, and Luke isn’t apparently noticing.
Which isn’t quite right. Han should be laying a second layer of plans for when the backstab comes, and Luke should be aware that there could be a backstab but apparently not care. Subtle differences perhaps, but significant.
: The point is, apparently Nereus tried to infect the Ssi-ruuk with these things before but it didn’t work because the aliens destroy the enteched prisoners’ bodies immediately (yeah, that means what you think it means) but they may keep Luke around “long enough” to infect them. So Nereus is doing this for the good of everyone, you see, he isn’t just cooperating with the Ssi-ruuk. …or something. Mental Moustache Twirls Nos. n-1 and n:
If the Ssi-ruuk didn’t take Skywalker offplanet, of course, he’d have to be destroyed tonight. He might even volunteer, to head off a planetwide infection. Young idealism sacrificed itself so nobly.
But Skywalker would almost certainly pass through Pad 12 at least once in the next eight hours.
Pad 12 is where the Alliance forces are staging from. So, oh, I see, this is why Luke is repeatedly shown to moonlight as an assistant mechanic… somehow I think there should have been a more elegant way of doing that… but anyway.
And during the conversation that overlays this scene, some tactical decisions are made, some intelligence is exchanged, and Thanas basically shows himself to be a reasonably competent commander who’s acting in good faith with the Alliance, which of course irritates Nereus into several more MMTs. They plan for an attack on the Ssi-ruuk soon, and Nereus insists on it being on the evening of the next day because of his Moustache-Twirling Timeline (™).
: Nereus even shakes hands–with his gloves on, because something “nauseates him.” Either shaking hands with Luke and Han, shaking hands with a parasite host, or most likely
: Scene shift, into Luke’s point of view. Once again, admittedly, this is effective, because after the description in the previous section the reader can be excused for frantically searching the lines here for any sign of awareness on Luke’s part that something isn’t right with his body.
Luke has, at least, sensed that Nereus does not expect to see him again, although he doesn’t know why, and… look, after all the “Jedi can’t read thoughts, just feelings” that we’ve been hit over the head with recently to keep Luke in Gaeri’s good graces (alliteration is awesome), isn’t this a bit too precise a thing for Luke to sense? But anyway.
: Eh. People can pick up on that sort of thing without the Force. I’m willing to forgive it.
: Han is still feeling weird about trusting Imperials. Luke advises him to think again about Thanas, having sensed that Thanas is in fact trustworthy and means well. When they approach somewhere that would be good for an ambush, however, he slows down and scans the area carefully. Han notices and asks about it, and Luke tells his friend that an “inside source” told him that Nereus means to kidnap him for the Ssi-ruuk. Han needles him about “finally” being careful, so Luke needles him right back: “Is it just me, or are you just a little more pleased with yourself?”
We jump right to 19th Century Earth when Han expects Luke to “ask about [Han’s] intentions towards [Luke’s] sister,” and I don’t even know which potential desk here to headdesk on to first, even when Luke responds in the magnanimous “oh, I know what your intentions are, and you’re good for her, just don’t let her down” line.
: Eh. I’m actually more forgiving because it feels like tension-cracking jokes: Luke gives the “is it my imagination or are you being more X” line back to Han, and then Han follows up. Deliberately awkward.
: Then they hear footsteps behind them in the hall and hide somewhere. Nereus sweeps by with bodyguards. Luke tells Han, quietly, that the governor is starting to panic and needs to be watched closely. (Han and I, in unison: “What’s new?”)
They get to their suite and Luke sends a message to Wedge, saying that the attack is planned for evening of the next day, to follow Thanas’ orders but to “keep your deflector shields up.” (Wedge in my head, and I, in unison: “What’s new?”) Then, because the Plot demands it, he feels hungry and thinks OH LOOK IRONY that the food in the cantina in Pad 12 would be trustworthy, so let’s go there to eat.
Scene shift: Leia’s taking a drive with Prime Minister Captison and Senator Belden, the latter having a bulge of some sort in his breast pocket.
: Leia thinks it’s “his voice amplifier,” read hearing aid. Yeah, no–it’s almost certainly the bug-futzer Gaeri had.
