JT shows up at the Imperial a little before her appointment with Ursa Diol. She was lucky to be able to arrange a same-day lunch meeting with Moff Panaka’s chief-of-staff. The price of convenience, though, is that she had barely enough time to stop by her quarters before she had to actually find this establishment. In her room, she threw on a more formal outfit and left behind her backpack as inappropriate for a business luncheon, swapping it out for a sharp purse in which she quickly tossed whatever odds and ends she might need.
She started with the ship steward who had informed her back when she first boarded that the moff had taken her ballroom. He said there was no way to put her on the moff’s calendar because everyone who wants to talk with the moff has to go through his chief-of-staff. “Well, can I talk with that person, then?” JT asked at her politest. The steward took care of that. He’s such a nice, helpful person. I need to remember to ask his name next time.
Dressed in a dark navy blue pantsuit with a powder blue collared shirt underneath, JT steps up to the maitre d’ stand at the Imperial. The room beyond is adorned with lush velvety wall hangings, marble columns, all the trappings of Core World wealth. This décor is not Imperial in the sense of a battlecruiser, but rather of the old Senate chambers repurposed now for the Emperor’s inner circle. JT has been to Coruscant, but the closest she got to those buildings was the food truckships that cater to the staff, back when she was tracking down Fayce Xehan as a favor for Elaiza. Meals there did not run the hundred credits they cost here. No, this swanky place—not officially affiliated with the Empire—is where cruise passengers can come to eat in true lavish Coruscant style. Idly, JT wonders if she will be expected to pick up the check. We’ll see who pays; depends on how this goes.
The greeter inquires whether she wants a table or a seat at the bar. “Do you have a booth?” JT asks. “Booths are always best.”
“Booths? If you wish a booth, you are on the wrong level of this ship. I recommend you find the Trash Compactor… and stay there.”
JT brushes off his negative energy and requests a table out on the balcony. The terrace there, done up like a Coruscant roof garden, looks down through several decks of Dame Metropolis. Some of the levels have arcades along the edge, and the lowest deck seems to be an entertainment center. As JT moves to take her seat, she notes down below a large holo-banner advertising that the latest Helio Starburst vid is showing aboard the Dame.
She sits down and peruses the menu, intending to get some hors d’oeuvres for the table. She has never heard of most of the starters, and their descriptions do not appeal to her. JT orders a Blue Planet from the bar and requests some breadsticks while she waits. The rolls that come out are elaborate knots reminiscent of the braiding popular among some of the galaxy’s elite. Distracted by the topology, JT spends more time undoing the bread than eating it. Her expected companion runs a bit late, and by the time the moff’s chief-of-staff clacks up to the table, bread fragments cover her plate. JT stands to greet her, brushing crumbs away as she introduces herself.
Ursa Diol is a slight middle-aged human with a warm olive complexion, as short as JT, but slimmer. She wears formal robes, rather than a uniform, and her dark hair is in a short, no-fuss cut, unlike JT’s short, unruly mop. “Ms. Tessa…”
“Please, you can call me JT.”
“JT,” she drawls, shaking the blue-haired human’s hand and then seating herself. Somehow, Ursa has gotten a sprinkling of blue glitter on her hand, and she wipes it off on her napkin.
JT begins the conversation with some menu-based chitchat to ease the tension. “I’ve never been here before. Have you been to this place?” At Ursa’s shake of the head, JT presses on. “You’ve probably been to some pretty nice places on Coruscant. Is there anything on the menu that you think would actually mimic Coruscanti cuisine? I’ve been on Coruscant before, but I was at some of the more… ‘local’ establishments.”
Remembering the orphanages on the lower levels, like where Renn’s friend Chando grew up, JT loses her train of thought. “I saw some of the orphans there. They have a really hard time. They barely have teachers… Did you know that they can’t even breathe the air down there, on the lowest levels?” JT feels pretty good starting with this ice-breaker, making connections between their current meeting place and the orphans her charity will serve.
