Ursa and JT leave the pretense of meditation behind and head to the food court for a working breakfast. JT is a little surprised to see a diner already open and serving customers. After some reflection, she supposes it makes sense: all-night diners must eventually transition from late late night to early early morning. She just never expected to see it herself.
At the Jawa Java, Ursa orders a vegetarian breakfast plate, while JT peruses the menu. It seems silly to pay restaurant prices just for a bowl of cereal. She looks for the closest thing to a milkshake she can find and considers some sort of protein drink. That reminds her of the yogurt and granola dish that Kerr-Lonn-Ny had recommended, so she orders one of those and a thickened iced caf. After the salad and parfait have arrived and the waitstaff has departed, the hushed conversation resumes.
“When I talked with the moff, he seemed a bit…” JT slurps her drink. “Forceful. Easily upset. He’s been a Naboo citizen his whole life, right? Has he always been this way? Did he serve in the Clone Wars and that affected him?” JT is no stranger to PTSD. Her friends Kash and Renn were both pretty scarred by some rough times during their service in the Imperial Army, and JT herself is a war orphan. Her first look at Christophsis after the invasion—even though it was years later and just at a holopark—left her shaken. Maybe experiences related to war pushed Panaka over some edge.
“Quarsh Panaka has a long history of service to Naboo, in one form or another,” Ursa tells her. “He was captain of the queen’s guards at a much earlier point in his career—”
“You have a queen?”
Ursa fails to restrain herself. “Barely,” she mutters.
“Oh, so just nominally a monarch?” JT asks. “I guess that makes sense.”
Ursa frowns. The queens of Naboo have very much been stripped of their power since the rise of the Empire. She does not feel comfortable expressing that sentiment aloud, though. “They fulfill an important ceremonial position, no longer hampered by the weight of state affairs.” She goes on to explain how previously, such as during the Clone Wars, the role of the queen was politically quite potent, but that they have been released from that burden over the years, such that they now can focus on the emotional needs of their people. In her private opinion, which Ursa does not voice, the position would probably have been abolished if it were not for the huge morale hit the populace would suffer.
JT tries mixing various table condiments into the yogurt and granola heap before her in an attempt to make it more palatable, but she keeps listening to Ursa. “Yes, Panaka has a long history of service to Naboo, and that includes excessive loyalty to Naboo’s most significant scion.”
That comment hangs in the air for a moment, and then JT, syrup canister in hand, blurts out, “Oh, the Emperor! Right.”
As they continue talking, it is clear to JT that Ursa has been steadfastly working on the moff for years, trying to ease up conditions for the indigenous Gungans and dial back threats to the planet itself. The older woman feels a connection to the natural world of Naboo. Descended from the original colonists, she grew up on the shores of Lake Paonga, the watery access to the Gungan stronghold of Otoh Gunga. Although there have long been tensions between the human Naboo and the Gungans, as a child, Ursa played along the lake’s shores with her Gungan neighbors. Many of their families lost members during the Trade Federation’s invasion. And it pains Ursa to see the degradation of Naboo’s natural realm. The Empire’s thirst for resources has done more to damage the planet’s pristine condition than direct invasion ever did. Was it idyllic? Not exactly; there was a history of strife between the Gungans and the human colonists. But particularly leading up through the Clone Wars era, the two groups made great strides in working together. Shortly before the rise of the Empire, there was even a Gungan representative to the Senate.
JT and Ursa find commonalities in their pasts, as the events surrounding the Clone Wars shaped both their lives, even if they were nominally on opposing sides. JT explains that while she was born on Christophsis, she grew up on a Separatist droid ship. “The Clone Wars was a terrible time all around. But that was a period when droids were—at least among the Separatists—well regarded. Although…” They were practically cannon fodder, if she is honest with herself. “They weren’t treated fairly,” is how JT decides to word it. Based on her conversations with the clone detachment DRS met on Seleucami and who now live in New Meen, both sides of the war were fought by slave populations. Those clones get along well enough with her family, despite all they lose at sabacc to Cousin Bloop. “I was raised by a squad of droids. That’s where I first got exposed to oil baths and their wonderful properties. Particularly when you live in a really dry climate, they do a lot to protect the moisture in your body. You should really try one!” She realizes she is getting distracted again. “What I mean to say is, I get what you’re saying.”
During her career, Ursa has attempted—and succeeded to some extent—at being a moderating influence and cushioning Naboo from the worst excesses of the Empire’s tendency to squeeze every bit of resources from the planets under its sway. It was easier in the past than it has become in recent years. Panaka used to be more sympathetic, but during a diplomatic relief mission from Alderaan, tragic events triggered a shift in his behavior and personality, perhaps even his brain chemistry. Princess Leia and Queen Dalné met with him at his villa on Naboo’s moon Onoam. They discussed the conditions of the miners there and what might be done to improve the air quality. Ursa took notes at the meeting and left with them to draw up the formal paperwork for the sharing between the two planets. However, shortly after she left the building, Panaka’s manor exploded.
“Ah. I can see how that might darken one’s demeanor,” JT observes as she stirs the soggy mess in her bowl.
Ursa details the aftermath. A lot of the serving staff died. The queen and the princess were both injured and immediately evacuated back to their home planets for treatment. Quarsh Panaka himself was on life support for a long time. He had been initially presumed dead, even. “You’ve seen the scarring that resulted from that,” Ursa comments.
“I did.” JT recalls the cybernetics she detected under his glove. “I’ve personally felt his strong handshake.”
