Jabiim had been all but torn apart by civil war. The traditionalist - and ruling faction - wanted to maintain the status quo of the planet's independence while a new, more radicalized group of insurgents had lobbied hard for joining the Empire.
What had at first begun as a political movement had quickly turned violent as the traditional party began arresting those speaking out for Imperial annexation. Following the arrests, violence had begun. Blood mixed with the natural rain of the mud planet and flowed freely through the streets and countryside.
This was why Zathria and Tazlen had been sent here: to try to sort... something out of this mess. Their particular instructions had been pretty vague except to "help" the planet. Whether that meant settling a truce, fighting the battles, healing the wounded, or generally providing encouragement was not as clear. One thing was certain, however: they had their work cut out for them.
Zathria had descended from their ship with her poncho hood up as rain was still pouring down into the mud. The moment her boots hit the mud, it sunk in almost an inch, and she realized she was going to have a very wet time here on this world.
Tazlen was used to more tropical climates from his time on Firrerre, but that didn’t mean he liked it too much. His boots squelched into the mud just as Zathria’s had, and he grimaced down at the sight. The Jedi hadn’t worked with Zathria before, but they had been in one another's purview several times in the past. He gave her a smile, drawing up his own poncho hood as rain pelted against it.
“The way the traditionalists are treating the insurgent group, it’s getting hard to tell who the bad guys really are,” Taz said, surprise in his tone. He had considered himself an extremist Jedi, but over time he saw how easily that led to the Dark Side. There were too many instances of padawans lured away by choosing to put personal feelings first. It had taken many days and weeks of meditating to start removing the images of Firrerre burning in his mind anytime the thoughts of Sith came up.
“I don’t think we should get caught up in their conflict,” He said as they began walking, “I have a feeling the loyalists will try to present us as their combat arms force.”
Zathria took cover under the ship for a moment as the rain kept pouring down.
I have a feeling it's not going to let up anytime soon, she said, looking up. It wasn't entirely clear if she was being serious or making a joke as the rain continued to literally pour down in torrents.
Yeah, I was unimpressed by the reports coming out about both sides of this debacle, she agreed with a shake of her head.
Preferences on what we do? Think it's feasible to broker peace talks? she asked, but even as she said it, she couldn't help but think their differences seemed irreconcilable. Join the Empire and don't join the Empire were pretty incompatible goals.
I could always find use in the medical tents, but I'm not sure that's going to help do anything to bring this conflict to a close, she said honestly and then frowned as if having another thought.
You know, something had to have kicked this all off. I wonder if there's some sort of psyops going on here. Imperial propaganda and manipulation. Maybe trying to dig that up is a good place to start, she said. Or maybe it was just the Justicar in her talking: seeing a potential investigation everywhere.
Tazlen considered her words, thinking about the medical tents. While it sounded like a good place to start, he pondered on the rest of what she said, “Does there need to be active propaganda and manipulation in order for people to consider the Empire?” He asked, likely to Zathria’s surprise, “At the end of the day, a lot of these worlds lack stability and security and a lot of times they see other Imperial worlds faring better. With how the war has been going, lot of citizens see it as the ‘winning side’.”
The Jedi thought about their options, “I think we need to understand what motivates and drives both sides,” He looked at her, “Because the loyalists may not be the answer either.”
He looked at his datapad, “We can go meet with the loyalists in the main city or we can visit one of the makeshift tents located in the outskirts to speak with the insurgent groups. In either case we can’t be obviously Jedi or risk giving the impression we’re picking sides. What do you think?”
Zathria looked back at him as he mentioned that many people were picking the Empire because they wanted to rather than out of any manipulation. She opened her mouth to object and point out that even people's perception of the war was propaganda, but then she thought about Yavin. She thought about the losses mounting for the Jedi and the FWA, and she realized that he wasn't really wrong, and she shut her mouth again.
Well, I still wouldn't rule it out, she said, almost sounding grumpy that she had to relent, but knowing he was right. But you're right, we need to investigate what's really going on here, she agreed.
Let's go to the insurgent camp first, she said, picking it simply because it was the one that she didn't want to go to. She knew her own biases in favor of the side that didn't want to join the Empire, and she knew that picking it as their first point of contact would push her toward a more neutral position.
She plucked the lightsaber from her belt and slipped it into a concealed place before pulling her poncho more tightly around her in the hopes of keeping more of the water out.
On we go, she said.