: Probably, because when they start moving, Belden puts a finger across his lips, and Leia gets the message and starts talking about inconsequalities. Pretty city, the first settlers dug for minerals in that bedrock, others followed, Leia reminds Captison of his niece, and she touchingly says that she wishes her life had been as simple as Gaeri’s.
(…which may be another authorial mis-step–has Leia interacted with Gaeri enough to figure out her sweet-summer-childness? Anyway.)
: First, she might well be lying–and second, Leia probably knows a lot about Gaeri’s life because it was the life she was pretending to have. If Leia actually were a loyal Imperial politico and all.
: Senator Belden randomly asks Leia to thank Luke for trying to help Eppie; “he’ll know what I mean.” Then more small talk, and they land on a small dome, wait for a few minutes, and Captison’s chauffeur and bodyguard leave in the official speeder while Captison takes the wheel of a smaller, rental craft. (“White with ice-blue cushions and console.”) Oh-this-is-so-clever-no-one-will-ever-see-through-it-*headdesk*.
: Compare the Lady Luck shell game that Thrawn saw through.
: But at last Captison and Belden are willing to talk about interesting things. Belden turns on the “voice amplifier” and says it’s now safe to talk, so the first thing Leia asks is what that is. She gets the same explanation Gaeri gave Luke–
: Which again treats bug futzing as wizardry, since Leia thinks that device is worth as much as the Millennium Falcon.
: –and jumps right into it, wanting to know why the Empire hasn’t “pushed Bakura into the Rebellion camp” again. Captison’s reply is a calling-rabbit-a-smeerp tinged frog in boiling water analogy. Nereus has been subtle, it seems. Leia next asks what it would take to push Captison into action, but Belden answers instead, saying that it’s not much because Captison is smart, after all.
Seeming to realize that the older man should be the conspiracy vector, Leia then point-blank asks him if there is an underground. About one hundred members, ten cells or so, it turns out. Leia’s next question is if they are ready to rise, and…
Okay, right, flame of the Rebellion, all that, and they came here to win Bakura over, but they kinda need to save Bakura first because a military coup in the middle of a war often offends (and all but guarantees that you’ll lose). I’d expect Leia to have this kind of a conversation, but not this conversation. “Get ready to talk to us once we’ve taken care of the Ssi-ruuk” should have been her message.
: And she presents this as the perfect time because the people are unified. Which means I can see the idea she has: while the Imperials are distracted by the Ssi-ruuk, properly have a coup, and then the Empire will not be able to be in control. Which…eh. Could be done better in practice, but theory not as absurd as the bad practice makes it seem.
: Instead, it’s Captison’s message, who has to be the one pointing out that right now they kinda need the Empire to protect them and all, what with the soul-stealing aliens. Leia thinks that this is the time, because the Ssi-ruuk have united the people. Um. Yeah. But. Belden points out that it was three years of Empire rule that was which have united the people and showed them the right way to resist. Leia insists that the people believe in Captison. (…do they?)
: We’ve certainly not seen proof of it. But then, our perspectives are limited. As are Leia’s.
: Captison asks what Leia’s intentions (heh) are, and that leads to a hilarious exchange: “To bring Bakura into the Alliance, of course.” “Not to defend us against the Ssi-ruuk?” “That’s Luke’s goal.” “Ah. The mission’s defined objective depends on who defines it. The Alliance begins to mature.”
Okay, I laughed.
: More of that–demonstrating the complexities of the Alliance’s balancing act vis-a-vis the Empire and its satrapies–would have been better. See above re practice, theory.
: Leia then asks what side Captison would choose if there weren’t, you know, soul-stealing aliens or other risks to his people, and gets the answer she wants: The Alliance, since the Imperial rule and taxation and conscription has made people unhappy.
: As would the lack of home rule, which…goes back to what sort of interplanetary government the Alliance wants to set up, how federalized.
: But there has been a silver lining: “We’ve learned to appreciate each other, now that we’ve seen what it’s like to be subjugated–to lose our identity because we couldn’t stand together.”