“Unfortunately, it was not just his skin and bones that were damaged in that explosion.” Ursa tells JT that upon Panaka’s physical recovery, it was clear that he had suffered some memory loss. For example, he did not remember the meeting itself, and without his buy-in, Ursa was unable to push through the mining reforms. In addition, Panaka was now more prone to fits of rage. From that point on, it has been much harder for Ursa to hold back the Imperial engine. “He had always been loyal to the Emperor, coming as Palpatine did from Naboo. But he has become far more obsessively so since then, with nothing moderating his actions. I’m no doctor—I can’t speak to the neurochemistry of it—but I feel something must be broken in his brain. Something that used to keep him in check is gone now.”
JT supposes they blamed someone, whether that was the true culprit or not, but she asks anyway. “Did they ever find who did it?”
“The group that claimed responsibility for it was later rooted out for other crimes. They were led by a man named Saw Gerrera.”
“Well, it sounds like a very traumatic experience,” JT says sympathetically. “That can change a person.”
“Yes, I’d say it was traumatic. Rebel murderers blew up his home.” Ursa sighs and stirs her caf. She does not want to simply excuse his actions, and after the meeting with Moff Dargon, she is even more certain that Panaka is heading down a dark path. “He is so angry now. I really fear this could actually lead to Gungan extermination. That’s why I wanted this diversion.” She waves her hand about, indicating the entire ship. “He’d never just sit on a deckchair and relax. No, I needed us to take a while to get back to Naboo so I could… could… could come up with a plan.”
“Okay, so I know not everything is about the gala—” Ursa actually barks out a laugh at that, though she quickly regains her composure. “But! The theme of the gala is Under the Sea. Maybe we can do something with that. I’m just thinking out loud here…” With Tusk, JT capitalized on his relationship with his former business partner, using holoprojectors to create a hallucinatory experience. “Maybe it would be helpful for him to have another formative experience, but in a different way.”
“Some sort of Gungan experience?” Ursa asks, but neither of them has encountered any Gungans aboard Dame Metropolis so far.
“He might not even be aware of what he is doing, since he is the moff. No one dares to countermand such a high-ranking official,” JT says.
“Perhaps I have been too indirect in my challenges to him? Is that what you are suggesting?”
“I’m sure you’ve been doing everything you can,” JT reassures her. “But what is something you can’t do, but someone else can?”
Ursa takes her point, shaking her head and dropping her gaze. “I am, when it comes down to it, just an underling. I’m not a fellow moff. And even if I were… There’s no grand fellowship of moffs. They all vie with each other for the favor of the Emperor.” Noticing her breakfast still before her, she picks up a piece of toast.
“So if the Emperor told him, like, ‘Knock it off! Those Gungans are important Imperials!’…?”
“Oh my goodness! If the Emperor did that, Moff Panaka would drop this issue immediately. Loyalty to the Emperor is Panaka’s, as it were, jam.” Ursa gestures with her toast and then takes a bite.
“The Emperor, that’s a symbol, a seat of power. Maybe what we want is to connect things back to Palpatine the senator, the man that Panaka knew personally back when things were better on Naboo.” In a last attempt to make her breakfast tolerable, JT dumps her frosty drink into the bowl and gives it all a stir. It looks disgusting, but that thins the sludge down substantially. Oh this is perfect! Now I can drink this. So a powershake after all, just like Kerr-Lonn-Ny was saying. She plops a straw into it and begins slurping it up. “Yeah, that Senator Palpatine would not have wanted this. Find some way to remind Panaka of that. I’m sure the Emperor would love to tell him, but he’s just way too busy with too many other things. He’s got a whole galaxy to worry about. I mean, that’s why he’s delegated things to the moffs! So… we just need to remind Panaka of those better times.”
“Yes, there was a time when Gungans and Naboo worked together,” Ursa acknowledges.
“Yeah, but wasn’t that when your planet was invaded?” JT points out. “Maybe don’t remind him of that part specifically. When I think of my homeworld getting invaded… not a happy thought. But I don’t know what you’re comfortable with for how we remind him of this.” Ursa begins voicing plans of going back through old legislative archives and looking up Palpatine’s voting record in the Naboo planetary senate, as though to make a legal case to argue before the moff. “No, no,” JT objects. “He needs to have an experience, not a sheaf of papers. It’s absolutely terrible, but someone trying to assassinate you, that’s a very traumatic experience.” Ursa nods in agreement. “So he just needs to have a very powerful positive experience, an inspiring one. Maybe informed by what former Senator Palpatine would want for the people of Naboo.”
Privately, JT does not think a holovideo is going to cut it this time. If only there were a way to trigger a real experience like the one I simulated for Tusk. Can the Force do that? She personally has had only a few Force visions and does not know much about them. She will need to look into a secure way to contact her friend Cal, who has visions practically all the time. He might feel one of those hacker-nets he uses is secure enough for a chat about the Force. Renn? No way. The Force has been rough for him, and based on what Renci has said, he is starting to recover. No need to put this on him. Maybe Vrake… he had some training at the Jedi Temple as a child.
Oh, Jedi, right: Elaiza. JT knows what Elaiza would say: “JT, you are not to mess with that! That is way outside your level of ability.” She internally shakes her head at how Elaiza clings to some trappings of the old Jedi Order even as she hides from everyone and everything, including whatever that Skywalker guy has going with the Rebellion. Elaiza probably only trains JT because of how persistent she was. But really, Elaiza should get behind this. JT did some dark things, some selfish things, and part of recovery is atonement. JT has no connections to the moff or to Naboo, no personal stake in any of this. It is as far from selfish as she can get. And Val Isa said I can do this. She has faith in me.
JT shrugs. “Maybe the gala will work for this, maybe not. The moff will be there in a functional role, so that might not be the best time. Is there any inspiring place back on Naboo? I’m not actually busy after this cruise—we’ll have the funds for the charity to run on its own—so consider me in for the long haul.”
Their breakfasts complete, Ursa says she will think over everything they have talked about. And that she will make time in her schedule to meet up with JT for further discussions.