She started walking from the landing pad and looked out at the buildings in the distance. None of the cities here were particularly large, and even the capital city of Choal was more of a "town" by most planet's standards.
Beyond the solid buildings of Choal she could barely make out the massive amalgamation of tents that had come to be named "tent city." While many of the insurgents worked out of these tents, for each insurgent there were ten civilians who simply lived in poverty, highlighting the wealth disparity that ravaged the planet.
A speeder pulled up next to the two and the driver rolled down his window. Need a ride somewhere? he asked. Zathria's eyes flicked to the speeder and its clear markings as a cab before looking to Tazlen, shrugging, and climbing inside.
Just to the edge of the city, please, she said. The "Demarcation Zone" as it had been called was the line at which Choal proper ended and tent city began. It would provide them with decent access to anywhere they wanted to go.
The differences in the wealthier parts of the planet and the poor were stark. He glanced over at Zathria as they arrived, giving her a knowing look. He didn’t have to say a thing for them both to see the blatant issues already. That alone wasn't enough to turn an entire group of people, however, so there had to be more to this.
As they were dropped off near the tents, Tazlen could sense the despair and pain all around him. There were times where being a Jedi felt like a curse, and this was proving to be one of those. The purer the intent, the stronger you felt the agony of others. He stepped out and made his way over towards some of the medical camps.
The more he looked around, the more uneasy he felt. Tazlen finally nudged Zathria, “Let’s go to a local cantina,” He said, “The less we appear as Jedi heroes, the better,” He explained. Waltzing in and healing people would out them in seconds. The vibe was too wrong to get them what they needed, and people often had loose lips after a few drinks.
The cantina nearby was seedy and, despite being daytime, there were plenty of drunkards. For now, he got himself a drink - he was a gentleman after all, he got Zathria one too. Taz grabbed a booth in the corner to eavesdrop.
“-Man, that’s three more,” A Togruta male raised his glass and clinked it against that of a Twi’lek woman’s, “Picking us off like flies.”
“They never think of the kids,” The woman said as she wiped away tears, “They don’t know what they’re doing hanging their parents up to make an example. They don’t realize they just create more of us.”
Tazlen’s eyes widened as he looked at Zathria.
“You think… you think the rebels will cut them down again? Give ‘em a proper burial?”
“They’ll be expecting that,” She said with a sigh, “They’d be walking into a trap.”
“There’s gotta be some way to stop this.. Some way to bring some stability.”
“You know the answer, Bron,” The woman said as she sipped from her drink, “Imperials would never tolerate this kind of nonsense.”
Zathria nodded as he mentioned going to the cantina and trying to blend in. She was no Shadow herself, but she was familiar with this kind of job. She knew that sometimes subtlety and open ears were the best way to accomplish what you needed.
There was no missing the pain that seemed to tear through this entire area. It screamed out in the Force like a black and red void of despair and anger. It cut her, and she wanted to shut herself down from its flow.
But she forced herself to push on, shutting off that part of her mind in order to focus on what she could do to fix it. One person or thing at a time, Zath, she told herself.
She slid into a seat near Taz as he slid a cup across to her. Thanks, she said, taking a sip and smacking her lips together a few times. It was... well, to be frank it tasted terrible. It tasted like this entire part of the city felt... cheap and overused.
She nursed the cup as she listened, too. As Taz looked at her, he would be able to see that her face now held and odd mixture of discomfort and sadness as she heard what they said. Things here were worse than she feared, not just because of the actual hardships the planet was facing, but because the people opposing Imperial control sounded like they were worse than the people who were fighting for the Empire.
She reached up and rubbed a hand over her forehead for a moment before drinking some more of the bantha piss in her cup.
She pulled out her datapad and quickly typed something before sliding it across the table to him. Are we about to start a coup? was all it said. She knew they weren't here to be "heroes" at least right now, but she wasn't sure she could just sit by and let this happen.
She gave him a side-eye to emphasize the fact that she wasn't really joking.
The bodies will be in a public point. We could cut them down to get a sit down. Or attention, she typed.
Tazlen was used to the strong drinks on Firrerre. However, even he couldn’t deny it tasted horrendous and he was drinking it simply for appearances. When Zathria typed the words out, he nodded, ‘If that is what is necessary to do the right thing’ he responded through the Force.
He didn’t like the idea of getting involved in the affairs of worlds, but clearly some guidance was necessary in order to prevent the two groups from killing one another. He saw the second message and he contemplated, overhearing a bit more of the conversation before he finally nodded, “Tonight,” He said simply.
