Nevermore will the Republic stand if the corrupt condemn us to bureaucracy.
—Senator Servius Valorum
Above Coruscant, aboard the Averre
Free from the Coruscant gravity well, the Republic cruiser Averre sailed away from the planet. The red Consular-class space cruiser, which measured 115 meters long, was a new release designed exclusively for Senators and diplomats of the Republic. Standing alone at the front of the bridge was a man of tall stature, hair graying. Even though he stood with his feet apart, his military stoicism chilled the room. His arms were joined behind his back as he stared forward, out the transparisteel window and into empty space. Immediately in front of him was another male, piloting the craft away from the planet. The pilot acted dutifully, preparing the vessel for hyperspace and entering the proper coordinates into the navicomputer. After finishing his preparatory procedure, he turned to the man behind him and nodded.
No signal was given to the pilot for action and both remained in the cold silence. The remainder of the vessel was all but empty. Other than an array of supplies for travel and tools which populated the storage areas, only one other individual and two droids were on board. The other lone individual was meditating in the privacy of an upper deck state room. A utility droid was working in the navigation room, and lastly, a maintenance droid was cleaning a lonely lower deck corridor. Eerie silence filled the remaining areas of the cruiser, which normally housed a crew ranging from four to eight and carried upwards of twelve other passengers.
After two minutes of silence, the tall man spoke to his pilot. "Danstari," he said in a matter-of-fact manner, "I do not believe our exit has piqued anyone's interest. Proceed with the jump to hyperspace. We have work to do."
"Yes, Senator Valorum," the pilot replied without turning around. He then reached to his right and engaged the hyperdrive. The cruiser promptly obliged and entered hyperspace without fanfare. Safely in transit, Danstari engaged the autopilot system and tended to a few other matters on the control panel. A few moments passed before the pilot finally stood, feeling secure about the vessel's status, and walked past the still stoic Senator. He neither addressed nor even regarded the Senator as he passed him. Rather, he swiftly exited the cockpit and entered the adjacent navigation room. Senator Valorum remained, standing, peering out the cockpit window into the hollowing glow of hyperspace.
Inside the navigation room, Danstari saw the small MR-series utility droid accessing the vessel's central computer. The droid, officially named MR-A7, stood around one meter tall, with a body that was nearly identical to the long-successful T3-series models. The T3 model had been upgraded to include a better processor and programming along with stronger structure, without sacrificing size and versatility. In appearance, however, the MR droids were nearly identical to their T3 predecessor.
MR-A7 turned its head clockwise, acknowledging Danstari's entrance, but continued working in silence. Glancing at the screen, the droid was browsing Republic records that documented Senators and their associates. After three minutes of daydreaming, Danstari's boredom got the better of him. "We're on our way to the Moddell sector, Emra. What are you up to? Need help?"
The small droid beeped quietly and undocked from the central computer's access port. Turning around, it moved toward Danstari, stopping a mere finger width from his feet. It tilted its quasi-cylindrical head upward, looking at the young man who was responsible for piloting the ship. At around thirty standard years of age, he had with dark brown hair, deep brown skin and a rugged complexion. He sported the standard dark blue outfit for Republic security personnel who were a part of the Judicial Forces.
"What do you want Emra? I wasn't trying to stop your work," He spoke to the droid. Emra beeped cheerfully, indicating that everything assigned had been completed. Now, the droid needed to report to the Senator.
"Oh, so you want to see the Senator. He's still in the cockpit. I hope you know what's going on, because I have no idea. Why were we trying to leave the system so discretely?"
The MR-series droid simply responded with declining tones showing its lack of knowledge on the matter. Senator Valorum was commanding this vessel's mission, but he had not divulged any information to the others on board. Rather, he remained silent, promising to explain the mission later. Danstari moved from the doorway, allowing Emra to freely access the cockpit. The utility droid dutifully approached the Senator, circuits quietly whirring and whizzing. The stoic Senator appeared unfazed by Emra's approach, but he eventually turned and knelt before the droid. He put his left hand upon the droid's head and spoke, "Thank you, Emra. Now, I want you to gather everyone. Tell them to meet in the salon. I think it is time we have a quick meeting about what we are doing."
Emra beeped affirmatively, but did not move initially. Once the Senator stood and resumed his prior stance, Emra turned and left the cockpit. It traveled down the corridor, past the navigation room, and into a computer room. There, it plugged into another access port for the Averre's central computer. Using the computer as a translator into Basic, the droid had messages sent via comlink to the other two passengers. The message was simply, "Senator Valorum requests your presence in the salon pod for a briefing."
The droid understood that this mission was of utmost urgency and secrecy by the Senator's actions. It had been asked to search for information in Republic records and the Senator's personal files regarding select individuals. Now, it was undoubtedly needed to relay that information which had been retrieved. Also, other than Danstari and the lone maintenance droid, the other two passengers were not regulars to the Senator's staff. Emra belonged to another individual but had been "borrowed" for about five days to help the Senator gather information. Regardless, it dutifully acted for the Senator.
Emra undocked from the central computer and exited the room. Strolling down the eerily calm corridor, it beeped and whirred, haplessly breaking the stillness and silence. After meandering through the vessel, it arrived at the salon pod. The droid unlocked the entrance to the pod and entered as the doorway whisked open. It engaged the lights in the salon meeting room, illuminating the expanse, and allowed the doorway to close.
