The Truce at Bakura, Chapter 16

will: Welcome back, readers, to The Slog Through Bakura.

OK, this one isn’t as bad as all that. But still.

In other news, we’ve made it to May, which also means we’re coming up on the 40th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars. Incidentally, it’s also the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is why we got this.

z: I note that you’re pre-emptively answering my “why” there.

will: Also, because it was there. You know how it goes.

will: We pick up just where we left off, with Luke using the Force for defense. Ish.

One Ssi-ruu opens fire with its ion beamer (Luke doesn’t know that’s what they’re called, but we do). Luke, “confidently” for no good reason, tries to treat it like a blaster bolt, and ends up getting zapped with it. He can only refract the beam, he can’t deflect it.

As if we didn’t have enough signifiers of the alienness of the Ssi-ruuk…

However, since the beamer is after all a nerve-ionization tool primarily, getting shot through the stomach apparently doesn’t do a whole lot itself, so Luke can still fight. We also see that the weapon is a steady beam, not a bolt style. Luke maneuvers between the Ssi-ruuk, setting up some crossfire. One stops firing. Bluescale, though, fires to pen Luke in.

Gaeri fires at Bluescale–misses by a country mile–and gets herself shot for her trouble. In the throat. She collapses.

Which…so through the stomach leaves Luke tingling, but through the throat is a stun shot? Oy.

z: Well, the spine? Or something? I guess. It doesn’t matter because It Had To Happen For Plot.

will: Anyway, this sets Luke off. He charges one Ssi-ruuk, resulting in a broken beamer and a Skywalker Special (loss of a hand), and Dev, “wringing his hands,” insisting that Luke not kill the Ssi-ruuk. Genius negotiating, there.

z: Okay, I laughed at “Skywalker Special,” and now I feel bad and you should too, Will.

will: I’m waiting for Rey to lose a hand in Episode VIII.

z: In this scene Dev is doubly helpless, and it actually works to tweak my heartstrings. Or it may be that I’m tired and it’s late.

will: Luke asks what happened to Gaeri, and Dev assures Luke she isn’t harmed. But, of course, she’s also defenseless–not that she had much by the way of defenses before, given her aim.

Another Ssi-ruuk is charging, so Luke throws his saber, and beheads it. Dev, weeping, rushes to the dead alien, while Bluescale fires at Luke–but Luke has jumped away. Luke tries to use the Force to grab Bluescale’s (whom, amusingly, Luke calls Big Blue the whole time–fair enough) beamer. It doesn’t work perfectly, and ends up yanking the beam across Luke’s leg, which falls asleep.

z: Vader could pull the blaster out of Han’s hand, but then Vader knew how human hands work and how tightly a blaster is grasped at what angles and all that.

(Yes, Will. I know, Will. Hush, Will.)

will: Luke staggers, control broken, and tells Artoo to get Gaeri out–he’s concluded that if the beamer scrambles nerves, Gaeri’s probably conscious.

(I wonder what would happen if one got shot in the head, then?)

z: …bad things?

I did mention it’s late and I’m tired.

will: I’m envisioning nerve disruptors from the Vorkosigan Saga.

At any rate, Artoo moves to Gaeri, and Luke starts getting penned in by the two remaining Ssi-ruuk. He jumps toward Bluescale, and slices the beamer. As Artoo begins to pull Gaeri away, Luke jumps onto a table, using the Force to compensate for his leg’s nerve-deadness, apparently so much so that Artoo has to warn him that Dev is aiming a blaster at him.

Luke pulls that away easy (blasters, human hands, like Z said), slices it in half, and in that moment, also reaches out and feels a shadow on Dev’s Force sense…

Luke wrapped his will around the dark, roiling blockage and blasted it with Light.

Er.

z: Well.

will: I mean, OK.

z: Right.

will: But still.

z: I know.

will: That’s…

z: …poetic?

will: Whatever.

z: Exactly.

will: And then we get a shift in perspective, though the break in the narration happens about three paragraphs later. Which makes no sense at all.

z: I know that sentence seemed confusing, folks, but Will’s describing the text literally here. Sorry.

will: Suddenly we’re in Dev’s head, who staggers backwards, suddenly furious, and noticing that he doesn’t think of Luke as a monster, but a “fellow human.” He can’t need renewal already, he thinks.

z: And that about the renewal confused me–it sounds like Dev realized “hey, human seems like human to me, so I must need renewal” instead of thinking “hey, that’s a human, I didn’t feel that way before, what did they do to me.

will: And then we get a paragraph break, and what seems like the start of a Dev POV section. Ow, my neck, the whiplash.

Dev realizes that Firwirrung has “bound him with tender loyalty over years of abusive manipulation.”

z: That’s also poetic and yet, I’m willing to think, a thought that has been thought by no victim of emotional abuse after they have had enough distance from the abuser to get out of the fog, in the history of the world, ever. “He bound me with tender loyalty”?

