On the Periphery
The powerful thrum of vast fan blades swallowed any sound of the Jedi’s passage as they circumambulated the perimeter of the Republic camp until at last, aided by the alacrity that the Force provided, they slipped away from the sight of prying eyes. Simris stood alone at the camp’s edge, her back to the massive fans and a stout Ugnaught at her side who, though not consumed by the dark side of the Force, bore the tell-tale darkness of one who has killed before—not unlike the Blackspur mercenaries that guarded the Republic facilities. Both miners wore the same red cloth tucked into their belts. They were watchful for the passage of guards, clearly wary for a moment when the hot beam of a searchlight passed them by. The archaeologists that Quillow and Yerin had talked to had since gone to sleep with the rest of the camp, so now the Jedi stood alone, obscured behind the cacophony of the fans. From the distant marching of Blackspur feet they had heard around the camp’s perimeter and the bright glow of the rotating searchlight, it was clear that there were few sentient creatures other than the Jedi who could have the power to defy the will of the Republic within that ruined stretch of jungle.
Signalling wordlessly to the Jedi as they approached, Simris and her companion suddenly bolted across the field toward a vast rock away from the sight of the camp, dashing away until they were all well out of sight, disappearing further into the treeline until there was no possibility of their discovery.
As the two miners finally came to a stop, Simris called out to the Jedi: “Gunni Simris, if your friends didn’t tell you. The Ugnaught goes by Caix. I heard that you could help with our little situation?”
“And what would that situation be?” Yerin asked, canting her horned head. “I’m afraid that I don’t have all the details, but… I would be glad to help.” Perhaps it was rash, but to her there seemed to be no better course of action.
“You saw what was going on with your own two eyes, didn’t you?” Simris said, a fire in her belly as she begins to elucidate the situation. “The foreman’s right about two things: we get better pay than farmhands in the Hetzal system and we’re safer than smashbulb runners on Coruscant. This gig’s putting my little son through school back home too. But you see how the Governor’s people treat us, don’t you?
“We’re Republic citizens the same as you or them, and yet they treat us barely better than droids; they’d rather let us heal up the ‘natural’ way than cut into any of their oh-so-precious bacta supply. You saw how many of us are still wounded from that cave-in—just a little bit of the governor’s cash would go a long way. We’re the ones doing the work, after all, while good-for-nothing Gaff sits on his lazy ass waiting for the rest of us to finish up. If they helped us a little more on the injury front, or hell, if they paid us a little more… we could sleep a little easier at night knowing nobody’s gonna waste away when the sun comes up again. That’s what I want: a good night’s rest. And I know Gaff sure as hell ain’t going to give that to us without a little convincing.”
The Duros’s red eyes darted between the gathered Jedi, searching for any sign that she had stirred the Jedi’s hearts to action.
Quillow thought a moment, taking in a few slow lungfuls of crisp natural air. Even the short distance away from the camp was enough to help him think more clearly. The Ithorian's eyes narrowed as he gazed around at the black spears of a ruined jungle. Each had begun as a sprout and a sapling; looming vigils destroyed. Though better than inside the camp proper, Quillow was still very aware the tonic of wilderness here was sullied.
Quillow had never worked a day in his life if one were to use the societal definition of the notion—Ithorians simply did what nature permit and called them to do, and their leaders merely offered guidance and translation. Quillow felt as called to the Jedi purpose now as he ever had—the idea of 'work' was very foreign to him, as it was many Ithorians, and while being exposed to beings throughout the galaxy during his time as a Jedi served to help his understanding, he never fully empathized with people such as the miners. To do something purely for one's own ultimate survival, or for a beloved child or family—there is nature in that, but the Republic should be a safeguard against the tribalistic conclusion that can lead to. A smart beast doesn't abandon its cubs knowing they can grow strong—as the astute archaeologist had said, there's a lot one can learn from nature.
Quillow's eyes flicked to the Duros as he looked at him the same way he looked at the blackened trees abound.
“I too am displeased with this... governor. I would help you and yours, assuming we find a way past the mythical red tape of the Republic. Might you have had something specific in mind as to what we may do?”
Simris shook her head. “The most pressing thing right now is that they’ve been paying us in scrip as of this month. Bunum Bonds is the ridiculous name they have for it. The situation’s temporary, Gaff says, but it means we can’t send remittances home at the moment and that we gotta buy supplies at Coppergrin markup plus pay for medical treatment at a higher cost—it’s hurting a whole lot of us. I don’t think the company is nearly so low as to not pay us in Republic credits, but that’s the way of things at the moment. I just want to….
“Now, I don’t want to hurt nobody. But you all got the laser swords, if you catch my meaning. I’m sure Gaff could make a persuasive argument to Coppergrin bigshots if he had a little help. Or hell, empty his pockets and give us the credits himself.”
Calm, Delste heard Nikdoris’s words in her ear as she shuffled her weight from foot to foot; her fingers twitched for action. You must be calm. You must be harmonious. You are too quick to let your emotions stir your actions. You will never become a Jedi if you do not master this. Nonetheless, the words of warning appear to go unheeded as she scowled out towards the horizon. “I don’t see what it would hurt to press on Gaff just a little bit more. He hardly seems like he knows what these people are actually going through out here.”