The meeting room was round, with a dome-like ceiling and had chairs and tables that were configurable for small or large meetings up to sixteen people. When Emra entered, there was one large vaguely rectangular table surrounded by sixteen chairs, with a hologram projector at the far end. The room used only ambient lighting rather than direct lighting and had transparisteel windows on the forward end of the room which were sealed by secondary, durasteel doors.
As Emra took a position at the far end of the room, the door to the salon whisked open again. Danstari strutted into the chamber, looking around. He stalled a moment, then moved toward a seat near the back end of the table. He reclined and propped his feet up onto the solid table surface.
"Maybe we'll get some answers, Emra," Danstari chirped.
Emra beeped a response of affirmation.
"I can't wait," he continued. "This might be the reassignment I was told about last week."
Suddenly, the door whirled open again. A pale-blue skinned figure wearing a brown and beige robe entered. She had white feathers that appeared almost like the hair of a Human and deep blue eyes. Stepping into the light, Emra recognized the female being: She was an Omwati, but most notably, she was a Jedi and acquaintance of the Senator. Emra excitedly produced an array of sounds at her arrival.
"Someone's happy," Danstari said, looking at the droid.
"Hello, Emra," The Jedi said as she walked forward, smiling. Then, extending her right hand toward Danstari, she pushed his legs off the table through the Force. "Bored, Lieutenant?" She smarted with a broad, mischievous grin.
"That's not fair, Shalli. You can't use the Force in the salon." Danstari retorted with a chiding smirk.
Suddenly, the door whisked open again; Senator Valorum had arrived. Emra moved closer to the table, plugged into the holoprojector, and prepared for the meeting. The Senator, stoic yet visibly troubled, took a seat next to Emra at the head of the table. Shalli then sat a couple of seats down, on the opposite side as Danstari.
"I'm going to get directly to the point…" the Senator began, his voice trailing into a momentary pause. "As you know, part of my duties as Senator has been to serve as chair for the Senate Ethics Committee. In doing so, I uncovered evidence of substantial corruption among a couple of our government officials. Much of it was given through anonymous sources that have since proven factual or trustworthy. I reported all of my findings to the Director of the Government Investigative Network and have turned the investigation over to his leading. The Director, in turn, has assigned his top investigator to the case."
"This must be big-time, then," Danstari interjected.
"It is, Lieutenant. It is," the Senator replied. "Now, Emra, please pull up Senator Hanik Regueny."
Emra beeped and an image appeared on the holoprojector of Senator Regueny. The droid also prepared information for Senator Valorum, and it appeared below the image.
Valorum scratched the back of his head, then continued. "Senator Hanik Regueny: he is a senior senator from Commenor. He was elected thirty-two years ago and is one of the longest-termed officials in our government. He has never been accused of bribery or other corruption charges during his tenure, thus far, and is widely thought to be clean by other senators. In fact, he was part of a group that uncovered the Commerce Guild scandal a few years back, as you might recall. I have strong reason to believe, however, that he has his hand in quite a few dirty deals. While nothing can be confirmed, it appears his hand might be in as many illegal operations as a spice ring, a weapons smuggling scheme… and… let's just say 'possibly even more sinister actions.'"
"Wait…" Shalli asked, her face with a crumpled expression. "He is smuggling weapons? What military could he smuggling for?"
"Not quite sure," Valorum responded. "Commenor has a menial defense force like most planets."
Shalli was unsatisfied. "Military forces were intentionally downsized almost three hundred years ago."
Senator Valorum continued, "That is true. The Ruusan Reformation did cause military forces to be designated for planetary defense only. And, the Republic military was all but dissolved. So, your conjecture is as good as any, Shalli. The evidence is strong, though."
"Perhaps," Danstari interjected, peering at the holo-image, "he has no intent of using them himself. Perhaps he is planning to sell them to the Hutts or anti-Republic dissidents."
Emra created sounds of shock and sorrow, then changed the holo-image from Regueny to a list of his known contacts, most of them other senators.
"That is what we need to find out, Danstari," Valorum remarked. "I have long believed that Regueny was in the Senate to better society and the people of Commenor. If he is smuggling weapons or participating in illegal weapons transactions, then he needs to be punished. The problem is that nothing is concrete that links him to anything, at the moment. Anonymous sources and tips given to me indicate his wealth has increased substantially from various places across the galaxy in the last standard year. He has received a substantial number of credits from Fondor, Kuat, Nar Shaadda, Outer Rim crime havens, and, most surprisingly, Eriadu. We do not know what these credits are for, but he has also paid a substantial amount out, as well. Most of the money has gone to mercenaries and suspected drug smugglers."
"Why don't we arrest him on charges of funding drug smuggling?" Shalli inquired.
The Senator sighed and sat back in his seat. Soberly, he responded, "At this point, it seems to be a minor deal compared to the larger weapons ring he appears to be involved in. Strictly speaking, any weapons ring greatly concerns the G.I.N. Director."
"So, Senator, how do we fit into this?" Danstari asked. "I take it we left Coruscant because we have this information."
"We are meeting with the top investigator in the G.I.N. on Qina, in the Moddell sector," the Senator answered. "The G.I.N. Director directly assigned her to this case, at my request. A new team is being formed under her command, and it includes both of you."
"Do we know her?" Shalli inquired.
"I do not believe so." The Senator paused. "Only Emra does, of course, since this investigator owns her. Still, this investigation is completely top secret. Other than the Director of the G.I.N., myself, and those involved, no one knows about this information or the investigation. Not even Chancellor Eddicus."