There are many and bitter things I could say about that. Very bitter. Starting with something along the lines of “right here, right now, this reads as a more fantastical fantasy element to me than laser swords.” But I’ll not dive down that rabbit hole.
: Yeah, no.
As a good friend of ours has said, living through history sucks.
: Leia pushes, asking Belden to allow her to talk to the cell leaders, and then I headdesk again:
“…Give people a chance to fight for their freedom, and they’ll–” Out of long habit, Leia glanced over her shoulder. A double-podded local patrol craft followed ten lengths back.
She only thinks about looking back for a tail in the middle of that conversation?! Instead of watching their tail from the moment they take off in the rental car?!
The Imperials just follow ten lengths back without any attempt to hide that they are following?!
: Yeah, no. It could have been better for Leia to see the tail try to establish itself newly, and the effect would have been the same.
: Lieutenant Page would have had a fit. Mara Jade would have had a field day. And for heavens’ sake, I would have done better because I’ve read enough of Archie Goodwin’s wisdom and wit about tailing people or being tailed in New York City. Note that nothing in that sentence is the equivalent of “have led an interstellar rebellion against an interstellar empire openly for five years and covertly for longer than that.”
…and then Captison speeds up, and I can only laugh helplessly. The pre-cell-phone-ness shows up as Leia thinks Han would be going to the Falcon and unreachable, so she tells Captison to head for the spaceport, which is when the second Imperial patrol shows itself. They start herding the rental craft back across town. Leia asks if either of them are armed. Once again, Captison has to be the Captain Obvious: Yeah he has a holdout blaster, but that’s not really going to be of much use against however many people their reception committee is going to be. Leia suggests wrapping the noise generator in her shawl and dropping it instead of being caught with it, because it’s not like there are two patrol crafts who have eyes on their rental–oh wait. Moot point, anyway, because Belden refuses, saying it’s too delicate. He’ll just pretend it’s a voice amplifier.
I’ve almost had enough of this particular incarnation of who’s-this and what’s-she-done-with-Leia, so it’s a relief to go on into a scene shift.
It’s a Threepio point of view!
That could almost be a license plate.
Anyway, I’m excited about this, because there’s at least some funny to be found in Threepio’s unique worldview. He’s cloistered with Artoo, working on translating the recordings from the Ssi-ruuk ships, and in his habitual complaining, utters gems like “…Six million forms of communication, and they find a new one. Nonmechanicals are quite impossible.” There’s also the usual amusing bickering between them, with Threepio dismissing Artoo (or pretending to) and Artoo getting outraged (or pretending to be).
: And Tyers didn’t have Zahn’s trick of describing Artoo, so at one point he “thbb‘s.”
: He hears something new in one of the recordings, which wasn’t in any of the recordings they heard before, which adds to his understanding of the language. So they will go back to the beginning and listen to everything again, and what Threepio now learned will let them glean more out of them.
: Though of course Threepio tells Artoo to start the recording over, and he points out that this place has few droid linkups, so Threepio should do it, and Threepio says “of course I can, don’t blame me for your faults.” Some things are consistent.
Also we get a description of how Threepio is doing the translation/decoding (because the new information is a computer code overlaid atop the Ssi-ruuvi language), including a mention that he is reviewing against statements recorded during “the years since his last memory wipe–a long, long time ago.”
At the time, if I remember West End Games’s materials right, Threepio was listed at 112 years in operation, implicitly having never been memory wiped. Even still, if we assume (and I do) that Artoo mitigated the memory wipe Threepio got at the end of Episode III, there is definitely a long and varied life experience there.
: They start over, going at high speed, Threepio translating for Artoo and Artoo listening to Threepio. As could be expected, they get a lot of “realign your ship”s and similar, but then:
“…abruptly Threepio exclaimed “Oh, no! Artoo, you must call Master Luke at once. This is dreadful–”
Artoo was already rolling toward a communications interlock.
Translation: Artoo didn’t need Threepio’s translation, of course. Heh. And, oh, I guess they heard about the Ssi-ruuk plan to extract Luke from planetside, or something.
