Jai Tessa walks through the corridors of Dame Metropolis under the escort of moff staff. An Imperial guard of some sort is positioned a step behind her on each side, but so far no one has tried to grab her arm or slap bindercuffs on her. A little bit ahead, Ursa Diol’s heels clack against the metal floor. These fellows around JT seem to have no interest in chatting, so when Ursa flips open her comm, JT directs her attention to that conversation. There is a lot of “Yes, sir,” and “Of course, sir,” as well as statements about status reports being forthcoming as new information becomes available.
“Is that the moff?” JT asks, quickening her pace to close the distance. “Can I just talk with him real quick?” Ursa Diol turns to shoot JT a glare and then widens the gap between them. “Ask him if he wants to go to the gala!”
Ursa tells her superior that she has a person of interest to bring to one of their rooms, but the response is not what she expected. “Oh. You want me to take her there? Whatever you say, sir.”
Yes, let’s go there, JT thinks, excited at the prospect of inviting such a prominent person to her charity event.
At the next turbolift, Ursa leads the group inside and then plugs an Imperial code cylinder into the system to override its settings. She taps in her desired destination, and JT is happy to observe that they are now headed to deck B2. Her mood dims when she sees the deactivated binary loadlifter droids outside the entrance to the cargo hold, but she puts a positive spin on it. “At least they get a break,” she mutters.
They enter the hold itself, and JT finds that it is mostly how she left it a few hours ago. The blue glitter from her grenades has settled onto the ground and other surfaces, a sparkly dust in which bootprints now show, bootprints that lead to Imperial Stormtroopers. Oh. Didn’t know about that! JT and her friends have certainly run up against such soldiers before, but usually she had Draac or Kash to hide behind or a jetpack to give her some distance. None of those options are available now, but JT remains confident because she still has her secret weapon: she smiles broadly. Nothing can stop the charm train.
The Stormtroopers are standing in guard position near various crates, including the one that Tcho pointed out to JT earlier as belonging to the moff. Some of the cargo containers are open, as if they were checking their contents. The troopers nod at Ursa as the group approaches, but they do not address her. They remain alert and attentive to the man who now turns to the new arrivals. Moff Quarsh Panaka is a tall, dark-skinned human. He appears older than Ursa, maybe in his sixties, but he is sturdily built, suggesting he still takes care of himself physically. He could be considered handsome, but as he comes about to face JT directly, she sees that the right side of his face is marked with burn scars that continue up across his bald scalp and disappear below his collar. He is dressed in uniform: gray tunic and jodphurs, black leather boots and belt. He wears matching gloves that are not typical of the outfit, but JT thinks nothing of them at the moment. The set of little squares of various colors on his chest probably has some significance which JT is sure Renci would know how to decode. The man looks at JT sternly.
JT is not intimidated. She single-handedly brokered a deal with the Pirate Queen of Seleucami. “You must be the moff,” she says cheerfully, as she steps forward and extends a hand. “It’s so nice to meet you!” Panaka slaps aside the offered hand with one that is heavy and solid. JT suspects that under the leather glove is a mechanical replacement for his original one. He has probably seen some rough times. War will do that to you, she reflects, as she discreetly rubs her sore hand and breathes out a quiet, “Sorry.”
In a deep, resonant voice, the moff yells at her for just waltzing in like there was not a trouble in the world. Then his gaze moves past her and settles on Ursa Diol. “Who is this person?”
Ursa addresses her superior calmly and respectfully. “This is Jai Tessa, sir. She seems to have something to do with the disturbance that happened here.”
“She’s got blue hair, but her skin sure isn’t blue! What is going on with that search?” Quarsh demands. When Diol told him she was bringing a person of interest, he expected some sort of Rebel operative. He certainly was not mentally prepared for this perky little woman in the smart pantsuit with the bulky shoulder bag and goofy smile.
“That person of interest is currently being pursued by Sgt. Renault’s squad,” Ursa assures him.
JT hears a Stormtrooper mutter to his neighbor. “Sgt. Renault? More like Sgt. Oh-No.”
“That guy’s going nowhere,” his partner agrees. “Glad I’m not on the ‘Ape’ Squad.”
The two straighten up and silence themselves with a, “Sorry, sir,” when a trooper in more decorated armor turns to regard them.
