The High Republic: Late Nights

Excerpt from “The End of the Beginning: The Chancellor’s Election of 522 AR” by Mjek Dunkhanna:

“The election itself largely followed established patterns. Two general groupings predominated in the Senate, the Core and Rim Cliques, and each nominated their own candidate for the chancellorship. The names of these factions represented not so much their constituencies as their economic interests. Whereas Core Clique Senators focused on the central industries of older Republic worlds, their Rim Clique counterparts were more concerned with the ever-growing business of the frontier settlements. For the last few decades, the position of Chancellor had steadily alternated between these powers; in this instance, it was the Core Clique’s candidate who proved victorious.

[…]

Under ordinary circumstances, the election of Senator Lina Soh would have been little remarked upon by future historians. However, this was the first time in a long time that the Jedi Order had tried to influence its course. Under the leadership of Grandmaster Lemma-Tian Bivor-Tion, a significant part of the Order had openly backed the Rim Clique, going so far as to promote the expansion of the Republic Defense Fleet. Jedi militarism was on the rise once again, and Lina Soh’s brief tenure would be essentially marked by its troubles…”

Jedi Grandmaster Lemma-Tian Bivor-Tion stood in front of the large window backing the Chancellor’s main office, staring out at the dense Coruscant traffic outside. These are my people, he thought, and their safety is my purpose. Seeing even this small slice of the Core Worlds’ trillions was an almost dizzying affair to him, overcome as he was by the greatness of his responsibility. He couldn’t imagine how anyone had ever managed to occupy his present position; the only person with more on their plate was the Chancellor themself, and their political office seemed almost designed to foster ignorance. Yes, one could only wield power by obfuscating its real impact, by pretending that its life-and-death decisions could be formalized and normalized. Out of all the people in his immediate vicinity, be they political or spiritual, Bivor-Tion was convinced that only he understood the true nature of power.

Turning around, he gazed into a yet empty office; the Chancellor’s secretaries had let him in before their new leader had herself arrived. This afforded him a moment to think, something quite precious in the endless bustle of the galactic capital. Mostly he thought of his current predicament, the simple yet dreadful result of backing the wrong fathier. The recent  Chancellor’s election had been one for the ages, and Master Lemma-Tian had spent many late nights hobnobbing with the various elites of this megalopolis, hoping to coax their ultimate vote one way or another. Unfortunately, his preferred candidate had proven too unpopular due to their militarist leanings, a bad tone to set in this age of galactic peace. Despite their unusual perspective, Lemma-Tian had fully supported the candidate’s campaign, equally convinced that it was time for the Republic to rearm and defend itself against the growing danger on its frontiers. It was downright ridiculous that the galaxy’s main government had lasted so long without a proper army, a complacent pacifism which could only be explained through the absence of a significant rival power. In Lemma-Tian’s view, it was only a matter of time before such an enemy would emerge again. If the Jedi were to be the true guardians of peace and justice in the Republic, they needed an army to help them.

In the end, it seemed that too few yet agreed with him and his candidate. Now that the latter had failed, it was left to Master Bivor-Tion to pick up the pieces, and try to make the best of a bad situation. This started by congratulating the new Chancellor on her victory, and hoping this might smooth over his earlier opposition to her candidacy. Yes, he had not liked the campaign of Lina Soh, a Senator from the Inner Rim who seemed utterly unconcerned about the dangers of the new frontier. She had campaigned on various internal improvements, as well as the effective representation of ‘functional constituencies’ within the Senate. These were important issues of course, but they rang hollow when compared to the safety of Outer Rim settlers. Unrest at the frontier could endanger the trade and finance sectors which founded the Republic’s present prosperity; what use would internal improvements be at that point? Soh was putting the cart before the Muunyak, and Lemma-Tian was determined to impress this on her once they finally met. Which would be any moment now.

Indeed, as he uneasily paced this grand semicircular office, one of the Chancellor’s secretaries came to inform him that Soh was just ten minutes away now, back from a reception with her erstwhile campaign donors. Apparently she felt that her corporate sponsors were a more important constituency than the Jedi Order. Given his own political activities, Master Bivor-Tion found it hard to disagree. While the Order was certainly powerful, especially compared to the other major religions of the galaxy, its influence hardly lived up to the eras of Revan and Atris, true Force Masters who had guided the Republic through dark times. He always liked to hear of their deeds, and had studied them extensively as a young Knight. Sometimes he even loathed his confinement to so mediocre a period. While many saw this as a golden age for both the galaxy at large and the Jedi in particular, he couldn’t help but lament those ancient glories lost. What would it take to recapture them?

