The Truce at Bakura, Chapter 15

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to Chapter 15 of The Truce at Bakura, wherein finally we hit a scene that I unreservedly love.

Well. Mostly unreservedly anyway.

will: You use that word “unreservedly.” I do not think it means what you think it means.

And it won’t make up for the stuff that is not lovable, I’m afraid.

z: In personal news, I’m just about done with a new arrangement that I took on because of a request, and in the process have written, for the first time, for instruments I do not play (violin, viola, cello and flute–as I have been saying ElseNet, I think a learning curve must have kicked my puppy in another life or something).

will: Things are quieter here. Finished Mass Effect: Andromeda, so I’m back on the Overwatch train when I’m not working through Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment (Shovel Knight and its bonus modes are probably the best ’80s-90s game the 2010s could ever make), work proceeds apace with all of its mostly fascinating but occasionally frustrating projects, and when it comes to the wider world, well, as I put it on Twitter the other day, “Jesters unite, you have nothing to lose but your senses of humor and let’s be real, those went sour decades ago.” I know my role in keeping the world spinning.

z: I like your slogan. Reminded me of this entire, NSFW, but fantastic blog entry by Chuck Wendig: “How to Create Art and Make Cool Stuff in a Time of Trouble.”

z: We open with Gaeri standing in front of Eppie Belden’s door with a bouquet of flowers in her hand. She’s come to try to inform her friend of Senator Belden’s death (“her husband for over a century,” she thinks, which, ouch) and presumably to offer condolences. Since this is the first the reader learns for sure of his death, we also need condolences–I liked the old man.

will: Me too, though I also can’t help but be somewhere between amused and annoyed at the whole symbolism wrapped up in the blossoms. She basically brought a bouquet that said “sorry for your loss, but it’s part of the balance of life, so yay?”

z: …oh, I had missed that. Here’s your first frowny-aunt-face for this chapter.

will: She does, however, have valid worries (from her perspective) about Eppie’s capacity in that regard. Familiar ones to anyone who saw elderly family members slip away.

z: But when the door opens, Gaeri finds the caregiver Clis very agitated, and Eppie… not sitting in her chair, being vague and still thinking every young man is her dead son. Eppie’s in the study. Accessing communication nets. Watching the news–she already knows of her husband’s death, and Gaeri thinks, rightly or wrongly, that Eppie must still be processing this–and contributing to the chaos and the city-wide uprisings. She used to be a “circuit guerilla,” she tells Gaeri–what we wrongly call a hacker and should really be called a cracker, but that ship done sailed a looooong time ago, sorry, Stephen Levy–and she’s created extra havoc by causing all the automation to fail in a very important repulsorlift factory, which has drawn some Imperial power away from chasing citizens in the streets since they need the factory’s output even in the middle of war.

will: Though Z’s gone a bit out of sequence here. Gaeri walks in, and Eppie has a snap in her voice less reminiscent of a slipping relative and more in the vein of an Esme Weatherwax: “I may be old and might have some physical feebleness, but don’t you for a second mistake that for weakness or you’ll find out how wrong you are,” with the lack of courtesies and circumlocution that usually accompanies phrases like “I don’t have a lot of time left.”

z: When Gaeri first sees her at the terminal, Eppie asks about Luke, wanting to know where and who “that young man” is, and Gaeri induces facepalming in the vicinity again: “He’s a… Rebel, but a… dangerous one. A Jedi. One of them.” It is mildly amusing how she backpedals as presenting a Rebel as a bad thing to be when confronted with the very actively rebellious Eppie again, and nothing else about this is amusing. Eppie, thank all the stars, is having none of it: She bluntly tells Gaeri that it was Luke’s actions that mattered, not “rumors or morality tales.”

will: She goes further, calling a portion of the religion’s teachings “a load of guff.” Oh, there’s also a lot of wisdom, she admits, thus leveraging the other advantage given to elderly people: they have experience in reality.

z: Eppie also lets it out that whatever she healed using Luke’s teaching was something that was done to her, but refuses to impart any more details. She’s busy being part of the rising. Which, apparently, is happening right now: The citizens are reacting to their Prime Minister’s (and the Rebel Princess’) arrest and a senator’s death while being detained by outright rioting.

