“Are we doing one more,” a young, attractive Nagai woman in casual dress asked quietly to someone off-camera.
“Uhh, yeah,” a masculine voice answered before the feed cut to a wider camera, showing her sitting at the left side of a news desk, a middle-aged, bulky Tof male wearing a tie-less dress shirt and an open suit jacket sitting in the middle. To his right was a rather average looking, light skinned, dark haired human man, maybe a few years older, in more or less a rougher looking version of what the Tof was wearing. “We gotta get this one out,” the Tof continued, a little louder as he was preparing to start the segment.
“So the Coalition has lost another planet to peaceful, democratic secession . . . kinda.” The feed had switched to a close-up of the Tof, and he had shifted in his chair until it looked a little bit like a conquered throne he'd grown tired of occupying. He chuckled a little before moving on, shifting in his seat again. “The Eastern Coalition planet of Zee . . . Zee-on-”
“Xionti,” a feminine voice offered. The camera cut quickly to the Nagai woman before returning to the Tof.
“Right, that. Thanks.”
“I only know because I looked it up before the segment,” she admitted, the camera cutting back just in time to catch her grinning broadly as she suppressed a laugh.
“Well, Xionti is located in the Kashyyyk System – see, I got that one. I'm not a complete idiot.”
“Everyone knows Kashyyyk, Zek,” the woman replied dismissively. The camera had switched to the broader shot, catching all three of them behind their shared news desk, the prominent Young Tofs logo centered on its front.
“Anyway,” he began again, either conceding the little sparring session or realizing he still had a story to cover, “the local Xionti government, uhh . . .” he rifled through some notes for a couple of seconds, “the New Council, announced the planet's independence from the Coalition on the same day it released a notice from the Contegorian Confederation confirming Xionti's membership.” He said the planet's name like a jock quotes names from nerd fiction. There was a deliberate beat, then: “Yeah, I'm not buying it.”
“You're not buying what,” the woman asked.
“The timing's just too convenient, Ara.”
“You don't think the government of Xionti could have worked this out on their own, on the D-L?”
Zek shook his head. “No way. One hundred percent, no way.”
“You're not going full Arix Sloans on me, are you?”
“Look, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't think there's some,” he held his arms up and shook his hands around a little, “master plan set into motion by a group of shadowy figures in a smoke-filled room, but if you're asking me if the Eastern government on Teth knew about this beforehand and kept it under wraps? Come on, say it with me now . . .” There was another deliberate beat. “Of cooooourse!” He threw his hands up into camera view for emphasis.
“You can't smoke indoors on Teth,” the third member of the panel said offhand.
“Really?” Zek asked.
“Yeah. It's true. There's no smoke-filled room, because you've got to take that shit out to the gazebo.”
There was a brief bout of laughter that ended when Ara asked, “But seriously, Zek. You don't think the 'New Council' could have drummed up the support they needed for this kind of change on their own?”
“What I'm saying, is, if I was a betting man, I'd be putting my money on a press release out of Teth sometime in the next, oh, two years, saying they knew Xionti was planning to bail out and didn't send a single envoy to try and stop it.” Zek seemed to be done, then did a double-take, looking back to the close-up camera for him and then to the space beyond it. “Actually, I am a betting man. I've got two hundred credits, two-to-one odds, for anybody in the office willing to take it. Two years, starting today – the beginning of this show. Any takers? Anybody?
“No, I didn't think so.”
“So, then we're back to conspiracy theories,” Ara pointed out. “You think the Eastern government wanted Xionti out of the Coalition, or into the Confederation, and . . . 'maneuvered'” she wiggled in her seat as if miming the word, “to make it happen.”
Zek shook his head. “Look, I'm sure if you went and counted the votes, did a poll of the local population, checked the bank records of the New Council's members, they'd get a clean bill of health. Well, except for the bank records, but that's got nothing to do with this.”
He seemed to perk up at that observation, then in a slightly different tone and with slightly better posture, looked to the close-shot camera which immediately cut to him. “We gotta get the money out of politics. We've got to get our free and fair elections back. We've got it at the federal and provincial levels, but that's not good enough. We need a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics, everywhere in the Coalition, or we're fucked. It's the ideas that matter, the ideas that matter, not who has the most money to toss around. Lucky for you fine folks at home, there's something you can do about it.
“Gundark-dash-PAC-dot-com. We're comin' for ya!”
“Of course,” Ara said, simultaneously managing to convey agreement with and dismissal of his rant. “But what does all of that mean, though?”
“Look, the East must have seen this coming for a while now. They've been dealing with huge refugee populations, military rebuilding, infrastructure programs, threats of Reaver incursion, yada yada yada.”
“And it's not like Xionti was having one big picnic that whole time either.”
