Note: This was written as part of a challenge at the Soul of the Jedi Writer's Workshop -- the rule was to write a journalistic piece, a feature article about someone during the Civil War who wasn't involved in the great matters. I was in the midst of writing Family Portrait at the time, so I figured I'd check in on Daj Orti, and see what he was up to after the rise of the Empire...
"This Is Daj's Place"
Feature by Lersi Gerov, for Eye magazine
From the outside, Orti's Off-Time looks like any other shop for adolescent amusements. A hoverscoot ramp winds over the porch, and spirals up the pyramidal walls. Graffiti appears regularly -- sometimes announcements of who is infatuated with whom, sometimes statements of enmity, most often political slogans. Most of the last category are pro-Imperial -- the world of Malkiri has long been loyalist -- but occasionally, a brave soul will venture to opine that the regional governor is "smoked" or the Rebellion "trips rapids." Daj Orti, who has owned the shop in its current location since shortly before the rise of the Empire, and had previously operated it on Coruscant, patiently goes out at the end of each day with a paint blaster to remove the worst of it.
"I'm getting old for this," the Neimoidian says, offering a disarmingly human-type smile ("I've practiced for forty years," he offers when asked about it). "Hurts my shoulders, carrying this around. But I've never let them turn my place into a war zone, and I'm not about to start now."
Orti is referring to the repeated violent outbursts that have rocked Malkiri almost since its founding. The world was settled a millennium ago by Hunara Malkir, a vocal opponent of the Jedi Order following its internal civil war, and his tempestuous temperment survived in the world that is his namesake and legacy. Periodic outbursts against the Jedi or the Republic throughout Malkiri's history have made life here volatile, and in the years before the Emperor's rise, following the assassination of both the human king and the Neimoidian mayor (allegedly, at the hands of the Jedi), violence became commonplace. Orti left for three years, after an incident in which it is rumored that he helped three Jedi escape a mob -- he will neither confirm nor deny this, only say that "No sentient should be hunted like game" -- but returned because he felt he had a place on this strange and passionate world. "The people here are not bad," he says. "They opened their hearts to my people -- the Neimoidians -- when our reputation was rather deservedly at a low point, and have held us as true neighbors ever since. They have a sickness. I would like to help them cure it."
The inside of the shop is cheerfully chaotic, with games and toys lining the walls in an array staggering for a world this far from the Core. How does Orti keep his supplies coming? "I bless the Maker for the welfare of the Empire," he says, with an exaggerated roll of the eyes. "Before they came, getting things here was hit and miss, with all the pirates. Now, whatever else may be said about them, shipments can usually make it through unmolested, and thieves who do manage to ply their trade are usually caught and punished quickly."
The reports from other worlds in the Outer Rim, of course, bring into question the universality of that truth, but Daj Orti merely shrugs. "These things take time. You remember, the Empire has only stood for thirty-odd years. How long did it take the Republic to establish control over outlying systems, if it ever did?" He sniffs. "Oh, the Empire has its faults, you will not hear me say otherwise. But I am willing to give it time to sort itself out. Hopefully, the less desirable elements will fall out of favor as the crisis phase of the transition passes."
"The Empire is the crisis phase," a woman says from behind the counter. She is a woman who may have once been lovely, but now the lines of age are the least of her worries. Clearly a victim of the war, both of her eyes have been burned out, and one arm has been replaced by a crude robotic prosthetic, on which no attempt has been made to simulate her humanity. "I tell Daj this, but he doesn't listen. When the crisis passes, there will be no Empire."
Orti frowns at her. "Don't mind my friend," he says, not offering her name (nor will he give it when asked, for fear that he sentiments could endanger her). "She came to stay with me years ago, and we have not yet come to an agreement on this matter."
I ask her if she was in the war.
"War?" she repeats. "Oh, no. I was never in a war. I was in a massacre." She falls silent, and will not speak again.
Orti's look becomes more compassionate, and he touches his companion's arm. She smiles at him, and, after a whispered word, feels her way to the back of the shop, and into the living quarters beyond.
"It is a troubled galaxy," Orti says. "I try to make peace in it, but so very much has happened. There is only so much that can be painted over."