“We cannot threaten a man so needlessly! We would become no more moral than the Hutts then, and as equally unaccountable in our abuse of power,” Varman firmly replied. “The Council would not condone it; neither would it be in accordance with the light side of the Force. I agree that we must seek to help the galaxy in whatever way we can, but… it cannot be in the manner in which you and your friend insinuate we should act.”
“Then why else do you peacekeepers of the galaxy carry around laser swords anyways?” Simris huffed.
“A Jedi’s weapon is for defense—” Varman began.
“Yeah, yeah. If you’d rather spitshine Gaff’s boots till they’re shinier than a chromium speeder, be my guest. I just thought your lot would help people—real people.”
“We serve the Force, Gunni, which means we are just as much under your employ as we are his—or any others’, for that matter,” Quillow retorted. “I agree that Gaff seems an incapable leader, and that threatening him would only serve to create painful memories.” The Ithorian took a few labored breaths in thought.
“But there must be a way to nonviolently achieve what you wish that could curtail any malice or intimidation—I share the Padawan’s sympathies that an otherwise ‘conventional’ means would involve not only too much paperwork, but time that would only foment your strife…” Quillow thumbed at the trinkets on his belt. Perhaps it is best we do as Gaff says for the time being, until an opportunity presents itself, he thought.
“Would there be a way to peacefully...or, well,” Yerin began, quickly correcting herself, “nonviolently incentivize Gaff to pay you all properly? If he’s paying you in credit, is there any money coming out of this enterprise at all? And I suppose one should ask where it is all going.”
“There’s money in it,” Caix cut in, his voice a low growl. “Or there will be at least—they bring all the sparstite we mine up into the Republic headquarters over there, keeping it till they can ship it off for processing. Coppergrin has deep pockets and Merano ones nearly as deep. It’s all greed if you ask me.”
Yerin couldn’t help her mind from wandering. Will the workers ever be paid at all?
“So we follow the money.” Sunao murmured from the back of the pack. Earlier in the conversation apprehension had gotten the best of the young Padawan. Talk of violence against the Republic had rendered him seemingly mute. But the suggestion from Yerin sparked an idea too bright to hide from. “Given how keen Gaff is to impose on the natives and what the miners say, then there’s a lot of money going somewhere. If we follow the trail, then surely we can bring some sort of evidence to the Republic. Any foul play will enable us to easily rectify the situation and if it’s simply Gaff chasing a promotion, then a case can be made regarding the cost of doing so.”
“Do you really think that the Republic can help?” Simris asked. Doubt colored her voice, but her manner spoke of an optimistic streak long-since buried. “Best news we’ve heard all day if that’s true.”
“If Coppergrin doesn’t have its friends in the Senate meddle with things,” Caix retorted, his eyes flitting across the horizon at the sign of distant movement. “They’ve made many folks rich across many planets. But… I’ll admit that we’ve never had Jedi on our side.”
“It may be rather hopeful to assume that the Republic can help, but… if anyone has the resources to avert any clandestine business—if there is any—it would be the Republic,” Yerin mused. “I think Sunao is on to something. We can look at what evidence there is of where the money is going and see where that leads us. Between yourselves and us Jedi, we may not know much, but we could figure out what’s going on if we keep open minds.”
Delste stretched out her shoulders, quick to drop her harmonious facade as an impatient jittering overtook her, from shifting feet to a wayward glance to the other Padawans. An eager gleam sat in her eyes. “I like this idea,” she hummed, though ever mindful to not let her voice waver with the thought of seeing Gaff taken down a step or two. “I think it has promise. We should start with the sparstite,” she insisted. “Or, at least, I will, if anyone would want to come with me.”
“As long as we do not stir up too much conflict between us,” Varman interjected, his gaze flitting appraisingly to Delste. “It is a good idea, but one that rests on our care not to disturb the gentle peace here.”
Sunao’s brows furrowed as he drew a figure of eight in the dirt with his foot. They were both right, the trail was right there in front of them just waiting to be followed. But, on the other hand, this place was a powder keg, moments away from blowing. The group would have to tread lightly.
“Perhaps we play ball with Gaff then?” he put forth, “Or at least appear to. Then having us around won’t raise too much suspicion while we look for the truth.” The Padawan combed back his hair with a hand, hoping to relieve some of his anxiety. “I’d like to get the full story from the natives on these contracts regardless, it was strange to me that there weren’t existing copies in the Republic outpost. Everything about this feels… wrong.”
Delste’s upper lip twitched at the thought, but she ceased her pacing to give mind to Sunao’s words. “It feels wrong to me as well,” she agreed, letting her feet settle at last. “I would rather we speak with the natives, first,” The Padawan insisted. “It is not urgent to me that we speak with Gaff again. I think that he has made his stance clear.”
“Then let’s head back in the morning,” Varman said after a long moment of deliberation. “And we’ll get to the center of this then.”