Obi-Wan Kenobi looked up from his datapad, a questioning look on his face. "Master, why are WE being sent to Aurelia?" The eighteen-year-old padawan was reading up on the planet to which they were en route. The more he read, the more he was beginning to question the wisdom of the Council on this one.
Qui-Gon looked at Obi-Wan with a raised brow. "Why would you ask that, Padawan?"
"Aurelia is a matriarchal society where men are considered to be substandard." Obi-Wan rolled his eyes at that. "I should think that female Jedi would be the better choice for these negotiations. Our authority is going to be undermined the moment they see that we're male."
"Ah, but that may actually give us an advantage." Qui-Gon could tell that Obi-Wan was confused. "The Republic is concerned because Aurelia is close to legalizing slavery."
Obi-Wan couldn't conceal his surprise. "Slavery? The males you mean?"
Qui-Gon nodded his head. He waited for his padawan to continue.
"Wait a minute. You said that they're close to LEGALIZING slavery. I take it that an underground version of slavery already exists then?"
Qui-Gon was impressed with Obi-Wan's insight. "Yes. It's actually a thriving part of the Aurelian underworld. Aurelian males can be taken right off the street and thrown into a life of servitude or even gladiatorial-style games."
Disgust was evident on Obi-Wan's face. "Do the males have no recourse in the Aurelian justice system?"
"No. Their justice system is just as skewed towards the females as everything else."
Obi-Wan's eyebrows knit together in frustration. "I still don't see why we're being sent to deal with this."
"The issue of legalizing slavery is causing much debate and tension between the two governments on Aurelia. If the southern continent legalizes slavery, they will drag the northern continent down with it. The leader of the northern continent is the one who asked the Jedi to come. The north's opinion of men is not much better than the south, but they don't want the problems legalized slavery would bring." Qui-Gon leaned back in his chair with a sigh. "The Council thought that it would be good for male Jedi to handle this so that we could get a firsthand view of how the males there are treated. Aside from the negotiations, the leaders' treatment of us will be a good indicator of where things stand. And while we're there, we can do some discreet observation of their society as a whole - including this underworld of slavery. They're a humanoid race, so we should be able to blend in."
Obi-Wan couldn't help but smirk at his master. "From what I've read, Aurelian males are rather small in size. I somehow doubt that YOU are going to blend in at all!"
Qui-Gon smiled slightly. He had forgotten that minor detail. "Alright, then observing will be your job." He grew suddenly serious. "What the planetary leaders decide could have long-reaching implications. If the southern continent chooses to legalize slavery, Aurelia will lose their representation in the Republic. This could have a negative impact on all the planets in this system. Plus, it may embolden other planets to go down the same road. We must do what we can to prevent that from happening."
Obi-Wan nodded. He felt very uneasy. Something told him that this mission was not going to go well.
Two days later, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan arrived at Aurelia. As they strode down the ramp of their ship, they could see two tall women waiting to greet them. One was dressed in ornate light blue robes, the other in light yellow. Both women seemed to be sizing them up.
The one in blue spoke up first. "YOU are the Jedi?" Disdain was evident in her voice.
Qui-Gon kept his face neutral. "Yes, we are. I am Qui-Gon Jinn. This is Obi-Wan Kenobi."
The woman in yellow looked surprised at Qui-Gon's height – as though he had no right to be so tall. "Follow us." She and the woman in blue turned around and started walking away, without so much as a backward glance.
Obi-Wan fell in step beside his master. He tried to let go of his indignation and anger. He would have to keep his temper in check no matter how degrading their treatment. But his sense of justice cried out against such obvious prejudice. Keep your cool, Obi-Wan, keep your cool.
Qui-Gon glanced down at his apprentice. He could sense the struggle going on in the young man. Obi-Wan had never been subject to such latent bigotry before. He had to wonder if his padawan's emotional control would be able to hold out for the entirety of their mission. Their not-so-friendly welcome was probably only a glimpse of what was yet to come.
They were led into an ornate building. The floors and the walls were made of pink marble. The fixtures were made of solid gold. Ornate floral tapestries hung on the walls. Obi-Wan looked around, trying to keep his face neutral. Can they possibly get any more gaudy?
They entered into a large conference room. Several tall women stood around the large conference table. All the women on the left wore light blue and all the women on the right wore light yellow. All conversations stopped as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan walked in. Every eye was on them, dissecting them. Disdain was evident in their gazes. Obi-Wan took a deep breath. Keep calm. Keep calm.
Qui-Gon bowed, glancing at his apprentice to make sure he followed suit. "We are the Jedi sent to you on behalf of the Republic. My name is Qui-Gon Jinn. This is my apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi."
A dark-haired woman in yellow stepped forward. "I am Lahrna, Prime Minister of the northern continent." Her tone was all business. "These are my aides, Neiche, Swailla and Dernee." The three women nodded their heads in greeting.
