The Truce at Bakura, Chapter 18

will: Welcome back, loyal readership–at least, we assume you’re loyal, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading, right?–to the end of the truce at Bakura. But not the end of The Truce at Bakura. Er.

Whatever.

Things are pretty quiet here, though I believe Z is about to regale us with some more Tales of the Orchestra. Got any good stories for us, Z?

z: And ’tis late spring, wherein the thoughts of a librarian turn to getting all the music out individually to all the people who are playing in the midsummer small ensemble showcase. Which I in fact managed to finish last night; the last piece that went out was one that I was arranging.

Go figure.

Official rehearsals start next Thursday. My first rehearsal is actually this Saturday. The nature of the small ensemble beast means I’ll be attending anywhere from two to four rehearsals per week, and this is supposed to be the easy season. But it’s fun :D.

will: Luke’s been awake this whole time! In fact, he just Force-manipulated a P’w’eck into tail-smacking the control console, which is why the lights went out. He’s already undone his bonds, and though his right leg is still numb and he’s favoring his left side, he’s back in the fight. Turns out he’s been aware of Dev’s struggles and emotions all this time, which…OK, I can see it from a “if I help him calm himself it’ll tip them off I’m not awake” sense, especially in these circumstances.

z: I can see it too; he couldn’t be certain that Dev would be able to hide his reaction to finding out Luke was actually conscious.

will: Luke tells Dev to hide under a table or something, and–knowing his lightsaber “ha[s] to be close,” he summons it.

That’s…a bit more magical teleportation in feel than I usually like with Force moving. Like, it almost reaches the level of non-Jedi Force use we’ll see later.

z: Right. If there was a moment of Luke scanning the room with the Force to sense the proximity of his lightsaber, I… wouldn’t like that very much either, lightsabers not being living things, but I would handwave it as Jedi/weapon bond or whatnot. Just Force-vacuum-cleaning though, no.

will: But whatever. Blade in hand, Luke starts in at it. He drops two Ssi-ruuk before Bluescale opens the door and bolts. Three security battle droids show up, and Luke takes them out, also noting that they, and the ship, have the sense of “marginally alive” that means they’re using human power. Not for central engines or weapons, sure, but control systems, electrical stuff.

Dev crawls out from under the entechment chair, and Luke asks if he’s OK. He is, and he exults in Luke’s success.

It wasn’t too soon to launch Dev’s apprenticeship. “Two of your Ssi-ruuk died.”
“I know,” he groaned, “but how else–”
“Exactly. You have to fight, but you mustn’t like it.” He hoped Yoda didn’t laugh aloud, hearing him say that.

I want so much to like this. I think it’s the apprenticeship line that trips me up. It feels a bit wrong to structure it that way, I guess. And the thing about Yoda laughing…he should be happy, not mocking laughter, which is how it reads.

z: No, it’s too sudden, too abbreviated, and too dependent on the reader reading between the words in a way that Dev should not be able to. And Yoda laughing… well, there are teachers who’d laugh at their students attempting to teach because who are they to try, right, except those teachers would be jerks and Yoda wasn’t.

will: Dev asks now what, and Luke cuts the chair to pieces. There are another thirty labs, Dev says, but they don’t think any are operational. Luke, sweating even merged as he is with the Force, asks to go to engineering, because of the use of human energies. (Dev says it could be true, he’d never considered it, but Luke can feel it.)

The next corridor has six droids, no Ssi-ruuk. Dev explains the religious thing, dying off of a consecrated world and all, and Luke dispatches the droids with a mass-simultaneous deflection.

I note that unlike the paddle beamer (which is after all a stream of ions, not a bolt per se), Luke can deflect these shots. Handwave, but I’ll take it.

Dev is still impressed with Luke in full Avenging Jedi Awesome mode, and Luke promises to teach him. “Do it soon, I want what you have,” says Dev, and Luke is quite pleased that the “apprenticeship looks official.”

Luke, dude, pump the brakes a bit.

z: And by this point, I can’t reasonably ignore something that’s been banging on the door of my subconscious any more: Remember the single biggest source of doubt and anxiety Luke had in the Thrawn Trilogy? “Can I teach? Or do I risk losing them to the Dark Side if I try it, like Obi-Wan did with my father?”