…except all we saw, from literally glimpses of someone-or-other’s speeder dashing by, were citizens being chased by stormtroopers, we were told that there was a curfew imposed, we were told that there were riots on by newsreels in cantinas, we were told all of that and never shown any of it. A two-paragraph scene from the point of view of Rebelling Bakuran Citizen #293 would have resolved all of that, but no. So. Okay. Bakura is rising again and that wasn’t Nereus pre-emptively being extra-oppressive or citizens panicking because Ssi-ruuk or who the hell knows. Thanks for telling us, book.

will: “Part of the rising” undersells it. I get the sense that after Orn’s death was confirmed (and according to Eppie, nobody else thought to tell her, despite being his next of kin; if Gaeri hadn’t come by and Eppie hadn’t done “what that young man–excuse me, that terribly dangerous young Jedi–showed” her, she still wouldn’t have even been informed, induced dementia or no), Eppie reached out to those ten cells and said “Go, on my authority, you know who I am and who my husband was.”

Not unlike a certain Alderaanian would have said “You know who I am and who my father was,” in the days of the Rebellion and the first Death Star.

z: Anyway, Eppie also invites Gaeriel to join the uprising, and Gaeri waffles (“we need Nereus and his forces”), receiving a blunt “look, I’m actively and highly illegally hacking, I’ll be doing this now, are you with me or against me?” in response. And decides that she loves Eppie more than anything else, and therefore will be on her side, and stand with the other Bakurans against the Empire.

But. That. I mean. With.

You know what I’ll take it, moving on.

will: There’s also bits of a more…complex thought from Eppie, with philosophy peppered through, comments on how defeat is not the end, on how it isn’t possible to escape tragedy, and so on.

And a more complex sense of tactics. All of the riots and the noise are distraction, Eppie says.

z: Eppie digs out Yet Another Highly Illegal Piece of Electronics (YAHIPE) that they had hidden somewhere (it’s a chip that lets the user tap into stormtrooper comm and data channels, essentially, and please stop yelling, Will, I know), hands it to Gaeri and shoos her out to go create some chaos of her own.

will: Nnnnnnnnnnnng.

z: Gaeriel goes back to her office. Artoo is there, and there’s another one of those actually-charming aspects of this book here, because in her thoughts the droid is always “Artoo Detoo,” no dash, no contractions, and never simply “Artoo,” because she is neither used to knowing droids nor interacting with one extensively. Nice touch, Tyers. Another nice touch is when Gaeri tells her assistant to draw out everything she can out of Nereus’ office communications even if it’ll give them away, because everything’s coming to a head anyway, Artoo scuttles towards a comm port himself immediately, and Gaeri actually thinks to herself “oh, he understood, and he’s got volition of his own.” Heee. Then Gaeri tells her assistant to patch the YAHIPE in (it’s going to be okay, Will, deep breaths) and uses it to create some more confusion in the stormtroopers’ ranks, except I won’t say what exactly she does because then I’d have to dig out the smelling salts for Will.

But the intent is there, you know what I’ll take it, moving on.

will: Remarkably, the creating of confusion I can actually buy–she deleted the stormtroopers’ computer records of the repulsorlift plant they were heading toward and overwrote them with plans for a different, but not dissimilar, plant for namana juice extraction–close enough that it wouldn’t be obvious at first something had been done, but different enough to render most of the troopers’ tactical plans useless. The sort of thing that only works for a few minutes in the pitched heat (they presumably have backups, but that doesn’t help when there’s a time constraint of Right Now), but hey, that’s where we are.

z: Gaeri thinks her next task is going to be to try and save her uncle the Prime Minister from prison, and she can think of only one person that she can go ask help from in this enterprise of Save Important Prisoner from Imperial Detention.

Luke should really start a side business.

will: What’s this “side” of which you speak? He’s more like an adjunct professor of Jedi Studies as a side business from his day job of Daring Rescues Our Specialty.

(Like a certain archaeology professor, say.)

z: Point.

Gaeri asks Artoo’s help in locating Luke, and scene shift.

We’re with Chewie, who’s prowling around the Falcon making sure she’s in shape to get going at a moment’s notice. (Which is apparently indicated by the way she looks: “…so battered and streaked that a casual observer would doubt she’d ever lift again.” Okay, heh.) He’s waiting for Luke. A speeder approaches, and it’s a stormtrooper, and the stormtrooper acts strangely and lurches towards Chewie and of course Chewie shoots him and of course when he takes of the helmet it’s Threepio and he’s been damaged and babbling “….Master… uke…” and this was one entire page of text but I’m glossing all the way over it because WHY IN KESSEL WOULDN’T THREEPIO TAKE OFF THE HELMET AS SOON AS HE LANDED AND WHY IN KESSEL DIDN’T HAN CALL CHEWIE TO TELL HIM ANYWAY AND ARRrrgh okay better now scene shift.

will: Deep breaths, Z.