Taz spent the next few hours gathering whatever intel they could, having suggested that they split up temporarily. When they met up again, it was dark out and he had asked to meet Zathria by a gate towards a town square. From here, he could see the bodies strung up and hanging from an archway. The sight made him sigh as he thought of the twi’lek’s words. The thought of children gazing up at the contorted faces of their parents like this was unthinkable.
There were guards posted near the bodies, the groups there clearly expecting a bold confrontation.
“Did you learn anything more?” He asked as he came across Zath, “There’s a resistance group called the Fireflies,” He explained, “They do all the strikes against the loyalists and have the citizens on their side, at least the lower district ones.”
Taz was adorned in civilian attire with a hood up to hide his face. After a moment, he spotted a small group of people creeping up towards the square. From their weapons, he could already tell they were preparing for a big confrontation. He sighed and walked over slowly, hands raised, “You go in like that, you’ll all be dead.”
They were all startled and one of the men grabbed Taz and forced him down to his knees, a large metal rod in his hands held up over his head. Tazlen kept his calm, gazing up at the man, “I’m not your enemy,” He said quietly.
“What the fuck are you doin’ then?” The man whispered gruffly.
“We don’t have time for this,” A woman hissed as she kept her gaze trained on the guards near the bodies, “They’ll just sell us out.”
“We will cause a diversion and let you cut down your friends,” Taz stated flatly. This gave the small group pause as they blinked in surprise.
Zathria had spent her time poking around and not discerned that much helpful information. Suggestion that there might be some dissent in the loyalist ranks, she said, shrugging to indicate that she wasn't really sure how true or reliable that information was. Rumors and little more. She felt she should have come up with something else for her time spent, but there was no point in worrying about it, right?
Zathria pulled her coat around her a little tighter as she watched the people beginning to sneak through the square.
Tazlen just kind of... yeeted himself into it while Zathria held back, making a face from the shadows that really betrayed how not-great she felt about this.
I'm sure he knows what he's doing, right? Yeah, he'll be fine, she thought to herself, already starting to look around near the gate for something big and heavy that she could hit someone with if need be. Sure, she always had her Echani hand-to-hand fighting, but... well, she'd prefer something with a bit more heft than her fists.
Zathria could see him pitching his idea, and then she saw them look over at her as his partner. She gave a small wave that looked as non-threatening as she could muster. Intentionally so but it still looked a tiny bit like she had murder in her eyes.
You try anything, we'll gut you both, the woman said, shoving Taz away but letting him go.
Zathria scooted over to him close enough to talk in hushed whispers.
Right, so they're waiting for someone to come cut them down. All the distraction we need is to start, then we lead them on a merry chase, right? she said. They were Jedi, and to be frank, their natural agility outmatched virtually anyone else in the galaxy.
Unless he objected, she would start making her way over, eyes darting around the area in search of anyone watching her as she grabbed out the utility knife from her belt and started going to work on the first rope.
And that was when the spotlights came on, directly on her, and the "local police" started pouring into the square.
Taz only smiled back with confidence at her very skeptical look, “It’ll all work out,” He said nonchalantly with a breezy wave of his hand. With that, he followed her towards the ropes. It was only moments before the spotlight came on them. The police came towards them and Taz glanced up, “That’s our cue, Zath, let’s go!” He said as he bolted into a run.
Captain Albin’s eyes narrowed as he saw the commotion. His subordinate gave the orders for all the soldiers to chase after the two figures that ran off.
“No,” Albin interjected, “Send only half the men,” He said curtly as he observed the scene, “Those two don’t look familiar. The usual suspects may still show up.”
Taz was feeling pretty great about it when he realized only half the soldiers were following them. He quickly ducked behind a dumpster, motioning for Zathria to hide with him, “Well that didn’t go according to plan,” He observed aloud, peering over the edge of the dumpster and narrowly avoiding a bolt fired his way.
“Boy they really have a penchant for emulating the Empire,” Taz said.
“Come out with your hands up right now!” A man called out from behind them.
“What do you think?” He asked Zathria, who no doubt wanted to sock him in the face by now.
Zathria flinched as the lights came on, her knife folding back up quickly as she ran away from the coming soldiers, throwing glances back over her shoulder only to see the flash of a blaster bolt sizzle far too close to her head.
She darted and following Taz down the alley and behind the dumpster, face twisted up in a scowl as she looked back to see that so few people had followed them. Okay that was fine, they would just have to... readjust.