Especially in the middle of a chaotic fight?!

will: Suddenly he opens his eyes wide, “forsaking his squint.” (Remember, he thinks of the whites of eyes as “obscene.”) He feels pain, sadness, but also, he feels whole for the first time.

I…

Something about this bothers me, and I don’t know what. I think it’s the idea that one moment of eye-opening is enough for the entire edifice of abuse to come crashing down, hypnosis or no. It feels too pat, I guess. But I don’t know–am I off base?

z: I actually liked the consistency and call back to why he squinted all the time and now doesn’t, and okay, the symbolism is a bit too pat, but I think what bothers you more is that Luke figured out what it was in one sentence and broke through it in another, poetic or no, and then Dev came to himself in extremely clunky prose in about three more, and what have I been whining talking about in terms of “showing” vs. “telling” all along?

Of course there was no way of getting a sequence like this, which would build up to the proper level of impact, within the pacing of a fight scene. Which is why this would have been best left to when Luke was alone in a prison cell with Dev talking to him, or whatever.

But hold that thought about awkward pacing, folks.

will: Yeah, I guess my thing is, it feels way too quick to go from “oh, wait, I’m feeling differently” to “my whole life has been a lie.” Anyway. Bluescale asks if Dev is all right, Dev responds yes, faking his “renewed” self–so he’s gone to complete deception that fast?–and asks how Bluescale is. Bluescale tells Dev to tell Luke to hurry up, “promise anything,” and Dev realizes that the Ssi-ruuk are evil and deserve to be hated.

z: My turn to “…..”

will: Luke cuts into this “they deserve hatred” thought process, saying that hate is of the Dark Side.

z: That would actually be a nice touch, if I hadn’t started to visualize a DO-S/DON’T-S List for Writing Jedi that was pinned to the wall next to the writer’s desk by this time in the book. But no, it feels mechanical:

if (feel.hate(someone in room) == true){

    if (in.room(Luke) == true){

        react(Luke).state("Hatred Leads to the Dark Side")

}}

will: Sometimes, you need to go back and compile from Force.

z: This actually took me a moment to get, but now that I’ve gotten it: -_-

will: Also I think that would throw some compile errors.

z: Ask me what my experience in actually writing in an object-oriented language is. (Won’t leave you in suspense: About four hours of Python in aggregate, and I don’t even know if it’s correct to call Python OO.)

will: Firwirrung asks what Luke said, and Dev “automatically” lies, saying that Luke has apologized for killing a Ssi-ruuk. They tell Dev to get Luke moving, fast, hurry, and Dev starts to, until the civil defense alarm goes off. Dev realizes that the Ssi-ruuvi promise to leave in exchange for Luke was worthless. Gee.

We scene shift back to Luke, who looks out the window, thinking about what the Ssi-ruuk hit first–the space station, he assumes. He can’t see the Falcon, he wonders how Han and Leia are doing breaking her out, Artoo comes back in and Luke hopes he’s gotten Gaeri safe, his leg hurts, Dev (whom he already thinks of as “this young potential apprentice,” really?) is emotionally scarred, but his suffering might “make him more loyal to the light”…

z: …the stars revolve, the land gets older, the oceans rise…

will: …Bluescale knocks Luke out cold with his tail.

On the one hand, seriously, Luke and the Force can’t see that coming?

On the other hand, Bwah! Serves you right, Luke. Focus.

z: On the cut-off hand, this is what I meant about more weird pacing coming up. With active, alert enemies still in the room, Luke actually stops and thinks about all of these things while looking away from said enemies. I can’t.

will: Dev almost misses the tail-slapping too, caught up in his own thoughts. Luke’s saber doesn’t turn off when he drops it, oddly, and Dev tries to use the Force to reach Luke, as Bluescale uses his beamer (wait, didn’t Luke break that? Well, I guess he grabbed another, maybe from the dead Ssi-ruuk) on Luke’s spine. Dev asks if Luke is stunned, and Bluescale says a mild concussion, human skulls are so fragile, here, Dev, carry him.

Dev “guess[es] at the right amount of enthusiasm” to fake in his voice, grabs Luke in effectively a piggyback–Luke is not exactly small, this can’t be easy–and in the meantime, rages in his head at how the Ssi-ruuk “owe him a life. A personality. A soul.”

Bluescale now tells Dev to help Firwirrung, who was the one Luke, ahem, disarmed.

De-handed anyway.

Now, Dev is supporting the lizard as well as Luke’s weight. Dev bites back a comment, remembering that he’s supposed to be brainwashed livestock. A pack mule, basically.

Complete with horsepower.

Anyway. Dev realizes that with only him there to carry things, Gaeri (“the female”) will be safe, he can’t carry her too, and they won’t go looking. Even the dead one will get left behind, since Bluescale is too important to carry things.

z: I did actually snicker at that. No one who’s called an Elder in any culture carries things, do they?

will: Bluescale leads the way through the kitchen, not even holding the door open for Dev–that monster! (It does mean Dev almost drops Luke headfirst onto a stove, and ends up singeing some hair, so yeah.) Bluescale also figures out how to turn off Luke’s saber, and drops it in his shoulder pouch.