Before the Jedi Grandmaster could fully resolve his troubles, the soft chime of an elevator door at the head of this office attended him to the Chancellor’s arrival. He drew himself up and turned towards the entrance, affecting a calm demeanor that in no way matched his actual mood. Here she was then, Lina Soh, wearing a somewhat formal dinner gown and a fair amount of traditional make-up. How she had maintained this pristine look while dining, this Lemma-Tian did not know. He wasn’t too interested in that anyway. Nor did she seem too interested in him. After a short glance to acknowledge his presence, she walked straight to her main desk and pulled up its computerized screen. In a curt yet neutral tone, she asked one of her secretaries to bring up a decanter of Shak’Atla. Bivor-Tion didn’t recognize the name; presumably it was a drink from her homeworld. While she cast another glance at him, it was clear she didn’t mean to share a glass with him. Presumably she thought that Jedi didn’t drink any intoxicants anyway. While this wasn’t strictly true, it was an impropriety that she could get away with. Lemma-Tian would let her.

The secretary returned rather quickly, pouring the Chancellor a glass of a clear yet surprisingly phosphorescent liquid. For a few minutes, Lina Soh merely stood at the window of her office, gazing out at the city as Lemma-Tian had just earlier. She didn’t seem to expect or want the Jedi to speak, and so he didn’t. Finally, she turned and sat in the single chair which faced away from the window, putting her glass down on the great desk before her. She then motioned for Bivor-Tion to do likewise, and he sat down in one of the more casual chairs which stood opposite the desk. He noticed how, despite Soh’s short stature, the difference in seating now had her looming over him. An intentional design, he assumed.

Once again, the Chancellor checked her computer console, pretending that whatever was displayed here was much more important than the person before her. With a somewhat dismissive tone, she asked: “Well then, what can I do for you, Master Jedi?”

With the calm of a Jedi, Bivor-Tion began: “Madam Chancellor, let me first congratulate you on your victory. I am sure your tenure will be…”

Lina Soh raised her hand, gesturing for him to stop. “Master Jedi, I’ve had a long night. Could you please spare me these pleasantries? As we both know, you opposed my candidacy quite vigorously, so your present congratulations leave me quite cold anyway. Now, if you could just tell me what you’re here for, perhaps we can work something out. But make it quick.”

Make it quick? How ironic. But Lemma-Tian maintained his passive demeanor, and resumed: “Understood, Madam Chancellor, I shall be brief. My visit here relates to a key issue which deeply affects both the Jedi Order and the Galactic Republic. Neither our sacred mission nor your ongoing prosperity could be realized without it. I speak of course of the frontier, and the security of our settlers. This is a cause which both I and your opponent have championed, and yet I’ve found you strangely silent on this issue. Are you perhaps unaware of the growing turmoil on our borders?”

“I assure you, Master Bivor-Tion, I am well aware of the Outer Rim. In fact, that is exactly why my stance on it has been so ‘silent’, as you put it. None of the statistics I’ve seen show any significant increase in border skirmishes during my predecessor’s tenure. Sure, the number waxes and wanes, but the overall danger stays much the same. As Chancellor, it is my duty to judge things from a distance, to safeguard the stability of this Republic. I will not let the unmerited fears of a few border worlds dominate my policy.”

The coldness of Soh’s reply struck Lemma-Tian deeply. There was always a hint of the Dark Side about these politicians, more so than in the average citizen. In this case, the Chancellor masked her apathy as responsibility, completely forgetting her citizens in the process. The Jedi would remind her.

“Madam Chancellor, with all due respect, your statistics do not speak to every aspect of our frontier crisis. Perhaps the total number of attacks has stayed the same, but my own reports assure me that they have grown in severity as well as organization. It seems that some mysterious force is being coordinated across our borders, one which always strikes where we least expect it. It’s been a great source of trouble for both local militias and the few Jedi stationed there. They clamor for some kind of central government response!”

Lemma-Tian hadn’t meant to raise his voice, but perhaps he had let his sense of responsibility get to him. He just couldn’t imagine such a flagrant abnegation of one’s political duties, even when it came from his ostensible opponents.

Judging by her look, Lina Soh didn’t think she was abnegating anything. “Once again, Master Jedi, my duty is to the Republic as a whole. Regional favoritism would be unbecoming of my station. And whatever you would be proposing would likely also risk the military restrictions upon which this Republic was founded. I do not wish to return to the days before Ruusan.”

“Neither does anyone, Madam Chancellor, but we cannot ignore conflict when it arrives. War is hardly ever a choice.” Surely she understood this?

“Actually, Master Jedi, you’d be surprised to find we have quite a few choices before us. You see, your current argument was pre-empted by the very people you mean to oppose. Have you heard of the one they call the Last Sage?”

If Master Bivor-Tion had allowed himself to feel it, a wave of fear would surely have run through his body. How did she know that name?

“Yes, vaguely. The Folk Jedi claim such a figure often represents the local tribes, no matter what part of the Outer Rim they find themselves in. It’s likely they stand at the head of this conspiracy, whatever it is.”