But yes, given that Threepio asked Han to please tell Chewie so Chewie wouldn’t shoot him, this is getting back to “hurt the bird” territory.

z: On to Luke, who’s in the cantina getting some food to go: The shuttle hasn’t shown, so he’s going to head over to the Falcon. The Bakurans around the cantina are conversing quietly, and Luke hears “rhubarb pineapple rhubarb dead pineapple arrest rhubarb Belden Captison namana Jedi rhubarb.” He thinks he should leave quickly.

He hears footsteps and senses Gaeri approaching, focuses on her presence, and then we have one of the worst lines in the book, right there looking so innocuous:

…the main door swung open. … She hurried through, followed by an Artoo unit . . . his, he realized, remembering Threepio’s message.

Luke had to actively recognize Artoo, thanks to his having been told that Artoo was with Gaeri. Luke actively recognized Artoo. Luke actively recognized Artoo. Instead of looking up at her entrance and thinking “Ah, Artoo’s come too. Wait, what’s he doing with her? …oh, that’s right, Threepio had told me.” The difference may be subtle, but it’s there, and it pokes me in the eye every time I read past, so I won’t take this one without remarking about it, but moving on anyway.

will: Also there’s the whole “Artoo is probably the only astromech droid on the entire damn planet” thing, given the anti-droid sentiments of Bakurans.

z: That’s also going to get worse in a moment.

Gaeri tells him that Artoo found the last commnet terminal he’d used, and may I transiently point out that “comnet” is actually much more natural, but anyway, and she gives him the news about the imminent attack and the arrests. Artoo, agitated, keeps warbling at him and rocking from side to side. Luke tells him to wait and then reaches out, trying to find Leia. He finds her, feels that she’s busy and excited, which tells him that Han must be effecting a rescue. Artoo gets up to him and zaps him in the calf.

Why, I do believe that that plucky little droid is trying to tell us something!

Luke tells him that hurt and ignores him. Again. Why, this makes it… the second time he’s ignored Artoo since “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” I believe. And the first time was right here, a few lines ago.

why

…anyway, moving further on. Gaeri is now all mini-flame of the Rebellion herself: She looks both ways–I laugh–and whispers “This is your moment, Luke. Bakura’s with you.”

Awwwwoosawiddleprovocateurden.

will: And for that matter–why? This should be Eppie’s moment. Or Gaeri’s. Luke isn’t the Designated Hero here.

z: And Luke’s of course all attention, “a new hope striking wildfire in his imagination.” I see what you did there, Tyers. He asks for the reason for the arrests, is told about the noise projector and the implication of sedition, which carries a death penalty (get in line, Nereus). Then Gaeri realizes that Luke’s in there alone and sensibly wants to know what he’s doing there alone. Luke says he didn’t want to endanger anyone else, decides that they should let Artoo find where the Prime Minister is, and pops the restraining bolt off of Artoo with a… bread knife.

I know.

Don’t ask.

Gaeri is of course scandalized at the un-restrained droid, so Luke tells him to “put Gaeriel on [his] recognize-and-obey program.” As an afterthought, he adds Eppie Belden to that direction. Since a lot about that line makes me really, really uncomfortable, so I’m going to stick to the interpretation that he really just did say that to soothe her (although there’d be no need to add Eppie for that) and Artoo metaphorically rolled his eyes while he gave a pretend affirmative response.

will: That works. I have to give Tyers credit for one thing: she didn’t know how to write droids, so she tried as much as possible not to. Not all writers in this universe are as good at not writing themselves into their weak spots.

z: They head towards the comm terminal, Gaeri remarking that Artoo is “not much good without translators,” and then I throw the book and go and retrieve it and Luke explains that he did understand some of that, that Artoo is a “sort of a pilot’s aide,” but that he can be surprisingly useful groundside.