: Well, I read that as Threepio doing a translation automatically, and then reviewing what he has ended up saying only after he’s said it–conscious versus subconscious. But anyway.
Scene shift, back to Leia. They’re back at the Bakur complex. Leia steps out of the rental aircar and counts eighteen stormtroopers. Senator Belden “bumps” into her and mutters to her to be sure to give Luke his message from earlier. She mutters back “get ready to move” to the old, almost infirm man, and I facepalm.
There is a moment of badassery: Leia draws her in-sleeve little blaster and manages to shoot down five of the stormtroopers before another one grabs her from behind (because duh, eighteen) and pulls the blaster out of her hand. Thinking to herself that she wasn’t beaten yet, but that it is important for the Imperials to think her so, she puts her hands on her head and pretends to surrender and then I snap again.
I can’t. Even. I mean. If they shoot back, the prime minister and the one Senator who you know could support your cause are right there where there’s no cover. There’s no cover for you, either. You’re not a Jedi (yet). This is a foregone conclusion as soon as you landed on that rooftop; and what would you do even if you got all eighteen, put Captison and Belden back into the aircar and try to… escape… where? Spaceport? And then?
But no, Plot demands Leia to go conspiring in broad daylight and then act the very incompetent reflexive hero, so Plot gets what it wants. And leaves the rest of us with a huge case of “someone didn’t think this one through.”
: Yeah, no.
: Nereus appears, acts evil, gets Captison and Belden handcuffed (…which is also preposterous, as Belden calls it, but at least there we have the excuse of Nereus actually having threatened to arrest anyone conspiring with the Rebels before) and tells stormtroopers to search them. Of course they find the “voice amplifier” and of course Nereus knows what it is because duh. But Belden seems to be in actual distress, possibly going towards a heart attack: He’s perspiring and his face is red. Leia, also handcuffed by now, watches Captison go to Belden and protest, and Nereus telling the troopers to place them in separate cells for “suspicion of subversion,” then steps towards Nereus and draws his attention by saying that it was a pleasure drive. Nereus acts more evil, and condescending, but says one thing that I nod at, exasperated: “When a speeder full of people goes silent on sensor fields, it rouses curiosity.”
Lieutenant Page would have had a conniption.
: And that, yes. I didn’t mention it earlier, but the second level to security is that you not only don’t let your opponents know what you said, you don’t let them know they don’t know what you said.
“We could be eating in silence” just…doesn’t work in a speeder.
And there’s a sense that Leia wants to fan up the incident, the boiling-frog thing.
: Leia, thinking that she has to prove to Captison that she meant something she said earlier about sacrificing herself so that others could live free, because her entire biography up to that point doesn’t really prove anything amirite, bends down, runs at Nereus, headbutts him in the belly, sits on his chest, catches his head between her knees, pushes her cuffs onto his nose, and tells the stormtroopers to get back otherwise she’ll smash his head on the concrete or break his neck or something–I didn’t quite get it.
So one of them stuns her from behind.
I remember writing before in Force Visions that competence is a big factor in why some characters become my favorite characters. So I am taking the sudden conquest of Leia by the Incompetence Fairy very personally. Given that the most competent people in the latter part of the chapter have been Threepio (!) and Artoo (…okay, that’s expectable), I’m sure you understand what’s getting me irritated this time.
But that’s enough yapping from me. Will?
: Not sure I have all that much to add that I didn’t already. It’s definitely harder to write these reviews than it was to review Zahn. For good and solid reasons, but it’s more than a bit disappointing, how far this book has slid in my estimation even so far. If I’d reread the book before we started, I might not have wanted to do it chapter by chapter. But it’s good we did.
: I think so; I know I’m learning things from… well, let’s call it “failure analysis.”
This is long enough as is, though–and that’s another thing, are these chapters longer?–so let’s wrap it up. Join us next week for a trip down memory lane that starts to slide toward ripoff road, Tyers at least making the whole “no droids” thing pay off, if clunkily (like, Gonk droid clunky), and telling, not showing, of competence. Until then, may the Force be with you.