JT returns her attention to the moff and finds him watching her carefully. She adopts her most professional smile and unleashes a stream of words. “Yes, I did come here to check out this room. It’s the room I got reassigned for my charity gala because I had originally reserved Banquet Hall C, but I was told you needed that. I get that; I understand that you need that. This is the only other space they had that would work. But I came down here, and there was all this stuff in here, so I needed to rearrange it for the gala. I didn’t know it was yours at the time.” That is true; she did not know it was the moff’s stuff until Tcho pointed out the stamps to her. “If you want this space back, that’s fine. But can I have the banquet hall back then? I need to run this charity gala. That’s what I was talking with your chief of staff about. Or is there any way we can share space? I’d be fine with that, too. It would be great to have you come to the gala. Which space is more important to you? The Dame is a big cruise ship, but it’s only so big. I’d be happy to switch back and you can have this space. I’d have to change around some of my ideas for decorations…”
What is this woman rambling about? Room assignments? That is a problem beneath the notice of a moff. Quarsh turns to his chief-of-staff. “What is this?” he demands, waving his arm up and down dismissively at the event planner. “Why am I even listening to this? What is this doing in front of me? I don’t care about some party. The only space I care about is the Naboo Sector.” No one in the room risks correcting him that the sector is actually named Chommell.
JT cringes inwardly, feeling bad for Ursa. She did not mean to throw her under the speeder. The other woman has so far seemed pretty reasonable. Panaka continues, volume rising in anger, “I want to know about this alleged crew member who was in here messing with the cargo. You claim you just called for some droids to move some boxes for you to make space for your fancy party, but that does not explain why some of these crates were opened. And so far—” he looks around the room, glaring at the Stormtroopers, the guards, the clerks, and Ursa, “—so far nobody seems to have found out who that individual is or what he was doing.” JT notes the tensing body language of the moff’s employees. Then his dark brown eyes settle on her again. “This sort of violation of Imperial property cannot be allowed to stand. Tell me about whoever it was you were down here with,” he orders.
It’s not just a party! JT inwardly seethes. She begins slowly doling out information that she knows the Imperials already have based on what she overheard from Ursa’s comm calls. “Who was I down here with? Well, a crew member did let me in. A guy… he had some hair…” she tells the bald moff. “He was a blue-skinned fellow. He was very helpful. He let me in and made sure I was safe. I asked him to call some load-lifting droids down here.” She remembers the sad state of the ones she saw on the way in. She hates to see them that way; people just forget about them! “They were just outside. I think we should probably get them reactivated…”
Panaka once again rounds on Ursa, snapping at her, “Did you get all that? That’s the person your people should be looking for. Call Renault right now and find out what’s going on.”
Ursa steps away from the interview to check in on their forces.
* * *
Renault waits at the bottom of the chairlift for his prisoner to be delivered back to him while UE-664 scrapes together the unit and tries to calm the crowds. Finally, a burnt and bloody bench arrives, but it is empty. “Kriff,” the sergeant growls. His comm goes off, and it is Ms. Diol asking for a status update. “Uh, we know the subject is… uh… we’re pursuing the subject in the ski slope area… down below the icy restaurant.” He starts looking around for the nearest clear exit.
KT-287 approaches. “Sir, you’re bleeding. Do we need to see to that now, sir?”
Bleeding? Of course I’m bleeding! That alien knifed me! Renault loses his cool and spins suddenly, backhanding the trooper who stumbles away and slips in the snow. “You’re bleeding, too! Yes, we need to call for help for that!” Then he realizes the comm is still on. “So sorry, ma’am.”
“Do you need another squad?” Ms. Diol asks.
The last thing Renault wants is another sergeant butting in on his operation. “If you can loan me Silver Squad’s troopers, that would be great. Maybe they can learn something from the Ape Squad.”
* * *
“Sir, do you need all these troopers here still, or can we release some to the search?”
Quarsh waves his hands at one of the clusters of Stormtroopers, telling his chief-of-staff to do with them as she will. While she gathers them and some of the clerks for a quick briefing, the moff returns his attention to the clueless woman in front of him. He puts his arm around her shoulders in a grandfatherly fashion, ushering her towards the crate whose security beacon alerted them to the problems down here. “I understand that galactic affairs are way above your head, but it is very important that you think really hard and try to remember what exactly it was you saw this crew member doing in here. Sure, he seemed like he was being helpful, and he called droids in for you, but he also messed with some of these things. If you can, try to recreate in your mind where he was standing when you were talking with him. What was he doing? Did he have any tools with him?”
The woman lets out a breath. “Whoa, heavy stuff. Do you mind if I have a drink?” She pulls a thermos out of her purse and sucks something noisily up through a straw, then rambles on unhelpfully for a bit.
Who is this idiot? Will nothing get through to her? Quarsh thinks, exasperated. It is as though she has not heard a single thing he has said. Perhaps she needs to more personally experience the gravity of the situation.