Oh, I wonder what Artoo was trying to tell him so urgently the previous page? Because Luke doesn’t wonder. Again for my peace of mind, I’m going to assume it was Artoo telling him to remove the restraining bolt and calming down after he did so.

will: I can see it, actually. “Don’t forget, I have a collar on me” is pretty urgent.

z: Gaeriel grabs his elbow, and basically guarantees a violent interruption by saying “Come back when it’s over. Talk to me. There’s no time now, but we’ve got to–”

Luke senses aggression in the kitchen and tugs his arm free. He detects three aliens and something a bit confusing: “human, but alien-scented.” He snarks at himself–what was that about not wanting to endanger anyone else?

will: A good snark. Would that Luke had had it when it would have been useful. “Hey, I have a target on my back. I’m going to go sit in public!”

z: He also hands her his blaster, telling her that there are Ssi-ruuk in the building. She takes the blaster very gingerly. He tells her to “have Artoo get word to the Flurry“, instead of bloody well telling Artoo directly, because, oh who the hell knows any more.

will: Shouting to a droid on Bakura is a good way to let everybody know what you’re doing, it must be said. And this planet would probably not make it easy for Artoo to get moving on his own.

z: He also tells her to go find her uncle, to get out of there. That part makes sense.

So of course Gaeri responds with a lot of fear, that he can feel and that also makes sense, and with “I’m not hiding behind Jedi abilities. I want to help the Rebellion.”

I count to ten, remind myself that she has been characterized so far as a naive child and this fits, count to ten again and read on.

Luke–

Exasperated, he stretched out a hand and steadied himself to use the Force on her.

AND THEN THE FLURRY CRASH-LANDED ON THE CANTINA AND EVERYONE DIED EXCEPT ARTOO WHO WAS THROWN CLEAR IN THE EXPLOSION BY A FREAK CHANCE AND LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER THE END.

 

 

 

 

…yeah, I wish.

will: All that stuff I said about Tyers avoiding writing writing droids? Does not apply to Tyers’s skill at avoiding writing about the Force. Because yeah.

z: Mercifully, the Ssi-ruuk burst into the room at that moment, two brown and one blue, preceded by stormtroopers who literally open the door for them. Luke yanks Gaeriel behind him, thankfully by grabbing her shoulders physically, because right now if he uses even telekinesis on her I’m going to start screaming. Artoo freezes where he is next to the terminal, which he’s going to secretly and subtly use call for help using the comm terminal during the rest of the scene hahahaha just kidding that would be useful and in character. Customers dive under tables because that’s always very useful, too.

Luke probes against the aliens, and feels more hostility than, his comparison, from the Rancor in Jabba’s Palace. The aliens’ feelings are leaking into the Force and strengthening the dark side, according to him, which… well, I’m not sure that’s how it works, but since this doesn’t make even the top five things that are Wrong with how the Force is approached in this book, let’s let it slide.

will: I can actually believe that they aren’t literally making the Dark Side stronger, but are making it feel more present in the room.

z: Dev comes in, calls Luke the “fortunate one,” and says he’s going to translate. Luke finally remembers some of that Jedi Training stuff: He’s at peace, he is peace. Calmly he asks how they got down there, and Dev explains that Governor Nereus sent a shuttle for them, which Artoo secretly records and then dumps all across the broadcast channels during the rest of the scene hahahaha just kidding that would be useful and in character.

will: There’s more than a little bit of “I thought there was supposed to be subtlety and conniving here?” to this.

z: Dev gives the “you’ll be our guest and start a happier life” schtick. Luke reaches towards him with the Force, and recognizes Dev as the one who had sent the dream-warning. He also realizes that Dev’s strength in the Force has been warped, and concludes that the boy must have been hypnotized or brainwashed. He thinks that he must try not to kill Dev because for one thing, Dev isn’t acting under his own free will, but for another, he’s young enough to train.

Luke invites them to sit and talk instead; Dev says that his masters do not sit and they don’t have time anyway, so give them your weapon and come gladly? Bluescale approaches Gaeri, who understandably disapproves and brings up the blaster. Luke orders the Ssi-ruu to back off, and, I can’t even any more, tries to put some Force-impact into the order. This, surprise, does not work. But when Bluescale turns to him instead and tries to hypnotize him, Luke realizes that this one or another like him must be holding Dev under thrall.

Dev whistles, Bluescale whistles back, Dev translates that Bluescale just thought that “the female’s” companionship would make Luke comfortable. I scream inwardly, Dev asks Luke to tell her to cooperate because they’re in a rush, and Luke refuses.

will: You know, I don’t think Dev is supposed to be this incompetent with humans. Or maybe he is.

z: Artoo starts telling the Ssi-ruuk off, because that’s… I can’t even any more Artoo’s not a yappy dog what is even happening. All it does is to make Luke wonder what Artoo would be telling them. Stormtroopers move into position to block Artoo from the door. Luke tells the stormtroopers to let Gaeri go, because it’s him the Ssi-ruuk want. A stormtrooper says that the Fluties want her and they get what they want today. Luke lights up his lightsaber. Dev, presumably agitated because time’s a-wasting, tells the stormtroopers to stun them.