“This is what I had heard as well. However, a few days ago, I was contacted by someone claiming to represent this figure. Perhaps it was even them, I don’t know. What I do know is that our Republic’s expansion looks quite different from their perspective. Positively imperial, one could argue. And while I’m not about to halt the most lucrative colonization effort in galactic history, I am partial to compromise. And that is what they offered. A compromise.”

“A compromise?!” Lemma-Tian exclaimed. “What could these barbarians possibly want except violence and plunder? It’s what they’ve been chasing so far.”

Soh seemed undisturbed by his protests. “It’s simple, really. Their list of demands is quite succinct, I’ll have it forwarded to your office. Basically, we would remove our settlers from a few sparsely populated worlds, confine them to certain enclaves on others, and generally extend preferential land and trade rights to the indigenous inhabitants of the Outer Rim. I’ve had the proposal analyzed by one of my financial advisers, and they say it would cost us a pittance in terms of lost revenue. We might even stand to gain from it.”

By this point, the Jedi Grandmaster was almost desperate in his frustration. How could she not grasp the treachery of these people? From every colonial report he’d read, it seemed like these marauders violated promises and principles at every turn. They could not be trusted.

“Madam Chancellor, once again, I do not think we should reduce this matter to statistics. The sovereignty of our Republic is an inviolable principle. Wherever our people go, there tread the Jedi, and with us the Light. To infringe on that is tantamount to sacrilege, as far as I’m concerned. Need I remind you that the Sith once founded their ancient empires in this same region? The further one is removed from the Core of our galaxy, from the concentration of its life, the further one seems to stray from the Light. Unless the Jedi are there to guide the people, of course, as is our sacred duty. Please, Madam Chancellor, do not let their promise of peace cloud your judgment. It is surely a trick.”

“Master Jedi, I must say, I find your lack of faith disturbing. Be it in me, or in our ostensible opponents. If treated with kindness, I am sure these people could accept you among them. It seems your Folk Jedi have been able to accommodate them somewhat.”

“They are not my Folk Jedi, Master Jedi. Most of their successes have come at the cost of their adherence to the Will of the Force. Or so it seems to me. Either way, I maintain that you vastly underestimate the dangers of the Outer Rim. If we cannot resolve this between us, I shall have to plead my case with the Senate directly. Perhaps they will be more responsive.”

“Yes, I would encourage you to do so. We are still a democracy, after all.” She flashed a sly smile. “You know, I find it quite ironic that you’d so vigorously denounce our border regions. Did not your own ancestors, the Tionese, originate from precisely this area? You seem to see no danger in them.”

She would insult his ancestry? Now this was low. “Madam Chancellor, if you really must know: my people did not come from the Outer Rim originally. They moved there of their own accord, cast out by the Rakatans for their fervent belief in the Light Side. Indeed, they were the first to cast out this region’s primal darkness. It is their legacy I mean to honor now, by protecting our glorious people as they flow rimward. I would hate to see your policy jeopardize all that.”

He could see that she wasn’t listening. She probably considered his answers meaningless, unmotivated, bereft of the quantified logics she put her faith in. But the Light was about something greater than credits. It meant peace, yes, but also justice, progress, the beauty of life. Strange how the Republic’s leaders, those who were meant to enable these virtues, were often those who could see them the least. Did power itself create such ignorance, or did the wise not seek power to begin with? He feared he would never know.

Lemma-Tian was about to get up and leave—expecting nothing more from the Chancellor—when one of her aides came rushing into the office, a glowing datapad stretched out before her. She handed it to Lina Soh, and as the latter quickly skimmed it, another smirk came over her face.

“Ha, how appropriate! Our relative positions are being tested as we speak. Some crisis has broken out in the Pajoda system, another standoff between settlers and natives. It seems that the Last Sage themself has been spotted among the latter, and your Folk Jedi are on their way as well. Whatever happens there, it will certainly be interesting.”

Lemma-Tian was caught unaware by this sudden news of disaster, but he didn’t let his surprise show. Instead, he resolved to do something about it. He rose from his seat.

“That it will be. Now, Madam Chancellor, if you’ll excuse me, I will of course have to confer about this crisis with the rest of the Jedi Council. Once again, I would congratulate you on your election, and I hope our present disagreements will not preclude our further cooperation on this colonial upheaval. To preserve this great Republic, all of its people must work together. We each have our duties to it.”

The Chancellor-Elect smiled ever so slightly, somewhat appreciative of his awkward attempt at reconciliation. “That we do, Master Jedi. The last thing we need are divisions within. Regardless of how this standoff resolves, let us meet again to discuss its aftermath. I’ll have my staff arrange a time and place. Until then, may the Force be with you.”

“And with you, Madam Chancellor.” Lemma-Tian turned, his ceremonial robes trailing behind him, and carefully strode out of the office. All the while, a single thought was racing through his mind, occupying every part of his considerable focus and attention. The thought was a question, simple yet devious: what was to be done?

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