Emra let out sounds of curiosity and beeped wildly. She noticed the Senator quietly place his hand on her head while he continued. "I am meeting with other members of my security detail, including my new pilot, on Qina and will return to Coruscant after you both have been dispatched. I will make certain Emra contains all the information your lead investigator will need when you disembark from this ship. Danstari, you already knew that you were going to be reassigned to G.I.N., and this is now your reassigned status. Shalli, the Director of G.I.N. wanted a skilled Jedi on the team. You were chosen, should you be willing to accept."
Shalli did not appear shocked. Rather, she sat back and responded plainly. "The Jedi Council informed me yesterday that you would be providing me another mission and that I should comply. I suppose this is it. I have no objections to taking it."
Danstari shrugged then his expression changed to confusion. "So, who is this lead investigator?"
The Senator rose and made a motion toward Emra. The small droid, knowing the signal, turned off the holoprojector and undocked from the machine. "Ironically, an old friend of mine. So, I will be forfeiting any further involvement in this investigation unless it is absolutely required of me."
As the Senator began walking toward the door, Emra followed his steady gait. The Senator strode to the doorway, and opened it. As he was about to leave, he turned and said, "Special Agent Evening Delwynn. I highly suggest you address her 'Agent Delwynn.' Anything else would be… quite unacceptable."
Learn quickly, or she'll leave you in the dust.
—Asana Lani on Evening Delwynn and her demands and mannerisms
Averre, approaching the Hanchin system
Danstari sat quietly in the cockpit as the Averre, still in hyperspace, approached the Hanchin system. It was mere moments before the vessel would pull out of hyperspace, and he was busy using his time to read about the woman known as "Agent Delwynn." Loosely clutching his datapad, the pilot was eager to know anything about the woman who was assigned to be his new superior officer. Surprisingly, there was little personal information available on her in the Judicial Forces files. All he learned was that she was around forty-one standard years old, unmarried, and trained by the Judicial Forces as a military policewoman with a specialty in espionage. Aside from these basic statistics, he only saw records of her cases, which dated back eighteen years to the year 279. While not a perfect record, he saw success after success in the files. He continued to dig into mentions of Agent Delwynn in media and Republic circulars. From his browsing, he surmised she was a highly respected investigator.
As Danstari continued his search, the control panel in the cockpit began to beep. The Averre was about to exit hyperspace near Hanchin, and the vessel demanded his attention. Danstari set the datapad on the cockpit dashboard and pulled a control lever. The ship, still on autopilot, dropped out of hyperspace directly on target. The pilot gazed through the transparisteel window at the large orange-colored gas giant, orbited by at least six moons. Even after twelve years of piloting, the awe and spectacle was not lost by him. After taking a moment to savor the sight, Danstari took the ship out of autopilot and began cruising toward a large purple-colored moon.
Via comlink, Danstari asked the astromech droid MR-A7 to pull up a map of the moon on the navicomputer. The droid did so, from the navigation room, and the pilot began browsing for a settlement to land. Just then, the door whisked open, and the Senator strode in.
"Senator Valorum," the young pilot spoke without turning, "we are approaching Qina. I am scouting for a place to land."
"Thank you, Danstari," the Senator replied, "but our meeting place will be in the Rin settlement, somewhere in the southern hemisphere."
Danstari quickly spotted the settlement on the navicomputer and began the descent to the moon's surface. As he piloted the vessel toward the community, he noticed some landing bays attached to a small starport. A diplomatic mission to Qina might attract attention, he assumed, and while this mission was not diplomatic, the arrival could warrant much unnecessary attention. As a result, he decided to land on the outskirts, in a flat area about one kilometer away from Rin, hoping to abate any unneeded distractions.
As the Averre landed, Senator Valorum turned and departed the cockpit. Danstari shut down the vessel and started for his quarters. He knew, with the reassignment that his belongings needed to be moved to another vessel. He had already packed his few personal items into a small bag, but he wanted to double check his quarters for any straggling items. In the central corridor on the upper deck, he spotted the Senator emerge from his state room wearing the clothes of a spacer. Undoubtedly, he thought, the Senator does not want to attract unnecessary attention either. Danstari shrugged, and finished cleaning his quarters.
Just outside the Averre stood Shalli. She had exited quickly and was allowing the breeze to blow through her feathers while concentrating on the Force, which seemed so strong. She sensed the religious significance of the moon but was troubled by the aura she received from the settlement. The Jedi Knight opened her eyes and looked toward the community. There was not an evil aura coming from the village, but rather a nexus rested under Rin. Concentrating further, she finally sensed a network of ancient catacombs that formed a labyrinth under the entire settlement. She also sensed an entrance not far from where she now stood.
After a couple more moments of meditation, the Senator, Danstari, and Emra strode off the vessel and approached Shalli from behind. Everyone appeared to be prepared for departure into Rin.
"Shalli," the Senator spoke, "what do you advise right now? How should we enter Rin?"
"I don't see any problem with the main gateway, Senator," the Jedi responded, "but we need to be deliberate about where we travel. We cannot appear as tourists. People who come to Qina come deliberately and know why they are here."
The Senator pondered for a moment, then added, "Agent Delwynn requested that we meet in the Granhar Cantina at the center of the settlement. I don't believe it will be too difficult to find." Stretching out his hand, he continued, "Lead on, Shalli."