YAY, FINALLY, ACTION. Which is the least likely thing to throw up bits that make me cringe, so…

will: You say that now.

z: Gaeri drops to the floor–

will: She knows that she’s not here to shoot things, and Luke is grateful that as much as she “wants to help,” she knows that doesn’t mean Leeroy Jenkinsing this mess.

z: Luke does the Jedi Dodges and Blocks Bolts dance, managing to get between two groups of stormtroopers, then uses the Force to trigger the troopers’ minds just at the wrong moment to stun each other. That’s actually… neatly done? I would be unhappy if they didn’t have their blasters on stun, but… Then he feels sluggish, attributes it to the aftereffects of the Emperor’s attack–

Oh, hey, actual subtlety. Nice, for once.

will: Yeah, I didn’t pick up on that either. (It’s the parasites Nereus slipped him.)

z: Then he tells Artoo to get Gaeri out of there, and for my sanity I’m going to parse that as “guide her somewhere,” not… I don’t even know what not.

will: Pretty sure that is what it should be parsed as. And I’m glad it wasn’t the other way ’round. Luke knows who’s the capable one in the room, when it comes to this.

z: Gaeri crawls towards the door while Dev complains that Luke is robbing her of incomparable joy. Luke retorts that she prefers her freedom, and Dev gives the party line: But we give her freedom from disease and hunger and such. Dev then reaches out to Luke through the Force, and is genuinely happy when he discovers the bionic hand: “Is it true that your entechment has already begun?”

will: Finally, something that does work here. This part belongs in a better novel about cybernetics vis-a-vis the Force. Pretty sure we never get one, though.

z: My thoughts exactly. Luke responds that the hand wasn’t his choice, but Dev is insistent: Isn’t it better than Luke’s actual hand? Stronger?

will: Faster?

z: …without pain?

will: We can rebuild it. We have the entechnology.

z: WILL

NO

will: I’m sort of amazed it took me this long.

z: …point. Dev finishes by saying that Luke’s robbing many humans of real life and real happiness, and sidles towards the wall, and that’s not suspicious at all, and the Ssi-ruuk pull paddle-shaped devices from satchels they are wearing. Luke reasonably tells Dev to warn them that a lightsaber has no stun setting. Dev is very distressed, because if the aliens die away from their consecrated worlds, their souls roam the empty space endlessly blah blah damnationcakes. Luke must promise not to kill them.

will: Dev’s programming is really clear here, given that Dev figures saying “if you kill them, their religion will have issues!” is supposed to be a deterrent.

z: Yup. And Luke unsurprisingly refuses to make any such promise and insists again that Dev warn them. This puts Dev into a real panic, and he starts whistling “frantically.” I have become a little ball of cringe, and for once not because of something badly-written.

The Ssi-ruuk target Luke, who notices that Gaeri is still not in the clear, and decides that it’s time to use the Force in defense, in her defense.

And scene.

And me looking pleadingly at Will because I think I cracked, what, three times this chapter? I really must look up what “unreservedly” means, it seems.

will: Well, after a chapter like this, I don’t think we have any more reserves left, so there’s that.

We’ve been spending a lot of time this book looking at the misshapen results and seeing the good ideas underpinning them, the concepts that…well, frankly, that in the hands of a better writer (at least, a better Star Wars writer) could have made for good work. This chapter…has a lot less of that. The scene with Eppie has some weight to it, but anything dealing with Our Alleged Hero shows off all of the weaknesses of Tyers’s writing, and few of the strengths.

But for all of its weaknesses, and giving Luke half-hearted attempts to fit someone else’s mold, we can at least be sure that everybody is going to be where they need to be, soon: Leia helping fan the flames on Bakura, Han watching Leia’s back, and Luke finally doing what he was sent here to do. We might have needed more spoonfuls of sugar, but we’ve finally worked our medicine down.

Next week, Tyers continues to confuse the Force with a giant sledgehammer, and railroads the characters where they need to be–OK, so we have a bit more medicine to take. But hey, Han and Leia manage to work as a team. So there’s that.

Until then, may the Force be with you.

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