Star Wars: Cruise Control | Scene 19

JT takes a deep breath to center herself and then downs the rest of her milkshake in one long slurp. With a bit of brain freeze going, she heads over to the Imperial table, where Moff Quarsh Panaka is hosting his own contingent, as well as Captain Rowan. Although Ursa Diol does not have the highest rank, JT greets her first, as the person she knows best. JT’s previous conversation with the moff was somewhat contentious, and JT has not publically met the captain, only the Blue Streak has. 

Ursa rises to shake hands with JT and introduce her to the table. “Moff Panaka, you recall Jai Tessa. And this is…” Ursa pauses a moment, unsure of how to introduce Renault. She has seen the paperwork for his field promotion, but the official appointment has not come through yet.

Lieutenant Renault,” Panaka inserts.

The man in question sits up straighter at that. He had heard something like this might be in the works, but having the moff say it aloud makes it true. But here in the very cargo hold where all his problems began, Renault remains ill at ease, still worried about that Rebel out there somewhere. Sure, the escape pod exploded, but despite what he told his superiors, Renault knows that his knife did not hit any switch inside the small craft. That explosion could well have been a ruse of some kind. None of the moff’s things are here in this room any longer; they have all been moved to the ballroom for the technicians to work on. It is sort of ironic that the cargo is in a ballroom, while a ball is in a cargo hold, but it is a moff’s prerogative to conduct research on plush carpet with chandeliers overhead.

JT compliments Renault on his impressive ocular implant, and Ursa continues her introductions, ending with, “And of course you are familiar with Captain Rowan.”

JT plays it cool, covering her deception with a layer of good cheer. “I don’t think we’ve had the opportunity to meet yet, though I’ve seen your posters. And I haven’t had a chance to check out your museum yet. I understand it is well-appointed.”

“Well, like most of the ship now, it’s under repairs,” Rowan sighs. “But as soon as it opens, we’ll get you up there. This is a lovely, lovely party you’re throwing here. It really puts this part of the Dame in a whole new light.” 

JT praises the cargo hold for its high ceilings and ample space. “I hope all of you are having a good time.”

“This gala is a great time,” the captain corrects her. “Don’t sell yourself short, young lady.”

“Thank you. It’s been a crazy, crazy trip. Are all of your people okay after the Maelstrom?” she asks, turning back to Ursa. The Empire cannot show weakness, so Ursa brushes off the polite question with a polite dismissive answer. “Well, I’m so glad you could all make it, and that we could work out a space-sharing agreement that does so well,” JT says brightly. “The ship is so big, with so many little nooks and crannies. There’s so much stuff to do. I know Ursa, you’ve been meditating, and Captain, you’ve been busy working. Ah, but Moff Panaka, what have you been enjoying on this trip? I hope you’ve had a chance to relax.”

“I have not spent any time partaking of the ship’s many distractions,” the moff responds, his sonorous voice lacking levity. “It is the absence of distraction that I have enjoyed most here, being able to concentrate away from the hubbub of planetary governance.”

“That makes sense,” JT acknowledges, trying to keep things positive. “I’ve heard so much about Naboo, but I’ve never been there. From the descriptions of the vistas that I’ve heard, it sounds very gorgeous. Probably nothing compares to its pristine serenity. Maybe one day I’ll be able to check it out. Where on Naboo should I definitely visit to just relax and breathe it in? Where do you find solace planet-side?” JT leans on the Force as she speaks these words, coaxing the moff to a more meditative and reflective state of mind.

“Well, the Emperor has his own retreat on Naboo, where he goes to reflect and enjoy the tranquility of the planet, but it is not open to visitors,” Panaka says, deflecting the question away from his own habits. There is too much in this galaxy to be angry about for him to waste time idly sitting about doing nothing.

A calm comes over JT, and she senses Val Isa’s presence. Channeling the ancient Jedi master, JT speaks with the knowledge and insight of one long gone. Anyone who knows JT well would hear something off, as her scattered mind is momentarily replaced by a more serene one. “Perhaps Lianorm Swamp on the edge of Lake Paonga would be a reflective place to visit. I don’t know if you’ve been there, but there are ancient ruins, ancient even to the Gungans.”

Ursa chimes in now in support of JT so that they do not get derailed into current, divisive happenings at that lake. “You remember that location, Moff Panaka. That is where the first treaty between the Gungans and the Royal House of Naboo was signed. That must be just a little over thirty years ago or so now. Queen Amidala and Boss Nass,” she adds, nudging him to remember the good old days on Naboo. That was much earlier in Panaka’s career, when he was head of the queen’s security force.