With that, Danstari sealed the ship and secured the entrance. The four then began their short journey to the settlement's south gateway. No one stopped the travelers as they entered the community; although, a small array of guards with blaster rifles were stationed around the high purple-stoned archway. Shalli used the Force to guide her way through the marketplace, leading the others toward the cantina. After about thirty total minutes of walking, she spotted the blue and purple cantina sign over a large doorway in the main square. Small trees and shrubs lined the front of the building, giving an odd pleasant, if not beautiful, appearance for a cantina. Seeing as it was their destination, she lead the others into the building.
The main portion of the cantina was a round room, with a bar in the middle that formed a complete circle. Stationed around the bar, against the outer wall were small tables that could seat two or three. There was also a hallway at the other end of the large room, which appeared to have private enclaves for small gatherings. It did not appear as a spacer's haven. Rather, it was more of a local restaurant, one that offered a nice alternative to the residents of Rin.
The Senator took the lead, stepping in front of the Omwati Jedi, walking toward the hallway at the rear of the building. Neither her nor Danstari spoke; although, Emra was busy making seemingly random, albeit barely audible, noises. The three followed the Senator into the hallway and entered a small enclave at the very end of the corridor. Inside the enclave was a long table and six chairs. At the far end of the table sat a Human woman, her brown hair tied back. She rose quietly, looked at the Senator and approached him. With a placid, yet sweet smile, she embraced the Senator.
"Servius, it is so good to see you again." She said, her voice calm but measured.
"Same for me, Evening," the Senator responded, braking the embrace. "It is always a privilege. Too bad we only seem to meet when bad things happen."
The woman looked a way for a moment, a twisted grin on her face as she simply nodded and sighed. "One of these days," she said, returning to a smile, "it will be a social call. I miss spending time with your wife. How is she doing?"
"She is well," the Senator continued, "but busy. She is working very hard to promote a literacy campaign in the Coruscanti mid-levels right now. It's consuming much of her time."
"That is wonderful. I hope it surpasses her expectations. She works so very hard." The brown haired woman replied affirmatively and paused. Then she slowly changed her expression to a more professional and stern approach as she spoke. "I assume you are ready to return to Coruscant. Let's get down to business."
With that, the woman and the Senator sat across from each other at the table. Shalli and Danstari sat next to the Senator, while Emra moved around the table toward the mysterious woman. By now, Shalli had assumed this was the lead investigator known as Evening Delwynn, even though formal introductions were still pending. Shalli watched as Senator Valorum handed two datapads to the woman along with a folder of files. For about two minutes, the woman browsed the information and then set it aside. She looked at Emra, smiled, and then looked at the Jedi Knight. She gazed squarely at the Omwati Jedi, as if attempting to peer into her soul. Suddenly, she spoke.
"Shalli," the woman spoke holding out her right hand, palm downward, "Special Agent Evening Delwynn."
The Jedi was actually surprised by this motion, for it looked as if this Human woman was greeting her in the traditional Omwati manner. It was an Omwati custom on Coruscant to extend the right hand outward with a downward-facing palm during an introduction. Through the Force, the Jedi could sense the sincerity and genuineness of the gesture, and gently smiled. Following the Omwati tradition, Shalli took her right hand and gripped Agent Delwynn's forearm from underneath, while grasping the hand from above with her left hand. Delwynn bowed her head, and Shalli broke the greeting.
Shalli then watched as Agent Delwynn shifted her attention to Danstari. "Lieutenant Waron Danstari, I presume," she said as she gave an at-ease salute used by the military branch of the Judicial Forces.
"Yes, ma'am," he replied.
Suddenly, the aura from Agent Delwynn shifted. Shalli could sense that she did not approve of being called ma'am as she continued looking at Danstari, but the agent did not remark. The Omwati glanced at Danstari, who seemed to sense he had done something wrong.
"Hello, Emra," the agent said as she turned her attention toward the utility droid that had been quietly waiting next to her. The droid responded with a robust array of beeps and woos. "You really thought I would forget about you? How could I? Anyway, I'm glad to have you back. I believe you'll like the little surprise I got for you."
At that moment, a Lethan Twi'lek wearing a white laboratory coat appeared at the entrance to the small enclave. She nodded toward Agent Delwynn, who stood.
"This is Asana Lani," she said, pointing toward the Twi'lek. "I will leave the introductions for you to do privately. Servius, your crew is waiting."
The Senator rose and thanked Shalli and Danstari for their service. He continued, remarking that they would meet again. He then traveled around the table, knelt before Emra and spoke something quietly, to which the droid wooed sorrowfully. Agent Delwynn and the Senator stood side by side at the entrance way. The Senator, turned toward his former crew and stately spoke: "May the Force be with you." He then turned and walked down the corridor with Agent Delwynn.
The Senator walked slowly with his old friend down the corridor and into the main cantina room. The two said nothing to each other; although, nothing needed to be said. Everything had been prearranged so that the Senator would be taken back to Coruscant safely over the next few days while the investigation proceeded. During this time, he would make political stops on other planets to justify leaving Coruscant in case anyone had spotted the departing Averre. Waiting outside the cantina was the new four-person security detail. Dressed in common clothing, they were greeted by the Senator when he emerged from the establishment. Behind the security personnel was a red speeder which could hold up to six.
"I will go with you to the Averre, Servius." The agent spoke. "I promised myself that I would see you off."
"I appreciate that, Evening," he said graciously, "but you are busy."
Smiling, she retorted, "It is of no bother. I had already planned on it."