Yeah yeah that came “after” this, but… it seems to me that if you were to write something that reveals an attitude that’s that dramatically opposite what the character will display five years later in the story time, you should put in the seeds of what would have caused the character to shift that far, or you’re going to get squinty-eyes from the reader, just like the ones I have now.

(…and here’s something else that just hit me: What if a big part of the Jedi Academy Trilogy was KJA trying to bridge that justification gap, in his own inept way? Have we been maligning him unfairly all this time?

…nah.)

will: We’ll get to the Jedi Academy Trilogy in time, but no, we aren’t unfairly maligning KJA–unfairly being the operative word–and besides, someone else already dealt with the justification gap. We’ll get to him too.

Dev directs Luke to a drop shaft. Luke rejects the idea, they’d be sitting ducks, but there aren’t stairs, because Ssi-ruuk and P’w’ecks can’t use them–and I note that here Luke apparently needs an explanation that P’w’ecks are the smaller ones, and are slaves, and Ssi-ruuk aren’t big on other races as equals. Bit of a backslide in terms of Luke’s knowledge.

Anyway. He reaches out, using the fact that the entire ship is crawling with human life energy to basically map it, and finds a spiral ramp that he figures is for droids or P’w’ecks. They go down to the correct deck, and Luke finds the hatch, finds the human-soul battery, and basically uses his own emotions to focus the remaining shred of humanity enough to open the hatch–then destroys the battery, freeing the energy.

A bit Neo, really, but not inappropriate for it. I’m definitely on board with “this is a ‘mercy and freedom of death’ situation.”

They arrive at engineering, and Luke stops them short of an arch, noting an amplifier–he puts a scrap of clothing into the arch and it fries.

Scene shift. Sh’tk’ith, which I think we’re supposed to realize is Bluescale’s real name (we’re in his head) is excited that they’ve found Luke and Dev. He asks Firwirrung about the second lab being brought up and running–it’s not as good, but once they have Luke hooked in, they can build a better one before this one gives out. Firwirrung is “determined to atone,” it seems.

Bluescale contacts the Admiral, who is apparently not on board (this is like how the President gets ushered away from the danger by the Secret Service, I think), and says that they have them, oh, and Firwirrung thinks he can merge Dev and Luke’s energies. Ivpikkis says keep them alive, you can have your “pride price” out of Dev later, and Bluescale heads out with P’w’ecks in tow.

z: So Firwirrung didn’t get cut down in that first flurry.

Accidental alliterations are also awesome.

will: And we shift again. Han is working with Thanas, harassing smaller battle droids and sweeping space. He knows Luke’s in space, Leia is sure of it, but he’s not where he should be, the command deck of the Flurry. Like a commander should be. OK, so kidnapping complicated that. But still.

Han is suspicious of TIEs, even the ones that are moving to support him, and it actually sounds like the Ssi-ruuk are playing in invade-and-destroy mode, not capture. (Which, if they thought they would have their long-distance Skywalker Entechment System, makes sense.) But one ship did launch landing craft, which got fried.

z: Will, SES stands for “Small Ensemble Showcase” in my mental lexicon, and I’ll thank you for not co-opting that.

Even though it’s very appropriate.

{sulks}

will: Chewie is about done loading Threepio’s translation program, Leia says that Luke is aboard the big cruiser they’re sidling up to, and then the cruiser starts vomiting escape pods.

“You were right. Luke’s in there.”

z: That, on the other hand, might just be the funniest single line in the book.

Because it doesn’t spell things out. Han’s implying something that both Leia will immediately get and he doesn’t have to think through things to arrive at; it’s something he knows deeply; and the way he tosses it out there assumes the reader would also get it, and we do. Now if only there were, say, fifty more lines like this one…

will: Back to Luke. He gets through the stun trap (for Ssi-ruuk–it would kill Luke or Dev) by what amounts to social engineering–he reaches out to the imprisoned soul, makes a promise, the soul accepts and drops the field, and Luke provides the release he offered. One fewer soul battery. The soul flees in gratitude.

