Tcho packs up his medical equipment and goes to stand up, but the room dims around him and he places a hand on the coffee table to steady himself for a moment. “You said you had a medical kit,” he says to JT. “Do you…” He sighs but forces himself to continue. “Do you have any training?”
“I have a medkit,” JT acknowledges with a smile. “I don’t have any training, but you look like you’ve taken some nasty hits.” He may have hidden things with his scarf, but she saw him in her vision, and that cut looked awful.
He shakily gets to his feet, willing the lightheadedness away. “Do you mind at least holding a mirror for me?”
“Yes, yes!” JT agrees, leaping up. “And of course you can use the refresher mirror, so you can see your back and neck.” As they head into the small room, she continues, “And we need to give you a haircut, too. Or were you wanting to shave the whole thing off? Is that too obvious?”
Tcho takes off Gomarr’s pointed cap and brings his hand up to his hair, fixing it a little in the mirror. Despite all the events of the day, the lavender frosted tips still look good. “Bald? No, I can’t shave my head! No.”
As JT disconnects the shaving mirror from its holder, Tcho methodically lays out medical equipment on the counter. Then he slowly unwinds the scarf and peels off the bandage that was in place. Yeah, that looks pretty bad, JT thinks as she sees the gash up close. Tcho pulls off his shirt unselfconsciously and starts washing his hands. As she regards his well-muscled back, JT finds herself wondering if all her new friends are stronger than she is. That’s okay. My strength is the Force, she reflects. There is a nasty line of bruises across Tcho’s back, and his right shoulder is scorched. Aside from the new injuries, though, his skin is smooth and unblemished. “So, it looks pretty bad,” she tells Tcho, “but the good news is I’ve seen a lot worse.” This is nothing like the mess of scars that her friend Renn has.
“Gomarr said it was worse than things he’s seen people die from!” Tcho starts to crane his neck to take a look but quickly realizes that is not a good idea. He directs JT on how to hold the mirror so that he can get oriented on all the work ahead. He pokes and prods at the knife wound, trying to get a feel for how badly the tendons and ligaments underneath are damaged. What was I thinking, going up against a Stormtrooper on my own? What was I thinking following Panaka at all?
JT sees the discouragement flitter across her new friend’s face as he starts to work. “Wait a second!” She sets down the shaving mirror and rushes out of the refresher, returning quickly with her bulky shoulder bag. She dumps the contents out all over the neatly-arrayed equipment on the counter and starts fishing through the mess.
Tcho stops what he is doing and watches, bemused. JT grabs a hydrospanner, and he protests, “I’m not a droid!”
She quickly stuffs the hydrospanner back in her bag, muttering, “You never know; you might have cybernetics.” Then she gathers up a handful of very small metallic pieces and proffers them. “I’ve got these alligator clips! It’s gonna hurt, but it will keep everything nice and closed.”
It is not exactly the best suture kit that Tcho has ever worked with, but he sees where she is going. They could help hold things in place while the synthskin knits. With JT’s assistance, he sets to work on his neck, slowly and carefully. He does not want to lose any mobility, but it is also important that no glaring scar be left behind or else any attempts at disguise will be fruitless.
JT tilts mirrors and hands over implements, watching Tcho work. This is a level of meticulousness she does not often see. Usually when she or one of her friends gets hurt, Cal or Draac patches them up as quickly as possible. For really serious things, there is the bacta tank or time spent at the medical clinic in New Meen. JT takes advantage of the time this is taking and the private space they are in to discuss the events of the day with Tcho. “I did want to let you know that the moff was loaning some of his extra Stormtroopers to look for you.” Tcho sighs and lowers his tools, redirecting his gaze in the mirror to regard JT. “It sounded like the sergeant had one squad but was getting backup.”
“Well, yeah.” He indicates his neck. “They found me. And the next group had shown up when the professor was helping me get out of there.”
“So how do you know him?” JT asks. “He seems nice.”
Tcho laughs. “I just met him. I’ve known him about as long as I’ve known you.”
“Well, there you go: new friends!” JT replies brightly. Then her smile fades. “I think he probably knows what your name is, the moff…” Tcho frowns. “They’re still looking for you, and at some point they’re going to realize that I just walked out of recuperation.” JT continues pensively, “I don’t think the moff wants to be a bad guy.”
Tcho quirks an eyebrow at that and turns around to face the human directly. “And what great insight do you have into what Panaka wants?”
“Well, he could have just started with torturing me and he didn’t,” JT points out.
“Did he say anything about what he’s working on?”
“No, but he did say he would come to the gala.”
“If the gala happens.”
“Yes, so I need to get the gala to happen. And now you need to get the gala to happen, if you want to be able to poke into what he’s doing. No gala, no free time.”
“I have a very strong suspicion that this lockdown is my fault,” Tcho admits, but then he reconsiders. “Or maybe it’s your fault. I’m not sure which one of us set off that container alarm.” JT mutters something about binary loadlifter droids, and Tcho yanks her back on-topic. “All right, well, what can we do? Other than turn me in. Fake my death?”
“That’s a little extreme,” JT objects.
“Well, what’s going to make them stop chasing me? I don’t really want them to catch me and interrogate me. Fake my death or… or fake me leaving the ship somehow.” JT points out that there will not be any opportunities to leave until they reach the next port. “There are escape pods around here,” Tcho counters. “Some of the fancy quarters can fully detach from the ship. If we could make them think that I got off the ship, then they would stop messing with the goings-on here, and your gala could happen.”
“Maybe,” JT allows. “Or maybe I just need to talk to the moff again. Maybe I can just get him—”
“What, just tell him I’m a nice guy? That’s not going to work.”
“But you are a nice guy.”