However, the small talk about Coruscant sits poorly with her companion. “Moff Panaka spends most of his time on Naboo. I have spent a little time on Coruscant for work, but it is a dreadful place. The only thing that makes it notable is that it is the capital of the Empire.”
Ursa Diol orders the Lobster Bisellian accompanied by an Ithorian Mist, while JT goes for the fried bantha. Then the official picks the previous topic back up. She clearly has a low opinion of the ecumenopolis. “It’s all one big city and there are no lush jungles or wetlands like Naboo has. If it weren’t for millennia of tradition, I’m sure the Emperor would have made Naboo the capital instead.”
Naboo? Then JT recalls, Oh, right, the Emperor is from Naboo.
The food comes out. Compared with the buffet at the Trash Compactor, it leaves much to be desired from JT’s perspective. The portions are super-small, the focus on exquisite arrangement and complementary colors rather than nutrition. Even the silverware is tiny, perhaps to make the food seem more voluminous in contrast. Her dining companion does not seem overly impressed, either. Ursa Diol picks at her meal halfheartedly, complaining about how it is probably all hydroponically grown on the ship, rather than coming fresh from the soil and sea.
“The food here really is not that great,” JT agrees, though having grown up on a ship herself, she has no qualms about eating ship-produced food. She does not feel any special connection to any planet’s biosphere like this woman seems to. “I’m hoping it will be better at this charity gala I’m running…. So, what do I need to do to get your moff to this charity event? I think it would be really great to show Imperial support for the War Orphans Fund. The moff is more well-known than a lot of other people. If people know the moff is going, then other people will go, and they will donate more money for the charity. It helps people to have an inspiring leader they can rally behind.”
“What planet does this fundraising benefit? What does it have to do with Naboo?”
Naboo again? JT thinks. Who said anything about Naboo? Then she remembers that that is the planet Moff Panaka is in charge of. She racks her brain trying to think of anything particular she knows about him or his planet. What did Tcho tell me about him? He was having a tryst with the Corellian moff? That’s not useful here. And Tcho was sort of biased against the moff, anyway…
Ursa Diol is still talking. “Why should I disturb my moff with this? Why should this matter to him? They’re not all interchangeable, you know—moffs—and Moff Panaka is a busy man. And I’m very busy, too.”
JT realizes she has not made the scale of her charity clear. If she can bring in substantial funds for it, then the War Orphans Fund will be better known and these sorts of misunderstandings will not happen. “I’m sure your moff is really nice. It’s not just that he’s a moff. And Naboo is such a nice planet.” Somehow, she manages to come across as earnest rather than vacuous. “But this is a galactic charity,” JT explains, placing her fully-spread hands emphatically on the table.
Their dishes have been cleared, and all that is left is their drinks. JT gestures over the balcony railing at the melange of sentients roaming the deck way down below. “Look at all those people.” The Opana family catches her eye. She cannot hear what they are saying from this distance, but Mariah is shaking her head at Matthieu, whose face is buried in a datapad, and at Gabon, who is gesturing excitedly at the holobanner above the 24/7 vidplex. Zinny is looking around, tugging her mother in another direction entirely. “Look, do you see that family there?” Ursa Diol joins JT in looking over the railing. “That’s what a lot of kids don’t have. But they’re doing what they can here. This is their one vacation for the next decade. I just want to give some of these kids a vacation from… from war.”
It is the will of the Force that JT was able to get this appointment at all, and now she intentionally leans on it, eliciting feelings of sympathy in her target. “Those children have a family. Not everyone has that. I was one of the lucky ones when my organic family didn’t survive the Clone Wars; I was able to find a new family.”
Ursa Diol is sympathetic. She shares that years before the Clone Wars officially started, Naboo suffered an invasion by the Trade Federation. She figures she was not much older than the newly-orphaned JT when that happened. Although all of her family survived the ordeal, there were many children on Naboo who lost their families in the fighting.