Inside Granhar Cantina, Qina
When Agent Delwynn and Senator Valorum departed the cantina enclave, Asana Lani scurried into the vacated seat. After a brief round of introductions, the new team members sat quietly, uncertain of what to say next. Finally, Danstari spoke up.
"What is it like working for Agent Delwynn?"
"I love it!" the Lethan Twi'lek exclaimed. "It just takes some time getting used to her style."
"What do you mean?" the Jedi Knight inquired.
Asana sighed. "She's very straightforward and expects the best from everyone at all times. Basically, you don't bother her unless you have a reason."
"That is some advice." Danstari quipped.
"The best advice," Asana continued, "is simply this: Learn quickly, or she'll leave you in the dust. Delwynn is a great investigator and a sharp person, but she has very high expectations. Learn what she wants from you and learn quickly because she's all business when on the job."
"You just call her Delwynn?" the Jedi Knight asked.
The Twi'lek smiled mischievously then shrugged. "Usually. Sometimes I call her 'boss.' I've only heard a few people address her as 'Evening.' Those people, like the Senator, have known her for years, I guess."
The team sat in silence for a moment until Asana interjected once again. "Oh, and never call her ma'am."
Danstari's face became flush and he put his head down on the table. Muffled by the table and his left arm, he added, "Some introduction I had, then."
Shalli, recalling his earlier response, chuckled and reclined.
Outskirts of Rin, Qina
Agent Evening Delwynn sat quietly next to Senator Valorum as the speeder approached the Averre. The Senator occasionally glanced her direction, concerned for his friend. He had known the investigator for all eighteen years of her career. Beneath the normative display of stoicism, he knew her hurt, her pain. He knew of her loss, her distrust of society, and her contrasting desire for a more normal life. Yet, he also knew of her dedication to the Republic and to the post that she was assigned. Unfortunately, the Senator believed, it was probably her past that made her so excellent of an investigator. At the same time, he knew that she was tormented by nearly everything other than her work, for she never had closure at the greatest moment of loss, eleven years earlier.
When the speeder came to a stop, the four security personnel immediately boarded the Averre to check its status, leaving Senator Valorum with his friend.
"Are you really fine, Evening?" he asked, concerned.
"I will be, Servius. I will be. The last case just dredged up some old wounds."
"Are you sure there is nothing I can do?"
"No, nothing." She responded, lowering her head and looking away from the Senator.
Senator Valorum was concerned, and he knew why. He put his arm around Evening and sat quietly. After about three minutes, a message came over the comlink that the Averre was secure and ready for departure. The Senator did not move. Rather, he sat with his friend, staring at the gas giant Hanchin which filled the sky to the east.
Nearly five minutes had passed when Evening began to shuffle, her stoicism and stern gaze returning.
"It is time for you to go. Don't let me keep you."
"Evening, you should never worry about that."
"My personal affairs are my own and to be pondered at a later time. For now, it is time to get back to business."
"Agent Delwynn," he smarted, even though he rarely addressed her this way, "thank you for investigating this for me."
Evening snickered, her stern gaze melting slightly for a mere moment. "Thank you, sir. It is a privilege to serve the Republic."
Laughing, Senator Valorum stepped out of the speeder and toward the ship. Evening moved toward the front of the vehicle and gripped the steering controls. As the Senator waved, he shouted, "Take care of yourself, Evening Delwynn… until next time."
Hearing his words, she started the speeder back toward Rin and the Senator boarded the Averre. Evening then contacted Asana Lani through the comlink.
"Asana," she spoke, "have the team convene at docking bay seven of the Rin Spaceport in two hours."
"Sounds good, boss," Asana replied.
"Also, tell everyone to eat something in the mean time, we won't have time later."
There is always a reason why I do something.
Rin settlement spaceport
Following orders, the new investigative unit gathered outside the door to docking bay seven. The door, locked, was at the end of a gently curving corridor, with a sign above it stating 'OFFICIAL REPUBLIC USE ONLY.' Other than an attendant in lobby, now some three hundred meters away, there was no one else in the building.
"Crowded place," Danstari sarcastically said, glancing down the corridor they had just traversed.
"Apparently, there is a large religious retreat on the other side of the moon," Asana replied. "There were many beings in that spaceport. At least twenty bays, as well."
Shalli kept tracing the periphery of the corridor with her eyes. "That other spaceport was probably too crowded for Agent Delwynn's liking then." Finally looking down, she continued, "Any idea why we are meeting on this remote Outer Rim moon? There are plenty of hidden areas closer to the Core."
"None," Asana replied. "All I know is that Delwynn suggested it after reading the information given to her."
"She must think there is something important out here on this purple rock," Danstari surmised. "Then again, she seems like the type of being that might drag us out here for no reason."
"I don't drag my team around for no reason, Danstari," Agent Delwynn voice's boomed. When the team turned, the agent had suddenly appeared about only two meters from them. She continued walking toward the docking bay door, her strong gait uninterrupted by her reply.
At the doorway, Delwynn lifted a latch, revealing a keypad. She entered a short number, and the door unlocked with a loud a clank. Then, slowly, the doors moved apart with the laboring sounds of two rusted, never-used machines. The lead investigator walked through the doorway and out of Danstari's sight. He turned to Asana with a ghostly complexion.
"She does that often," the Twi'lek replied with a broad smile, turning toward the opened docking bay.