That was, it was fine until she noticed how chipper Taz seemed to be about it. I think we shouldn't get arrested, she said. She glanced back down the alley, knowing they only had a few moments to decide.
I'll lead this merry band on a chase, you loop back around and try to lure out the others? she suggested. Either way, they were going to need to move soon or be fired upon again, and Zathria didn't really want to die today.
She stood and heard shouts of there they are! as she started running down the alley quite obviously and drawing the ire of the soldiers that had been chasing them.
It would - hopefully - leave Taz with enough space to loop back around to the square to draw off the other soldiers. Because splitting the party couldn't possibly have adverse consequences.
Taz nodded empathically, “Yes, getting arrested doesn’t sound ideal,” He glanced over at Zathria, “Be careful,” He said, “And may the Force be with you.”
With that, he bolted in the opposite direction. He evaded the bolts with relative ease - while these were trained soldiers, he had plenty of experience with Imperials at this point. He was used to more coordinated tactics. These men fired in a general direction, hoping to land a hit. However, they quickly gave up on him and pursued Zathria, leaving him free to double back towards the center of the square.
The remaining sentries quickly fell for the act and started chasing after Tazlen.
“What?” Albin growled, “Why are your men breaking rank?”
“Sir, to capture that rebel.”
However, it was too late - the soldiers had been dispersed. This allowed the original rebel group to rush in and cut down the dead bodies. By the time the soldiers began to make their way back, the rebels had fled already, leaving nothing but ropes behind. Albin was furious, screaming at his subordinates.
After a moment, Tazlen dropped down from the roof of a building in front of Zathria. He had a grin on his face, “Told you it’d all work out,” He said cheerfully before gesturing for her to follow. Another turn later and he found a blaster in his face. It was the rebel woman from earlier.
“Why are you helping us?” She was glaring, her finger on the trigger, “We’ve never seen you before.”
Tazlen held his hands up, making it clear he meant no harm, “We just want to meet with the Fireflies.”
The woman’s eyes widened, highly concerned. For a moment, she almost pulled the trigger.
“Can you really afford to do that right now?” Taz said boldly, “Because I think you need every ally you can get.”
The woman’s jaw tightened, but she lowered the blaster. She looked from him to Zathria, “Who are you people?”
Zathria ran down the alley before turning a corner into the street. It was mostly empty at this time of night, but the few people who were around still gave her some weird looks. Even more so as the police rounded the corner behind her, but she was long gone by then.
She jumped visibly as Taz dropped down in front of her, trying to play off the startle as if she hadn't just been scared by his sudden appearance.
Oh, are you a prophet now? she teased, trying to move along from comments about her being startled.
Anyway, we should probably get... but that was all the further she got before she walked into the blaster barrel. Her first instinct was to "aggressively disarm" the woman, but Taz seemed to be quicker with his tongue than Zathria was with her hands... probably for the best, too.
The blaster came down and Zathria's muscles relaxed slightly.
Friends who want to help set things right here, she said. Apparently, that was not the answer that the woman was looking for.
Osik, no one wants to help us, the woman said, snapping the gun back up and pointing it at Zathria who raised her hands out to the side. Yeah, evidently Zathria wasn't the diplomat of the two. The smooth talking was almost certainly going to have to come from Tazlen.
Perhaps the only saving grace they had was that a patrol started coming their direction, forcing them out of the streets as the woman shoved them into a nearby house and down toward a flight of stairs leading into something that was between a basement and an underground tunnel system.
Taz stumbled down the stairs after they were shoved and led into the tunnels. Well, while not ideal, progress was progress. The group walked in silence for a time until the patrols above could no longer be heard. Everyone collectively sighed in relief. Taz cast a sideways glance at Zathria, grinning as he spoke through the Force, ‘Perhaps let’s leave the talking to me.’
He looked at the woman that was walking with them, still clutching at her blaster fiercely, “I understand your lack of trust,” He said calmly, “But fear often leads us to do things we regret. If you want more allies, violence is not the way to get it.”
“Then what is?” She snapped, “You saw what they do to us. You saw what they do to anyone that dissents. As long as the Governor is in power, he will hunt every last one of us down until every citizen lives under his boot.”
“And you think the Empire is the answer?”
“The Empire would remove him from power!” The man from earlier spoke up this time, “The Empire would bring free healthcare, free education and a better life for all of us,” He said earnestly, “Haven’t you heard about Denon? Haven’t you heard about Eiattu’s liberation? The Imperial King liberated millions of people from the tyrant that was there before!”