That skirmish is not part of JT’s knowledge base, but she has certainly heard of the Trade Federation; they were one of the powerhouses of the Separatist Movement. Probably shouldn’t mention to Ursa that I was raised by B1s…
“The Gungans suffered heavy losses,” Ursa says. “They were the frontline fighters. They were out there on the fields, fighting with their primitive shield bubbles and explosives. There was not a blaster to be had among them. So much loss of life… Thank goodness Naboo’s fortunes turned around, and there’s been no war on our soil since. It does hold a special place in the Emperor’s heart…. Of course, he cares for all his subjects, certainly. Moff Panaka, too, has a lot of noble causes to work on. Does he really need to be there at your event? Maybe he could just offer his endorsement.”
“Approved by the moff is good,” JT says, the light of the room causing some of the stray glitter on her to glisten as she nods, “but I’m sure you’ve been to or have seen a lot of events that have been ‘approved by’ some Imperial advisor. It does not carry the same weight as if the moff is really there. I understand that the moff is probably very busy.” With whatever he is doing in my ballroom, JT continues in her head. Ursa’s probably the one who handled that change! “But this gala is a big deal. It’s going to kick off this charity so we can hire some staff. That’s why originally I scheduled Banquet Hall C. But when I got onboard and was talking with the cruise company after I had already booked it, they said that the moff needed that room for some important Imperial business.” You owe me, JT says, without actually saying it. “So I think it would be really great if the moff does his important Imperial business in that room and then comes over to the Observation Deck for the cocktail hour to do a meet-and-greet with the gala attendees. And then also comes to the dinner, which is being custom-made in a room not open at any other point during the cruise.”
Ursa Diol is about to reply, when her comm buzzes. She excuses herself, stepping down along the railing to put some space between them. She misjudges the acoustics of the room, however, and JT is still able to hear fragments of the conversation. From the tone, she can tell that Ursa is speaking to an underling. “Why are binary load-lifter droids there? … They’re moving our crates?!” Oh good, JT thinks, they showed up for the job. They’re so hardworking.
Ursa Diol juggles the comm, continuing to listen to a long explanation while she fishes out a datapad and starts flipping through it. “All right, give me the description of that crew member. Some sort of Pantoran? Lavender hair or white? Both?” As this goes on, JT gathers that they are talking about Tcho and that whoever is dealing with the load-lifters discovered that the moff’s things had been disturbed. JT had requested those load-lifters to help set up the room for the gala, but then—what with getting stuck in the crate and dislocating her shoulder, plus talking Rebellion and Blue Streak stuff with Tcho…. Oh. Oh, no. When JT noticed the flashing light on the moff’s crate, she and Tcho cleared out of there, but they never canceled the request for the binary load-lifters. JT briefly tunes back into what the moff’s chief-of-staff is saying. “You need to find that crewmember and bring him in for questioning. And the room is full of what now? Blue glitter?” Ursa Diol looks over at JT, who is once again lost in thought.
Tcho was really nice. He got those binary load-lifter droids for her, and he fixed her shoulder. He was very interested in getting a look at the moff’s quarters; she really should help him out if she can. JT steps up to meet Ursa Diol as the latter returns to their table, comm put away. “Look, I can tell that you’re really busy. What can I do to get a meeting with the moff about this? He’s really busy; does he need something else taken care of? Are you short-staffed? Is your staff really not up to the level you need?” That is true for every chief-of-staff ever. “Look, I don’t know what issues you’re having, but before I started this charity, I was a starship engineer. I’ve gotten around a lot. I don’t know if that can help you, but I’ve met a lot of people on this ship already. If people are… uncomfortable talking with the moff or the moff’s staff, they might be more comfortable talking with me.”
“Oh,” Ursa Diol says, her voice level, “you can meet with the moff. Right now.” She turns toward the door, and JT’s eyes follow hers to find two security guards there. They are not Stormtroopers, but those humans are definitely in Imperial military uniforms. A bit of Ursa Diol’s thunder is taken away by her comm ringing again. She answers it, and JT can hear a tinny voice on the other end of the line.
“We think we found him, ma’am… Chase him! Get him!”
“Don’t let him get away,” Ursa Diol orders. “We need to question him.”