Not wanting to be left behind, or further embarrassed in front of his new superior officer, he quickly followed Asana and Shalli, who had already entered the docking bay. As Danstari entered, he saw a large, white and red vessel which took up the majority of the space. The ship was unlike personal or governmental craft he had seen before. Instead, it looked surprisingly similar, although not identical, to a Traverser-class light transport produced by the Kuat Drive Yards and used by shipping companies across the Mid Rim. Unlike the transport, it had multiple communication devices on the posterior, viewports near the front, and a shallower height on the port side. The ship was about half the height of the Traverser on the port side, but level with the starboard side of the craft. It was also equipped with two laser cannons. Nevertheless, the vessel was about forty-three meters long and thirty-five meters wide. It looked kind of like a box with a tapered front end and rounded roof-to-wall construct, although both the limits of the roof and the height of the wall were well-defined.
As he kept walking toward the vessel, he was amazed by the similarities to the Traverser model that he noted. He walked up the port-side ramp, which was toward the rear of the craft, and was even more surprised by what he saw. Inside the entryway, it appeared to be anything but a light transport. The walls were clean; the floor was not scuffed by shipping machinery or cargo bins. The doors were government-vessel standard and the ambient lighting illuminated the room well. He continued following the others, as they proceeded through a large security door. Immediately, however, he recognized this room as the passenger lounge of the Kuat Drive Yards light transport he remembered. He continued on the tour, noting where Delwynn stated her quarters were, along with the others. His quarters were the last one in the hallway, but as he realized moments later, also the closest to the cockpit.
Nearly circling the entire vessel through its main corridor, Agent Delwynn directed her team into the large meeting room. Shalli, Asana and Emra dutifully entered. As Danstari approached the meeting room door, he tried to ignore Agent Delwynn staring at him. Continuing into the room and toward the centrally-located table, he asked, "Is this ship related to the Traverser transport models?"
"Yes," Delwynn replied, entering the room herself. "I inherited it from my father and had it modified for my own use. The starboard side is almost identical, still."
"Does it have a name?" he further inquired, taking a seat at the table.
"Mally," she responded finitely, turning her attention toward a counter a the rear of the room.
On the counter was a datapad, which Delwynn picked up and began looking at. She glanced toward Emra and instructed the droid to prepare for a briefing. A hologram machine at the center of the table illuminated, and the lights in the meeting room dimmed to near darkness. Agent Delwynn stepped toward the table and calmly sat on its edge, at the far end.
"Alright," she spoke. "I am going to brief you all on what has been uncovered so far. Senator Valorum briefed two of you on what he knew as you arrived. Be prepared to take notes. It appears this case has gotten even messier and shadier."
With that, Delwynn stood and walked back toward the counter. Pressing a button on it, a drawer appeared underneath the surface. She reached into the drawer and pulled out three datapads. She passed one to each member, calling off their names as she did so. She then resumed her position at the end of the table.
"Here is what we know already: The investigation was launched into the activities of Senator Hanik Regueny of Commenor. We believed he was involved in the drug trade, suppression of law enforcement regarding said trade, and possible weapons smuggling. His motives, we believed were purely monetary. Not that our belief has changed, but his involvement in some illegal activity might have been done as either an ignorant accessory or through coercion. Now, this we can confirm: He has three primary connections outside the Senate and his family that we know of. The first, a Human female by the name of Catiene Gallien. She is a financier on Aargau. We are not sure of her involvement other than the sources which prompted this investigation cited her as the handler for money exchanged between Regueny and an unknown individual."
Danstari gazed upon the holo-image of the woman. She was remarkably young, he thought, possibly only twenty-five standard years of age. This surprised him. How could she be involved in such a scheme at this young of an age? Then he pondered that she could have be coerced as well.
As the image changed to a Duros, Delwynn continued. "Sans Veneret. A Duros male, notorious mercenary who is a vital part of the small, but noted Dark Moon crime syndicate. We believe he is the head of the group's smuggling operations. However, he has not been seen in public for about two months. We think he might be trying to stay under the radar a bit more. Regueny was seen with Veneret on multiple occasions by the source mentioned. This individual noted that Veneret was having cargo loaded onto Regueny's cruiser each time. During a routine search by Senate security officials on Coruscant, however, none of the cargo has ever been spotted.
"Now, this last contact from the list is arguably the most interesting. A Human by the name of 'Grems' Lind. He is a suspected Dark Moon operative who specializes in slave-trading and drug smuggling. He is wanted, dead, in at least fifteen systems."
Emra changed the holo-image to the rugged, facially scarred man known as "Grems," and the team glanced at the image, and each other.
"He's quite popular, I guess," Danstari snidely interjected, looking directly at Shalli.
"Quite," Delwynn replied straightly. "We are not entirely sure how he is involved yet, but it is unfortunately not too irregular to see a Senator hanging around people associated with a crime syndicate."
"With all due respect, Agent Delwynn," Shalli interrupted, "other than the Senator's involvement, it seems that this case is in a different jurisdiction within the Judicial Forces."
"That is correct, Shalli," Delwynn responded. "Technically, even with the Senator's involvement it would be outside the G.I.N.'s jurisdiction. It actually would take a crime against a Senator in order for the G.I.N. to get involved. Yet, I was personally asked to look into Senator Regueny's dealings and to investigate this case. That said, I have been given free rein to go after Veneret or Lind if we can prove crimes. Our investigation is top priority for the Director, and he wants to know what Senator Regueny is doing. At the same time, he does not want these two scumbags to be on the loose much longer."
"Fair enough," the Omwati Jedi conceded. "So, then, what are the connections with the other two?"