The moff loses control of his temper for a moment, snapping at Ursa, “Yes, I know what the Gungan sacred place is.” While such an outburst might have been fine during his previous conversation with JT in this very room, it is a social faux pas at an event like this. JT feels bad that Ursa is bearing the brunt of his anger, but then the moff growls at JT, “There are plenty of places on Naboo that I can relax!”

“How about a tour then? Of several!” JT brightly suggests, cleverly getting the conversation back on track. 

The captain senses some tension at the table. Making sure everyone has a good time is one of his top priorities, so he attempts to lighten the mood by sharing some anecdotes from earlier in his career. He waxes eloquent about his youth working on surface skimmers and hovering pleasure barges, nice open-air ones that would work well in Naboo’s pleasant climate.

“I’m an event planner,” JT points out. “I really appreciate that you were able to come to this gala—especially with your busy schedule—and support my interests, but what about you, Moff Panaka? Is there anything that I can do for you, maybe on Naboo? I should be free after this cruise. Maybe we can visit some of these places. Or if there is anything you need organized there… Sometimes it’s helpful to have another person’s eyes look at something when you need to get a different perspective on things.” JT starts planning it before the moff can even respond, suggesting they visit his top five favorite places, culminating in a visit to “that swamp.” JT has only a vague memory of speaking the swamp’s name herself earlier. “At each stop, we can try to figure out what is one more humanitarian effort I can help spin up, working with people and organizing them. That might be a really great thing to do. It doesn’t have to just be helping people, either. I understand that even before the Clone Wars, Naboo had to deal with… certain… issues.” JT does not want to bring up the Trade Federation; that hits a little too close to home for her. “Maybe environmental issues, since it is a pristine planet. Or we could just spend some time remembering the times when the Emperor was able to be on Naboo more regularly—I understand he’s a busy, busy man.”

While JT is working out details with the moff, Ursa’s comm goes off. She listens to the underling for a moment and then mutters irritatedly, “What is this? Just a missing report?” Nothing seems suspicious to her; the moff made a wreck of his suite earlier. Some sheets were bound to slip under furniture.

“Uh, Ms. Diol,” Renault inserts, having overheard some of the other end of the conversation. “I request to deal with this personally, this crewmember alien.”

Sensing there may be another problem, the captain assures them that all mutineers have been rounded up. Ursa nods understandingly. It seems to her that Renault is seeing conspiracies where none exist, and when he insists she let him go, she reminds him, “You are not actually on duty, Renault.”

“An officer is always on duty, ma’am.”

“Why don’t you just take a walk? Relax. Breathe deeply,” Ursa advises him.

Renault gives her a curt nod, then stands and stalks out of the room. From across the hold, Kerr-Lonn-Ny sees his exit, and her mild sense of alarm increases. She has not seen Tcho anywhere at all here tonight, and she has moved throughout the entire dance floor. She steps out into the hall to find out where the soldier is going, and in a sudden flash, she sees her friend in trouble, bleeding in some dark, cramped place. Oh, no! Not again! she thinks when that vision clears. She left Tcho behind injured once, but she will not do so again. Kerr-Lonn-Ny dashes down the hall, letting the Force guide her through the ship.

The moff is pleased that JT is aware that she has taken up his valuable time with this gala, and he makes it clear that she is not entitled to more of it on Naboo. He does not dismiss her ideas, but those are the sort of things his underlings can deal with. He sees no reason for his own personal involvement. However, Ursa, now back in the conversation, assures him his presence is required. There are some places on Naboo that a moff-level official must be present to grant access to tour, like the Emperor’s Gardens.

“And because your time is so precious, that is why you being there will make it all have so much more impact. We need you in your capacity as a moff to not just approve but also participate. The people of Naboo need you. They need to see you being that leader,” JT insists. 

Given this strange woman’s level of persistence and insistence, Quarsh Panaka begins to think she has some sort of personal concern about his well being. Is she actually worried about me? Ursa is always telling him that he is overworked and needs to relax more. He expects that from his chief-of-staff, but if even a stranger can tell he is too high-strung, maybe there really is something to that. This is curious to him. It could be a risk, taking Jai Tessa up on this activity, but it could also prove interesting. He grants his approval for the joint tour of Naboo and humanitarian aid planning session, complete with his personal participation.