Star Wars: Cruise Control | Scene 18.1

Tcho chooses a duct-based approach to the ballroom where the moff’s project is. It is quite a large space, with more air-handling needs than a bedroom suite has, so the ducts should be large enough for him to move through. He certainly does not want to deal with the pair of Stormtroopers guarding the main entrance to the room. Although Tcho considers this the safest time to investigate the ballroom—since the moff is definitely elsewhere—he has no illusions about it actually being safe.

Kerr-Lonn-Ny is off enjoying the gala right now too, as she very well should be, regular citizen that she is. That means Tcho is on his own to undo a grating and pull himself up through the opening into the vents. He certainly does not want her in harm’s way, but it was nice to have her company last time for bouncing ideas off. Tcho secures the grating so his activities will go unnoticed from below and proceeds to the turnoff for the ballroom. The large round tube only goes a little way into the overhead space before branching off into many smaller tubes. 

Tcho knows that a fancy room like this would have a dropped ceiling to hide the ductwork. Pulling out the vibroknife he picked up from one of the shipjackers, he cuts through the side of his duct so that he can enter that space. The ceiling tiles themselves will not be able to bear his weight, but if he sticks to the framework of beams they are set in, he should be all right as long as he moves slowly and carefully. A fall would be bad, given how high the ceiling is. Anything down below to break his fall is likely a dangerous piece of equipment. 

Tcho’s plan is to spy through one of the grates to find a better route down, such as via some decorative curtains or a conveniently placed tall crate. He puts his vibroknife away and emerges from the duct in a crouching crawl to distribute his weight over a wider area. It is dark up here in the attic-type area, but enough light comes through the occasional grating that Tcho is able to move without having to juggle a flashlight. He begins the painfully slow process, and before too long, the inevitable happens. He places his hand slightly off target, and too much weight goes onto a tile rather than its frame. Tcho feels it give and quickly adjusts his position to a more stable one, but the popped tile falls. He freezes for a second, holding his breath, but all he hears through the sound of machinery is indistinct murmurs from down below. He carefully eases himself away from the opening, rather than try to glance through it. If there are Stormtroopers in the room, they might just unload in the general area of the hole, and Tcho would rather not get shot again.

Tcho knows that lingering up here for too long is not a good idea. There is the chance that they will try to fix the tile or someone will poke their head up through the opening. Those equipment sounds could cover them dragging a ladder in place. He can hear a Stormtrooper voice but not make out the words. Based on the pauses, a comm call is in progress. Are they reporting this tile? Or is someone else reporting in something to them? Tcho wonders. If that clerk realized I took something, he might raise an alert. The tone of the indistinguishable words does not sound alarmed, so Tcho decides to proceed. This night is still his best opportunity to get the job done.

It would be good for another tile to fall out near the first one, indicating that there is a problem with the ceiling in the center. If everyone’s attention is focused there, that could provide Tcho the opening he needs to get down to the floor over at a wall. Arranging that with his limited supplies would be tricky, though, because it would need to work on a delay. The idea that comes to mind is liquid; a leak is a reasonable explanation for tiles slowly softening and then falling when they get too heavy. The only fluids Tcho has on hand are medical supplies, though, and a stimshot does not hold very much. Tcho runs a hand over the nearest tile, getting a feel for the material, and decides to abandon this idea. It would not soak through, not on the time scale he needs and with the amount of stimshots he is willing to sacrifice. If things go poorly down below, he may need some for himself later.

Enough time wasted already. Just trust to the distraction you already made, Tcho tells himself. He knows that one of the walls is on the exterior of the ship itself, so he wants to stay away from that one, as it will be too slick to climb down and there are unlikely to be any curtains blocking its view of space. Either of the two interior corners will suit his purpose, and he picks the closest one. He slowly moves forward, growing more familiar with this type of tile than he ever thought to. His foot slips once, and for a moment he fears another tile will fall, but all remains still. Pulse pounding in his ears, he presses on. Used up all my luck in the moff’s suite.

When he reaches his destination, Tcho lifts the corner tile carefully and slides it aside, then takes a quick look to see what he is dealing with. The crates that were in the cargo hold when he first met JT are now here in the ballroom. Some are even open, with equipment spread out for testing. Most importantly, one is close to this low-lit corner, which should help Tcho get down without being seen. That is particularly good because the side wall is not great for stemming against. It is entirely sheer, a mirror put in place to make the ballroom look even larger. The opposite wall is also a mirror, which risks broadcasting Tcho’s actions across the room. No convenient drapes or columns are present at all, and the two large chandeliers are off in the middle of the room, too far away to be useful.

With no light fixtures nearby, Tcho will need to drop down onto the crate. It is tall enough to not be a dangerous to do but too far from the ceiling for him to easily reposition the tile from that location. Tcho briefly considers trying to pull it into place with this College of Corellia scarf after he goes through, but the risks are too high. That might result in a red and black flag marking his location. He leaves the scarf in his satchel and instead lowers himself by the arms. When he is fully stretched out, as close to the crate as his feet can get, he lets go with his left hand and reaches back through the opening for the tile. Shaking from the strain this is putting on his right arm, Tcho grabs the tile and brings it across. His right hand slips just as the tile gets into place. Having not had the opportunity to generate any sideways momentum before the release, Tcho misses the edge of the crate top and falls to the floor.