"I believe," Delwynn responded, "Senator Regueny was being paid through Catiene Gallien either by Sans Veneret or someone else. In exchange, Senator Regueny was acting as a political consultant for people within the Dark Moon syndicate. Somewhere in there, the Senator supposedly became tied into the smuggling operations. Possibly, his diplomatic ship was used to smuggle individuals or drugs to various places. Nothing of this can actually be proven, though. Diplomatic vessels are loosely checked at point-of-entry, at the most. Even more, diplomatic immunity prevents us from investigating his flagship unless we can prove something greater than probable cause. The Dark Moon connection, however, appears to be limited to Veneret and Veneret only. That is the most suspicious thing. I believe there is someone else, working outside of Dark Moon's regular operations that is pulling the strings."
"And Lind? Didn't you say he was Dark Moon?" Shalli continued.
"Lind is only connected by having met with Regueny… today. In fact, I have someone working on that as we speak."
Danstari just kept nodding, as he had been through Delwynn's explanations. Still, he noticed a fire in her to find the truth. Her passion to know and bring any wrong-doer to justice was contagious. Danstari felt almost fired-up; looking for a way to get more involved. After a brief pause, Agent Delwynn sighed and stood. She then leaned forward, placing her hands on the table as support.
She continued, "The next wrinkle came with reports, and now confirmation, that Senator Regueny has met with Catiene Gallien and 'Grems' Lind in person. They met just over one hour ago at a pazaak den here on Qina. I witnessed the meeting."
Danstari was shocked. He looked around at the others, who appeared equally as surprised. Yet, at first, no one said anything. Danstari was not about to doubt his superior officer. In fact, he assumed that he should not even be shocked.
Asana broke the awkward silence, asking, "Is that where Master Greystone was, as well?"
Agent Delwynn nodded, looking toward Shalli. "Master Greystone, as Shalli is aware, is a Jedi Master on the Council of First Knowledge. He has been working on Qina periodically for about two years doing research into religious artifacts." Turning her attention back toward the broader group, she continued, saying, "What you all probably didn't know, however, was that he was my contact on this moon. When the meeting was discovered here, I met him at the pazaak den to witness the meeting. It only consisted of Gallien, Lind, and Regueny and lasted about one hour. Master Greystone agreed to follow the trio as they departed so that I could return here to the ship and do this briefing."
"Why would they possibly meet?" Shalli asked.
"That's what we wanted to know," Delwynn stated. "The meeting confirmed that Gallien was paying Regueny, but did not say for what. They confirmed numbers, checked some data, and the like. Lind, apparently, was also being payed by Gallien on behalf of a company but his connection is still very dubious. The company name was never mentioned in the meeting; and, surprisingly, neither was the name of the person running this ring. One other person was expected, however. Hazar Tordana, the owner of Czerka Arms was supposed to be there."
"Czerka?" Danstari asked. "I thought they had fallen off the navicomputer."
"They did," Asana spoke up. "They are still a big player in developing systems, though. Their weapons and armaments are cheaper than some of the larger companies like BlasTech and Merr-Sonn."
"His absence was noted by all three," Delwynn remarked, fussing with her coat. "Regueny was noticeably relieved because of it. He was still nervous, though. I am beginning to think that he and Gallien are being coerced into this scheme. Master Greystone also sensed it strongly."
Suddenly, a crackling sound was heard, followed by an inaudible voice. Agent Delwynn grabbed a comlink off of her belt and held it up. A male voice, possibly that of an older gentleman, was heard coming through. A moment of mumbling, the voice was loud and clear.
"Eve, we have trouble," the voice said amidst the continued crackling of the comlink. "Regueny and Gallien have been nabbed. I lost track of Linds, but I'm on the trail, three blocks from the spaceport, heading toward you. Need backup."
The whole mood of the briefing room turned anxious. Shalli rose, standing at attention. Agent Delwynn latched the comlink back to her belt and tossed the datapad onto the back counter.
"Asana, Emra," Delwynn shouted, grasping for her blaster. "Guard the ship. Full lockdown when we leave. Danstari, get your blaster, you're with me. Shalli, I will need your help, as well."
At that, Agent Delwynn darted out of the meeting room, Shalli immediately behind her. Danstari grabbed his bag, pulled his blaster out and left the room, following immediately behind.
Rin settlement, outside the spaceport
A near-Human male in traditional Jedi robes leaned against a wall of a purple stone house. To his right was an alley, dimly lit and dusty. Three Rodian thugs had captured Gallien and Regueny and fled down this alley. He had been trailing the hostages since their meeting in the pazaak den; but because he was keeping his distance, he was unable to prevent their sudden abduction. Gallien, Regueny and "Grems" Lind had walked into the busy and crowded Rin marketplace together, but three Rodian thugs had been waiting to ambush. Blaster fire sounded throughout the market corridor and a smoke grenade had cut all visibility. The dense crowd of the marketplace began panicking, and screams filled the air. Through the smoke and crowd, the Jedi had managed to see the financier and senator grabbed, but Lind passed the Jedi, fleeing the scene amongst the chaos. The Jedi attempted to pursue the Rodian thugs, but was overwhelmed by the mass of the bystanders that poured in contraflow out of the marketplace in panic. The Jedi fought against the stampeding crowd just to hold his position. Males, females and children of from numerous species poured past him.