“That's right,” Ara acknowledged in, spotting a chance to get back into the conversation. “Xionti lost two government leaders within months of one another, the second one the former head of their military. And it was under suspicious circumstances, too.”
“That's right, Ara,” Zek said. It was almost starting to sound like a real news segment.
“They were true reformers,” Ara said, “people who built that 'New' Council of theirs and wiped out decades of corruption, the kind of folks we'd like to see more of. Right after that, there was a huge push by a minority faction inside their government to have Xionti break away from the Coalition and join some upstart called . . . uhh . . .” Ara checked her notes, trying to find the name.
“The Germanican Grays,” Zek offered.
“Right, the Germanican Grays,” Ara confirmed. Why Zek had gotten “Germanican Grays,” a vague reference to a would-be galactic power that had only lasted a few months, but couldn't get the name of the planet he was doing a segment on right in the first try, the worlds may never know.
Ara continued. “The move was blocked, but their government was on shaky ground after that. They couldn't cobble together enough votes to get anything passed. There ended up being riots, protests, martial law in several cities, sometimes for months straight! It was bananas. Absolute bananas.”
“Right, right, and all this time, back on Teth, the Eastern government just kept plugging away, doing their refugee thing. And . . . we commend 'em for it.” He pointed at himself with both hands. “Good job!” He balled his hands into fists and shook them in mock celebration. “Saving lives, good for you!”
“But Xionti was a member of the East. Not refugees, a member world. That hurts.” Zek shook his head, sad. “That hurts bad, and people don't get over that kind of thing. Teth picked the refugee crisis over other domestic concerns, and they did it in full knowledge of what it'd mean. I'm just glad things didn't get any worse on Xionti, thanks god.”
“Uh-huh,” Ara said. “A few months ago, a unity faction in the New Council managed to pull together enough votes to call for a special election, and most of the members got swept out in the resulting round of voting.”
“Xionti's been pretty isolated in the Kashyyyk System for a while now, isn't that right, Ara?” the third member of the group asked, apparently remembering that he was supposed to be involved in this topic.
“That's right, Vinny. Ever since the Serendivius group pulled out of the Coalition, at least.”
“Yeah thanks, Wookiees,” Vinny started again. “Good luck when those Trandoshans get hungry again!” He shook his fist at the camera like he was looking for a fight.
The other two tried an awkward laugh, hoping to get past the moment as nothing more than a bad joke. “Say what you will about those trigger-happy Confederates,” Zek said as soon as he could, “they know how to buddy up to trade partners. They've been laying on the charm pretty hard all this time, and it looks like it's payed off for them.”
“Well then what's the big mystery?” Ara asked. “The East pretty much abandoned Xionti, and the Confederation wooed them.” She wiggled her hips, making her whole body shift back and forth a little.
“'Wooed' them?” Zek asked.
“Yeah, what's wrong with . . .” she did a weird little half-dance thing while still sitting in her chair, “'wooed'?” Then she burst into laughter.
Zek let out a few half-hearted chuckles before returning to the topic at hand. “Yeah, but Teth has had a lot of experience making lipana juice out of lipanas, if you know what I mean. There's no way they pass up the opportunity to squeeze this situation for all it's worth.”
“You really think the East found a way to get something out of this?” Vinny asked.
“Absolutely, without a doubt,” Zek confirmed.
“Huh, that's be a first. The East getting something out of a highly industrialized neighbor armed to the teeth and ready for war!”
“My bet is it's got something to do with whatever's going on with the West,” Zek said.
“That's right,” Ara picked up on Zek's train of thought. “The Western Province's Unity Party has had several meetings with Confederation officials over the past few months. You think they're related?”
“Hah!” Vinny exclaimed. “Teth's doing a favor for the West. Not likely!” he shouted, leaning toward the camera and opening his eyes wide. “Those holier-than-thou Western 'Unity' assholes have done fuck-all for the folks out East since the Dragon War started! Now you think Teth's going to go throwing them a bone? Puu-lease!”
“Vinny, how could you not know about the West-East relief program?” Ara asked, disbelieving.
“What?” Vinny asked, caught off-guard.
“The West has been shipping supplies to and taking in refugees from the East for months now, using that Cooperative-charted trade route.”
“You mean they actually finished that thing? I thought it was just a publicity stunt to get a few more backwaters signed into the Coalition. Well whaddaya know!”
“Well that is something we'll have to tackle another time,” Ara said, “because we are out of time.”
“That's right folks,” Zek said, “that's the end of the show. So details are a little sketchy, something else is definitely going on here, and Xionti is gone. G-O-N-E gone, but hey,” Zek sat back, shrugging his shoulders a little, “at least it doesn't look like this one is going to get us into any new wars, so that's a plus!”
He laughed at himself for a second or two before getting back to it. “So that's our show! Members, stick around for Overtime, we'll be back in a few minutes.
“The rest of you: see you next time.