Tcho shakes his head and gestures at his neck again. “The Stormtrooper didn’t stab me first.”
“Okay, yeah, that’s going to be a point against you.”
“I don’t… I don’t…” Tcho searches for words that will get through the indomitable wall of optimism in front of him. “Look, you’re a very nice person, but I don’t see how you can convince people that this was all a misunderstanding.” JT starts to open her mouth, and he cuts her off. “It’s not a misunderstanding! They’re doing something! You saw the bindercuffs there. You fell into the repulsor trap. This isn’t innocent!”
“Yeah, yeah, he put the bindercuffs on as a little show of strength,” she says dismissively. “I think it was just to make himself feel better, frankly.” JT holds up her wrists. “But as you can see, they weren’t really a problem.”
“Yeah, they weren’t a problem,” Tcho acknowledges, exasperation slipping into his voice. She would not have been able to so casually get them off if he had not sabotaged them earlier. Tcho snatches the manacles up from the counter where they have been sitting since the human emptied her bag all over his orderly surgical array. With a series of twists and turns, he pops them open.
“Oh, cool,” JT says. “I just forced my way out of them.” With a capital F. The binders clatter to the counter as Tcho tosses them back. “What you really need,” JT continues, “is for the moff to be on your side.” She watches Tcho’s face shift from exasperation to bogglement.
“H-h-how? What? That makes no sense!”
“Look, he wasn’t always a moff. And I don’t just mean because it’s not a hereditary position. He used to be a functionary on Naboo. He was an important official back in those times and during the Clone Wars. I think he used to be a good man, but something happened to him that diverted him. We just need to divert him back.”
“So you’re going to make him your friend.”
If there is irony or sarcasm in Tcho’s voice, JT does not acknowledge it. “Yeah. And then he won’t be up to anything.” JT has done it once, she can do it again. Tech entrepreneur Eli Tusk formerly had her family enslaved and now he backs a slew of charities, all because of the crisis of conscience she single-handedly orchestrated.
Tcho stammers out, “I don’t even know where to start with that idea, making him realize that whatever he is doing for the Empire is wrong.”
“Or make him think it is not helpful for whatever is important to him. Or remind him of what is truly important to him that he may have forgotten about. I think the first hurdle is, we don’t know enough about him. Or maybe you know him better than I do. I only just met him for the first time today.”
“No, I don’t, not really. I’m following him because it was easier than dealing with Dargon for figuring out what their meeting was all about. Look what she did to Froz! She totally glassed that planet. I thought Panaka might be planning to do something similar in his own sector, but you saw those crates. Bindercuffs? Repulsor traps? That doesn’t seem like equipment for genocidally wiping out a planet.”
JT lets out a breath. “No, it sounds like equipment for a witch hunt, whether he believes it’s true or not.” At Tcho’s confused look, she continues, “Part of the point of doing a witch burning is that it’s a spectacle. Whether or not he finds the specific people he wants to make an example of or not, it gets a message across. Yeah, bindercuffs, repulsor fields… he’s going to stage a witch hunt. Whether that’s for Rebels or…” She stops herself. No need to mention the Force.
“Rebels or what?” Tcho asks. “What else would he be focusing on?”
“Well…” JT searches for a plausible answer. “There are still Separatists out there.”
Tcho laughs. “That’s ancient history,” he says dismissively.
“That was less than twenty years ago, pal,” JT snaps back. “It’s not ancient history. A lot of those planets are still in ruins, okay? So you cool it.” Tcho is taken aback at this first show of any sort of ire from the sunny human. She slowly inhales and exhales, calming herself down. “Okay, so, we don’t know that much about Panaka, but he might be thinking to do that. Maybe he got the idea from the other moff… What was her name?”
“Dargon,” Tcho supplies.
“They had a little bit of pillow talk; they shared this information…” Tcho cannot help but chuckle, appreciating the humor that JT can bring to a situation mere moments after something he said upset her. “Hey, moffs are people, too,” she says in her defense. “Who do we know who is important to Moff Panaka? I know he has a strong professional relationship with his chief of staff…”
“Do you know anything about her? Is that an angle to pursue?”
“She’s also from Naboo. She’s really nice.”
“JT…” Tcho shakes his head with a rueful grin. “JT, I need your vocabulary to be more nuanced. You’re using ‘nice’ in a completely meaningless way!” The human protests, but he continues, “Is she nice as in pliable? Nice as in sympathetic?”
“All organics are pliable. And almost anyone can be sympathetic with the right push. That’s what we need, to make the moff sympathetic. Look, I don’t think he used to be a bad person. He just needs help from his friends to push him back onto the right path. Trust me. Have you ever been at a dark point in your life before? Do some things that you really should not have done? If you’re lucky, there’s somebody there to pull you back. If you’re not, then maybe you’re a moff.” All trace of a smile is gone from JT’s face now. She knows she did some bad things, and maybe she would still be doing them, if not for Renci and Elaiza. Tcho listens quietly, his own face serious. He makes no comment, but JT can tell that her words have made him think.
“I… I get what you’re saying…” Tcho starts, but then he pauses, trying to pull his thoughts away from the past that he is running from, the past that he is trying to make up for by his work here. “It’s just that, you know, the idea of befriending a moff and making him see the error of his ways is a little… It’s a little outside my wheelhouse.” Not to mention all the problems that socializing above my station has caused in the past...
“Well then, we’re going to have to learn something new. Sometimes you just have to jump into the chaos. Besides, I hear that if you want to join the Rebellion, you have to be really heavily cross-trained in different disciplines. They like generalists, I think.” Tcho presses her for details, but she just smiles, her good humor returned. Through the closed refresher door, they hear the muffled sounds of Gomarr coming in with the food. Tcho picks his equipment back up to resume work on his injuries.