His words are mild and modest. In fact, Daj Orti has made more progress than most diplomats in bringing peace to factions at war. Though he holds no official position, Orti is acknowledged as a leader in the community, and both his shop and his home are frequent meeting places. Despite his assertion that Neimoidians were welcomed on Malkiri, there are in fact many disputes between the Neimoidian newcomers, who arrived only forty years ago, and the native human population. Orti patiently hears both sides, invites combatants to discuss the matters rationally, and frequently is able to resolve the dispute before it wends its way into the court system.
More to the point, almost by himself, he has kept Malkiri neutral in the Civil War. His obviously sincere belief, often stated, that the cruelties practiced by the Empire will fade away after the crisis is over has assuaged those dissatisfied with the present regime, while his even-handed approach to disagreements has kept the majority Loyalists from attacking those who disagree with them. On Malkiri, this is no small accomplishment.
"You have to understand about Malkiri," says Tomik Cral, Principal Minister of the world. "If you want to understand about Daj, you have to know what he's dealing with here. I've lived here my whole life, and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else, but I know we've got a mean streak. When I was a kid, I thought nothing of beating up on someone I didn't like, even if there was no reason for it. I used to make fun of the Neimoidians. But Daj just kept at me. He'd say, 'Tomik, you're a leader, you can't act the fool,' or 'Tomik, you know me, and you know what I'm like... why not guess the next Neimoidian you meet will be like me instead of like whatever you're thinking?' Or," Cral grins, and one can see something of the devilish boy in him, though the expression is fond, "my personal favorite, 'Tomik, if every Neimoidian you meet is an exception to the rule, don't you think the rule might be wrong?'"
Such statements might identify Orti with the Rebellion in some sectors of the galaxy, but here, there is no doubt as to Orti's loyalty to the Empire. "Daj means it," Cral says. "The Republic was falling apart at the seams, and he thinks the Empire is a good thing that just has a few problems to work out."
Orti agrees with that assessment. Back in his shop, over warm cups of semli tea, he nods thoughtfully when he hears Tomik Cral's words. "Yes, Tomik knows. He was once as the Empire is now -- something of a bully and definitely... well, not fond of those who were not precisely like him. He disliked Neimoidians, but had a Malkirian's true hatred of the Jedi. Now... well, I believe he is sorry they are gone, as I am. What a blow, to see them collapse as they did. They could have been an integral part of the new order. But instead, they rebelled against change and were destroyed. Some were my good friends. I miss them."
But he will not elaborate, either on his history with the Jedi, or on the rumors that the emerging Empire actually instigated the downfall of the Order. "What happened has happened," he says. "We must move forward now and seek what is good in the Empire. All new things are born in blood. The evil will pass. It always does. As Tomik Cral grew up, he stopped tormenting those smaller than he was, and began protecting them. He is now a very good leader. So will it be with the Empire."
And yet, he is known to befriend locals sympathetic to the Rebellion, and is rumored to house Rebels from time to time (other than his blind companion, who he insists is not a Rebel). "Ah," he says, "the idealists. They are both more and less important than they believe. Eventually, they will stop fighting the inevitable change of government, and when they do, they will be the conscience, the constant tug at the heart of the Empire. They will not become the government -- that is where they are less important than they believe -- but they will become its redemption, which is where they are more important than they believe. We need the strength of the Empire to bring the galaxy under control; when it is there, we will need the compassion of the Rebellion to be the galaxy's soul."
And for Orti himself?
"I am merely a shopkeeper. I am here to be the galaxy's supplier of hoverscoots and hologames." The lights around the door flash, and a soft bell sounds. "And with that, my dear woman, I have customers."
He leaves the table and goes to the counter at the front of the shop. A group of rambunctious boys, both human and Neimoidian, is rampaging through the shelves. In good temper, he allows it, while he checks the mechanics on a hoverscoot that one of them has brought for repair. From a shelf near the back, a pile of components is tipped over, and two of the boys start fighting about whose fault it was.
"Hey!" the boy at the counter yells back at them, and they look up; he is obviously the leader of the gang. "You want to let it go? This is Daj's place. We don't fight here."
The noise fades a bit, and the two boys squat down together to clean up the mess they've made.