“The tyrant that was there before was another Sith,” Tazlen said flatly, “Do you want to roll the dice and hope you don’t get one of the crazy Sith?”
“Do you want us to keep living the way we do now?” The woman shot back.
Tazlen didn’t have an immediate answer to that. The two Jedi were led to what was clearly a secret base. Already he could spot tons of canned foods, crates of weapons and supplies and maps with different pins on them. One of the rebels quickly folded up and stashed away the maps. The woman stepped ahead and knocked on the door. Once inside, she lingered there for a while before coming back out, glancing at the two.
“Bardin will see you,” She said sternly.
Taz looked at Zathria and shrugged before stepping in. He assumed Bardin was the leader of this group.
Zathria looked over at him as he commented on letting him do the talking. There was a vaguely unhappy look on her face, but she didn't really have any rebuttal she could make, so instead, she pressed her lips together in annoyance and ceded.
Yeah, she mouthed silently and quickly, oozing all the unhappiness about the situation she'd gotten them into in her motion.
She tried so hard...
She did find the debate between Tazlen and their captors to be interesting, though. She understood how so many people could choose to live under the Empire when the alternative was a worse tyrant. Though she knew what the Sith were like and the depth of their potential depravity, was it so much worse than what they currently experienced? Or was it actually better? A terrible lesser of two evils.
Her eyes flicked around the area they were taken to. As above, everything down here was slightly damp and cold. In the Force she could feel a combination of quiet resolve and desperation, intermingling in a way that she had felt far too often on war-ravaged worlds.
They were led inside to see Bardin and the man was not what Zathria had expected. He looked... young. Very young, maybe in his early twenties and small, not a large, brawny leader of the resistance that she might have expected.
I hear you two are looking for the fireflies. Why? he asked, eyes flicking back and forth between the two Jedi as if appraising them.
Taz was the last person to judge based on appearances. He had a slender build and most people underestimated him, but he still accomplished everything he needed. If there was surprise at Bardin’s appearance, Taz didn’t display any of it externally. He didn’t answer immediately before he finally exhaled.
“We are Jedi,” He said flatly.
Bardin jumped to his feet at once. The others immediately shifted uncomfortably, one of them reaching for a blaster.
“No one knows we’re here,” Taz continued, “We will bring no war with the Sith here,” He said as he cast a sideways glance at the woman from before. Bardin’s surprise gave way to suspicion, but the fear subsided.
“Thanks, but no amount of community service will help here,” He said darkly.
Taz gave him a fanged grin, “Community service is not on the schedule today.”
Bardin quirked a brow. Taz continued, “Tell me how things got so bad,” He had done his homework, but he wanted to hear their version.
“Things weren’t so bad here before. We had peace under the last Governor - Governor Karis. However, around election time, the man running against him had a sudden surge of funding. No one could explain how or why, but it was enough to get him in office. The election council suddenly all supported him or stepped down. Since then, Karis went missing under mysterious circumstances and the new Governor - Governor Sarv - instilled all these new rules and restrictions. The election council members are all under house arrest with guards stationed around them at all times. He started rationing food and other basic resources to the public. We get limited water and power usage every day. Any groups that would investigate him suddenly disappear or…well you saw at the square,” Bardin sighed, “I’m sorry, Jedi, but unless you’re willing to get your hands dirty, you won’t make a difference here.”
“You’re right,” Taz said, “We can’t get our hands dirty.”
Bardin sighed and began to open his mouth when Taz interjected, “-But you can,” He said, “You can do what needs to be done. What we can do is teach you how to be coordinated and apply tactics to get the right people in power. Is there any chance Karis may yet be alive? There is a cloud of mystery around this that needs to be solved. If you give us a lead, we can figure it out and potentially find Karis. What we need from you is to cause a disturbance and let us get close to one of the members of the election council.”
“Wait…you’re serious about all this?” Bardin asked, his eyes wide, “I…. yeah, we think Karis is imprisoned somewhere. You’d really be willing to help?”
“How do we even know they’re Jedi?” One of the men in the back asked.
Without a word, the man began to rise up into the air, floating around and sputtering a stream of curse words. Taz gently set him back down.
“Do we have a deal?” He asked before he glanced at Zathria. He valued her opinion despite him having done a lot of talking. If she didn’t like the plan, he wouldn’t proceed.