Luke spends a few more minutes basically reenacting a sequence of Undertale fights, every time talking his way through the stun traps and then freeing the soul.

z: Oh my heavens that’s perfect.

Total aside: If you haven’t played Undertale, run, do not walk, to Steam. No, it’s not worth waiting for the console port, which may or may not happen. Make a garden-walled account on Steam, delete it right after you finish Undertale, but play Undertale.

will: Agreed. And we can’t say more. This is one you do not want to get spoiled for.

Luke gets to a junction and senses the ambush coming, and a P’w’eck grabs Dev, who shoots it with his paddle beamer. Luke slashes two more P’w’ecks, and continues defending, and Dev collapses with a cry, without Luke seeing or sensing anything that hits him.

Bluescale shows up, and fires his beamer–Luke bends it into a P’w’eck–and Dev, prone, crawls toward Bluescale. Then he jumps up, now behind him, and blasts him with the beamer.

z: From the description, about where the base of the spine would be in an Earth vertebrate.

will: When Bluescale falls, we get the answer to my earlier question, as Dev fires his beamer into Bluescale’s head, repeatedly. And then reports Bluescale is dead.

Dev explains that his collapse was faked, as he was playing dead because he felt useless, and that while Bluescale was the one who controlled him, Firwirrung is the really dangerous one, the one who entechs. Not sure I entirely believe that but I see the point.

z: Luke senses pain, guilt and triumph from him at Bluescale’s death, but thankfully doesn’t try to get into a dissertation about the Dark Side ramifications of killing for revenge right there.

will: Dev explains the whole thing, long distance entechment, this is a scout force only, et cetera. And Luke is “alarmed,” because we have to believe the Ssi-ruuk are still a threat, but I still don’t believe it like I’m supposed to. Luke coughs again. Dav asks is he all right, Luke says something must be in the air, and then finds the center of all the twisted Force energy and cuts through the right console.

The ship dies, feeling clean at last, but Luke wonders if he’s just stranded himself.

z: There’s another one of those good lines here that I feel duty-bound to point out whenever they come: “The gargoyle cacophony fell silent.”

will: They review their situation: the hyperdrive and ion drive are still working, but he’s cut all the connections between Engineering and the bridge. They try to go to a shuttle craft or escape pod, but they’re all gone–the ship is deserted. Dev says, so this is our lifepod, let’s go to the bridge.

Luke, coughing, agrees.

Scene shift: those DEMP guns malfunctioned, and suddenly Han is grateful he hadn’t gotten one for the Falcon. Thanas responds, it happens, also Luke is a lost cause, and we’ve been told to kill the main cruiser unless it withdraws, because of contagion, Nereus directly ordered it.

Thanas says he “isn’t in the habit of questioning orders,” Leia says to question this one, not believing the contagion story. And then Thanas orders escape pods shot down on the pretext that some cultures arm theirs.

Leia and Thanas fence about the morality of war, the enteched drones, and self defense in a manner that just does not work for me–it’s too strawman.

Chewie cuts in that he has Threepio running, or at least the translation program installed, and he’s going to a gunport. Leia tells Han about Luke killing Engineering, and Han says to try to use the Force to warn Luke about the kill order.

And then we get Han thinking, uncharacteristically, about Jabba’s Palace to set up the “delusions of grandeur” line that, once again, feels too much like cribbing from the movies, not building on them.

Back to Luke, who is miserable as he makes his way to the bridge, and then senses something–turns out to be a P’w’eck, sent in as a gas grenade suicide bomber. Luke sends the grenade back out of the bridge and closes the bulkhead, and tells Dev to tell the P’w’eck that maybe they can work together. He tries, no dice.

z: Luke, disturbingly, thinks if he can interrogate the alien, and decided it wouldn’t work since the creature “didn’t think in Standard,” and there are many layers of things there that I don’t really like to think about, although I’m almost sure Tyers meant none of it that way. But things are about to get more disturbing anyway:

will: Luke asks if they can tie the alien up.

Dev shoots it.

Luke is horrified, but Dev just says the P’w’eck would have shot them as soon as he could, this was unavoidable, let’s use the time we bought with that gas grenade.