After a few tenuous moments of difficult pursuit, the Jedi had finally broken free from the crowd and regained sight of the assailants. As he continued his approach, he grabbed his comlink and called for help. The pursuit continued, and the Jedi ignited his lightsaber, hoping to capture the attention of the mercenaries and slow their escape. Then, he surmised, Gallien and Regueny could be freed with help arriving. The intervention, however, only served to draw a scattered barrage of blaster fire in the Rin marketplace, so he disengaged his weapon. Rather than risk civilian lives from errant fire, he continued following the abductors, but at a distance, hoping to remain relatively hidden by boxes, crates, alleyways, carts and other objects in the marketplace streets. After chasing them through the streets of the Rin marketplace, he tracked them to this alley. Looking down the alley, he leaned into their line of sight and pulled back. Suddenly, he felt the barrel of a blaster pushed into his back.
"Turn around, Jedi."
Obliging, Master Greystone turned, reignited his lightsaber and sliced through the barrel of the blaster with the orange blade. He then channeled the Force, pushing the assailant against the building across the street. As the Jedi began moving toward him, he recognized the man as "Grems" Lind, whom he had lost track of outside the pazaak den in the chaos. As Lind struggled to his feet, one of the Rodians appeared from the alley. The Jedi turned around again, facing the Rodian, his left side toward Lind. The Rodian fired two shots of his blaster at the Human mercenary, then ran back down the alley. Having been struck by the blaster shots in the head, Lind fell to the ground, dead.
The Jedi ran over to Lind, confirmed his death and considered charging down the alley. 'Where was Eve?' he thought. With the Force, the Jedi Master concentrated and focused on the alleyway. He could still sense the three Rodians, two of them leading Gallien and Regueny at blaster-point. He did not want to engage all three of the thugs simultaneously, but, at the same time, he did not want to lose them and risk losing the two prime suspects in the investigation. Master Greystone opted to advance quietly down the alleyway as the thugs turned the corner. As he continued walking, the Jedi suspected an ambush around the corner at the end of the dark alley. He paused his pursuit, lightsaber ignited, and put himself into a ready stance. He was uncertain of the lone Rodian's intentions and wanted be prepared for anything. The Rodian inched closer to the corner where his partners had taken the hostages and began firing his blaster at the Jedi, only to have every shot deflected away. The Rodian retreated around the corner, and fled toward the spaceport.
Following the fleeing assailants, Master Greystone approached the spaceport. Upon turning the final corner, he came upon Agent Delwynn, Shalli and a Lieutenant he did not recognize. Nodding gazes were all that were exchanged, as introductions were postponed.
Pointing toward the spaceport with his orange-blade lightsaber, he indicated that the Rodians had moved in that direction.
"How many?" Evening asked.
"Three Rodians," Master Greystone replied. "All three have blasters, but only one was firing at me."
"Must have missed them entering the spaceport by mere moments," Shalli stated.
"They couldn't have gotten too far," Evening retorted.
The investigative team began moving swiftly toward the spaceport entryway, attempting to catch up. They sped through the lobby and into the docking bay corridor. They could see five shadows along the left wall from the curved nature of the hallway. The group was stationary, but attempting to access a docking bay. Silently, Evening directed her crew forward. As soon as the Rodians spotted the team, they began firing wildly. Just trying to deflect the blaster fire away, Shalli and Master Greystone twirled their orange and blue-bladed lightsabers skillfully. Evening and the Lieutenant attempted to fire upon the Rodians, but tried not to strike Regueny or Gallien.
A loud clank was suddenly heard, indicating the docking bay door had opened. In the struggle, Gallien and Regueny were trying to free themselves from the grasp of the Rodians. Gallien was flung to the ground, and a Rodian attempted to grab her. Seeing an opening, Shalli charged at the Rodian. The Rodian decided not to waste time with the woman and fled. At the same time, Regueny was led onto a small freighter. Still deflecting blaster fire, Shalli stood in the doorway as the rest of the team approached. Then, the doorway began to close.
"Let them be, Shalli," Agent Delwynn ordered. "We'll track them and find them. We don't want any casualties… today. That would be counterproductive."
"I'm sorry to report, Evening," Master Greystone spoke up, reaching down to help Gallien off the ground. "Lind is dead. He attempted to ambush me while I was following the Rodians. Before I could arrest him, one of the thugs shot him."
Evening looked disgusted and perturbed, but he could sense that she understood the situation. The Jedi had not killed the mercenary, the Rodians had. Sighing and throwing her arms at her side, she ordered her team back to her vessel.
"Okay," Evening sternly remarked, grabbing Gallien off the ground, pulling the young woman to her feet.
"We were set up?" Danstari asked.
"We may have been," Greystone replied. "He seemed to flee the marketplace easily during the ambush. Lind might have been responsible for setting up the ambush."
"Or, at least executing part of it," the Omwati added, while Evening pushed the young financier against the wall, checking for weapons.
"I'll bet that's why he was killed," Danstari noted.
"We'll see," Evening smarted, obviously upset by the recent developments.
"As if coming to Qina wasn't worth it already, for you Evening," Master Greystone remarked. "I'll check the body of Linds to make sure that I search it before the locals get to it."
"Good idea," Delwynn said. "Team, back to Mally. We have business to tend to."
Shalli took hold of Catiene Gallien, gripping her wrists so she could not move, as if arrested. The young woman struggled for a moment, then obliged, walking behind Evening. Master Greystone and Lieutenant Danstari quickly followed in their path. From the front of the group, Evening shouted backward toward the crew.
"Good work, anyway," she said. "And to you, Lieutenant Danstari: random trips to the Qina? There is always a reason why I do something."