They make their way to an Imperial shuttle, with “now-stunned stormtroopers” strewn about, who had brought Dev and company to the planet from the Shriwirr.

Bluescale tells the two P’w’eck guards to help Dev secure Luke, as Artoo tries to roll up after them. The P’w’ecks shove Artoo off the ramp, as Artoo “rails against them in Ssi-ruuvi,” and with a crash and “a final impotent threat,” they’re buttoned up and readying for takeoff. Dev tells himself all hope is not lost as he straps Luke in, noting that even unconscious, Luke’s sense is brighter than others’.

He considers killing Luke then and there, but decides against–not unless it’s a last resort, he thinks. He’d die too, but humanity would be free.

And we scene shift. Thankfully.

Han’s in Leia’s high-flyer chair, cutting a hole in the ceiling, through which both of them slip out. They basically pull an Air Vent Escape, through the crawlspace that I admit does seem de rigueur in a chalet like this, and Leia thinks how this building–which is what, maybe two generations old?–feels like the oldest human building she’s ever been in.

I guess this is meant to signify “homesteading, remote, colony planet”?

z: …it also signifies that Tyers didn’t read the novelization for A New Hope, although I guess you can make the case that the ages-old temple buildings in Yavin weren’t necessarily human structures. But. Alderaan. I mean.

will: Anyway. They make it to the speeder garage and set up near two vents, removing the vent covers. Five stormtroopers are on guard. Leia takes out three before they can react, Han runs past, trooper number 4 pops up, Leia takes him down. Five manages to singe Han’s foot, Leia drops and tries to get a bead, but no dice. Han hot-wires a speeder (actually, they’re probably kept engines-hot, or at least unlocked) and drives by. Leia jumps in and they’re off.

z: This particular sequence works fairly well. Mainly because Leia gets to shoot things, and is competent, and Han is acting in character as well, and no one is carrying an Idiot Ball, and I suspect my standards may have been lowered a bit.

will: She asks if Han is okay, he says sure, but she sees that he’s in pain. She distracts him with admiring amusements, how life is never boring, and that’s when they notice the hunting party of speeders behind them. It was a trap–Leia’s about to be killed escaping arrest. Han tries to maneuver, no dice, they have better speeders. He’s about to recommend bailing out in the treetops, but Leia sees two X-wings showing up.

Oh, I see. Remember how Luke remembered he was in command and did something two chapters ago? And we had no clue what? Apparently, this. Han and Leia reach the same conclusion, they wave, the X-wings escort Han and Leia to Salis D’aar, peeling off shortly before they hit city limits. They note there’s a stream of vehicles, people heading out to escape the city before the attack, and Leia spares a thought for the Ewok bracelet that she left in her quarters. Not worth her life, though.

(Duh.)

Anyway. Han explains where the droids are, and Leia laughs at the image of Threepio in stormtrooper armor, but says she hopes Chewie didn’t shoot him. “Ah, he has my comlink,” says Han.

And they land, to learn that yes, Chewie shot him.

At which point Han yells at Chewie, who yells right back, clearly saying “you should have told me that he was coming!” You know, like Threepio asked.

More than once.

Hurting the bird again.

z: Sighing right along, here.

will: Han, to his credit, admits this is on him, and tells Chewie to repair Threepio–if nothing else, there’s his Ssi-ruuvi translation program to consider.

They confirm the Falcon is fueled, and Han and Chewie banter a bit about the latest modification–apparently Chewie got some more shields, at the cost of slower hyperdrive (“increasing the multiplier,” a reference to West End Games’s ideas about hyperdrives, not Zahn’s logarithmic scale). Han is horrified, and insists that once they’re done they’ll go back to how it used to be, but Leia just says, “let’s move.”

And we’re out.

You know, compared to the last few chapters, this one has a lot less objectionable on a character front. We actually see a consequence of a screwup biting Han (Chewie shooting Threepio), and while Luke getting blindsided was a bit out of character, it was also funny and appropriate given how ridiculously divided Luke’s been all book.

I suppose my biggest quibble is Dev’s breaking his hypnotic control and going straight to spy mode, but I really don’t know enough to speak to that fully.

Z, what about you?

z: Well, since it had few moments of pause in the action, it makes sense that it was not that objectionable on the characterization front. But that also indicates that most of what we objected to is when the action slows down and characterization shows. Characterization is a problem, in the same vein as Douglas Adams’ line (“People are a problem.”)

And yes, there’s an uneasy-making sense of time moving both too fast (Dev’s transformation from brainwashed to not-brainwashed to actively resisting) and too slowly (…I still can’t get over Luke pretty much doing everything except trying to remember the recipe for blue milk in the middle of a fight.)

Next week, we start with an examination on a medical table and end with a cliffhanger on an entechment chair. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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