I still have a problem with how…functional Dev is. I’m not even buying a fight-or-flight response, it doesn’t seem believable he wouldn’t be a gibbering wreck by now.

z: No, total brainwash to pragmatic veteran in half an hour doesn’t really do it for me either.

will: But whatever. Final scene shift: back to the Falcon. The Dominant is directing the battle, and Han does note that the Rebels are getting the brunt of it; but it’s working.

An hour later, it’s clear the Ssi-ruuvi have lost and are transmitting between themselves madly. Han punches up the translation program–he knows the Empire has a copy, but he figures they don’t know he does. (Given it was Threepio who came up with it, that seems really dumb. The Empire should assume the Rebels have the translation program and act accordingly.)

Anyway, the message is “full retreat,” and Han immediately calls for defensive positions against the Empire.

Which, I feel, should be more of a “OK, time for the contingency plan we discussed,” and not “OK, now you have to suddenly and unexpectedly dodge the Empire!” which is what it comes off as. Han should have been better about hedging his bets.

Anyway. Han does, however, refuse to fire first. Leia asks about the big cruiser where Luke is (it’s the only Ssi-ruuvi ship not fleeing), and then the Dominant apparently blows the Flurry away in one hit.

What.

z: We had that foreshadowing, we had to use it, blah blah okay I’ve got nothing.

There was the bit where Thanas was characterized as… I don’t know… a reasonable person? Wasn’t there? Something about miners? I don’t even.

There’s a blink-and-miss-it sentence where Han implies that Leia is his conscience, but it’s a sentence that makes no sense whatsoever:

[Han] would’ve taken the Dominant if he could’ve, and if his conscience, down there at the lower quad guns, would’ve let him shoot first.

I understand nothing about this sentence. Why would Han even think about taking a capital ship in the Falcon. Why is Leia supposed to be Han’s conscience–she could very well be, except this basically came out of the left field and slapped me across the face here and their relationship hasn’t progressed to that point and I just can’t see Han thinking about anyone in those terms and and and. For that matter, why wouldn’t Leia “let” him shoot first under the circumstances, when it would blatantly not have been the first shot. How wouldn’t Leia “let” him oh gah nevermind let’s move on.

will: Yeah, the goal here was to get the Rebels and the Empire fighting again, and you could see the rails.

Han declares the truce broken–

z: –no, really?

will: –and has the Rebels form up on him. “Red Leader” (which I think isn’t Wedge, because of what comes next) reports in, then Han asks where Wedge is (see?), and Wedge says he’s seeing TIE fighter activity in a location that Leia confirms is the Dominant (we’re back to how this universe hasn’t invented combat information systems, I guess), and Han consolidates his remaining forces into a “loose double squadron,” and asks Leia to tell Luke there’s more trouble.

“I’ll try,” Leia says, and we’re out.

Is it too much to ask for one human to be consistently characterized?

OK, I guess Luke, but it’s bad characterization. I wasn’t fond of this chapter, as you could probably tell. It’s plot heavy, but it crams in too much and doesn’t give anything room to breathe. We get what should be an emotional moment for Dev from a perspective that isn’t his and that gives us no sense of catharsis (killing Bluescale), we get a “sudden but inevitable betrayal” that apparently still caught an experienced cruiser captain off guard (seriously, how did the Dominant one-shot the Flurry exactly?), and Luke is busy thinking more about Dev as an apprentice than survival. I admit I liked the emphasis Luke placed upon freeing trapped souls though.

Z?

z: Dev’s described as shooting Bluescale repeatedly on different points on the alien’s skull, and there’s something cold and detached about the description that I liked not at all–and then, never mind what I said up there, I was disturbed that Luke didn’t even think about the Dark Side ramifications of how the boy was now reacting to what had been done to him. I would have been irritated if he’d stopped in the middle of running for their lives to have that discussion, but he senses pain and guilt and triumph… and then doesn’t even internally remark on it.

Okay, then.

This was one more of those chapters where I yapped a lot inline, so I don’t have much else left to say here. Next week we’ll start bringing the flapping loose ends together, but not tie them off just yet. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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