"I am Zirta, Prime Minister of the southern continent." The blond woman in blue still had a trace of contempt in her eyes. "These are my aides, Linni, Grensa and Hilda." The three women didn't make any attempt to conceal their scorn.
Zirta's eyes studied the two men. The one named Qui-Gon was the tallest man she'd ever seen. His apprentice was shorter, but still taller than most of the Aurelian men. The master's features were completely neutral, giving away no emotion. The younger man's face was neutral, but the eyes…There was a fire lit behind those blue eyes.
Zirta tore her gaze away and gestured towards the table. "Shall we sit down?" Everyone took their seats. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan sat at the end of the long table. Zirta quietly pressed a button on the table.
A moment later, two Aurelian men came in with drink trays. They went around the table, setting a drink in front of each person. They kept their eyes downcast. Obi-Wan watched them closely. Both men were a good head shorter than he was. The obvious downtrodden attitude of the men sparked a flash of anger in Obi-Wan. He called out to the Force and quickly released it.
Zirta studied the reactions of the Jedi to the servants. The master was again unreadable. He kept his eyes focused on the two leaders. But the apprentice was watching every move the servants made. He kept the calm mask on his face, but she saw the flash of anger that lit his eyes. That one has spirit.
Lahrna cleared her throat. She wanted to get down to business. "The reason we asked for Jedi mediators is because we are having trouble coming to a consensus about the issue of legalized slavery."
Zirta sat up straighter. "Yes. Slavery is something that has existed in an underground capacity for many years. We in the south believe that if slavery were legalized, we would at least be able to regulate it. As it is now, anything goes."
Lahrna gazed steadily at Zirta across the table. "We in the north believe that the negative consequences of legalizing slavery far outweigh the benefits. Losing our representation in the Republic would be detrimental to Aurelia."
Zirta gave Lahrna a tight smile. "We in the south do not see the benefits of remaining in the Republic. Slavery exists on Aurelia, like it or not. It's hypocrisy to turn a blind eye to it for so long, but then refuse to legalize it."
Lahrna's eyes narrowed. "It is not hypocrisy!"
Qui-Gon did not fail to notice that the women refused to look in his and Obi-Wan's direction. He cleared his throat to try and get their attention. "The Republic would prefer not to lose an important planet like Aurelia. The benefits of membership in the Republic are not one-sided, however. What will happen to the industries that rely on trade with other worlds? If you leave the Republic, you lose trade privileges with member worlds." Qui-Gon knew that he had to base his arguments on economic and political grounds, not moral or ethical. Morals and ethics were obviously not at the top of the priority list on Aurelia.
"That's exactly my point!" Lahrna turned to Zirta to see if the Jedi's words had any impact.
Zirta gave Qui-Gon a cold stare. "Aurelia is a self-sufficient planet. We don't need trade with other worlds."
Obi-Wan looked steadily at Zirta. "So, Aurelia has no current trade agreements with any other planets?"
Zirta turned towards Obi-Wan. She took the opportunity to study the apprentice's features. He was very handsome – young, but handsome. He had spiky, ginger hair and a dimpled chin. Those intelligent, emotive blue eyes were holding firm on hers. Zirta lifted her chin defiantly. "None of any real value."
Lahrna let out a frustrated sigh. "That is not true! Enormous amounts of money come from our exports of verasite ore. And most of the technology we now enjoy was imported from other worlds."
Zirta knew that she should direct her comments to the master, but she found herself again focusing on the apprentice. "She exaggerates."
Obi-Wan glanced at his master, who gave him a slight nod. "Do you have any documentation on your trade agreements that we could view?" Obi-Wan looked over at Lahrna. "It would also be helpful to see any reports you may have on the quantities and profit margins of all your imports and exports per year."
Both women looked a bit stunned. These intelligent words were coming from a man! They looked at each other and then back to Obi-Wan. Lahrna spoke up first. "Yes, we can get all that information to you. It will take some time. Why don't we recess until 1400 standard hours?"
Zirta stood, followed by her aides. "Grensa will show you to your quarters." She glanced at Qui-Gon before settling her gaze again on Obi-Wan.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan bowed before following Grensa out the door. Once they were left alone in their quarters, Obi-Wan plopped down on the sofa. "These negotiations are not going to be easy."
Qui-Gon sat down in a nearby chair. "No, they aren't." He studied his padawan. "You seemed to make an impression on the two leaders, especially Zirta."
Obi-Wan shrugged his shoulders. "All I did was ask them some questions."
"Good questions." Qui-Gon's lips turned up in a small smile. "You did well, Padawan."
Obi-Wan looked a bit surprised. "Thank you, Master."
"After the meeting ends this afternoon, you should go out into the city and take a look around."
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan leaned back against the cushion. He was curious about what he would see in the city, but dreaded it at the same time.